For a relatively small ship, Viking Orion offers a smart array of dining options. In general, the dining is very good, with solid service and excellent choice. Because of the line's Nordic roots, the menus lean heavily on dishes popular in Scandinavian culture -- you can get salmon, for example, almost everywhere, at any time. It allows passengers to try out new things but doesn't feel like there's a dearth of choice.
Specialty restaurants are included in your fare, as are wine, soft drinks and beer at lunch and dinner. You'll find dishes marked as vegetarian and gluten-free on menus and placards, and servers always ask about allergies. (Those with special requirements should note it at booking and confirm it once onboard.
The Restaurant (Deck 2): The main dining venue onboard is simply called The Restaurant. It's a large open space at the back of the ship, featuring mostly tables for two and four, though some larger tables are available. Because of the setup, the space feels both intimate and social; diners could easily enjoy a dinner for two but also could chat with another couple at a nearby table.
Decor is elegant without feeling overdone, and bright light pours in from floor-to-ceiling windows, which can open when weather is pleasant. Carpets are blue, and light faux wood covers the floors closest to the windows. White linens and pretty light-blue glass plates cover the tables, while a variety of fabric or leather chairs and booths flank each table. A massive glass wine case stands at the entrance.
The Restaurant is open every day for breakfast and dinner, but it's only open on sea days for lunch -- and on most itineraries, sea days are rare. Reservations are not accepted, except for large parties. Seating for every meal is open; you come when you're ready to eat. We never found we had to wait for a table, though the restaurant is busiest around 7 p.m.
Waiters pour house wines freely; glasses rarely are allowed to get empty. Most passengers on our sailing seemed content with the quality of the house wine, but those with the beverage package were happy to upgrade.
Service in the restaurant is generally excellent, with wait staff who know the menu well and are willing to make suggestions. They are friendly yet respectful. Without fail on our journey, the first question the wait staff asked was, "Does anyone have any food allergies?" Allergies were noted in the electronic tablets the wait staff uses for recording orders, and we had no issues with substitutions.
Breakfast each day offers a notable variety of hot and cold items. Hot items include eggs, oatmeal, waffles, pancakes, bacon, sausage, potatoes, corned beef hash, minute steaks or lamb chops. Cold options include cereal, pastries, fruit, yogurt, cold cuts, cheese, smoked salmon, shrimp salad and a lovely berry and mascarpone blend. Juices are available, as are coffee and tea.
Additionally, you can choose from eggs Benedict (or a delectable salmon Benedict served with a delightful dill hollandaise), omelets made to order, or a creole omelet served with salsa verde and tostones. While diners can opt for a leisurely breakfast, we found the pace to be accelerated as waiters worked to move patrons through quickly so they could make their morning shore excursions.
The Restaurant offers a mix of lighter and more substantial items for lunch, with starters such as calamari and shrimp carpaccio, carrot soup or fresh mixed greens. Burgers and sandwiches are available, as well as entree salads such as Nicoise or Caesar. Main courses vary from day to day but include dishes like turkey breast or pasta. A selection of items is always available, including crudites, hamburgers, cheeseburgers and hot dogs, and seasonal fruit. Dessert also changes daily, with various pastries, ice creams and sorbets available, along with a cheese platter.
Dinner is the big event at The Restaurant, and passengers are treated to a menu that includes local specialties, rotating entrees and favorites that show up every night. The meal starts with a bulging bread basket, where the surprising star is the breadstick. Appetizers might include beef tartare, chicken consomme or a green salad. Entrees include items such as broiled whole lobster (served with a healthy dose of clarified butter) or lamb chops, while desserts include options such as creme brulee, cheesecake, ice cream and sorbet, or a cheese platter served with dried fruits and nuts.
Sides, such as asparagus, baked or mashed potatoes, and rice are available every night, as are roasted chicken, New York strip steak and the chairman's favorite (and one of our's!) poached Norwegian salmon served with a lovely cool cucumber salad and boiled potatoes. Additionally, a regional specialties menu, focusing on cuisine traditionally served in the ports this ship visits, is offered each night. Diners can mix and match from the different menus.
World Cafe (Deck 7): The World Cafe, located at the back of Viking Orion, is the ship's buffet, and it is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The space is wide-open, with unimpeded views out of the windows on all sides. Decorated in shades of light blue and beige, the restaurant features mostly tables for two and four.
