We booked our cruise after reading a promotional flyer in July 2013. The next two years we spent following the progress of the ship's being built and tested. This to say that, as seasoned travelers who had never taken a cruise and who ... Read More
We booked our cruise after reading a promotional flyer in July 2013. The next two years we spent following the progress of the ship's being built and tested. This to say that, as seasoned travelers who had never taken a cruise and who live in Europe, we were very much anticipating this different adventure. We were not disappointed.
Since we handled all our arrangements in terms of arrival and departure, we cannot write about theses issues, but can say that our embarkation and debarkation were handled smoothly and professionally.
The ship itself was wonderfully laid out, with so many different lounges, the spa, and quiet corners that I'm not sure we discovered all of it on our time aboard. The Explorer's Lounge is quiet, seemingly private and very comfortable. I met with a group of friends (who all met for the first time on the second day out) nearly every day in the upstairs of the Explorers Lounge. We all had a common issue and, for the most part, were able to share our experiences, solutions and challenges in some privacy.
The artwork displayed throughout the ship was excellent and we enjoyed being able to read about the artists and the works in the book provided in our cabin. I'd suggest a lecture or a tour of the artworks as an activity for those who are inclined. So much of the work was thematic for the region in which we were traveling that it was a subtle enhancement to the experience overall.
We didn't participate in many of the shipboard activities, lectures, etc. so I can't say much about them, except that we watched a few of the port lectures on the tv in our cabin and found them informative.
In Bergen, we skipped the tour as we'd spent three days there in advance of the trip, and is our style, had discovered much of its hidden enchantments on our own. The cruise into the fjord with Flåm as our destination was, by itself, a highlight for both of us. Waking to those cliffs, waterfalls, and draped with long low clouds and mist was absolutely magical. The fact that the Viking Star is so quiet and smooth enriched the experience.
We booked, in advance, our own rail trip in Flåm, so we cannot speak to Viking's excursions there. Our excursion was enjoyable and informative, although we hadn't left ourselves enough time to explore much.
The Pulpit Rock cruise was great fun and our guide was informative and entertaining. As we are both active and fit,we'd have preferred a hike to Pulpit Rock, and would have scheduled and paid for it on our own, but there wasn't enough time in Stavanger for us to do that and be assured of returning to the ship on time. After our fjord cruise in Stavanger, we had precious little time to explore this charming town which we would have liked to do.
Our time in Aalborg, on the walking tour, was well spent. The guide was thorough and spoke nearly-flawless English. My husband got tired of being in a group, but stuck with it. Because the walking tour was long, we also didn't have much time to explore the town, however, we'd already seen most of it so it wasn't necessary for us.
We skipped the Copenhagen tours during the day and went out on our own. The added excursion of the Canal Jazz (actually Dixieland, not Jazz) was sensational. The band was great fun and the cruise gave us a view of Copenhagen we'd otherwise have missed. We almost missed the cruise itself as it wasn't well-publicized, and we only found out about it from friends.
We didn't take any of the Berlin tours as we planned to spend the month of August, and are now, in Berlin.
Gdansk was great, albeit a bit hurried. I appreciated the accommodation to my motion-sickness on the bus tour. The front seat was reserved for us even though we hadn't given much notice. Our guide was very good, well informed and professional. Our only problem came during the walking tour. Our guide was very short, and she either couldn't or wouldn't hold up the group sign, nor, apparently did she did ask anyone taller to do so. As Gdansk was extremely crowded, I got lost from the group on more than one occasion. This was quickly remedied as my husband alerted her and once I walked into the range of her voice on my listening device, I rejoined the group.
The day spent sailing was fine and relaxing. However, most of the window area lounge chairs were taken up the whole day by people who camped out on them, left their belongings for long periods of time in order to save their places, and made it impossible for anyone else to use them. Bad manners.
St. Petersburg: the bus tour wasn't the best. It was difficult to see much. Fortunately, we'd booked the canal cruise and the weather cooperated by giving us clear skies and mild temperatures—a fortuitous happenstance. The cruise was informative and we had much better views and viewpoints than on the bus tour. As an added bonus, we toured the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood and the St. Isaac's church. Our guide, Irina, was excellent, the best we had on the whole trip. She was our guide again the next day for The Hermitage.
The next day, we started early for our tour early and arrived at the Hermitage before the crowds, being admitted to what amounted to be a nearly-private touring. Our guide, once again, was knowledgeable, complete and very well educated in both history and art. This s an excursion not to be missed! Especially with Irina. She knew how to navigate this huge museum, allowing us time to see many masterpieces without any crowds at all. We had time to linger with the Rembrandts and many others. Quite a few of my fotos have no people in them—remarkable considering the time of year, the venue and the extremely long line waiting to get in after we left. Definitely the best excursion of the whole trip.
We cancelled the walking tour of Helsinki and went in on the shuttle. It's a charming city, and it's one we may return to on our own.
We took the bus tour of Stockholm, and as I hadn't reserved the front, we were farther back. Fortunately, I had no motion sickness, but the tour was a wash in that we couldn't see anything. We stayed on our own a week in Stockholm, so we got to know the city fairly well.
As to dining: we ate only once at the Chef's Table and had the Sweet and Salty meal. It was sublime, and spoiled us for all our other meals. We ate lunch and breakfast almost exclusively at the World Cafe. The food was very good, not excellent, but not at all common cafeteria food either. The selection was good. The Pool Grill was also good. Service at both was very good. All the wait staff were polite, friendly and professional.
Our favorite restaurant was The Restaurant and we had dinner there frequently. The choice of meals varied nightly, with some constants. The quality never varied—it was always excellent. As was the service. The Beef Wellington is to die for, absolutely great, as were all the fish dishes.
Our only dining disappointment was at Manfredi's. The waiters were very good, and apologetic that out food took so long to arrive. The chicken one night was overlooked, and my one pasta dish wasn't al dente, nor particularly tasty. When we spoke to the maître, he was surly and defensive. He tried to explain to us how each meal was individually prepared, etc. as if we had no idea how a well run restaurant of reputation operates. Rather than argue with him, we simply didn't return there. We heard from others that they'd had great meals there, so I assume the quality varies.
In summary, I'd say it was a wonderful trip, made all the more so by the friends we made on it, and the sights we saw. We may taking a Viking Star cruise of the Eastern Mediterranean in the future. It depends on if one is scheduled for the Fall, as we normally spend our summers in the States and return to Barcelona for the Fall. Read Less