TBN hubby here:
We are normally Celebrity loyalists -- Elite Plus and all that -- which means that we have spent $150,000, more or less, on cruises and now get a free coffee ;-). For this cruise we found the timing, ports of call, and ... Read More
TBN hubby here:
We are normally Celebrity loyalists -- Elite Plus and all that -- which means that we have spent $150,000, more or less, on cruises and now get a free coffee ;-). For this cruise we found the timing, ports of call, and time in port to our liking, and we have friends who have raved about Viking Ocean Cruises based on their life total of two ocean cruises.So....why not?
For a quick summary: we liked it! A Lot! Good food. Roomy cabin (penthouse veranda 5089). Restocked minibar daily -- no charge. A neat on-board cellphone app. Essentially unlimited soft drinks, wine, coffee, iced tea, hot chocolate. Ample sun deck area and minimal Chair hogging. A wonderful, included, warm pool, sauna, hot tub, snow-room area in the spa! Lots of open space. Guests must be 18 or older. No photographers, No casino. No formal nights. unlimited WiFi. Tasteful European-style decor with some nice historical touches. Did I mention good food!
Entertainment choices in the theater were a bit thin but the cruise experience is geared toward folks that can entertain themselves and enjoy the many cultural enrichment offerings. There is nice, live music nearly all afternoon and evening in various venues and always a quiet place to relax. There was also evening dancing somewhere, but we didn't check it out. We didn't miss the lack of belly flop contests or officer/guest pool volleyball, egg drop, and so forth. And, if you are looking for a climbing wall, ice rink, or merry go round, you are in the wrong place. Trivia IS still available 'though.
Price is bit of a downside because we can take nearly 2 cruises with Celebrity for the price of one on Viking, but that does not necessarily mean Viking is overpriced, just that being Elite Plus on Celebrity gives us some perks there. Many of those hose perks are available at no additional cost to the Viking guests, like we were, on the first cruise, This is based to some extent on the choice of cabin class. Unlimited WiFi, pressing service for our cabin class, guest laundry, essentially unlimited good quality house wines and soft drinks, and some other stuff I can't remember right now, are included in your first cruise with some discounts on booking on later cruises through the Explorers Club. Viking also offers an included tour of some type at every port..
Food was outstanding in the dining room, the buffet, and one of the (no additional cost) alternative dining restaurants. More on that later. The welcome aboard buffet set the tone with some of the best fish I have had anytime, anywhere, as well as delicious beef and excellent 'fixings' as we say here in the hills. For most of the cruise, the evening buffet area had king crab legs, rock shrimp, large shrimp, sushi,and varied "turf" dishes including prime rib, roast turkey, pork loin and more. Breakfast and lunch were equally impressive there.
Dining room fare was also very good to excellent and service was good with a nice variety of daily menus and a standard everyday menu. We never had a long wait to be seated. For our taste the included house wine was very good and they offered refills almost instantly when your glass was low. I told my wife there must have been a large group of bird watchers in the dining room on our cruise, because several times the waiters gathered at a table with a cake and sang a rousing rendition of "Hoppy Bird Day". The ornithologists seemed appreciative, but DW only groaned at the bad joke.
An evening, themed (Mexican, seafood, Cuban, etc.) buffet adjacent to the infinity pool was interesting and photogenic. Then there was Mamensen's Deli in the Explorer Lounge (gotta try the waffle), as well as the Living Room offering light fare such as snacks, deserts, and cookies depending on the time.. The pool grill offered burgers, pulled pork, and dogs and a selection of salads. Plenty of variety for our trip. The desserts in general were good but not outstanding in the buffet. better in the dining room, and spectacular in Manfretti's. Some of the cakes were unusual but were said to be Norwegian recipes from the owners grandmother (Mamensen). I liked them, wife not so much
We liked the alternative dining restaurant called, I believe, Manfretti's. We used both our reservations there and the steak (I had) and the seafood (she had) dishes were very nice. The other, The Chef's Table, appeared to have the same menu most of our trip and a second menu for the weekend. Although I thought it was fine, my wife is more of a sprouts-and-twigs kind of girl and she did not like the menus for Chef's Table at all. I understand that it changes, so your experience may differ, In fairness, as we were waiting to cancel our reservations, two people exited and were raving about how delicious it was. Personal preferences at work here!