The buffet flanks both sides of the restaurant, and at breakfast and lunch, mostly the same options are offered on both sides. In the middle is an open-style kitchen that allows passengers to order items of the day a la minute. In the morning, this is where the egg station is, so diners can order omelets, eggs Benedict and other egg dishes fresh and hot. At lunch and dinner, the options vary, from pasta to Asian. This is also where you'll find the carving station.
At the back of the restaurant is the Aquavit Terrace, a bar that's really just a beautiful extension of the buffet. Here, you'll find additional seating as well as enormous glass doors that can be fully opened to outdoor seating. There's also a second a la minute station back here -- a feature unique to Viking Orion; other ships in the fleet don't have this.
At breakfast, diners can enjoy eggs, grilled mushrooms, beans, muesli, pastries, toast, muffins, gravlax, sausage, bacon, waffles made fresh, cheese, cold cuts and fresh fruit. There's also a small Asian section offering items like pork and shrimp shumai and fried rice. Waiters and waitresses circulate to bring patrons coffee and juice. There's a self-serve station for water, tea, coffee and orange juice as well.
Lunch is a busy meal, as many people are returning hungry from their morning excursions or else squeezing in a meal ahead of their afternoon tours. Green and prepared salads are offered, as well as items such as pasta, meats, fish, a carving station, mashed potatoes, fruit, cookies and gelato. Pizza is offered every day. Those looking for something a little lighter can build their own sandwiches with cold cuts and a large variety of breads.
Dinner is a fabulous affair, especially if you're a seafood or sushi lover. The World Cafe has a beautiful display of seafood every night, with big, succulent crab legs always available (and conveniently pre-cracked to cut down on the mess factor). Other cold seafood options might include shrimp and langoustines. The sushi is incredible, with a variety of rolls and sashimi choices. We love that the rolls aren't limited to staples like California or tuna rolls; there are creative options with various fish and sauces -- a rarity on cruise ships. Sushi chefs roll up pieces right in front of diners and refresh plates often.
Those who don't do seafood will also be happy, with hot choices that change each night including pork loin, rotisserie chicken and beef bourguignon. There's also a salad bar, fruit, cheese and a great variety of desserts. Make sure to visit that back-of-ship station for hot, authentic Asian food. We loved the dan dan noodles and kung pao chicken, and others raved about the pad Thai. Selections change each night, and portion sizes are small enough to give you a taste while leaving room for other options. We also were happy that spice levels can be adjusted up or down based on personal preference.
Several times during the cruise, a cooking station is set up outdoors on the Aquavit Terrace. Chefs will prepare regional specialties such as bouillabaisse or paella, depending on where Orion is visiting. This might take place at lunch or dinner, depending on the itinerary, and it's another "not-to-be-missed" meal. You control your portion size, so you can ask the chef for as much or as little as you'd like.
The Chef's Table (Decks 1): One of two specialty restaurants on Viking Orion, The Chef's Table is open only for dinner. Its hook is offering a variety of five-course set menus, which rotate every two to three days depending on the length of the cruise. There are 13 themed tasting menus in total, including Mexican, Pan-Asian and Scandinavian.
The venue has a neutral color scheme, with burnt orange and blue carpets. It also features a large wine rack. Seating is mostly at tables for two and four, though a special room can accommodate large parties around one big table.
On our sailing, we sampled the Lotus menu, which includes specialties from China and Thailand. We found the dishes to be creative and well-portioned. The star was the succulent lamb chops, but we're glad we saved room for the plum cheesecake, which perfectly blended sweet and sour. Wines are paired for each course, and diners can spend a little extra to get more premium varieties.
Because menu and courses are set, The Chef's Table menu tends to be the least flexible of those offered on Viking Orion. Passengers with specific dietary preferences or allergies should speak with the maitre d' before booking a dinner here. Reservations are necessary to ensure you get to dine when you wish. All passengers in Deluxe Veranda cabins and above are entitled to at least one dinner at The Chef's Table during their cruise.
Manfredi's (Deck 1): Serving rustic Italian, Manfredi's is the second specialty restaurant. Decorated with black-and-white tile (a theme that creeps into the carpet, too) and photos from movies like "The Godfather," Manfredi's feels intimate due to its soft lighting, big chairs and divided seating areas.
When you walk in, you immediately see a vast prep area where chefs slice charcuterie meats, chisel out pieces of fresh Parmesan from a giant wheel and make espresso. Tables seat two and four, while deep banquettes offer seating for more. There's also a private room that can be reserved for bigger parties. (Even if you're not eating here, check out the gorgeous wooden table.)
