Dining onboard Viking Sea is a true treat. All meals are complimentary, including specialty restaurants. (In fact, the only "fee" dining experience is The Kitchen Table, which is a hybrid: part dinner, part shore excursion.) All menus include heart-healthy options as well as vegetarian choices. Regardless of where you eat, meals feel special because of superb quality and service. Complimentary house wine, beer and soft drinks are served at lunch and dinner, and staff will pour freely, until you ask them to stop. This is where Viking Sea shines: Its restaurant staff are friendly and familiar as well as respectful. Even though dining is open seating -- you can eat when and wherever you'd like -- waiters, waitresses and bar servers will remember you and your drink of choice. It feels natural, rather than forced, and makes for a really exceptional experience.
The Chef's Table (Deck 1): Offered every night throughout the cruise, The Chef's Table menu is themed to a certain region or food style, such as Chinese, Norwegian or sweet and salty. The menu rotates to a different theme every three days, so passengers who dine there several times will have the opportunity to try several different menus. Menus are set and include five courses paired with wines. Portions are perfectly sized, so you can comfortably eat all courses. However, diners with food allergies or restrictions must alert the restaurant ahead of time about substitutions. Alternate dishes probably will come from Manfredi's, where the menu more naturally can cater to different dietary needs. Reservations are recommended.
Manfredi's (Deck 1): Arguably the best venue onboard, Manfredi's is the ship's Italian restaurant, open only for dinner. Make reservations for this one early, as it books quickly. The space is beautiful and homey. The food is excellent, from appetizers to desserts. Come hungry because you'll want to sample everything (including the giant bread basket).
Appetizer options include crispy fried calamari, fresh caprese salad and octopus carpaccio. If you're dying for pasta but don't want to commit to a full course, you can order any of the pasta options (including the daily special) as an appetizer. Soups also are available (try the creamy mushroom or pasta fagioli). All pastas are homemade onboard and are perfectly prepared. Fans of red meat must try the bistecca fiorentina, a thick-cut ribeye rubbed in spices and marinated for 72 hours in aged balsamic vinegar. It was the hit of our cruise, and some passengers called it the best steak they'd ever eaten. Other entree options include veal cutlet, fish of the day, chicken, lamb and veal osso bucco. Vegetarians have a number of pastas and risottos from which to choose.
Save room for dessert and don't be embarrassed by ordering two. The creamy Nutella panna cotta, topped with hazelnuts, is so good, you won't want to share, and the tiramisu is a perfect version of the Italian classic. Manfredi's offers two private dining rooms that can accommodate larger parties but must be reserved.
Viking Living Room (Deck 1): Really part of the Living Room Bar, a small display case offers various snack options during the day. You'll find pastries and muffins in the morning and cookies and sandwiches in the afternoon. Try the salmon and dill or beef tartare (served with raw egg and fixings like onions, beets and capers).
The Kitchen Table (Deck 1); $199 per person: The Kitchen Table is as much a shore excursion as it is a cooking and eating experience. Your day starts in port, where you join the ship's chef on a journey to the local market to pick out fresh ingredients for that night's meal. The chef takes suggestions, so if you have strong feelings about an ingredient, speak up! He explains what he's looking for in the ingredients he chooses and gives tips for picking out great tomatoes or fresh fava beans, for example. He'll even select wines to pair with the experience; wines, too, will be specific to the region, so you might get Port in Porto or vinho verde in Lisbon.
In the evening, you visit the beautiful Kitchen Table space, an area that includes a large table for seating, a show kitchen with flat-screen TVs and stations set up for hands-on prepping and cooking. If you're in a small group -- eight people or fewer -- you'll get a chance to do some of the cooking. Larger groups will have to be content to watch, eat and drink, though passengers really intent on cooking can join in.
The meal and the experience are exceptional. You bond with your fellow passengers, eat fresh, locally authentic dishes and learn a little bit more about the cooking experience on Viking Sea. Plus, you get an apron to take home with you as a souvenir. This meal is a large one, with multiple courses and wine pairings, so eat light during the day.
The Restaurant (Deck 2): This is the ship's main dining venue and accommodates the largest number of passengers at mealtime. It's open for breakfast and dinner every day and lunch only on sea days and select port days. While the space is large, it is divided into smaller areas, providing a sense of intimacy. Tables are available in a variety of sizes, so you can eat privately at a table for two or dine as a group at larger tables. Large windows, which can be opened when weather and sea conditions allow it, make great use of natural light, playing off the stark white tablecloths and light wood to create a bright space. Dining at all meals is done open-seating style, with no set times or tables. When weather is good, passengers can snag outdoor tables at the back of The Restaurant. Reservations aren't accepted, but you won't need them.
The menu for breakfast is the same every day, offering a selection of morning staples like eggs (including a beautifully delicate eggs Benedict), hot and cold cereals, yogurt, fruit, pancakes and waffles. Try the mixed berries with mascarpone cheese. (You probably didn't know berries needed mascarpone; trust us, they do.)
The Restaurant rarely serves lunch, but when it does, it offers a good variety of heavy and lighter options. Starters include soups (try the spiced tomato) and salads along with fruit and assorted crudites. Mains include casual options such as burgers and hot dogs, or more hearty dishes such as seared Atlantic cod and cassoulet. Entree salads also are available, to be topped with the protein of your choice. Desserts are available as well, including a nice selection of ice creams and sorbets.
