First Viking Cruise, my wife and I enjoyed it immensely. Good staff, very engaged and aware of customer needs. Lots of attention to detail like constantly refreshing buffet offerings in World Cafe. The "all in" policy on tips, ... Read More
First Viking Cruise, my wife and I enjoyed it immensely. Good staff, very engaged and aware of customer needs. Lots of attention to detail like constantly refreshing buffet offerings in World Cafe. The "all in" policy on tips, free mini-bar etc was nice.
The Port Talks were excellent, and gave a good idea of what to expect. The talk and slides on the antique cars was great. How do the Cubans maintain 60 year old cars, and get simple things like oil filters. All answered. Talks on politics, on the cities to be visited, etc.
Room 6031 was clean, and perfectly fine for a short cruise. The lack of drawer storage was notable,so we threw the hair dryer, shoe shine pack, etc into the closet to create more space.
Dining was fine. We had dinner in Manfredi's, and at the Chef's Table, as well as in the World Cafe. The wine selection was OK, the (free) base wines ranged from good down to swill. Beer was fine with a good range of European choices. Several special nights with pig roasts out on the aft deck, seafood spectacular, etc. All were done well. Full breakfasts were available, with alcohol for those who wanted it.
The excursions are a work in progress. Cuba doesn't have a lot of experience in tourism, and more remote places like Cienfuegos and Santiago are behind the curve. That's to be expected. On four excursions, we had two superb guides, one OK, and one awful. I'm not sure how much control Viking has over the tour operators (I only saw one provider in both places). In one case, we were expected to walk through knee high grass, down a washed out culvert to see a lake. And back up via another route. Older people had trouble other , people were concerned about ticks in the grass. Another guide engaged us in a forced march, so we could spend a whole half hour in yet another a rum / cigar shop. The third in four excursions. Several people had trouble with the pace. There was a lot of overlap, as we received the Cienfuegos city park talk twice, from two different guides. It was interesting what they chose to emphasize.
Some guides were great, and the excursions provided a great window into a lovely country. Hard working people, horse drawn carts, street musicians, vivid colors, wonderful sunsets. I had the opportunity to walk by myself through the mercado and beyond after one excursion ended. The guide had received 30 people, and delivered 30 people back to the dock. After that, I walked off on my own. About a two mile walk.
Friendly people selling wood carvings, hats, gourds, etc. Didn't feel the least bit threatened. The neighborhoods looked a little more worn than those traversed by the tour buses, but it seemed more real. Street musicians, very lively areas. I speak a little Spanish, and did fine.
The US government requires that the trip address certain people to people needs. So, we saw an honors arts school, with young children demonstrating high levels of musical proficiency. And visited the adjacent painting studio where the instructors displayed their work, most in support of the revolution. For sale, too. Other schools visible on our trip did not appear to have the same level of maintenance or exterior paint. But, all kids wear uniforms, and those we met were exceptionally polite.
I'd go back to either Cienfuegos or Santiago de Cuba in an instant, and I will. But, I know it will be different, just like it was different five years ago. A government patrol boat sat near our ship in both ports. In Santiago, the ship was required to anchor about 30 minutes outside the main harbor, making a long tender ride
Practical notes: I tipped guides, taxi drivers, etc in all of US dollars, Cuban convertible pesos, and Euro. They were grateful for the tips, it's a big part of their income. The government takes a cut off the conversion of all US$ to Cuban currency, so most preferred the Euro
We departed Santiago de Cuba in the late afternoon, bound for Miami. A day at sea, and a 6am arrival in Miami. Customs doesn't report for work until 7am, so it was 7.15 before the first people were processed. Everyone was required to be out of their cabins by 8am, and off the ship by 9am. I would have liked a few more hours in Santiago de Cuba, and an hour more sleep in Miami.
This is not a child friendly cruise. No kids activities, and most excursions were adult level. Not too much partying, the average age was probably mid-60s. Read Less