The menu is so big it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Diners can pick appetizers like beef carpaccio or caprese salad. Then, there are soups. (The carrot soup is delicious.) Pastas are offered as entrees or starter portions, so if something tickles your fancy -- like the gnocchi in cream sauce (yum!) -- you can try it without filling up on carbs.
Entrees include incredibly sized and perfectly moist chicken Parmesan as well as the bistecca Fiorentina, a beautifully seasoned dry-rubbed ribeye. Additionally, a different pasta and fish of the day is offered each night. For dessert, choose from tiramisu, pistachio cake or a variety of ice creams and sorbets.
Manfredi's actually has two menus; the restaurant features one for one year, then swaps it out the next. Reservations are encouraged, as slots fill up quickly. Each passenger in Deluxe Veranda cabins and above can dine at Manfredi's at least once per cruise.
Viking Bar (Deck 1): Mostly, the Viking Bar is just an extension of the Living Room, but it includes a refrigerated case that offers hearty snacks throughout the day. At breakfast time, you can swing by for some pastries. Around lunch, you can choose from beef tartare (served with a raw egg, capers and onions), shrimp salad and gravlax, as well as cookies and muffins. The double-chocolate chip cookies are decadent, and the sugar-free cookies are surprisingly satisfying for someone with a sweet tooth who doesn't want to full-on indulge. Snacks disappear around dinner time.
Mamsen's (Deck 7): Mamsen's is located in the Explorers' Lounge. It's really more of a station than actual restaurant; when it's not open, it's sealed behind doors covered in a touching black-and-white photograph of the namesake "Mamsen" (Hagen's mom) wearing cross-country skis while pulling her granddaughter in a sled.
For breakfast, you can order gravlax, fruit, pastries or the venue's specialty, waffles. These waffles are made fresh when ordered; top them with fruit and syrup, or eat them the way they do in Norway, with berries, sour cream and goat cheese. Lunchtime comes with items such as gravlax, shrimp salad and beef tartare, along with a variety of beautiful cakes and tortes. Sate your late-night hunger at Mamsen's -- open until midnight -- with hot pea soup or cold cuts.
Pool Grill (Deck 7): Located outdoors on the pool deck, the Pool Grill is open for lunch only. You can grab prepared or fresh salads along with fruit at the small buffet, or order a full-on hot meal. A number of burger options are available, including the Pancho Villa burger, topped with arugula, blue cheese, guacamole and spicy habanero mayonnaise, and the slightly lighter Viking burger, topped with barbecue sauce, bacon, cheddar cheese and onion relish. A veggie burger is available, but be warned: It's not a meat substitute so much as a breaded and deep-fried vegetable patty. For something a little different and surprisingly wonderful, try the Nordic roll, a footlong hot dog topped with dill shrimp salad.
Wintergarden Conservatory (Deck 7): The Wintergarden serves an afternoon tea daily from 4 to 5 p.m. The tea selection is vast, with loose leaf varieties, including standards such as green, English breakfast and jasmine to more exotic blends like forest fruit and tropical green. Delicious hot scones are served with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and a tower of finger sandwiches and sweets is delivered to each table.
The Kitchen Table (Deck 1); US$180 to US$260 per person: Viking would classify The Kitchen Table as an excursion rather than restaurant, but we include it here because the dining space is incredible and the food extraordinary. The experience actually is broken into two parts: The first has passengers shopping with a chef at the markets in the morning, picking out ingredients and sharing in the haggling process. You'll likely eat during this part, as vendors are eager to show off their fresh, local ingredients, be it olives in Italy or cheese in France.
Shopping complete, passengers go their separate ways before meeting in The Kitchen Table restaurant for dinner. The venue features a large white table, which includes a deep trough for fresh, cold seafood. Additionally, there are cooking stations and cameras that feed to video screens to show what the chefs are doing. You can participate in the cooking, but, in our experience, most passengers sip wine and snack on hors d'oeuvres while the chefs prepare the evening meal made from the ingredients everyone picked out in the morning.
It's a special evening that highlights a farm-to-table experience, but it's only available in select ports -- often just once per cruise. A minimum number of passengers is required for the excursion to take place, and reservations can be made at guest services.
Room Service: Viking Orion offers room service 24 hours a day. For morning service, you order via a hang-tag left on your doorknob the night before. Breakfast includes a full selection of hot and cold dishes, from eggs, omelets and oatmeal to muesli, fruit and yogurt. Juice, coffee and tea are also available. (You can even order breakfast delivered on disembarkation day.) Outside the breakfast window, you can order salads, sushi, burgers and poached salmon, along with desserts like ice cream.