My husband and I are in our forties, so we understand we’re younger than the typical Viking guest. We have done two Holland America cruises in the past (although in 2010 and 2015, so several years ago) and enjoyed them. We did a Viking River cruise in 2019 and loved it, which was our primary motivator for booking with Viking Ocean. We’re avid readers and generally quiet people, so the appeal of 1) no children, 2) no formal nights, and 3) included excursions were key to us. The included excursions were probably the biggest draw as we loved our included walking tours on the river cruise.
We’re not big drinkers or wine snobs, so we did not see the need to purchase the beverage package. We are content with a glass of house wine at dinner.
We also wanted a smaller ship experience. My understanding is HAL ships have only gotten bigger since our first cruise in 2010 (which was about 800-900 pax).
Outstanding! We booked a DV on deck 4 and were very pleased with it. Comfortable with plenty of storage. We requested firmer pillows and those were quickly supplied. We especially appreciated the free laundry room, as that enabled us to pack even lighter than we typically do.
Our private excursion to Arataki Waitākere Ranges Regional Park and Piha Black Sand Beach was canceled due to mudslides from Cyclone Gabrielle, so we were at loose ends. We purchased tickets for the Auckland Explorer hop-on hop-off bus at the ferry station and walked about two blocks to the first stop. The bus offered about 5-6 stops when we were there, as a few had been canceled due to flooding. Note: The couple in front of us at the ferry building as for the “hop-on hop-off” bus and were told it didn’t run on that day of the week. But I had looked it up the previous night and knew that it did. So I asked for the Auckland Explorer Bus and was promptly sold tickets. I cannot explain this. It was a typical double-decker HOHO bus with canned English commentary. We got off at the Wintergardens and War Memorial Museum stop. Both were disappointing. The Wintergardens were two small greenhouses, one of which was closed for repairs. There was a separate New Zealand fern house. The museum was about $30/person and we didn’t care for it. We found a strange hodgepodge of items related to New Zealand. Dinosaur bones, taxidermied animals, WWII planes, household items, some Mãori items, an Earthquake shake house, etc. However, it did have an excellent gift shop with many local products. We then took the HOHO bus back to the stop a couple of blocks from the ship as none of the other stops interested us. My overall impression of Auckland is that is just a large city with no unique features. In retrospect, we should have looked for any last minutes excursion that would have taken us anywhere out of the city.
We did the Vikings optional Canterbury Sheep Farm tour. Excellent! About a 45 minutes drive inland to Little River, New Zealand. This was the most beautiful drive of the entire cruise, just stunning. There was a brief stop at a community center in Little River to use the restroom and there were a few local craft sellers. Then onto Manderlay Farm where Russ explained how he trained his sheepdogs, then he had the dogs demonstrate various herding tasks. This portion was outdoors in a flat pasture-like area. Then into a large shed where Russ demonstrated how to shear a sheep. This shed was very hot and smelled strongly of animals. Not surprising or concerning to me, but I’m mentioning it for the sake of full disclosure. There was no seating and there were a few steps up into the shed. After that, Russ’s wife invited us into their home for a tour before serving homemade lamb sausage rolls, cookies, and drinks on their beautiful terrace. We had about 15 minutes to look around the yard on our own; it was beautifully landscaped with several large shade trees. After the farm, we drove about 30 minutes into Christchurch for a 45-60 minute panoramic-style tour. There weren’t any stops that I recall. To me, this part was a complete waste of time. Then another half-hour drive or so to return to the ship.
First, we did the Viking optional Otago Peninsula and Taiaroa Head Wildlife Cruise. It was very enjoyable! The Viking bus drives less than 5 minutes (you could see it from the ship) out of the industrial port to a smaller marina where you board a smaller ship, The Monarch. About half the seating is uncovered (in the front) and half is covered (in the back). The captain gives commentary from the wheelhouse and two employees circulate to point out wildlife and otherwise assist. We saw sea lions, an albatross colony, several small blue penguins, and many other birds. The landscape was gorgeous. Good quality binoculars and heavy raincoats with fleece lining are provided. Hot tea with cookies is served as you make your way back to the marina. The day we were there was a lovely day at port, but it was extremely windy, wet, and cold on this cruise. Without a water-proof jacket one would get soaked (several did). If you are prone to motion sickness, this is not for you. Even with my bracelets and patches, I was getting a little queasy at times. However, it was extremely windy that day (18 knots/hour) with huge swells, so much so that the afternoon cruise was canceled.
Then we did the Viking included Dunedin City Tour, which was another poor included tour. About a half-hour drive into Dunedin. One 15-20 minute stop at the famous Dunedin Railway Station. Two other brief photo stops, one of the clock tower at the university there and one at the steepest street in the world. Then about a half-hour stop at The Octagon which is where the shuttle bus is parked (see above). One could walk to the Railway Station from here, so I think it would have been better to take the shuttle bus and just walk around on one’s own. I saw signs for some self-guided walks, which I assume one can get from the visitors' center.
