This is our seventh cruise, and the first with Viking Ocean Cruises (VOC). We selected the voyage based on the itinerary, final destination, and time of year. This voyage allowed us to compare VOC with similar ... Read More
This is our seventh cruise, and the first with Viking Ocean Cruises (VOC). We selected the voyage based on the itinerary, final destination, and time of year. This voyage allowed us to compare VOC with similar Azamara (AZ) and Oceania (OC), which we used previously. I retired a year ago and my wife wanted to visit Hong Kong again.
Orion was put into service earlier in the summer, so anything is new. We liked that VOC includes everything except tips, drink package (we don’t), optional excursions, Kitchen Table, and spa service (no need). The VOC provides minimal computer support because most people are computer literate by now. The VOC WiFi (which is free) security meets the security requirements of financial institutions. Streaming movies from the internet most of the time was not a problem in our cabin possibly because we were close to a router, though we heard other people were having problems. The Library shows up on Deck 1, but is spread out over Deck 7 (swimming pool area, the Lanai, Explorers Lounge) and Deck 8 (upper Explorers Lounge). The spa has numerous restrictions on use with anyone with medical conditions, so its use was lost on us.
We used the gym almost every day except on the days with all day excursions. The gym was equipment was excellent. The aerobic machines were crowded from 0600 to 0700, especially on sea days. The rest of the day, the equipment is open. The other parts of the gym were not busy during the day. During the sea days, we used the enrichment program after the gym and stream movies using the VOC WiFi (most of the time very good), or just lie around the Explorers Lounge with a an ebook.
In general, the service throughout the ship was mostly excellent. For Housekeeping, the cabins were available earlier than the VOC stated times. Our cabin attendant did not just stop by to say hi, but went through the entire cabin to explain everything. More closet hangers, bath towels, and bottled water were provided without question. The cabin was well attended throughout the cruise. Well done. For dining, service was generally good everywhere with a few lapses due to staff inexperience and language problems. The World Cafe could use more servers at lunch and dinner. We had only one service breakdown in The Restaurant that required speaking to a manager. What we really liked about the World Cafe was the ability to talk directly to the line cooks to prepare foods to our liking, especially vegetables. They all were very eager to please.
We can not say enough about the VOC port agents. I had an old medical condition that flared up in Ho Chi Minh City. The port agent: got me and my wife to hospital, found a reasonably priced nearby hotel for my wife, on short notice got us airline tickets from Ho Chi Minh City to Haiphong, and took us from the Haiphong airport to Orion. Extremely pleased.
Port and shore excursions used a mix of Included and Optional excursions. The excursions were in Athens (GRE); Haifa, Acre, and Caesarea (ISR); Cairo, Luxor, and Sharm El Sheik (EGP); Aqaba (JRD); Salalah and Muscat (OMN); Mumbai and Goa (IND), Colombo (SRL), Georgetown and Kuala Lumpur (MAL), Singapore, Koh Samoi and Bangkok (THD), Sihanoukville (CAM), Ho Chi Minh City and Ha Long Bay (VTM), and Haikou and Hong Kong (PRC).
Only two problems with booking: we were warned at the time of booking to get on the My Viking Journey web page at 0000 PST at 67 days prior to departure to ensure we would get the excursions we wanted. I logged on at about 0400 PST and found some excursions were already sold out. In addition, the multi-day overnight excursion to Angkor Wat site via Vietnam was not available.
We were satisfied with the excursions we took. While most of the Included excursions were satisfactory, one needs to check the Optional excursions because they had the more interesting and/or more significant locations/programs. One of the problems was the distance from port to destination (Cairo, Luxor, Bangkok, Phnom Penh; sometimes 3+ hours on a bus each way, which left relatively little time for the the destination after accounting for bathroom breaks and lunch).
One of the problems with the demographics of the guests was that people are not really aware of their physical condition when signing up for even moderately exerting excursions in hot humid weather from India to Hong Kong. From a VOC port agent, for example, we learned that six guests were removed from the ship to hospital in Sri Lanka.
Travel to Embarkation Port
We used Viking Air (via Air Canada) without upgrades. We were satisfied with the connections from Dulles (IAD) through Toronto (YYZ) which put us in Athens (ATH) at 0920, and return from Hong Kong (HKG) through YYZ to IAD (2200). We found the local VOC representative easily and were loaded into a bus the ship. Not as nice as the personal van on VRC. Only a passport is necessary for ID so we were on Orion quickly. VOC eliminated the paper tickets for transfers and embarkation. Next time, I will look into Business or Premium Economy. Air Canada is not too comfortable.
We were in Deluxe Veranda 3 (DV3) #4083. The cabin was mostly quiet. The only noise was from the lifeboats/tenders during crew training or tendering on the decks below. We still could feel the diesels. Anyone for gas turbines? We thought that the cabin was much better than the AZ and OC small ships reflecting a newer design. The bathroom was far better the any AZ or OC. Not cramped at all. We had no difficulty with the amount of drawers even with clothes for a 50 day cruise. If we had known how good the laundry was, we could have brought less clothes. The ability of storing even the large luggage under the bed (unlike AZ or OC) provided more room. The space between the bed and closet was tight, but not a problem given the great design of the rest of the cabin. We did not understand the logic behind two chairs instead of one sofa in DV cabins. The E-safe is also much bigger than AZ or OC. A minor annoyance was VOC canceling our E-safe PIN in Mumbai and Bangkok embarkation ports that required ship security to reset.
