Sometimes it pays to not be the first. Here's our review of the not-quite-brand-new cruise ship from Viking.
“Viking Ocean Cruises is the travel industry’s first entirely new cruise line in a decade, and after reaching Venice, the ship will head through the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic to be officially christened in Bergen, Norway, on May 17.”
Viking Cruise Line Literature, 2015
Sunset over the Baltic
Here is one time when it is better not to be first. The reason? The rollout of a new cruise ship is bound to have its hiccups. One hopes that the wrinkles have been worked out during one of the several earlier voyages. Last July, we boarded Viking River Cruises’ brand new ocean liner, the Viking Star, for its almost maiden voyage, traveling from Bergen, Norway to Stockholm, Sweden. Here is what we found.
This new ship is meant to be nimble. It carries 930 passengers rather than several thousand, which is the norm on most ocean cruises. This relatively small number of vacationers contributed to smooth shore excursions and importantly, we avoided the feeling of being counted as a statistic. This positive experience was further enhanced by the crew who were exceptionally friendly and helpful. They catered to our every wish and frankly, for me, it was heaven on earth. I found I could enjoy “my wish is your command,” more than I would like to think I could.
Of course, the reason most people joined the cruise was to see and learn about foreign cultures in a way that would enrich their lives. Shore excursion and lectures served this purpose.
The tours from the ship were varied and designed to suit almost every taste. For example, when we were at the port of Rostock, Germany no fewer than nine shore excursions were offered, ranging from a full day trip to Berlin to a few-hour brewery tour in Rostock. Generally, there were 28-32 passengers in each tour and guides ranged from good to excellent for their delivery and the information they provided. None were poor.
Some passengers chose to stay on board when others left the ship. I can understand this. The vessel was exceedingly pleasant and of course brand new. Sitting watching the ocean is a satisfying activity in itself although chess and exercise activities were also offered during excursion hours as well as spa opportunities. Also, previously recorded lectures on the ship were available on demand. Some were talks by the ship staff on the ports we visited. Others were by experts relating to the history and art in the locations we visited.
As for meals, there were multiple offerings at breakfast including herring (it is a Baltic cruise, after all), waffles, and more traditional fare. In evenings, meals featured lobster, crab legs, and huge crayfish, as well as a selection of meats. The food was not only good; it was delicious, and in some cases better than the best New York City restaurants. To boot, every meal was accompanied by pleasing white or red wine, as much as you cared to consume.
Also, there were multiple restaurants, each with a different menu. Reservations were requested at two, the Italian Manfredi’s, and the gourmet Chef’s Table. A five-course meal was served at the latter, all with wine pairings. Manfredi’s was especially outstanding. Word must have gotten around the ship because mid-voyage, nearly all tables were filled up for its 6-9 PM hours.
This cruise is not for those that require Internet access. WiFi access only intermittent. Finally, to save time and energy plus relieve frustration, I stopped trying. This worked for me and meant in the end I had a better vacation.
A lesser shortcoming that travelers knew about before embarking was no fault of the cruise ship but rather inherent within the structure of taking a cruise. It simply had to do with the many ports visited that vary in quality. Also, the various ports certainly can’t be embraced in depth with the time allotted during a shore visit.
This cruise that we took last summer was one of the easiest and most pleasant vacations we have ever taken plus informative. Any minimal downside was far overshadowed by the positive. We are taking another Viking cruise this June, a high complement to the cruise line.