Viking Cruise Trans-Atlantic September 2019
Our cruises are always chosen for their itinerary, but after that, of course, the cruise line is a major consideration. We came across the “In the Wake of the Vikings” cruise with Viking Ocean Cruises, a line new to us, back in early 2018, but we were not free at the time, so we expressed an interest with Viking for the 2019 sailing, through our local Travel Agent.
We were not so happy, therefore, when we were eventually contacted by Viking to tell us that the cruise was finally open to the UK market, but, because it had been on sale in the USA for some time already, we had the choice of only one room in the category we wanted, a Penthouse Veranda room. It was, fortunately, in a good position, on the starboard side and forward, so we booked it immediately.
Flights are arranged through Viking and we were booked on Scandinavian Air Services from Manchester to Bergen via Copenhagen, which all went smoothly. Our return flights, from Montreal to Heathrow and then on to Manchester, were with B.A. Unfortunately, our return flight to LHR was cancelled because of the B.A. strike and was, during the cruise, changed firstly with Air Canada to LHR and then with American Airlines to Philadelphia and Manchester when the Air Canada LHR/Manchester connection wasn’t possible. Ironically, because the Philadelphia flight from Montreal was stuck in Philadelphia when the time came, meaning our connection would be missed, we ended up back on our original B.A. flight to Heathrow, after retrieving our luggage and going back through Departures, which wasn’t pleasant, but we did at least get home not too much later than planned; the Economy section of the plane was almost empty too, which helped.
Back in Bergen Airport, we learned from the Meet and Greet team that an alteration to the itinerary was already in place. The remnants of Storm Dorian were to blame, as bad weather predicted for our first two stops in Lerwick and Torshavn meant we would almost certainly not be able to enter the ports and also experience uncomfortable conditions at sea. The solution was to leave Bergen immediately and head for Iceland instead, missing our scheduled overnight stay in Bergen and full day there.
Once aboard, which was a speedy and friendly process as we were quite late reaching the ship, we found a letter in our stateroom explaining the situation fully. Additional ports, Akureyri and Isafjordur, would replace Lerwick and Torshavn, after which our schedule would return to normal and we would avoid the worst of the storm by leaving Bergen immediately. This made little difference to us, as we have visited all four ports before, but many American guests were naturally disappointed.
Our sea days were indeed on the rough side, but nothing too serious. Our days in Akureyri, Isafjordur and Reykjavik were good, but there was further information about the next part of the schedule from the Captain before we sailed from Iceland, heading for Greenland. Once again, stormy weather on our route to Prince Christian Sound and Nanortalik was to be avoided by turning a little north, which meant that we would still enter the Sound, but at the more comfortable time of midday instead of early morning. We would then miss Nanortalik completely and head straight for Qaqortoq. Once again, this suited us well as we were particularly keen to pass through the Sound and we were delighted that the Captain understood that it was an important part of the cruise for most passengers.
This plan worked well and we had a wonderful passage through Prince Christian Sound, but before leaving Qaqortoq we were informed of a further change to the schedule because of the bad weather; the anchorage for L’Anse aux Meadows, a Viking settlement in Newfoundland, would be far too exposed to allow tendering, so the Captain and the company had gone to tremendous trouble to reorganise our stop to St. Anthony, a fifty minute bus ride away. Once again, everything worked very well, despite the need to disembark a sick guest into the conveniently close-by hospital, which delayed our departure.
That was the end of our itinerary problems, but we have great admiration for the effort and cost the Viking Company was prepared to put into making our cruise as good as possible and we enjoyed the itinerary very much, although issues raised by other Cruise Critic writers about the actual location of the Saguenay dock and the lack of time in Quebec are worth noting.
Viking Sea (and her sister ships) should have suited us down to the ground, because we don’t need evening entertainment, preferring the scenery outside the windows and the guest numbers are low. However, our final survey for the ship before disembarkation (conveniently delayed until after lunch for the group of us who had later flights) had us indicating that we would not recommend the ship to our friends and we would be very unlikely to travel with Viking again through a combination of several reasons.
Slightly souring our initial impression of the ship was our first view of our room, which was missing the separate door and large window shown in the brochure, having instead a sliding door, somewhat screened by the curtain, which made the room seem dark and reduced the view from the sofa. We spend a lot of time in our room and this was a disappointment. The ship was full, so we could not be moved. I was also concerned by a possible lack of soundproofing after clearly hearing coughing through the wall, but in fact this was not an issue.
