In my last Traveller’s Tales, I had promised to explore the differences between luxury cruising and your fun, family ships. I had promised the answer to a question that has been with me for some time: “Is spending the money for luxury really worth it?”
First and foremost, travelling with Viking Cruise Lines was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had. Not only was I lucky enough to go with one of my best friends who happens to work for Viking, but I was able experience the pride that Viking has. This is a pride that exists beyond any holiday I’ve ever taken. It was a pride that was felt in the way staff interacted with guests, in the small details of the ship and in the effort put forth to ensure the perfect holiday. It’s a pride that I could take ten articles to express, going into way too much detail about the food, the guests, the staff – everything – but I will restrain myself to this one article.
Now, before I get started here, I should say that I know how hard it is to afford a holiday and that even travelling to Cuba or choosing Carnival as your week away isn’t easy to save for. But, Viking is expensive for a reason, and the travel style is one that I’d love for you to try at least once because it didn’t take long to notice that they are a company geared towards the client. That alone is an experience worth paying for.
What I found so special on the Viking cruise line is the amount of detail and personality they put into absolutely every aspect of the ship. Everywhere you went on the ship, you found personal touches relating to Torstein Hagen, founder of Viking. You could enjoy his father’s favourite drink in a lounge named Paps, after his dad. I can’t say I was the biggest fan of the brandy, warm water and sugar, but I could enjoy picturing Paps with his favourite drink by the fireplace. In the same lounge you could also find “Mamsen,” a waffle and deli bar named after his mom, where even her personal china design was used.
The personal touches didn’t stop at there. Upstairs in the more private Explores Lounge, it felt more like you were in Torstein’s living room than on a ship. With bookshelves full of favourite books and family photos, biographies of Torstein and his family; you couldn’t help but feel like you were cared about as a passenger and consumer. In fact, for a short time while sitting on the couch, perusing through Torstein’s story or looking out over the open ocean, it wasn’t hard to forget that you weren’t just a cherished friend of Torstein.
The serenity and atmosphere of the ship was always a step above relaxation. It didn’t matter the time of day or the port of call, the ship was almost always quiet. If you’ve ever been on a cruise before, you’ll know the struggle of finding a lounger anywhere on the ship or even a single seat in the buffet. I can’t say I know how they did it, but Viking pulled off the seemingly impossible. They managed to give you peace and quiet, while still giving you the freedom to make friends.
I found the people we met on board to be some of the friendliest tourists I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. It might just be a theory, but I really think that by not overcrowding the spaces on board, passengers were happier, friendlier and excited to share their lives with you.
Another unusual, yet wonderful part of the Viking experience is the included shore excursions. At each port of call – Key West, Belize, Cozumel and Progresso – there was a shore excursion we could book free of charge. Now, anyone who has ever been on a cruise before knows how expensive shore excursions can get, so it was quite a nice treat to be offered an option in every port we visited.
The excursions were well rounded to give a taste of each port. In Key West we ended up on a street-train with a fun-loving, knowledgeable guide who drove us past the southernmost point in the Continental USA, as well as Ernest Hemingway’s house. We explored Mayan Temples in Belize and wandered the city in Progresso. We also visited a tequila factory in Cozumel; an experience that resulted in me buying a rather expensive painting from a market stall. Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice painting, but it was definitely a tequila-induced buy. Smart marketing plan if you ask me.
However, the serenity, the included excursions, the details; it would all be for nothing if the food didn’t live up to the standard. So let’s talk about the food. Well, in short, it was spectacular. The buffet was clean, fresh and healthy; with a wide variety of food, you couldn’t go wrong. In fact, the buffet was the best of any I have ever experienced. In the dining room, your meal was always paired with a chef’s choice of wine and all three courses were guaranteed to be light and delicious.
I can’t describe the frustration of having to eat all-you-can-eat sushi in the buffet before heading down to the dining room for a three course meal. It’s a lifestyle I couldn’t possibly continue much longer than a week. Okay, who am I kidding; a world cruise on Viking would be the greatest choice one could make.
In all seriousness, Viking produced some of the best food I have ever had. The presentation and availability of world class food made the experience on the ship even more impressive. And it wasn’t just thanks to the buffet and main restaurant, but every passenger was also able to book a meal in the specialty restaurants free of charge; Manfredi’s, an upscale Italian restaurant, and the Chef’s Table, a well-orchestrated five-course restaurant with wine paired with every course.
I’ll say that although the concept of the Chef’s Table was enjoyable, the meal was underwhelming. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt by saying that the set menu at the Chef’s Table does rotate between a few different options during the course of the cruise, and it just so happens our reservation was booked for a night centering on fish and cold tomato mousse. The taste was fine and the food was prepared well, but I left wanting more.
Manfredi’s on the other hand was a delight like none other. Did I mention world-famous steak? Cooked to perfection, the Manfredi’s steak was a melt-in-the-mouth euphoric pleasure. My only regret is that my Alberta-born and raised fiancé wasn’t there to experience just how good a steak can get. Our meal was concluded with a shot of limoncello and the entire desert menu split between four of us. We all left our meal that night in a state of pure bliss but also knowing that no steak would ever measure up.
The two most pleasant surprises on board were actually the bathrooms in the cabins, and the Spa. I know, a weird thing to be impressed by, but anyone who has been on a cruise ship can appreciate having a full sized bathroom with a full sized shower, a complete counter and heated floors! It sounds too good to be true but it wasn’t. Unfortunately, the standard joke, “I can brush my teeth, shampoo my hair and use the toilet at the same time,” wouldn’t cut it on this ship. And the spa – beautifully designed with a cold plunge pool, snow grotto, ice bucket, steam room, sauna and hot tub pool. The classic routine of moving between the sauna and plunge pool, into the steam room then to a room full of snow, back to the steam room and finishing off with a bucket of ice water over the head might just be one of the most perfect hangover cures I have ever experienced… I mean, perfect way to relax. My mom gave me that lecture already and I know she’ll be reading this.
The only disappointment with Viking falls in the entertainment section. Viking is not a line made to entertain in large and flashy ways which meant their theatre shows didn’t quite hit the mark. Although the performers on the ship were very talented and friendly, the shows themselves lacked in “wow factor.” Whereas other cruises put on elaborate singing and dancing shows, recreating famous musicals like Hairspray or Chicago, Viking put on lounge-like performances in their main theatre which fell short of impressive.
After a week on board being spoiled in so many ways, it was hard to leave. The tranquil design of the ship paired off with the intricate details made for the perfect holiday atmosphere. Although the cruise line is typically geared towards the older generation, we fit right in and had a blast, making friends and memories everywhere we went. I can’t promise that if you end up on a Viking cruise you too will befriend the jeweler who will lend you $100,000 in jewels to wear around the ship for an evening, but I can be sure you’ll have a blast. If relaxation is what you are after, Viking definitely delivers.
Check back next month when I’ll cover the attitude of travel. How do you make the best out of a bad situation and survive the imperfection of travelling?