My husband and I have cruised on our own sailboat from the US Eastern Seaboard through the Bahamas and all the way down the Caribbean Island chain. Sometimes it was unavoidable anchoring our boat in the same harbor where the ... Read More
My husband and I have cruised on our own sailboat from the US Eastern Seaboard through the Bahamas and all the way down the Caribbean Island chain. Sometimes it was unavoidable anchoring our boat in the same harbor where the ships docked.
After seeing the cruise ships disgorge thousands of passengers on tiny islands, having to listen to their loud music and announcements, and smelling their stinky smokestacks, we swore we would never set foot on a cruise ship.
A couple of sailor friends convinced us to join them on this itinerary promising that Viking was not your typical cruise line. We were not disappointed.
We did not use Viking Air as San Juan is not one of their hubs and we did not arrange for a transfer through Viking as we planned to fly into Bergen a day ahead of embarkation. Our trip began with an airline issue causing us to arrive a day later then planned and with missing luggage.
From the moment we saw the tall Viking rep in a red jacket at the Bergen airport our trip improved. We were invited to take one of the waiting shuttles, were told that they would handle our luggage issue once we made the baggage claim report, and were whisked off to the dock for a quick embarkation procedure and greeted with a glass of bubbly once on board. What's not to like.
True to their promise, Guest Services were on our luggage issue tracking their arrival, picking up each piece and delivering it to our stateroom. Fortunately the final bag appeared an hour before sail away.
Since we had worn all the extra clothing in our carry on, Viking offered free express laundry and lent us sanitized clothing to wear in the meantime. Lost or delayed baggage is a common occurrence to them.
Kudos to the Guest Services staff.
We found the ship beautifully appointed, light and airy. There was ample seating along the huge windows where we were able to view the gorgeous scenery as we sailed through the Fjords. We enjoyed exploring every nook and cranny inside and outside the ship quickly learning our way around.
I loved all the little surprises around the ship - the informative touch screens, the trolls or elves in the elevator, birdsong in the public restrooms, the numerous hand sanitizer or washing stations, the lichen garden under the staircase and the lovely artwork throughout.
True to our friends promise, there was no loud music or announcements. Even when the gangway was open for going ashore, that announcement was made only in the hallways and public areas. If you were in your room, you had to open the door to hear it. The ship carried less then 930 passengers aboard not thousands. There was no stinky cloud emitting from the ship's stack. There was barely a noticable environmentally friendly fog from the stack. The Viking Star never felt crowded.
Before long the staff was greeting us by name at the Restaurant, when returning through security and at our favorite Explorer Bar. At every turn we saw smiling faces whether officers, restaurant servers, housekeeping, security, guest services or shore excursion staff.
When leaving for a day trip we were handed bottled water. Upon returning to the ship, we were given cloths with which to freshen up and often a glass of bubbly. Staff was always there to serve, answer questions, give directions or help embark or disembark whether from a gangplank, tender or bus.
Our first dinner reservation was at the Chefs Table with premium wine pairing as allowed by our Silver Spirit Beverage package. The Scandinavian Bistro menu was a perfect intro to Norway. Although it was a pre fixe menu, our friend who didn't care for the lamb course was offered a different choice. The dinner was a reunion of friends and the staff patiently paced the wine pouring and course serving to our most enthusiastic conversation with our old friends. We so much enjoyed the creativity of the meal that we booked three more Chefs Table menus. Although the portions were small, we didn't leave hungry.
We chose our first dinner at the World Cafe for the famed seafood buffet. Although the food was very good and the tableside beverage service prompt, I found navigating the buffet disorienting. We all decided that for dinner we much prefer being seated, chosing from a menu and being waited upon.
The Restaurant became our go to for dinner where the staff quickly learned our table location and wine preferences. There was never a wait for a table no matter what time we arrived. Every meal was delightful.
We were happy with our two visits to Manfredi's. I especially liked the small pasta course which allowed room for ordering an entree also. We dined here for my birthday and were presented with a lovely birthday cake and a song.
Breakfast was either Room Service or World Cafe. Room Service was always on time and responsive to menu write in choices. My husband likes honey with his tea and I want half & half with my coffee, items which were not on the menu. It was great eating in the room while preparing for an early excursion.
With almost 24 hours of daylight, there was always something to see outside. As early risers we always got a window table in the World Cafe for breakfast. If the buffet was not quite open the beverage station was and I loved the coffee machine. Although we tried the coffee maker in our room, it was so much easier to grab a cup in the World Cafe.
