We picked this trip because it included a trip up the Amazon River. We have been on other smaller cruises with 50 to 300 passengers on rivers and seas and one larger one of 3,000. The larger one was to accommodate other members of our family. We actually prefer smaller ships generally. However, our thinking has changed somewhat due to the Viking Sea. They have definitely found a niche with services of the big ships with thousands of guests and the intimacy and comfort of smaller ships.
Planning all the details of our trip was easy. The telephone Viking people are always helpful and knowledgeable. They know their product. No long waits to be connected. Once I had booked, I used the My Viking Journey website to book restaurants and excursions, including the times for the included excursions. There is one included excursion for every port. I will handle those reviews individually. There is a lot of good information on the Viking website, as well as, My Viking Journey. From lists of what to pack and not pack to whether you need a visa or not, make sure that you explore both websites. Once on the ship, Viking Voyager takes over with information including the daily newsletter, your spa/restaurant/excursion reservations, etc. It updates immediately with any changes that you make.
Embarkation was easy. We used the official transfer included with the air purchased with our cruise. By the way, the flights chosen by Viking were exactly the flights I would have chosen. They were midday non-stops from my preferred airport. They took charge of our luggage as soon as we removed it from the carousel. The next time we saw it was when it was delivered to our cabin. On the bus ride to the ship terminal, we were told about San Juan. We were handed our cabin cards and excursion tickets in a warehouse like area that must normally serve the big ships. Our cabin class had a 1:00 pm cabin access which was perfect. Our steward showed us around our cabin and explained all of the key items from coffee machine to night lights.
Meals were delicious and varied. There are multiple venues. Deck 7 has the more casual venues. The World Cafe is available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a buffet format. Make sure you check out both sides, while mostly the same, at lunch for instance, there is pizza on one side and fresh ice cream on the other. The food includes many choices and has no dress requirements for dinner. Next to it is the Aquavit Terrace where you can sit outside and where there were specialty buffets on different nights and a fabulous Sunday Brunch on our one at sea Sunday. The Pool Grill features customized hamburgers, hot dogs, hot sandwiches, and a salad bar. On the other end of Deck 7 is Mamsen's in the Explorer's Lounge. Mamsen's is a Norwegian style deli that serves a limited menu for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. We loved their open face sandwiches while sitting in the Explorer's Lounge. They also have hot dishes made to order and their specialty is waffles. Between these restaurants is the Winter Garden where tea is served every afternoon complete with scones, finger sandwiches, and sweets. Music is played during tea by one of the resident musicians. On Deck 2 is the largest restaurant called The Restaurant. It is open for all three meals as a full table service restaurant with linens. The dinner menu changed every day but had some standard favorites that were always available. Service is gracious and precise. No one hurries here. No reservations are required but, if you come directly from the port talk or other program with everyone else, there may be a short wait to be seated. I only saw one night that The Restaurant reached capacity and a half dozen couples had to wait for a table. They will offer to seat you with other people or you can have a table for just your party. Special diets are carefully handled here as our requests for specific waiters or tables. On Deck 1 are three specialty dinner restaurants which require reservations. These three plus The Restaurant have a 'classy casual' dress code. Men must wear collared shirts and long pants, no denim. Women wear nice slacks and tops or dresses. Occasionally, a man wore a suit or a woman a cocktail dress but it was rare. While you can make a limited number of reservations before sailing, there are plenty of additional slots available when on board. We both loved the Italian restaurant, Manfredi's - great food and service. The Chef's Table is very gourmet with elaborate fixed menus that change every two or three days and have four courses with wine pairings.
Beer and wine are included with all lunches and dinners at no extra charge. We also had an included mini-bar in our cabin class at no extra charge (details in cabin review.) All speciality coffees and teas are included all day long. There is a Silver Spirits package with upgraded wine and cocktails for the entire day and night, not just meals. It also includes more deluxe wine pairings at the speciality restaurant The Chef's Table. Truthfully, I could not figure out how we could drink enough during non-meal hours to justify its cost so we skipped the Silver Spirits package. We had a couple of cocktails at a pay as you go basis and upgraded our wine pairings one night at The Chef's Table (they were good but only one of the four was really superior) for much less money. Also, the custom is to have your wine glass refilled just before you leave your chosen restaurant and take it into the theater while attending a show.
By the way, the air conditioning works very well on the ship, you will probably need a sweater, especially in The Theater. Some people even wrapped up in blankets.
