Passengers on Viking Orion get one included shore excursion in every port. Included excursions tend to focus on the biggest attractions in a port, often around the city centers. Tours generally take place by coach and encompass some sightseeing by road, some by foot. In a few locations, a slower, leisurely tour is also offered without additional fee.
For the most part, Viking supplies its own coaches, which means they are new and clean. Guides are local and know the ports like the backs of their hands; we're always surprised at how effortlessly they can answer questions on even the tiniest details. Passengers are provided "whispers" -- audio devices for listening to the tour guide via a wireless signal -- in their cabins, and we often forgot them, even though the ticket stated we'd need them. Guides carry a few extras, but you're better off bringing your own. They also require charging, which you can do in your cabin as well.
We found the included excursions to be adequate, though we weren't blown away by the offerings. Included tours are pretty standard, with few surprises or anything that makes them stand out from what other cruise lines are doing in ports.
For many passengers, this included shore excursion option is a sufficient. But for those looking for something a little different, Viking offers a large number of premium shore excursions, which come with an added fee. Premium excursions tend to be smaller and more intimate than the included tours. They are usually a higher quality, as well.
At the low end, a more basic option might be an "on-your-own" tour, where a bus and guide drop you in a port, set a meeting time and place, and you head off to explore. These are common options on Mediterranean sailings. Other excursions might be more involved, offering castle visits and dining or wine tasting, or helicopter tours. Prices for these tours range from around $50 to several hundred dollars, depending on what you elect to do.
Viking also provides a shuttle, free of charge, which takes passengers into the city centers. These run regularly while the ship is in port.
Viking Orion has no shore excursion desk. You can book your tours online before your sailing, via the Viking Voyager app, filling out a form and dropping it in a box at guest services, using your interactive TV or by visiting the guest services desk. Guest services can also help arrange private tours and answer questions about group excursions.
In ports where the ship is docked from early morning to late evening, passengers can choose from morning or afternoon tours. Most tours -- and almost all the included options -- run a half day, so in some cases, you can book two tours in the same port.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
With the focus of Viking Orion squarely on ports and destinations, daytime activities are relatively limited. Many of them focus on enrichment. Entertainment during the day might include golf putting contests or beanbag toss on the top deck, or a coffee chat designed to help you get to know your fellow passengers. Wine, cocktail and Armagnac tastings are offered occasionally, for a fee, at Torshavn.
In the evening, things heat up, with live music offered in all of the ship's bars and lounges. After dinner, shows might be scheduled like the FABBA Four, a fun blend of the Beatles and ABBA. The main entertainment venue on Viking Orion is the Star Theater, a single-level theater located at the front of the ship on Deck 2. Seating is in alternating rows of blue chairs and navy and white benches, and there are tables for drinks. Waiters circulate before performances.
More cabaret-style shows might take place at Torshavn or on the pool deck. Also at night, you might catch a poolside movie. Passengers are provided blankets and Bose headphones so they can enjoy the film in comfort.
A captain's welcome reception takes place early in the cruise, and other events, like a Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle likely will take place in one of the lounges.
Viking calls itself the "thinking man's cruise line," and on Orion, you will have a chance to learn -- a lot. For starters, Viking Orion has a resident historian and a resident astronomer. Both are on long contracts with the ship, making it their home for several months at a time. (When one contract is up, another person replaces the pro, so you're never without the astronomer or historian.)
Both are available for conversation formally and informally; passengers are encouraged to approach them away from scheduled lectures and ask questions. Historians provide relevant information about the places the ship is visiting, providing details on the history and sites, taking questions about each destination. Lectures are fascinating and provide a perspective beyond what you might get on your shore excursion.
Astronomers give lectures on topics like how explorers used stars for navigation, lead sessions on stargazing using the ship's telescope and lead programming in the ship's state-of-the-art planetarium. The planetarium itself is worth noting, as it features a 7K-resolution dome capable of showing 2D and 3D programming. It also can display what the ship's telescope picks up, so passengers can see what's going on outside from the comfort of the 26-person theater. (There is no additional cost for planetarium activities.)
The planetarium is an ambitious feature that Viking is banking its cruisers will love. We were fascinated by it on our sailing, when we thoroughly enjoyed a 3D program called "Journey to Space" as well as a lecture by the resident astronomer. We could envision going back again and again.
Viking also has a partnership with TED Talks, and various lectures are occasionally shown in the cinema portion of the Star Theater; they're available on the interactive TVs in cabins, too. (Onboard lectures by the resident astronomer and historian also are available for replay on your TV.) The Viking app, Viking Voyager, also has the capability to play lectures if you don't want to hang out in your cabin. The app also features an interactive art map; plug in your headphones and let your device be your tour guide when it comes to art onboard.
