Into the Midnight Sun, June 5-19, 2016
This is our first experience with Viking. We have not used them for a river cruise in the past. This marks our seventh ocean cruise; we chose Viking because we prefer smaller ships.. We traveled with three other couples from our city.
Summary - Ship and its staff are mostly terrific, but shore excursions were poorly organized and run. Our pre-trip extension to Iceland started things out on a sour note. We would certainly consider using Viking Ocean Cruises in the future, if the itinerary was right and the excursion kinks get ironed out.
The Ship - The Viking Sea is beautiful. The decor definitely shows the Nordic heritage of the company, which one fellow passenger described as too cold. That person wanted something more elaborate. We responded positively to the decor and to the layout overall. Despite there being 930 passengers, we seldom felt like the ship was crowded. There are lots of spaces to get away from the crowds if you want to. The only time we felt the ship was crowded was on one of the two sea days.
Staterooms - The cabin was nicely appointed with two upholstered chairs and a desk chair, a coffee table (that got tipped over too often), and a desk with built-in makeup mirror that was too low to be useful unless the user hunched down. Storage space was ample, and the bathroom was very, very nice, with a good shower, heated floor, and plenty of storage space. The stateroom attendant was unobtrusive, but very attentive. Some of our travel companions had difficulty with having enough hot water for showering, but we did not experience that.
The Staff - The onboard workers must be taking happy pills every morning. They were almost uniformly cheerful and appeared to be genuinely happy to be working there. Guest Services was a location where at least one person seemed uninterested, perhaps because the section was overwhelmed early in the cruise with people who had trouble with their excursion bookings. Otherwise, everyone was great.
The Food - The food was largely very good to excellent, as was the service. We ate twice in each of the specialty restaurants. One menu in the Chef’s Table was disappointing to some, but not all of us. A second visit produced uniform praise. Manfredi’s was excellent both times we dined there. We celebrated our wedding anniversary in Manfredi’s, where the staff went out of their way to make the day special. The Restaurant (main dining room) is broken up so that it doesn’t feel as crowded as it really is, a nice touch. There was only one evening when the food disappointed some of us, not a bad record for a cruise of this length. The World Café (cafeteria) was busy for breakfast and lunch, especially on sea days, and there were times when requested drinks took too long to order and too long to arrive. But there was often freshly sautéed fish and sometimes mussels for lunch. Eggs could be cooked to order for breakfast, including fried, poached, Benedict, and omelets. The omelet cooks tended to be a little slow. This is one of the better cafeterias we have experienced on a cruise.
The Excursions - We stuck mainly to the included excursions. They were overcrowded and consisted of too many drive-by experiences. The guides were a little uneven, with one who was too much cute and too little informative to the other extreme with a guide who was terrific. Despite having booked all excursions on the web long before we left, we found that times were changed from the original booking times, even during the cruise itself. Perhaps they were attempting to balance the load, but there was no notice that the changes were being made in advance of seeing the schedule the night before. This was particularly annoying, as we were traveling with three other couples and wanted to do these together. We ended up having to reschedule to get back together; once two couples just got on the bus at the time originally scheduled, rather than the one that they were reassigned.
Tendering was a nuisance, particularly in Edinburgh, where we were an hour late for our excursion. There were not enough tenders running to meet the demand.
We would wait to sail with Viking again until they get their act together on excursions. We speculate that they are having trouble scaling up from 180 passengers on their river cruises to 930 on the ocean trips.
Enrichment - There were four enrichment lecturers onboard, each with a different slant on our travels. There usually were a couple of these lectures each day, and we attended many of them. This is a ore elaborate enrichment program that we’ve seen on on the lines, a nice addition.
Entertainment - The entertainment was plentiful and varied, with a small troupe of singers and dancers who usually performed together in the evening. This group also formed smaller combos for special shows. Talent was uneven, but enthusiasm was high. The sound and video systems in the Star Theater were top notch. There were also a classical trio, a guitarist, and a pianist who performed in rotating selection of the more intimate spaces. They were quite good. Two performers, a singer and a pianist, came aboard and entertained for two shows each and the left the cruise.
Itinerary - Mostly very good, although we wished Viking had cruised more than one fjord. There were a couple of Norwegian ports that would have been a good trade for another fjord. We stopped in both the Shetland and Orkney Islands. One of the two would probably have been enough, at least for the amount of time we spent there. But we knew the itinerary before we signed up, so these comments are mainly wishes for modifications for this cruise in the future.
Pre-cruise Extension in Iceland
We booked the two-night extension in Iceland before the cruise. The first day was a real trial. We were picked up at the airport and brought to the FossHotel Reykyavik, not the Hilton shown in our cruise documents. Our escort dropped us there at about 11:00 without much commentary. Only then did we learn that rooms wouldn’t be available until 4:00 that afternoon. So we waited for our room with no scheduled activities. I understand that check-in times for most hotels are in the afternoon, and we’ve experienced this several times when taking an overnight transatlantic flight to Europe. However, when we booked this extension, the itinerary indicated that there would be a city tour of Reykjavik the first day. That plan apparently was abandoned. So rather than having the promised activity to fill time while rooms were being prepared, we just sat in the lobby for over five hours. There was no secured storage for hand luggage, which meant we didn’t feel free to leave. Two of us did take a walk along a shopping street during the afternoon. That helped clear the cobwebs. There were lots of very unhappy people sitting around. Viking did not do themselves any favors with this part of the trip.
Things improved with our two more days in Iceland, mostly taking a bus to see various sights. Iceland has a unique landscape that was well worth seeing. However, it seems that tourists from around the world have decided that Iceland is worth a visit. The Golden Circle drive, which most tours use, was mobbed. Of course, this isn’t something Viking could control, but I suspect seeing this part of Iceland might be more rewarding for people who book their own private tours or drive themselves and who depart on a different schedule than all the busses out of Reykjavik. Based on this one experience, we would be reluctant to book a pre- or post-cruise extension with Viking.