We loved the musical entertainment both formal and informal. There was the onboard guitarist, classical duo, and pianist playing all over the ship plus two show teams and a onboard four piece band. We also had guest performers including two solo singers and a magician. We even had a local Brazilian performing group come aboard. In Parinthin, Brazil, everyone was able to attend one of two showings at a large, very near venue. It was a very Brazilian show with lots of music and brilliant costumes with plenty of feathers and paint.
WiFi is included and while not super fast, we were able to check emails, download documents, and even stream a program. Considering it comes by satellite, it is the best that we have seen on a cruise and there was no charge, as well. The convenience of this service was important to us. There are also five computers available to cruise guests and while frequently busy, I never saw a line. My husband used them to back-up his digital photos and I appreciated a bigger screen than my smartphone on one occasion. And, on our last night, one of the excursion staff insisted printing our boarding passes for us from her computer.
The self-service launderettes are included also. No charge for any guest including the detergent. However, for a few days on the Amazon, it was closed for water conservation. While the Sea makes its own water at sea, it cannot on the muddy Amazon. We were only given a day's warning before the launderettes were closed so the lines were long just before they were closed. After our tanks were refilled in Manaus, Brazil and the captain was satisfied that we had enough water available, they reopened. They were only closed for four or five days of our 21 day cruise.
Staff is where Viking Sea shines. The captain is a cheerful Swede who runs a happy ship that appreciates its staff and caterers to its guests. Everyone is eager to assist the guests. Every criticism is taken seriously. One officer pointed out that Viking Ocean company is only three years old and they are still learning. The captain and hotel general manager frequently walked around the ship talking to the guests including in all of the restaurants. When the water was too low to dock directly in Belem, Brazil, extra tenders and air conditioned busses were hired to get us into town. Tours were rearranged and bag lunches added to too tight schedules of those of us with two tours on the same day. And, the captain and staff kept apologizing for the inconvenience. On our second to last night at the Captain's Farewell Reception, we had our champagne and introductions again of the officers similar to the Opening Reception but, this time, all of the wait staff and cabin staff were lined up in the aisles to our cheers and applause. A video good-bye included all of these plus engineers, procurement, security, spa personnel, bridge personnel, etc. all waving good-bye.
There was a small outbreak of GI disease at the end of our cruise. The captain took immediate action. He told us by both ship speaker system and a letter its extent (five people), told us that if sick to stay in our cabin and call for medical personnel to come to us (we had a doctor and a nurse are onboard), reminded us to wash our hands for 20 seconds, explained it is a common disease but highly contagious, and closed the swimming pools. My husband and I were not affected and were unaware of a problem until he announced it. People seemed pleased that he took it so seriously.
Our fellow passengers were friendly and cheerful with an occasional grumble. Most are 50's to 70's but there were plenty older and younger. Some needed assistance walking but most were fit. Some were obviously affluent but some were not and the cruise was a stretch financially. Either way, most were on this cruise because of the itinerary. Many had already visited the Caribbean but not Brazil. Many had sailed on much bigger ships and some on smaller. There were a lot of multiple Viking cruisers including river and ocean.
Elevators are quick. Leaving on excursions is carefully staggered and controlled to avoid crowding at the exit and through security. There was just one day when it seemed as if everyone wanted to get back on the ship at the same time.
Decor is very Scandinavian, light woods, clean lines. The artwork is eclectic with photographs from around the world, children's artwork, Viking reproductions, and prints and paintings. Walls are made to look like a birch forest and a floor is covered in lichen reproductions. There is a Viking museum on Deck 2. The Bayeux Tapestry is featured throughout the ship and there is a fun animation of it in the Viking museum.
Everything is cleaned and repaired constantly. Any scuff on the hull was repainted immediately. Restrooms were immaculate with supplies refreshed frequently. They had beautiful grinder salt and pepper shakers that did not work because of the dampness we all assumed. They were replaced at all the tables at the World Cafe midway through our cruise.
Enrichment lectures were specific to this troop with guests lecturers including a woman who had lived with indigenous people in the Amazon basin, an expert on animals, a college professor who covered the politics and history of Brazil, and the resident historian who gave interesting talks on all the places visited. If you missed one, you could watch a recording of it on the cabin television.