Because Viking Orion focuses on port-intensive itineraries, the ship's watering holes aren't open until the wee hours of the morning. Most of them call it quits before midnight, and it's not unusual that only a handful of passengers are in the bars when they close. It's the trade-off on a ship that often sends passengers ashore early in the morning.
The ship's bars and lounges are beautifully designed, each with its own personality. Live music of some kind is the norm in the evening, starting before dinner and remaining until close.
Viking Bar (Deck 1): This bar is open all day, starting early in the morning and closing around midnight. The Viking Bar is located in the corner of the Living Room, and it's got seating for about 15 around a stainless steel-topped bar. A few tables for two and four are immediately adjacent.
During the day, it's mostly used as a drop-by spot where passengers can grab freshly ground coffee and a snack. In the evening, it's a little busier, especially ahead of dinner when live music begins. Catch a pianist or string trio playing while enjoying a drink. Many people grab a cocktail and move into the comfy seats in the Living Room, closer to the music.
Torshavn (Deck 2): Named after the cruise line's chairman, Torstein "Tor" Hagen, this spot has a speakeasy vibe, with its dark wood, thick fabrics and round tables surrounded by deep chairs. There's a dance floor, as well, and music -- jazz, pop, guitar, hits of yesteryear -- starts here early and goes until close. When a show is held in Torshavn, you might need to claim a ticket ahead of time. (There's no cost for this; it's meant to control capacity.)
The bar has a huge collection of Armagnac, a brandy from southwest France. It hosts tastings (for a fee) throughout the cruise, pairing the spirit with chocolate.
Theater Bar (Deck 2): Outside the Star Theater is a small bar that is open only when events are going on in the theater. It serves popcorn when movies are being shown.
Aquavit Bar (Deck 7): At the back of Viking Orion's World Cafe is the Aquavit Bar, which is more used by crew getting drinks for passengers than patrons. Passengers dining on the Aquavit Terrace or taking a dip in the infinity pool will find this bar convenient.
Explorers' Lounge (Decks 7 and 8): Satisfy the wonder of your inner explorer at one of the prettiest spots onboard Viking Orion. Constellations over the door on Deck 7 welcome you to the Explorers' Lounge, which is actually two decks high with so many nooks and crannies, you can hide away reading, chatting or simply watching the sea through sweeping windows.
The lower floor has a large, semicircular bar and dance floor, where a pianist and guitarists perform in the evening. Decorated in shades of blues, the lounge has lots of comfortable seating, in chairs and couches with throw pillows and thick, furry blankets. Book shelves and knickknacks line the walls on both levels, and you could spend hours perusing the objects and spaces.
Climb one of the two glass staircases to reach the second level, where you'll find more seating and windows along with the planetarium. This is a unique feature to Viking Orion, and it does take up a significant amount of real estate in the middle of the top deck of the Explorers' Lounge. (On fleetmates, this space is wide-open.) Viking took pains, though, in designing an exterior that matches the feel of the lounge. The planetarium features large carved wooden doors that are closed 99 percent of the time, and rounded walls fit in with the surrounding decor. You do notice the planetarium -- it's right in the middle of the space -- but it doesn't obstruct views to the outside, and you won't hear it, even when an event is going on inside.
Pool Bar (Deck 7): The Pool Bar serves passengers at the pool. It doesn't have seating at the bar, as most people elect to hang out on lounge chairs and high tables, where they are served by waiters and waitresses.
Wintergarden Conservatory (Deck 7): This gorgeous space feels both chic and whimsical, thanks to clever light wooden planks designed to look like trees; these even extend to the glass ceiling, forming a forest lattice that allows natural light to pour in from the windows above. White couches and chairs surround low wood tables, and wrought-iron screens show landscapes scenes from famous destinations worldwide (the London Eye, for example). Folding-glass doors can be thrown open to connect the space to the adjacent pool in good weather.
As beautiful as this space is, it's massively underutilized. The big event here is the daily afternoon tea. A keyboardist plays tunes in the background while passengers chat and sip. Most days, though, this is the only action in the Wintergarden, and we wish there were more going on here, as it's the kind of spot that makes you want to linger.
Viking Orion has two pools: One in the center of Deck 7, the other, an infinity pool, at the aft. Each is deep and flanked by a hot tub. The one in the middle tends to be used more often than the infinity pool in part because it is surrounded by more lounge chairs and in part because the infinity pool is nearer to dining areas, which might make some passengers feel a bit self-conscious about diving in.
