We chose this, our first cruise, in particular because it traveled to Israel, where day excursions took us to many places in the holy land we never thought we would ever see. Originally starting from Istanbul, we could tell the few new ... Read More
We chose this, our first cruise, in particular because it traveled to Israel, where day excursions took us to many places in the holy land we never thought we would ever see. Originally starting from Istanbul, we could tell the few new port changes in itinerary were meant to fill in for days we were meant to spend elsewhere.
We chose Viking because emphasis is on experiences at the destinations, not the Mickey Mouse review or the extreme water slide. (Nothing wrong with that if you have a young family.) I particularly appreciated the ability to use their travel service (for a very reasonable charge) to make our atypical flight arrangements.
We arrived in Athens two days before boarding the ship, to account for any airline equipment issues, and to take a day to explore. After the cruise terminated in Rome, we spent another week in Italy, flying home out of Venice. Viking made all the arrangements without hesitation.
Viking's agent called us a few weeks before our trip with an offer to upgrade cabins. We negotiated a good price, and moved from a standard cabin to a penthouse junior suite. This was key to enjoying the trip so much more, as it was half again larger than our original room, included daily laundry services, and a wonderful steward who took such good care of us. The room was spotless and always freshened, and amenities almost new. Our in-room services were personal, always cheerful, and complete. The bathroom was large, included a double-sized shower and towel warming racks. Again, storage was more than we needed.
Dining options spanned a wide range of cuisine, from hot dogs and burgers to sushi to fine dining. While mostly good, onboard meals will leave true foodies a bit underwhelmed. But that's forgivable when you're trying to serve a thousand people several times a day. We ordered in-room dining for a couple of breakfasts when our excursions were early. They arrived at or before the requested time, complete, and well-prepared.
We normally don't seek out entertainment options, so I can't really speak to that. However, I/we attended several speaker sessions, and found them excellent pre- or post-excursion talks.
Shore excursions were well planned, and led by extremely knowledgeable guides. Group sizes were however many could fit on the bus (about 25 people). I was grateful for the short-range radio transmitters used on all excursions. Each passenger was given a receiver and an in-ear monitor, allowing everyone to hear the guide as he/she spoke in normal tones. Unfortunately, there were some places where it would have been nice to spend more time, but, trips like this are meant to provide a glimpse into these historic locations. We can (and will) return another time. The excursion to Galilee, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem was a very long day. I wished we had had two days to cover this religiously significant area.
When we weren't on shore, there were abundant books to choose from.
I was surprised by one aspect of the cruise, that being nearly all the passengers were American. I hoped for a greater cultural diversity to enrich the experience, but I confirmed with our steward (who has worked Viking cruises around the world) that, regardless of trip, Americans fill the cabins almost exclusively.
When we felt like being away from crowds, it was easy to find many comfortable places on the ship where we wouldn't see another soul. There we would sit in the sun and read. Read Less