Port talks were very useful and also can be viewed later on the cabin television. It is very important to check these out to no how to prepare for the next day's excursions. Beach towels show up in your cabin if you will be visiting a beach or swimming with the pink dolphins.
The televisions in our cabins, besides enrichment lectures and port talks, could make reservations, had some news channels, included a number of recent and classic movies and recorded television shows, had the view from the bridge, a listing of all of the excursions, TED talks, you and your cabin mate's current schedule, the Daily Viking list of all of the shows and activities, and more.
Tips are a standard amount added to your account which you can monitor through Viking Voyager app. The exceptions are the bars include tips in their prices and the spa has you set your own amount. The spa is run by a separate company.
Disembarkation, while well planned, can be difficult. Luggage outside the cabin by 10 pm the night before with the colored tag. Everyone out of their cabins by 8:00 am. Then a staggered scheduled for leaving the ship followed by claiming our luggage and taking it to the busses going to the airport. At the airport, our bags went through an agriculture check before we received them and checked into our flights. United was not open when we arrived. We had to wait an hour before we could drop our bags and go to our gate. We still had hours to our flight and had lunch there. The food was good but could not compare to what we were accustomed to after three weeks on the Viking Sea. And, we had to remember how to pay and tip!
The cabin was very roomy. Besides a king sized bed, there was a small couch, coffee table, and stuffed chair plus a desk type chair at the vanity/desk. We also had a veranda with two chairs and a small table with space to spare. All cabins on Viking Ocean ships have verandas. There are no inside cabins. We emptied out our large suitcases and carry-ons and still had room to spare in the drawers and closet. We kept our empty bags under the bed. The bathroom was very generously sized with heated floors and recessed night lights. There was plenty of storage here also with drawers and shelves. Everything was kept spotlessly clean. When I said our bed was too hard for my comfort on a mid-cruise evaluation, the head of housekeeping worked with our stewards to put a quilt under the sheets for extra cushioning. I should have told our stewards sooner. We had filtered water in a decanter refilled twice a day which I much prefer to individual disposable bottles. Included in our cabin class was shoe polishing and ironing. We had no shoes that needed polishing but I did use the the ironing service which takes a bit over 24 hours to get it returned. We also had our mini-bar replenished once a day with soft drinks, small bottles of hard liquor, and some small snacks. We received one bottle of champagne for the cruise. The snacks were tiny pieces of chocolate and some small bags of nuts and trail mix. I commented that I did not really consider that much in the way of snacks.However, since all food is included, we just picked up plates of savories or cookies in the Living Room bar or Mamsens and ate those in our cabin. Room service is included at no extra charge, not even a tip. That menu is limited but we had breakfast in our room a number of times to speed up our mornings including, amazingly to me, disembarkation day. I kept a glass of milk in the refrigerator to use with our room's coffee maker. One day, I made Irish coffee with our mini-bar whiskey, coffee, and milk. Other days, we had rum and coke or gin and tonic.
The basic tour of the distillery was a joke. The history of the company was given and the process described but we didn't see the actual workings. However, we had the Mixology lesson included and that was fun. We each got a workstation with all the equipment and ingredients to make three classic rum cocktails. We were carefully guided through the steps. Then, we got to drink our creations. That plus a welcome cocktail when we first arrived. This was all before noon!View All 102 Bacardi Rum Distillery Reviews
We taken in small vans to a location where we signed paperwork and then proceeded to submarine by a boat. The boat was tied to the submarine and both rocked a bit. You needed to walk very carefully. There were two long benches where everyone sat tightly together facing large round windows. We did see fish, coral, and a recent wrecked ship. It was fascinating and fun and we didn't get our feet wet.View All 26 Atlantis Submarine Reviews
Included bus tour with two stops - a historic church and a hilltop view.
Included bus tour that drove around the island with views. We stopped at a private estate for a snack and a chance to see the extensive garden on the hilltop where it is located.
Beautiful drive across the island took us to a protected rainforest where we slowly glided in a tram through the rainforest while it was narrated by a guide in our tram. Going up the mountain, we were at a low level. Coming back we were tree tops and had views across the island. We didn't see many birds but we did get a real feel for being in the trees of a rainforest. Afterwards we had a complimentary fruit juice beverage and returned to our ship.View All 32 Rainforest Aerial Tram Tour Reviews
Santa Lucia Nature Walk took us to a privately protected piece of the rainforest in Brazil where we walked among the trees with a guide who identified the trees and explained their uses.