We tried every dining option at least once even the Viking Bar on Deck 1 for cookies and snacks. The open faced sandwiches in Mamsen's were great as was the soup. We liked the sandwich and salad options at the Pool Grill but found the area much too hot for comfortable dining unless the pool roof was open which was only one time. On the other hand, eating on the Aquavit Terrace was too cold on this Arctic Circle itinerary. The World Cafe had abundant choices for lunch whether we wanted a hot meal or a selection of salads.
Finally on a sea day we tried the 4 pm tea in the gorgeous Wintergarden and loved it.
ACTIVITIES & ENTERTAINMENT
We enjoyed the daily music throughout the ship - piano, classical trio and guitarist each rotating locations and times.
One day we watched a Cha-Cha lesson which was fun, we saw an entertaining Magician/Mentalist after the Captains Greeting on another day, and caught the Viking Band one evening in Torshavn. I do wish the Viking Band would have played earlier in the evening in Torshavn. Other then the one 9 pm time, they did not begin until 11:30 pm much too late for us.
We attended most of the Port Talks and found them to be much more entertaining in person then on our room TV after the fact. The Lectures we attended were excellent.
We missed most of the shows in the Star Theatre because we were too tired after busy days. We didn't participate in the Trivia or watch any of the daily films as we were always busy doing something else. We thought the Movie Under the Stars by the pool a great idea but had already seen the nights showing. To much to do but so little time.
However, we did not skip the Midnight Sun party in the Explorer Lounge even though it was an early docking the next day. I can't tell you how amazing it was to watch the sun set...set...set, never touch the horizon and then begin to rise again. Major cool. There was an After the Midnight Sun party the next evening but the sky was cloudier.
There was a variety of different things to do and see more then we would ever have time. Everything we attended was excellent.
PORT & SHORE EXCURSIONS
We booked most of the included shore excursions missing only the ones in Bergen, the Orkney Islands and Edinburgh. For the most part they were coach trips with stops allowing enough time for a bit of a walkabout and a photo op. During the drives we had excellent guides describing points of interest as we passed, giving us history, social and political lessons, describing past and current life in that country - from Vikings to the Sami to World Wars to tunnels, bridges and the oil industry, we got it all and loved it.
The only included I would rate on a lower scale was in the Lofotens. Although the drive through the Island was gorgeous, the stops at the beaches were too rushed and the stop at the fishing village left us at a gas station near a narrow view of the harbor. I was disappointed as there was no opportunity to take a picture of the Rorbuers as promised in the tour description. The Lofoten Islands are majestic and I wished I had taken one of the optional tours. My husband did the Tjorndalen Scenic hike into the mountains and captured some spectacular photos.
Many people don't like coach tours but this Midnight Sun itinerary was more about getting out into the countryside rather then walking through historic towns like the river cruises. Even the optional tours included bus rides. However, if a person wanted to have a town walkabout or shop, there was always a shuttle from the port to town if the distance was not walkable.
Ole Bull Home, Lyse Abbey Ruins, Fantoft Stave Church and all around Bergen. Absolutely fantastic! Our guide, walking around the lovely sites, the learning experience, scenery - could not have been better.
Here we had good timing to do the morning included of Shetland Ponies and island panorama as well as an afternoon optional. Again our included tour guide was excellent explaining the islands unpredictable weather, topography, industry adding many personal stories and touches. It was a good mix of sightseeing by coach with time at stops.
Our optional for the afternoon was the Rugged Beauty of the North. This was another exceptional tour with an entertaining guide and a bus driver. I don't think I have ever experienced a more enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. She was a wealth of knowledge and knew every single bird and animal that we saw. She described life on such a remote island in all seasons and shared the excitement of Up Helly AA. She was very jolly, humorous and seemed to know everyone we passed while driving. The local Tangwick Haa museum stop was charming, the Eshaness Lighthouse stop along the dramatic northern cliffs was starkly beautiful with an easy walk, and the tea/coffee stop at Braewick Cafe with homemade Shortbread was cosy.
Both AM and PM guides in the Shetlands did show and tell during the driving part. They passed around the unspun wool and a finished woven slipper when talking about the sheep, we got to handle peat and the tool used to dig it when that industry was discussed, plus a bird identification guide was available to use. My big excitement was seeing Puffins finally as they have been on my birding bucket list for 30 years. And of course we heard about Jimmy Perez and the TV series Shetland as we passed through Lerwick where set location and buildings were pointed out - a must see series if you plan to visit the Shetlands.