A note: reviews on Cruise Critic and some friend's personal experiences indicate some cruise lines very strongly discourage independent exploration and lead people to believe that using independent tour companies or self guided tours are not allowed. We were concerned about this but it was NOT an issue. Viking clearly states in the port briefings and in their daily that independent tour guests are accommodated. They provide very nice city maps of the ports. The Viking tour participants do get priority. as they should, but we were on some of the earliest tender boats with no issues at all. Yea Viking! Viking has some great tours but we like to avoid buses of people and enjoy the flexibility to lengthen, cancel, add or shorten stops as we see fit.
The itinerary is another personal preference type thing.. We liked this one. The two night stay in Cienfuegos allowed us to venture off on our own (sort of) with a very satisfying independent tour in a classic 1957 Chevy (excellent restored body and interior, highly modified drive train, and added AC). After a short preview of Cienfuegos and approximately 2-hour drive and some side trips we arrived for our visit. We stayed overnight in Trinidad, Cuba at an AirBnB lodging dating from the 1830's and were pleased with the very hospitable owners who lived there. They were the 5th generation of the family that built the lodging. The adequate and clean room was $30 and a wonderful breakfast was only $5 each. The lodging was called CASA COLONIAL and, while underwhelming from the outside, the lobby was a classic beauty. The arrangements were made online.
Our tour guide, Alejandro, and Leo, our driver/taxi owner/builder and their company are fully licensed by the Cuban Government. Their company, FER TOURS was easy to deal with when we booked online with them and they did all they promised and more. We were treated to wonderful local restaurants and they customized their standard tour to include what my wife wanted to see. We stopped by the road on the drive in and purchased some local plantino manzanas (apple bananas) and some other exotic fruit. We particularly enjoyed these small apple flavored bananas that I have enjoyed in the past but wife had never tasted. A nice surprise was that our visit coincided with the 505th anniversary celebration of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was a real experience, with seemingly a hundred restaurants, live bands fireworks all in a celebratory atmosphere. It was something that wasn't planned but very much enjoyed. A decent sleep after turning in late, and our fine breakfast in the morning and then more touring in the Trinidad area and then the drive back. As the day wound down we spent short time touring Cienfuegos before the end of our second day and our return to the ship around 6pm.
Next day we did a self guided walking tour of Cienfuegos. Our guides from the previous day had given us a quick tour of the route to the central square and we simply walked off the tinder and spent a few pleasant hours on our own. Pictures of classic cars and beautiful old buildings were the order of the day.
The last stop was Santiago de Cuba. Again we had arranged another licensed independent tour and met our guide, driver, and the company owner of OUT OF THE BOX TOURS at the large CUBA sign, just a few minutes walk, and easily seen from the ships tender location. My wife had a couple of sights she wanted to see. The most important (to her) and beautiful was the Our Lady of Charity, which was 'a ways' out of town. We went there first and our Guide Alex an our driver Marion (sp?) were really on the ball for us. We arrived well before maybe two hundred of our closest friends (in Government-owned tour buses) from the ship's tours crowded into the parking lot of the cathedral. The alter and church is very beautiful. Ernest Hemingway's Nobel prize is among the many interesting and worth-a-photo displays. Lucky, our visit and the beautiful photos we took were complete because, as we were leaving, they were overwhelming the interior of the church. This was a short stay for this port and we did not stop for lunch, but we did visit the roof top bar of the Casa Grande Hotel beside the town square.. A very nice setting for a lovely drink and panoramic views of the city. This time our ride was a similar quality classic, but was a 1957 Ford Fairlane instead of the Chevy. Note: no shorts allowed for men or women and shoulders must be covered to enter the church so ladies take a wrap here or other churches just in case.
Final thoughts. We had a great time. The Cuban people are friendly, even though they have a different view of many world events than those of us from the USA. Immigration was a non event but you do need to keep track of your visa. The classic cars are all over and make good photo opportunities. AMERICAN credit cards are not accepted although cards from other countries are accepted. There is a 13% penalty for changing US dollars. We had a bunch of Euros so changed them. Might be worth buying Euros to use on the trip depending on the exchange rate when you take your trip.
This review is based on our unique combination of guides, weather, fellow cruisers and any number of other things that make up a individual journey. Your mileage may differ. Objects are closer than they appear. This review is not intended to treat,cure, or diagnose any disease....... Read Less