Dinner at the restaurant is designed to be international, with dishes that are comfortable as well as some that are adventurous. Appetizers might include sweet potato soup or spicy pad Thai, while entrees might be burrata and mushroom risotto or shepherd's pie. The variety is excellent, and menus rotate every night so you can try any number of dishes. The chef recommends a regional meal on each menu: one appetizer, one entree and one dessert from the region in which the ship is sailing. So if you're sailing in Malaga, for example, the recommendation might be tapas to start, followed by a seafood paella and Spanish flan. Of course, you don't have to pick the entire regional menu; you can mix and match with other items.
Dessert always includes ice cream and sorbet options, as well as a hearty cheese plate (order this to share with others -- it's ample). Other items might include a chocolate lava cake or rhubarb tart.
A number of items are available every day, including caviar (the only upcharge food on the menu), chicken breast and Norwegian poached salmon, a favorite of the line's chairman, prepared the way his mom made it. Side dishes, such as creamed spinach and steamed vegetables, also are on the menu every night. For dessert, try the cheesecake.
Each meal will begin with the waiter or waitress asking about food allergies. Vegetarian items and heart-healthy foods are clearly marked on the menu, and gluten-free bread is available.
The World Cafe (Deck 7): The ship's buffet, The World Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Floor-to-ceiling windows, which can be opened when weather is good, make this a bright space that is comfortable and casual. It's the most popular spot onboard for breakfast, and ample seating makes it easy to find room, even when it's busiest. Breakfast options include eggs, scrambled or hard-boiled, bacon, sausage, baked beans, mushrooms, cereal, oatmeal (along with congee and grits), yogurt, salmon and cheeses. You'll also find an outstanding bread and pastry selection, with homemade items like croissants and corn bread. The made-to-order station offers omelets and eggs cooked fresh. It also has a delicious eggs Benedict. A smoothie of the day is available at the bar in the back of the restaurant.
Lunch includes a variety of cold cuts, cheeses and, again, that bread bar. You'll also find a small salad bar with toppings that change each day as well as several premade salads. Hot entrees, such as grilled fish or fresh curry and rice, are available, and there's always a carving station, offering items like pork loin or turkey. Pasta, made to order, is served each day, and wait staff will bring it to your table so you don't have to loiter in line with a full plate. A variety of desserts are served, but it's the gelato bar that deserves your time (and calories).
It's impossible to talk about dinner without mentioning the outstanding sushi and seafood served every night. Some passengers liked it so much, they skipped all other restaurants and dined in The World Cafe for dinner. The sushi is made fresh, and the variety is exceptional. It's not just California and tuna rolls; you'll find intricately made eel and cucumber rolls, octopus nigiri and beautifully cut salmon and tuna sashimi. A vegetarian sushi option also is offered. Tip: Visit the sushi bar for your appetizer, then head to dinner at one of the sit-down venues. If you're not a fan of sushi, other seafood options, like jumbo cocktail shrimp (peeled for you!) and crab legs might tickle your fancy.
A carving station and made-to-order option are available at dinner as well, and there's a small salad bar for those who want to keep it light.
The Aquavit Terrace is located at the very back of The World Cafe, where glass doors allow in light or can be opened for indoor/outdoor seating. The Terrace is a staple on the line's river ships, and on all vessels, it combines drinking, dining and the outdoors. On a nice day, it might be the best spot for a casual lunch or dinner. Tables and chairs are available in full sun or shaded, and you have unobstructed views.
The Pool Grill (Deck 7): This is Viking Sea's version of a burger bar -- and its burgers are tremendous. It also has a tasty take on the vegetarian burger (served fried), wings, chili dogs, pizza, grilled fish and french fries. It also includes a small salad bar. The Pool Grill is open for lunch daily.
Mamsen's (Deck 7): A black-and-white photo mural showing Hagen's mom pulling his daughter (and ship's godmother) Karine in a sled adorns the wall behind Mamsen's, which really is more a kiosk in the Explorers' Lounge than a true restaurant, though wait staff serve passengers sitting at set tables during mealtimes. Hagen's mother's recipes inspire the offerings, and they're excellent. If you order nothing else from Mamsen's, get the waffles, which are made fresh to order and come topped with your choice of Norwegian cheese, fruit, sour cream and sauces (if you're indulging, go all the way with the chocolate sauce).
Late-risers will love breakfast at Mamsen's, which is open later than other morning meal venue options. In addition to the waffles, passengers can choose from an assortment of herring, fruit, cheeses and pastries. Lunch offers open-faced sandwiches -- the same sandwiches as you'll find served at the Living Room bar, while dinner is a variety of cured meats and a delicious, hearty bacon and pea soup, which is served late into the night.
Room Service: Passengers can order room service at any hour, any day. The menu, which is complimentary, includes lox, pasta, burgers, poached salmon and chicken as well as desserts and a cheese plate. For breakfast, hot and cold items are available, including eggs and omelets, pancakes, oatmeal, yogurt, bacon and sausage, as well as juice, tea and coffee. We ordered room service a number of times on our trip and were pleased that everything was served as we requested; the hot items were hot, the cold items cold.