We boarded the Viking Sea at Montreal on a Friday morning and oh mon dieu, such first impressions. Lined up at the quay, with its prow facing the old port, the ship projected a sleek profile, befitting a vessel built for only 930 ... Read More
We boarded the Viking Sea at Montreal on a Friday morning and oh mon dieu, such first impressions. Lined up at the quay, with its prow facing the old port, the ship projected a sleek profile, befitting a vessel built for only 930 passengers. The sense of elegance and style was reinforced in a stroll around the public spaces: clean, straight-lined Nordic design and decor with windows shooting light on the soft blue hues of the carpeting and the grains in the flooring. Nothing dark, red or tufted.
Lunch in the World Cafe on deck 7 and another impression. What was that across the river? It was an intriguing cluster of gigantic concrete blocks, that looked like they had been layered, squeezed together and discarded by a giant who had been playing with his Legos. In fact, it turned out to be the creation of an architectural student who had indeed used Lego pieces to work out his groundbreaking concept for a complex of 150-odd apartments. It was to be called Habitat 67 and it was built for Expo '67. His project was in keeping with the brutalist style of architecture that apparently did not catch on, yet there it was piled 12 stories high, commanding the embankment.
Montreal clearly had a lot to offer. The next day's guided, complimentary tour proved the point: insights into the influences of French, English and Scottish cultures, cobbled streets, lined with boutiques and flower boxes at every corner, and, most rewarding, the embracing spirituality of the Basilica of Notre Dame. We took a short bus ride to Mont Real and there we took in the fall colors of the maples..
Sunday morning and another arresting view: the skyline of Quebec City, looking down on the harbor. The included tour was switched from a bus excursion to a walk-around because this was the day for a marathon, which in itself was an attraction. They ran in leggings with packs on their backs over aged, weathered streets that wound from the lower town to the upper and then on to goodness knows where. It was a route our guide eschewed as she led us to the funicular, which hauled us from the Petit Quartier Champlain to the iconic Hotel Frontenac above.
Farther upriver we cruised and into a fjord. Now we are in Saguenay, with little between it and the Arctic. This time our shore excursion took in a stirring community show with schoolchildren and their elders celebrating the history of the city and the resilience of its people in song and dance. From Saguenay to Gaspé, where the tour to the Forillon National Park was a disappointment. It was late in the season, nippy, and the park was closed. But we did see more fall colors.
Halifax and another complimentary bus tour, which included a stop at the cemetery where victims of the Titanic disaster were buried and, even more poignantly, victims of the Halifax Explosion. On Dec. 6, 1917 two ships, one laden with explosives, collided in the harbor and at 9:04 in the morning there was an explosion that killed 2,000 and injured 9,000 in a blink. Step off the bus, visit the maritime museum and your heart will be broken.
In Boston another included excursion of the historic sites but it was shivering cold when we got off the bus and waited for the shuttle. We had been to Boston before. Why hadn't we brought gloves?
The next morning we sailed into New York, the Explorers' Lounge at the bow being the place to be. There a cruise ambassador served up a practiced commentary laden with anecdotes. Apparently, Alistair Cooke, the British-American journalist who hosted PBS' Masterpiece Theatre in the 1970s and 1980s, once said that he knew all would be well in the world, even after the devastation of World War II, when he sailed aboard the Queen Mary into New York Harbor in 1946. We were about to see the 2018 version of what he meant and we did.
After each excursion we were always glad to return to the ship. After all, that's where the food was: the buffet in the World Cafe, the many fine choices in the restaurant, the Italian dishes in Manfredi's or the Asian cuisine in the Chef's Table. Manfredi's and the Chef's Table required reservations, but the main restaurant did not. It was open seating and there were no formal sittings timed in conjunction with the evening shows. We could enjoy our meal and casual and sometimes spirited conversations with fellow travelers.
"We voted for Brexit," one woman confided, her husband nodding in agreement. "My daughter called the next day and asked how we voted, but when I told her she said, 'Oh, mother. How could you'?"
We missed the ventriloquist, though we heard he was excellent; we attended nearly all the lectures on the history of the ports, plus a screening of the Metropolitan Opera's production of "Aida."
On the Viking Sea you'll find books throughout the ship. There's a fine library in the Explorers' Lounge, the very best space on the ship. What you won't find anywhere is a casino, a climbing wall or a water slide or anyone wandering about looking for such. But you will find a verandah outside your cabin (every cabin has one) and a heated floor in the bathroom. Just what you want when you step out of the shower. Read Less