Introduction: Tulips and Windmills was our third Viking cruise (Cities of Light, Viking Sky, 2012 and Romantic Danube, MS Vienna, 2013). We booked about a month before the cruise on a Viking “free air” deal.
The Atla is a Viking longship, and differs little from the other longships. It is built to maximize passengers on board and their comfort. The design is modern and generally pleasing. It has no exercise rooms, salons, hot tubs, etc. As others have noted, the lounge does not have seating for everyone, so at many of the events, folding chairs were brought in to provide room for everyone. There were only two daytime sailing times. One of these was too cold for people to sit on the Sun Deck, but the other day people did use the top deck and a few played shuffleboard.
We’re not foodies, but we do appreciate good food, and we were not disappointed. Portions were reasonable. The food was always well prepared and presented with plenty of options. If you didn’t like the featured entrees, there was always chicken, steak, or salmon. Breakfast was good, but there wasn’t a lot of variation. There were several menu items from the kitchen as well as a nice buffet. I usually had an omelet prepared in the buffet line.
As always, the servers were efficient and very friendly and outgoing. One of the waiters began calling me by name after a few days although I had only eaten in his area of the dining room a few times. Viking waiters now take orders on small iPod-like devices (I assume that they’re transmitted immediately to the kitchen). The system seemed to work well.
The Atla staff were welcoming, cordial and efficient. The cruise director, Caspar, was a good communicator and facilitator. Cabin, bar, and dining room staff were very friendly and capable. One waiter (Milo) began greeting me by name after a few days.
Lots of cruisers had tablets on the cruise. Being the nerd I am, our room contained a laptop, two iPads, and two Kindles, as well as our two iPhones. Internet access was a mixed bag. There were times when the system appeared to be overwhelmed, and was very unresponsive. There were other problems as well. The native email app on our iPads were never able to get mail (Yahoo and Gmail accounts). After loading the specific Yahoo mail and Gmail accounts, I was able to get to my email. There were other problems as well. I tried all week to sign onto my Amazon.com account to download additional e-books to my iPad or Kindle, and none of my devices was ever able to connect to the account. The Amazon home page loaded up OK, but when I clicked on “My Account,” the browsers always timed out.
Travel & Transfers
Since we booked with free air, we had no input on travel, but the flights were well planned. We flew Nashville to Atlanta to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Detroit to Nashville. We were met by a Viking rep as soon as we walked out of baggage claim. We sat with other Viking cruisers for about 30 minutes until all the expected travelers were there. Transfer to the ship was seamless, and we had a snack in the lounge before going to our room.
On disembarkation day we left the Atla at 9:15 for our 1:10 p.m. flight. Again we were met by Viking reps who made sure that we got checked in and pointed toward our gates.
Just a note to those who don’t have Global Entry. It’s great! It also qualifies you for TSA Pre-Check. It costs $100, but it’s good for five years. We skipped the lines at US passport control and walked up to the kiosks, inserted our passports, placed our hands on a scanner for fingerprint scans, answered 5 yes/no questions for customs, and we were done. On domestic flights TSA Pre-Check means keeping your shoes on, leaving the laptop in your bag, etc. and especially very short lines.
The itinerary is described on the Viking web site. It was well planned and executed. If you want to see the beautiful vistas you see on the Viking commercials, this is NOT your tour. The Netherlands is a FLAT country. Accordingly, most of the sailing is done at night.
My main complaint was omission of the Open Air Museum in Arnhem. The OAM is the 6th most visited attraction in the Netherlands, but Viking only offers tours when they’re in Arnhem on Monday and their other tour option is close. We visited on our own and loved it.
If you want to do museums or the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, plan well and buy tickets on line to avoid hour-long lines.
Highlights for us were Brugge and Keukenhof gardens where the tulips were in full bloom.