This was not my first cruise, but considering every other cruise I'd been on was courtesy US Navy it certainly rates as the best. All kidding aside, I had always dreamed of going on a ship and not doing any work. For the type of ... Read More
This was not my first cruise, but considering every other cruise I'd been on was courtesy US Navy it certainly rates as the best. All kidding aside, I had always dreamed of going on a ship and not doing any work. For the type of experience I sought Viking delivered.
After an eventful year I needed some time to simply decompress. If this is the experience you're looking for I recommend Viking. The Viking Sea (and its identical sister ship the Viking Star) is ideal venue for relaxation offering a comfortable, unhurried experience.
If you're looking for hustle and bustle, constant stimulation, and amusement park experiences Viking is not for you. If you're looking for a family cruise Viking is not for you. The Viking Sea has no casino, no rock wall, no waterslides, no cross branding, no shopping malls, no photographers, and no kid zone. In fact the minimum age to sail with Viking is sixteen. If, however, you're looking for adult themed activities that stimulate the intellect and enrich the soul, if you're looking for comfort, if you're looking for charm and grace Viking is just what you're looking for.
The ship is elegant but not gaudy. Straight lines, wood grain, and gentle pastels dominate the decor. You embark the ship on deck 1 directly into a central atrium that Viking calls the Living Room, and with good reason. Sofas and armchairs are scattered throughout this expansive, multi-level space, some creating conversation areas, others offering intimate privacy. Bookshelves line many of the walls inviting bibliophiles like myself to simply wander the space and peruse the titles. I spent many an afternoon in a little niche with the art albums.
Other public spaces are just as inviting. My favorite by far was the Explorer's Lounge on deck 7. This two level lounge looked out over the bow of the ship and was a perfect spot for whale watching (I'm happy to report that whales and dolphins were both sighted during my voyage). It, like many other public spaces aboard, was graced by bookshelves lining the bulkheads. Nearly every evening found me stretched out on a sofa reading my latest find.
My previous cruise line's spa facilities were subpar (believe it or not the US Navy doesn't have much in way of creature comforts). The spa facilities aboard the Viking Sea I found to be quite luxurious. Whether hot or cold, fresh or salt water, steam or snow, the Nordic Spa had it all. Yes, they had an actual snow grotto on board (though it was closed for one day for defrosting and maintenance). After about fifteen minutes in the steam room one would think that the snow grotto would be unbearably cold but it felt quite invigorating.
Just outside the spa are some small luxury shops. While it was nice to be able to browse the items I never felt pressured to buy nor did I feel like I was in a shopping mall. There was a shop that sold toiletries and other sundries which was convenient.
I must admit I did not go to many of the evening entertainment shows (though I made friends with several of the performers) so I cannot comment on the quality of the entertainment but the theater itself is nicely laid out with plenty of leg room between rows. This has the added bonus of not having to embarrassingly squeeze around people (or be squeezed around) if you have to leave for any reason. The last night of our cruise, though, our cruise director performed. It turns out she is quite an accomplished mezzo soprano. Her accompanying musicians performed in the pool area every afternoon as did the classical trio and the guitarist (though in different areas at different times). All were excellent musicians but their repertoire was limited. I could tell toward the end they were getting tired of playing the same songs.
Possibly the biggest difference from US Navy cruise lines was the quality of the food. There were quite a few dining options (though not, I'm sure, as many as some of the larger cruise lines) and the quality of each of them was excellent. I particularly appreciated that there was no extra charge to dine in the specialty restaurants, though reservations are required and availability depends on stateroom class. Portions look small to the eye, but the food was so well prepared and there were so many courses that I was never left dissatisfied. I ate quite often at the World Cafe on deck 7. I appreciated the convenience of the buffet style serving. Waiters were always on hand to provide you with any beverage of your choice. Another of Viking's selling points is that beer, wine, and sodas are complimentary with your meal so I never felt as I was being nickel and dimed.
This was a repositioning cruise for a newly commissioned ship so the itinerary was quite unique. One of the reasons I chose this particular cruise is because it offered a good mix of days in port and days at sea. I appreciated having some extended time at sea to be able to just experience the ship and not feel that I was simply being rushed from port to port. But the ports were magnificent. We departed Bergen and were originally scheduled to debark in Istanbul. Political instability in Turkey resulted in its cancellation which was disappointing but understandable (especially since the coup happened a week before our departure). Two ports in Spain were added which more than made up for Istanbul's cancellation. Between Spain and Portugal, for a few days I felt like I had traveled back to the Fifteenth Century. Wandering the cobblestone streets of medieval villages, basking in the glorious architecture of the churches, sipping coffee (or something a little stronger) on a sidewalk cafe. It was all quite seductive. It was as slow and leisurely a pace of life ashore as it was aboard. My only regret is that there was so little time in each port.
Viking's ocean ships are small ships and are able to reach smaller ports that other cruise ships can't. This results in more of a cultural experience than a "let's move the party ashore" experience. I don't recall seeing one neon sign or pink cocktail with an umbrella and I'm happier for it. This mentality carries over to the ship itself both in its apportionment and the professionalism of its crew. It is, as I state in the title of this review, elegant but understated, an experience I highly recommend for those who seek a slow pace and civilized experience. Read Less