We just completed a Mediterranean sailing on the Viking Sea, one of Viking Ocean’s five ships. This was our first (and last) time sailing with Viking Ocean. We are seasoned cruisers (more than 40 cruises and more than 500 days at sea) ... Read More
We just completed a Mediterranean sailing on the Viking Sea, one of Viking Ocean’s five ships. This was our first (and last) time sailing with Viking Ocean. We are seasoned cruisers (more than 40 cruises and more than 500 days at sea) and it is clear to us that Viking Ocean is designed for people who are not like us. Specifically, we enjoy independent touring on our own. Viking Ocean is designed for those who like to do bus shore excursions as part of their cruise package.
Viking Ocean Cruises (like Viking River Cruises) includes the cost of shore excursions in the price you pay. So the amount paid is higher by the amount of these included shore excursions. The main difference between the river cruises and the ocean cruises is that the river cruises typically dock right in the center of the city and the included tours are walking tours. The ocean cruises, on the other hand, are typically docked outside the city center and require a bus to get around. Viking Ocean has an included tour as well as several optional tours which are priced at an upsell rate of between $50-$200, which is also different from the river cruises (where most tours are included and there are few optional tours).
Yet these optional tours on Viking Ocean are also bus tours, just longer than the 2-4 hour “free” included tour. Even the tours that are touted a “walking tours” are still bus tours for the majority of the tour, along with some minimal walking. We did a tour noted as being a “walking tour” and spent only 30 minutes of a 3h30m tour walking. We spent a longer amount of time waiting for the group to go to the bathroom than we spent on the actual walking tour (another reason we do not like big bus tours).
So if you are limited mobility and/or you just like seeing the world from a bus window, this may be a good cruise line for you. However, if you are an independent traveler and like to do tours on your own, your money is likely better spent on other cruise lines.
The Viking Sea was built last year and has several outstanding features, most notably its focus on private spaces onboard the ship. If you like reading a book in quiet and solitude, there are plenty of options available to you. Also, the pool area is completely covered during inclement weather with a retractable roof, very nicely designed for cool/cold weather cruising.
The sit-down restaurants onboard are generally very good to excellent. There is the main dining room (called “The Restaurant”) with open seating as well as two specialty restaurants (Manfredi’s Italian and Chef’s Table fixed menu) that are included with no upcharge, a very nice touch on the part of Viking. You can make reservations in each of the specialty restaurants in advance and we were able to reserve a second night at each specialty restaurant while onboard. While the sit-down restaurants were generally quite good, the buffet (World Café) was very limited in selections and perhaps the smallest buffet of any we have seen on a cruise ship, including much smaller ships. Windstar had more selections on a ship with only 200 passengers. There were also noticeable time gaps, especially late morning, when no food was available at any of the restaurants. In the afternoon, the only options were the pool grill or afternoon tea at 4p. No pizza, no ice cream, they were only available when World Café was open. Given that several of the scheduled tours went during scheduled lunch hours, this ended up being an issue more than once. Yes, I know there is always room service, but when getting back onboard after a tour, it’s nice to be able to grab a quick bite. The room service menu in general is very basic.
The evening entertainment is probably what you would expect for a river cruise, yet far below the standards of other cruise ships. There was only one evening of guest entertainers, which was the first evening in Rome, when we were in port until 11p (which turned out to be an overnight stay due to the Captain’s inability to get the ship out of the port). It was a quartet of opera singers and they were excellent. This is what Viking does on their river cruises, bringing onboard local talent, then getting them off the ship before departure. Which meant that that other 6 evenings of entertainment were the 6 singers and 2 dancers. The production shows were, in general, far below the level of most other cruise lines. The two exceptions were one male singer (Brian Rodriguez), who had an outstanding voice and the male dancer (Petr Fedorovskii), who is a classically trained Russian ballet dancer. The choreography and staging often felt like we were watching a high school or college musical production, not a professional production one notch below Broadway or Vegas. The dancing highlights were not choreographed at all, since they were when Petr broke away from his partner and did several independent dance moves on his own. I couldn’t help thinking we were watching a local college production. The reason why is because the performers (other than Brian and Petr) were all recent college graduates with limited real world experience. Talent well below what you would see on other cruise lines. Yet the choreography was also extremely basic, more like what you would expect from a high school musical. The staging was minimal, instead relying on a backdrop video screen that unfortunately did not work correctly on several occasions.
The activities onboard were scarce, even on sea days (both scheduled and unscheduled), so it’s a good thing there were all of those private spaces for reading a book, since that’s the main activity for sea days. The Cruise Director, Heather Clancy, tended to be a little bit staged and theatrical in her style. We didn’t understand why until the last day of the cruise, when she performed opera. Ironically, this unscheduled performance, thrown in at the last minute, was perhaps the best performance of the cruise. Heather is an operatic mezzo soprano by training (and a very good one), so that explains a lot about her diva style.
Our balcony cabin was well appointed with a larger than normal shower area, although this resulted in placing the closet space up against the bed, making for an awkward lack of a dressing area.
The Captain (Svein-Rune Stromnes) seemed inexperienced with ocean cruising (even though this cruise was only in the Med, not the actual ocean) with only one year of experience as a Captain. He was not able to get our ship out of port in Rome until the following morning, due to “high winds” even though the regional ferries came and went and another cruise ship sailed into the port two hours before we left. The result was sailing the Strait of Messina at night and a limited day in Malta. The other decision made was to skip a port (Valencia, Spain) not due to the weather in Valencia, but because he was worried about the weather on the way to Barcelona, our disembarkation port, the next day. This resulted in canceling tours for the day, but no refunds were given because the tours were “free” as part of the cruise. Yes, I understand that, but they were not really free, we paid a premium for the cruise to include these excursions. Nor were port fees and taxes refunded, which is pretty standard for ocean cruises which skip a port. So Viking is actually financially incented to skip a port, which may better explain the Captain’s behavior. Then, the Captain couldn’t dock in Barcelona until the following day for disembarkation, which impacted the departure plans of many onboard (as well as those embarking for the following cruise). In all our cruising experiences, this Captain was by far the most timid about docking (and undocking) the ship. Perhaps there was more to these missed ports and delays that they were not telling us, since this is the same ship that was disabled in port a couple cruises back. So many problems for such a new ship. Or perhaps Viking, being rather new to ocean cruising, does not get priority with the port pilots and/or tugs.
The interesting positive highlight with the extra day onboard is that
Would we sail on Viking Ocean again? No. It simply does not fit our cruising lifestyle. But it may work for you if you like having bus tours arranged for you in every port and you are willing to pay the premium for those tours to be included. So what didn’t work for us may work for you. If you like bus tours, this may be your ship (and cruise line). Read Less