Our main area of disappointment was the food on board Viking Sea. This is a very personal issue, of course. We prefer to eat in the World Cafe for all meals because we like the relaxed atmosphere and the views from the windows. We did eat in the Restaurant on one occasion when we thought the Cafe would be taken up by an Indian buffet, but it was extremely busy and my view was of a wall, whereas outside it was a beautiful evening. We just made it outside in time for the sunset. We never tried the other eating opportunities, apart from the Pool Grill, which we enjoyed. We found the menu in the World Cafe pretentious and repetitive and frequently not to our taste, with plenty of seafood and underdone meat, although the chefs would willingly cook portions to our requirements. Food was frequently cool in its presentation trays even when freshly put out and we learned to ask for our plates to be reheated, but cooked-to-order food could be left out on the plate for collection, therefore cooling again. Even my individual portion of mashed potato in the restaurant was cool. We usually enjoy soup on our cruises at lunch and dinner, but more often than not we found it was either fish or spicy and we went without. Desserts were more tempting and we took advantage of the gelato bar too, but our overall impression was poor, not helped by items missing from the drinks area, cool water in the hot water jugs and empty milk jugs. Making a hot drink could be a slow and frustrating process at times.
Our early departure from Bergen meant that some food items had not been restocked, so some individual breakfast cereals were soon unavailable, as were some yoghurts and finally bagels. Even the orange juice from the machines turned into something more like sour squash from Quebec and would be like that for the next cruise, we were told. My reply was that I was pleased to be leaving, in that case.
For some reason which is hard to define, we also found the atmosphere on board ship very uninspiring. The pool area and the Winter Garden were both frequently chilly, but guests, despite all rooms having their own balconies and sea views, would lie on the loungers wrapped in blankets. Even during the scenic cruising periods, there were not too many people outside to appreciate it. The indoor pool was closed almost all the time, either from the bad weather or maintenance and the outdoor hot pool was also occasionally closed at times. The outdoor decks were frequently closed due to the strong winds. The ship felt like an uninspiring Retirement Home, with Baggo the main excitement of the day! Obviously, there were plenty of other activities available during the day, but this is how we felt overall, compared with our experience on many other cruise ships. We also disliked the atrium area because all the windows were screened by obscuring netting, preventing any view outside, which was disappointing as this was a popular place to sit. The World Cafe sliding doors were ill-filling and draughty, but otherwise we generally enjoyed this space, even though we were often almost on our own there out of meal times.
Viking Cruises offer an included tour at most ports. We normally preferred to walk around on our own, but at Qaqortok we opted into a “self guided” tour, which we thought would include an idea of a route and information on what we would see. Wrong! We received a basic map and enquiries afterwards made it clear that our group timings were simply a way of organising and monitoring the tendering process. Fair enough, but that is not a self-guided tour in our opinion.
However, there were many things about Viking Sea we did like. We were most impressed by and appreciative of the information we were given by the Captain on the various itinerary changes and the way the problems were resolved. The staff members were all friendly and eager to help with any enquiries and our room stewards continually asked if we needed anything. An early cruise survey, which they asked us to fill in to satisfy their superiors, gave us the opportunity to suggest a couple of future improvements to the room in terms of more bathroom hanging space and hooks for outdoor coats, as well as mentioning the food issues. This resulted in the delivery of extra towels and hangers, which we declined, plus a series of phone calls from various departments trying to resolve matters which were generally simply suggestions!
Our stateroom grade, Penthouse Verandah, included a complimentary minibar which was replenished daily. We don’t drink either the spirits or sodas in the minibar, but the sommelier was happy to remove those and provided us with wine to our taste instead.
Lectures and port talks were available to watch on the room TV as well as live in the theatre, which we preferred on the whole. There was a good range of live TV, plus recorded programmes and films to choose from and the internet was usually good for our location. We were both able to use our tablets at the same time, which is unusual in our experience.
Finally, although we stated in our disembarkation survey that we were unlikely to travel with Viking again, a promotion too good to miss and an interesting itinerary have offered us the opportunity to revise our opinions early next year.
Penthouse Veranda rooms are spacious and well appointed, with ample storage, although the sliding wardrobe doors were not ideal in the rough weather we experienced, waking us one night until we threw cushions in the space! The bathroom was modern and attractive, with the benefit of a heated floor. The shower was powerful and pleasant to use with its glass panels.
A pod coffee machine was supplied in the room and I was also given a kettle and tea bags for tea, but we soon decided we preferred to walk to the World Cafe or other areas instead for refreshments, for a change of scene and exercise!
The room was well supplied with electrical outlets, including USBs by the bed, which were very helpful.
The two room stewards were very attentive and we were impressed by their efforts to keep the doors and balcony glass, inside and out, as clean as possible in the circumstances, which we appreciated.
The room was in a quiet location but not too far from the central stairs and lifts. We have opted for the same grade and a similar location on our next Viking Ocean Cruise.