We love the lounge chairs on this ship, which vary from mesh chairs poolside to thickly padded on those closest to the windows. The main pool is a spot where people hang out, even if they have no intention of getting in the water. It's designed to be serene, with sofas and nooks along with tables and even blankets for cold weather. The main pool deck features a glass, sliding magrodome, which is closed if the weather isn't pleasant.
Deck 8 also has a large number of lounge chairs and areas to chill, though there isn't much in the way of shade up there. It's also where you'll find a small smoking section. You'll find more seating on Deck 9, along with a putting green, shuffleboard and a bocce/croquet setup.
The bulk of Viking Orion's service areas are located on Deck 1, adjacent to the Living Room. This is where you'll find the guest services team, who can help with anything from booking appointments to settling accounts and helping with shore excursions. (There is no shore excursions desk.) This space also has a somewhat hidden internet cafe, but it's rarely used, in large part because Viking Orion offers free Wi-Fi.
While there's no library or game room onboard, you'll find books all over the ship -- the Living Room, Wintergarden and Explorers' Lounge -- that you can grab and read. Many of them are brilliantly illustrated hardcover books. Games such as Scrabble, checkers and backgammon are found on Decks 1 through 3, and the ship has a number of electronic game tables for interactive games -- cards and air hockey, for example. These come with padded tops so as to accommodate board and card games.
The ship does not have a casino or photo gallery -- or even a ship photographer.
A number of shops selling jewelry, Viking logo items, duty-free purchases, sundries and clothing are located on Decks 1 and 2.
Each deck from 3 through 6 has a self-service launderette, so passengers can do their laundry at no additional charge. Detergent is included, but you won't find fabric softener or dryer sheets (so bring your own if you need them). Each launderette has an ironing board and iron, too. Launderettes are busiest on sea days, so go early if you don't want to wait. Likewise, irons are a hot-ticket between about 5:30 and 7 p.m. as passengers vie to press their dinner clothing. (Visit early in the day instead to go hassle- and wrinkle-free.)
Viking is the gold standard when it comes to cruise ship spas. In an industry where many cruise lines partner with spa giants such as Steiner Leisure or Canyon Ranch, Viking has broken the mold, forging forward with a collaboration with Stockholm-based LivNordic, a smaller company that has helped define the Viking brand.
At the heart of the spa experience on Viking Orion is the thermal suite, a serene complex that includes a series of hot and cold treatments -- a staple of Nordic wellness. The thermal suite includes a large and deep thalassotherapy pool, steam room, cold water dump bucket, hot tub, heated ceramic lounge chairs, experience shower and snow grotto. The concept is to alternate hot and cold activities -- a surprisingly refreshing practice. (Once a cruise, a Sauna Night takes place, where the spa staff take passengers on a guided bathing ritual.) There's no fee to use the thermal suite.
The men's and women's changing rooms connect to the suite, and each has a number of lockers (secured using your keycard), showers, dry sauna and (really really!) cold plunge pool. These also have waiting areas, where spa patrons can relax ahead of their treatments.
Adjacent to the thermal suite are the treatment rooms, which are quiet and serene. Some of the treatments on offer also have a Nordic theme -- the Nordic classic facial and the Swedish detox massage, both featuring organic products typical of the region, for example. A wide array of massage, face and body treatments are offered, and we love the packages available, including the "Deep" (a body scrub, deep tissue massage and Nordic scalp ritual) and the "Clean" (a detox scrub, detox massage and cupping).
The spa also includes a salon, where you can get manis and pedis, hair treatments, waxing, makeup sessions, and lash and brow tinting. Beard trimming and haircuts are offered to men, as well.
Pricing is on the high side for the spa treatments but the quality of the products used and the therapists is top-notch. There are no high-pressure sales at the end, though you might hear recommendations about what you can do to relieve that knot in your back or dry skin once back home. Tips are not included in the pricing; you can tip when you check out, leaving the amount you think is appropriate.
Viking Orion's fitness center is state of the art, featuring cardiovascular equipment, weight machines and dumbbells (up to 25 kilograms). The gym also has TRX straps, yoga and Pilates equipment and mats for stretching. TechnoGym cardio machines include ellipticals, stationary bikes and treadmills -- our favorite are the two treadmills that simulate uphill and downhill running.
A small section of the gym doubles as studio space, and classes take place here occasionally during the cruise. (There's a fee for the classes.) Personal training for a fee is available, either individually or as a group, as well.
The ship doesn't have an official jogging track, but the promenade on Deck 2 wraps all the way around and is both wide and shaded. Four laps make up a mile.
The minimum age to sail Viking Orion is 18. The ship doesn't have any specific kids programming or spaces.
* May require additional fees