Santarem Panorama was an included tour that included a cassava flour meal where we saw its traditional production. We also ate local fruits and sampled other foods and saw how natural rubber is collected. The tour included a small museum and cathedral.
An included tour of the city. While the city is interesting, it is large and we only had one official stop at a lookout. Taking photos through a bus window was not great.View All 17 City Tour Reviews
We took a boat upriver. There was a restroom aboard. When it rained hard, there were canvas curtains to roll down. Still you need to come prepared to get wet including getting ashore. The rubber museum was the owner's house kept historically furnished plus the company store.
The indigenous people's village was the highlight. We were welcomed in the long house were we were entertained by singing and dancing. We were encouraged to participate in the final dance. We toured the main buildings including a communal kitchen where we were shown what is their normal diet. Fish and caiman were cooking over a low fire. They also sold hand crafts so make sure you travel with some money.View All 5 Rubber Museum Reviews
The Pink Dolphin Encounter was a very long boat ride upriver to a location where wild dolphins have been trained to visit. We wore our swimsuits under our clothes and slipped into the water by the dock on a submersed deck. Fish were used to entice the dolphins close to us so we could feel them. They also swam around us, bumping into us. Being in the river with the pink dolphins was incredible. Part of this trip was to a local village where we saw the arrangement of school, soccer field, church, homes, etc. and were offered hand crafts to buy and an explanation of how rubber is collected.
In Search of Caimans was a night trip. We started in a larger boat with restrooms and two levels. We then transferred in small groups of 10 to a small power boat. Using flashlights, our guides hunted to find caimans along the Rio Negro. Eventually, all of the little boats found a caiman. Ours was only a foot long and so we could pass it around. Some were much larger and so not passed. Then we returned to the larger boat and from it back to our ship. Being out on the river after dark was fun.View All undefined undefined Reviews
The included tour was a trip through the streets of Charlotte Amalie then up a steep mountain where we were given 45 minutes to shop and take a look at the view. 5 to 10 minutes would have been enough for me. Some of the guides narrated the view but ours didn't so we listened to the others. We stopped for two more overlooks on the way down. One had some street vendors and the other included a glass of rum punch from our ship's crew.View All 291 Island Tour Reviews
The Kon Tiki II was a short walk from our ship. The short cruise was well narrated plus a live steel pan drum calypso band and unlimited rum punch. We hovered over a coral reef for a few minutes looking through a special glass bottom port in the middle of the ship and a crew member used cat food to entice a school of fish to the side of our boat. Then, it was on to a small beach on Water Island. There were chairs and umbrellas for our use. As recommended by the boat crew, my husband and I had the fish tacos from the small food stand on the beach. They were excellent but pricey. We waded and swam in the water for an hour and then it was time to return to the boat and the limbo contest on the way back. This was a very pleasant half day excursion that hit all the right notes.View All 68 Kon Tiki Boat Reviews
Amazing Antiqua was a bus tour that took us to the original British fortifications from the early 19th century. We stopped at a point where the Caribbean met the Atlantic and was high up on a cliff for the British to monitor ships in the area. Then, we went on to a restored Georgian port where we saw beautiful modern sailing ships and had a glass of rum punch. There was a small museum that documented the history of the British navy here. It is a lovely, touristy area that is worth the stop. The guide to the Nelson's Dockyard was excellent as was the guide on the bus.View All 194 Island Tour Reviews
We walked to their office first to have a safety lecture and get helmets plus sign a release. Then, we walked to the yard where the buggys are kept. They are automatic transmission with accelerator and brake pedal. There is a minimal frame with two seats and a windshield. A storage chest is lashed down in back to put in anything you don't want covered in mud. We then followed the leader as we zig zagged out of town. We were warned that we must keep up our speed. We eventually got to open fields with a two hundred year old road that naturally is in poor shape in places. I followed the directions of how to handle the spots with water running across and mud and rocks. We stopped to admire a former reservoir and then for juice break from roadside stand with other items for sale. After we turned up the coast, we stopped at a beach and restaurant-bar. It was a much too brief stop to bother to do more than wade for a few minutes. There were much appreciated restrooms though. We drove up the coast some more and back through the city. We had a wonderful time doing something I had never thought I would do in my late 60's but I am very glad that I did it! And, everyone did keep up and we got back on time.View All undefined undefined Reviews