We had been on a Viking River Cruise and wanted to try Viking Ocean. We wanted to see if the additional inclusions of a Viking Ocean Cruise merited the greater cost. And it was interesting. I anticipated the much promoted "included shore excursions" and "included wine & beer" would be where I felt the greatest upgrade from other Ocean cruises we have taken. But I have to say, the excursions were only OK and the included wine (didn't try the beer) was pretty mediocre.
EXCURSIONS: The booking of included excursions was odd. Unlike Viking River, you had to pre-book these and they were offered at different times. There were limited spaces available during the morning excursions, which went to the premium cabin guests, of which we were not. So most of our included excursions departed between 11am and 1pm. This made having lunch difficult as few dining options were open for lunch, especially before noon, and dining in the restaurant was not quick enough to get you to a 1:00 shore excursion. Oddly, no lunch stops were planned during those afternoon excursions. The excursions really varied in quality, with too much time on buses. The guides were much more difficult to understand then those we had on Viking River and some infantilized the group, which was annoying. Embarkation for the shore excursions was amazing. So well done and I love the apples and water they provide for the road!
DINING: There was a buffet, which had excellent food - including a fabulous Sushi bar - but they could use to extend their hours. It would be awesome if a buffet option was open continuously. I really missed being able to get a late breakfast with protein options for those mornings we stayed on the ship waiting for our later, included shore excursions. I think they could easily keep a buffet option open continuously by using the two sides of the buffet (port & starboard) more creatively. This would give great dining options for late breakfast, early lunch and early dinners.
Breakfast | Port: 6am-9am | Starboard: 8am-11am
Lunch | Port: 11am - 2pm
Dinner | Port: 6pm - 9pm | Starboard: 4pm - 8pm
We did not eat in the specialty restaurants. Cabin grade again ruled when you could make reservations, and by the time we were allowed to make them, we felt the available times were too late in the evening for what was described as a two hour dining process. We did eat in the main Restaurant three times. The food, though the exact same menu as what was served in the buffet, was just not as good. It seemed like it had been plated well in advance and held too long and often swimming in grease.
The service lacked grace. The servers handed you the menu and asked if you wanted a red or a white wine. Missing entirely was the chef coming out to explain the menu, his wine selections, the pairing and the locavore nature of the menu. We asked the servers several times to describe the selections, and they were completely unprepared and surprised by our question. They knew nothing about the wines they served, except the country of origin and the color. And since the wine selections were pretty mediocre, we decided to order our own bottle on the second day. We did not finish the bottle, and the staff said they would prepare it for storage and present it the next night. But when we returned to the restaurant, it took 3 staff people to find our bottle. With other cruise lines, once they know which cabin number is sitting where, that bottle appears like magic, along with an experienced sommelier. Really, really missed this service. So, once we discovered that the buffet had the same menu, we stopped going to the restaurant. Which was a disappointment, as we so enjoy gracious, plated service.
SHIP EXPERIENCE: What I did find that I so enjoyed about Viking was the ship itself. I didn't expect this to make that much difference to the overall enjoyment of our vacation, but it did. The public spaces were so well thought out. Nooks and crannies where you could hide out, or people watch or whatever. An elevated and educated choice of decorations, art, games and books. The Fitness and Spa area is world class. I was thrilled by the selection of machines - even a rowing machine! I am an avid rower, and really thought it would be a kick to row at sea, and loved that the rowing machine faced nothing but a huge window! The running track was well laid out, with no obstacles and several great viewing windows into the belly of the ship so you could check out the crew working as you went by. The snow grotto, sauna & dressing rooms were brilliant. I hauled the robe from my room down to the spa the first day only to learn - they have them in every locker just waiting for you! Also waiting for you is bottled water on every exercise machine. On deck 9, there are outdoor machines and putting greens and no one uses them, so you can generally have that deck to yourself.
The ship was laid out so that many places felt like no one else knew about them. Over 900 guests - but unless you were in the main restaurant, it felt more like cruising with 100. Our cabin was amazing - and these had to be the best bathrooms and mattresses at sea. Main embarkation and disembarkation were seamless - no waiting - and extremely easy to handle. We changed a few shore excursions onboard which was easy and staff was very accommodating. I would highly recommend spending time in the "Room with a View" the second floor of the Explorer's Lounge.
WOULD WE GO AGAIN? Yes