The Viking optional Richmond & Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary was the highlight of our trip! The drive to Richmond was about 30 minutes. Richmond is a small town (population about 1000) with a pretty historical bridge that the bus parks very close to. You do have to walk down a dirt path to the water's edge for the best view and photos. The stop in Richmond was about an hour. There are a few historical buildings (including a goal that one could pay to see), a charming little downtown street with a few restaurants and shops including the cutest lolly and ice cream store; we bought some homemade candy here. Then a drive of about 20 minutes to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary to see Tasmanian devils, wombats, etc. No koalas were in residence when we were there, but the kangaroos roam freely. You can easily feed them, pet them, and take selfies with them. The paths were mostly dirt with some inclines but not steep. There is a small gift shop and restrooms. You have about 60-90 minutes here, which is plenty.
The Viking included Melbourne Highlights tour was mediocre. One stop of about 45-60 minutes at the botanical gardens. It was extremely hot and humid that day so Viking had rented an ice cream truck to give out free ice cream to guests; I’m not not sure if they do that 100% of the time or not. Then another stop of about 45 minutes at the Shrine of Remembrance, which is a war memorial with a nice free war museum on the lower level. Good panoramic view of downtown if you climb the step of the memorial. The stops were fine but I would have preferred more “local” sights such as the Victorian Market. By the way, it would be easy to become bored with botanical gardens on this cruise. Every city had one and they were all very similar. I like the occasional botanical garden, but if you’ve seen one . . . Excursion ended at the shuttle bus stop if you wanted to get off. We were too hot and sweaty to do so, although now I regret we didn’t have a plan. Instead of this tour, I would recommend taking the Viking shuttle or the tram downtown and then taking the free Circle City tram to the Melbourne sights you wish to see.
The Viking included Sydney Panorama tour was downright awful. Sydney, other than the Harbour area, is just a standard big city. The tour was just weaving drive through mostly residential sections of the city with the driver telling us what that particular cluster of pharmacies/Asian take-outs/coffee shops was called and how much the homes in the area cost. There was one photo stop at a view of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge, but it wasn’t even the best view in my opinion. Then we stopped for an hour at Bondi Beach in the middle of a rainstorm with high winds. No one was out swimming or surfing, and there was very little else to do in the area. I know Viking cannot control the weather, but there should be a Plan B in place. Everyone from the bus returned by the 30-minute mark except one couple who were trying to find the street of shops the guide claimed was there; they could only find one shop, they said, that only sold tee shirts. They were disappointed and soaking wet. I wouldn’t recommend this tour unless one has an interest in watching surfing and the weather is nice.
We took the Lord of the Rings Hobbiton tour private excursion through Zealandier tour and it was excellent! There were six guests in our minivan (four Viking passengers and two Viking crew). It was about a 45-60 minute drive to Hobbiton. Once there, there is a holding area that has a cafe and gift shop. We had about a half hour until our tour time. You then get on a separate Hobbiton bus with a Hobbiton guide. It’s about a ten-minute drive to the actual village, and then about an hour or so walk through it with the guide. The path is dirt and you walk up a moderate hill before descending back down. There are about 50 Hobbit holes and they are all unique with props like mailboxes, clothes on the line, etc, outside each. Bag End is included. You cannot enter any of the Hobbit holes. You cannot walk around on your own. But it’s very well organized and I never felt rushed. Plenty of opportunities for photographs, including the guide lining you up to take photos with your camera/phone at the one Hobbit hole with an open door. You may pose with a couple of props here if you like. After all the Hobbit holes, you proceed on a dirt path over a couple of bridges (one uneven stone) to the Green Dragon, where you are given a complimentary cold beverage of beer or cider. There are restrooms here but no gift shop. You may drink inside the inn or outdoors. This is where we reconnected with our Zealandier guide who drove us out in the minivan. On the way back to Tauranga, we stopped at McLaren Falls, a local council park. We got out and walked about 15-20 on a trail of native New Zealand bush to the waterfall and back. It was mostly level but it was a hike in the woods so it was uneven, etc. We then stopped briefly for some complimentary Hokey Pokey ice cream, which is a traditional flavor in New Zealand. One last photo stop to see the bushes/vines that kiwis grow on before returning to the ship.
Very nice day on our own. The tourist map was excellent and Wellington was very walkable. We had planned to ride the cable car up, but when the shuttle bus stop was changed, we just watched it come up. (In retrospect, I wish we’d paid to ride it down and back up). We toured the small free cable car museum at the top. There were restrooms and a small gift shop, and outside was a shuttle bus stop to Zealandia. The downhill walk through the botanical gardens starts here. It was about a 60-90 minute walk downhill that meanders through several different gardens. The path was well marked. It is all paved, but, even though it is downhill, it was not always easy. It is very steep in places, such that even our generally healthy knees were complaining. There are several sets of stairs. I wondered if the path would be slick if wet. After the gardens, the path is marked through a historic cemetery, and ends downtown at “The Beehive.” We walked about 3 blocks from The Beehive to the waterfront, where there is a level pedestrian walking area with a few shops and restaurants along it. At the end, behind the Te Papa, is one of those large Wellington signs in which a person stands to form the letter I. After lunch (Mãori hangi at Karaka Cafe), we toured part of the Te Papa, which is a free museum. The Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War exhibit was outstanding! Probably the single best museum exhibit I’ve ever seen. We also toured the Mãori exhibit here, which included ocean canoes, at least one house, and a spiritual building along with other artifacts. Being a large museum, of course, there were restrooms, a gift shop, and a cafe here. We then walked the two blocks to the shuttle bus to return to the ship. I highly recommend doing Wellington on your own.