Orkney Islands: Our optional.was Orkneys Stone Age for Neolithic and Viking sites - Ring of Brogdar, Skara Brae & Skaill House with a drive by Scapa Flow and through Lerwick. One cannot visit these Northern Scottish islands without seeing some of the ancient standing stones and archeological sites. Tour was a very nice combination of coach sightseeing as well as ample but easy walking with no rushing about. Beautiful and educational both. Guide was very informative on the bus drive talk but too talky with the Quiet Vox on the walk.
Edinburgh: Royal Yacht Brittania, Lunch at Edinburgh Hotel, Edinburgh Castle, Free Time. Never having been to Edinburgh we wanted to see some iconic sites. The Royal Yacht was an excellent self guided tour on which we spent every minute we had soaking it all in. Such an amazing vessel and life the Royals had. The lunch was very good and in a hotel near the Castle, however, I would have preferred popping into a local Pub for a beer and Scottish food sampling on our own. At Edinburgh Castle our guide gave us an informative lecture and suggestions of what to see which was fine. Apparently private guides are not allowed to guide groups around inside. We did the best we could seeing the Castle but the crowds were horrible. Fortunately we saw a short line for the Crown Jewels and passed through fairly quick as the line was really long afterwards. I got tired real fast of people walking without looking, bumping into me, and taking selfies! Our travel companion friends had the right idea. While we were trying to take photos they skipped out and found a nice Pub outside the Castle across from our coach pick up point.
The coach tour between sites was through crowded streets with many construction detours, barely a glimpse at historic buildings before another coach blocked the view, and painfully slow. Because of the traffic jam, we never got our free time to walk on our own. The crowds weren't Vikings fault but if I had to do it over I would skip Edinburgh and take an excursion in the countryside.
Quiet Vox Opinion:
I may be an odd duck but I do not like the Quiet Vox walking tours. I find someone talking in my ear constantly very distracting especially when they are talking to someone else on the excursion. However I really enjoyed the talks on the coach prior to arriving at an area. Perhaps if the walking tour guides gathered their charges in a little group at a site, gave their informative talk and then allowed us to walk in silence and contemplation I would enjoy it better.
SPA, FITNESS & PROMENADE
I am not an exercise machine user but the gym was always well used and, like most areas of the ship, had large windows for viewing scenery.
I did, however, use the thermal spa and loved it. The locker rooms provided towels, robes, rubber shoes and everything you needed to shower, dry your hair and change afterwards. There was even a centrifuge which spun your suit dry so that you need not drip all the way to your room.
I especially liked the private women's sauna where you could sweat alone and then plunge into an icy pool.
Some would prefer the big pool in the coed area to be warmer, but I found the temperature allowed me to stay in longer massaging my calves and lower back both sore from lots of walking. You have to slide around on the benches to find the jet positions you like. One corner of that pool even had a full body jet area where you could bubble your body into relaxation. Adjacent to this pool was a hot tub for those who prefer it hotter.
The only extra charge was for spa services of which I did not partake.
The full ship 360 degree promenade was a lovely feature we used on a sea day to keep the joints oiled and muscles warmed. It was just as I pictured from the classic ocean liner days.
First arrival and final departure from the ship went smoothly. Our flight home from London was early afternoon and I thought our departure from the ship was a bit early. However we were amazed that it only took us a tad over one hour to get from Greenwich to Heathrow. But then it was early on a Saturday. On a busy work day morning it could be double the time easy.
All the excursion disembarkations were organized and orderly. When we had our own plans, getting off the ship was never a problem or a long wait even when we were tendering.
The only delay embarking was at the Gerianger tender pier and not Vikings fault. The port would only allow one Viking tender at a time at the pier whereas another huge cruise ship of thousands hogged the remaining pier space.
I appreciate that Viking is an adults only cruise with no children under 18 allowed. Given the older demographic, I also like that motorized scooters are banned and hope it stays that way. I like the open restaurant seating and love the casual dress code. It was fun dressing up when we wanted to do so. We loved all the included things like WiFi, wine/beer, specialty restaurants, the spa thermal suite, excursion per port and the fact that there were no privledged access areas.
Will I cruise again on Viking? You bet! In fact in 2020 we have booked South America and the Chilean Fjords. We visited the top of the world, next is the bottom.
If you made it through my lengthy review you may wonder if everything was hunky dory. It was not. My only complaint or suggestion is a less stressful clearing in process from Norway to The Shetlands. Everyone had to present passports and have a face-to-face with Customs before leaving the ship. Consequently all 900+ passengers had to line up before 9 am to do so. We snaked back and forth, up and down through the Atrium levels. Morning excursions were late and many worried that the delay would cause missing the on time afternoon excursions when AM and PM excursions were booked. Fortunately we had two and a half hours between ours. This process could have been better handled. Read Less