For breakfast and lunch, we exclusively used the World Cafe on Deck 7. It is open longer, self-serve, and more choice of food. Because the choice of food in the World Cafe is more than The Restaurant on Deck 2, the was no point going to The Restaurant for these meals. We liked the layout of World Cafe with the spread out food service stations and seating areas to eliminate crowding. Not as cramped as AZ or OC. We liked the food in the World Cafe except for a little to much salt used especially in the soups (the same for dinner). The outside kitchen on the Aquavit Terrace for regional foods was good.
We tried the Pool Grill and Mamsen’s, which we thought were great, especially Mamsen’s with the waffles.
We attended the Afternoon Tea for about two weeks but stopped in the interest of decreasing our food consumption. On Orion, you needed to get there about 15-30 minutes before 1600 or there were no more seats. To get around this, we would go later, ~1630. There would always be a place by then due to people leaving. We especially liked the live music provided.
For dinner, we used The Restaurant, Manfredi’s, The Chef’s Table, and World Cafe. Dinner was not as pleasant an overall experience as we would have liked. We found ourselves eating at the World Cafe more than the other venues. If there were many dishes on a given night in The Restaurant that we really wanted to try, we would go to the World Cafe where we could get a smaller portion of each dish. You can also see the line cooks make final food preparations, make requested modifications, and present the food so you knew exactly what you were getting. No surprises to be sent back and another dishes ordered (AZ). The other food in The Restaurant was very good.
Now for the really subjective opinions. We were not particularly impressed with The Chef’s Table; only five cuisines with the chefs interpretation. The food was not bad, but limited with a little too much salt. Manfredi’s was a big disappointment. Our first meal main dishes were somewhat dry with a little too much salt. The best part was the excellent custom chocolate cake prepared for my birthday. The second meal was awful. My pork dish was very salty and loaded with fat rending half inedible. My wife’s main dish was worse. Even though we were entitled to one more meal there, we would not go into Manfredi’s again without significant changes in cooking style. All the table breads, muffin, and bread sticks has a very cheesy flavor that was annoying; not the Italian bread that I remember from the Italian bakeries at home. We would not eat the bread again. In the end, we informed a manager of our problems. If you don’t tell them, they will not know. The OC Toscana and AZ Aqualina are far better restaurants.
The OC was far more generous with some foods such as lobster. We had lobster for either lunch or dinner every day on OC Marina. Orion had boiled lobster in the The Restaurant only twice in 50 days and Lobster Thermidor once (not very good with too much filler sauce).
The VOC fruits were great especially after Mumbai where the more unusual fruits to the USA [dragon fruit (white and red), star fruit, for example, and others we have never seen before but tasted great] from southeast Asia countries were available.
The VOC should be commended for portion control for desserts in the World Cafe seeing that passengers are mostly 60+ and some not in the best of shape. Desserts were in small size pieces with many choices. When a cake or pie was provided, it was smaller in diameter and thickness than AZ or OC. This did not deter an obese couple from consuming half a chocolate cake.
Odd crowd behavior: the port side World Cafe was more crowded than starboard side, so the the greeters at the entrances several times requested that we use the starboard side. The food is the same on both sides except for ice cream and gelato, and stir fry (port), and pizza and doughnuts (starboard).
The VOC has aerosol hand sanitizers throughout Decks 1, 2, 7, and 8 that are built into the bulkheads. The entrances to the World Cafe also have sinks with liquid soap and hand towels. Unfortunately, there was an outbreak of GI problems on the way to Mumbai, which necessitated eliminating self service at the World Cafe and implementing other protective measures for a few days (not the majority of the cruise as claimed elsewhere).
In summary, we think the food was better on OC, especially the Marina size with more diverse restaurants. However, itinerary, destination, and timing are more important, so we would not hesitate to use VOC. And the destination oriented foods was also a plus.
We did not attend much evening entertainment in the Theater due to a lack of interest in the programs offered. What we did see was very good. The VOC did not appear as big on entertainment as OC based on the programs offered.
We attended the astronomy movie series in the Explorers Lounge theater exclusively on the Orion Deck 8 (which does not show up on the generic deck layouts and virtual tour on the VOC web site). Be advised that the theater is very small (26 people) and very cold as is the entire Explorers Lounge on Decks 7 and 8. Be sure to book the theater ASAP at the start of a cruise to get a seat for the three separate movies, and ensure that you a blanket because the theater is so cold. I don’t know why the Explorers Lounge is also cold all the time. (It was nice of VOC to put thick furry animal skins and blankets on the sofas.) The astronomy was enhanced by a resident astronomer who lectured several times and also lead open ended discussions on astronomy in general, space exploration, black holes, etc, during each cruise segment. Very well done. There was star gazing lead by the astronomer on Deck 9 weather conditions permitting, In general, from Athens to Oman had good conditions. Mumbai to Hong Kong had more haze so it was limited. If you are on Orion and are interested in astronomy, be sure to download to your smart phone a star map app with GPS capabilities to find stars, planets, satellites, ISS more quickly. BTW, the darkest part of the ship at night outside for stargazing is the outside platform at the starboard exit from the Explorers Lounge Deck 8.
The VOC also has a resident historian (or diplomat) to cover the diplomacy, history, economics, warfare, etc., of the regions visited in formal lectures that we attended and roundtable discussions on the same or different subjects later. Very well done.
Disembarkation was very easy. We stayed over in Hong Kong (HK) handling our own arrangements. The benefit of this is we were the last group required to leave the ship at 0845 so you can have a more leisurely breakfast. Luggage was easy to find in the dock terminal being clearly marked in groups. In HK, the disembarkations started as early as 0400 to catch flights. Check your airline arrangements from VOC Air and revise if necessary. The HK airport is very efficient in moving people through security to catch flights. The VOC cruise and air fare includes the HK airport departure and expansion construction fees. Read Less