Our first Viking Ocean Cruise: How could 11 ports and eight countries in 15 days be our most relaxing cruise ever?
The name Viking is a household name for river cruises, and those we have taken are among our best vacation experiences. When the company began offering ocean cruises in 2015, we were intrigued.
Viking Ocean Cruises quickly became the world’s leading small ship cruise line, one with the newest fleet of small ships. By 2016 and right through 2019 these ocean cruises have been voted #1 in Travel and Leisure. They were also named best in 11 of 13 categories by Cruise Critic members.
We booked a stateroom well in advance since sailings fill quickly and chose a Viking Homelands cruise aboard the new 930 passenger Viking Jupiter. It took us from the spectacular Norwegian fjords to fascinating little towns and grand Scandinavian capitals — 11 ports and eight countries in 15 days.
Much of Viking Ocean Cruises’ reputation comes from all the features that are included when compared to others — a shore excursion in every port, free wi-fi, open access to the spa, wine and beer with lunch and dinner, alternative dining, specialty coffees and teas, port taxes and fees, 24-hour room service and laundry machines and detergent. Ground transfers are included with air purchase.
An array of additional optional tours are offered for a fee. We signed up for many of them before departure to simplify things once on board.
This is a journey many describe as a thinking person’s cruise. The resident astronomer gives talks in the theater. Cruise-related topics like the Vikings and Imperial Russia are the domain of the resident historian. Miroslav Dimitrijevic spoke on topics relating to the high-quality items in his on board shop, including the nesting dolls known as matryoshka. 3-D presentations are held in the Explorers’ Lounge’s a 26-seat planetarium, which serves more of a domed theater (book early for a seat).
Our trip began with the smoothest embarkation in all our years of cruising. Helpful staff lined the way, whisking our luggage away and guiding us through Bergen’s cruise terminal. After the quickest check-in ever, we were right on board. No lines or waiting. Viking made everything easy. We felt relaxed and well cared for right from the start, impressed by the soft, soothing colors of the decor and the stream-lined Scandinavian furnishings.
No one was pushing drinks or other products. In fact, throughout the cruise, there was no sales pressure at all. Just top-notch service.
A buffet lunch awaited in the World Café. Waiters brought drinks to our table on the Aquavit Terrace, where we took in the view of Bergen’s waterfront and the variety of ships going in and out of the port.
Then we explored the ship and took photos before many other passengers arrived, from Deck 9 Sports Deck’s outdoor gym right down to Deck 1’s LivNordic Spa and specialty restaurants.
We stopped to look through the telescope and take in the two-story panoramic view from the super-comfortable leather chairs in the Explorers’ Lounge on Decks 7 and 8. This room celebrates Norwegian navigators with ship models and navigation tools.
This became one of our favorite areas, with little nooks for reading a selection from the library, areas for conversation, and reindeer pelts draped over the sofas in the cozy fireplace area. A pianist performs at night.
Mamsen’s is a little deli there named for what Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen and his sister called their mother. Her recipes are used for the for heart-shaped waffles topped with fruit and goat cheese, open faced shrimp sandwiches, pea soup and hearty stews.
Look under the plates and you’ll see “Tor Viking 2.” Hagen’s daughter, Karina, had Mamsen’s china reproduced. This lounge is where you can enjoy a Swedish “fika” sort of coffee break and discover what the untranslatable kind of coziness known as “hugge” in Denmark or“koselig” in Norway is.
The adjacent Wintergarden is the light-filled site for enjoying afternoon tea with the sounds of a stringed quartet.
Then there’s the main pool and hot tub area with a retractable roof for year-round enjoyment. By night enjoy stargazing or, perhaps, a movie under the stars. The pool grill serves some of the best hamburgers and cheese steak sandwiches we have tasted.
From there it is on to the open kitchens in World Café and to the Aquavit Terrace. Viking’s ships have the most al fresco dining at sea. The infinity pool and hot tub, complete this deck.
The staterooms, mostly on Decks 4, 5 and 6 all have private verandas. The king-size bed has soft duvets and fluffy goose down pillows for a great night’s sleep. Viking Cruises also has some of the largest suites, including the Owner’s Suite with some of Chairman Torstein Hagen’s collections.
Bathrooms have heated floors and anti-fog mirrors. Shower controls are straight-forward and the premium Freya toiletries pop open. The remote for the large screen TV is easy to use, there are plenty of USB ports and US/EU plugs. There is 24-hour room service. It’s tempting to put on the plush robes and slippers and just stay there.
There are Norwegian influences throughout the ship. Deck 3 includes an upper atrium area with traditional Norwegian costumes, or bunads, on display and a small museum of Viking artifacts.
Deck 2 is for entertainment and dining, starting with the multipurpose theater’s production shows, guest lectures, and seminars, Sometimes it is divided into 2 cinemas, for things like TED talks and Destination Insights.
Torshavn is a lively place with jazz singers, piano players, dancing and drinks. Specialty brandies are served here.
There is also a jewelry store, and, my favorite, small shops with Norwegian clothing and handicrafts. I would have preferred two reverse proportions of these shops.
Live music from the Steinway piano on Level 1 fills the Atrium. Tabletops there stream on board events. You’ll spot people reading, working on a puzzle, or enjoying a game of Scrabble or chess here.
Floor-to-ceiling windows reveal an ever-changing view during open seating dining at The Restaurant, Regional cuisine and American classics are served here.
Level 1 had some of our favorite getaways, beginning with the revitalizing Liv-Nordic Spa, a hot-to-cold experience oasis that even includes a snow grotto. Purify your body in the sauna and plunge into a cold pool or the snow — if you dare. We enjoyed this so much we stayed on board one day and had the spa to ourselves. Swedish massages and other fee-based treatments are also available. The fitness center, salon and a shop with Russian treasures rounds out this area.
This leads to the comfortable living room, which has informative and inspirational books and a bar that is clinker-built of overlapping planks, like the Viking ships of yore. The resident pianist plays traditional Norwegian music while Edvard Munch’s paintings are projected on the Atrium screen.
The specialty restaurants that feature multi-course meals paired with wine are here, as well, at no additional cost, but should be reserved in advance. The chef’s table features a changing tasting menu of regional and specialty cuisine. Unfortunately, we missed the Scandinavian nights, but thoroughly enjoyed the Asian and Mexican menus.
Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant was inspired by Italian trattorias. Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen and his friend Silversea Chairman Manfredi Lefebvre D’Ovidio collaborated in testing the recipes.
Reserve a place in advance or at the beginning of the cruise. We discovered is that few passengers book the specialty restaurants for embarkation night and snagged a table without a reservation.
We stopped to see the Kitchen Table, used for culinary adventures (additional charge) with the chef during the tour of the restaurants’ galley.
Is this cruise for you?
We booked this cruise for all that it is. We loved it for what it is not. No cacophonous sounds from a casino, no photographers interrupting dinner, no smoking. There were no blaring announcements for things like raffles or art auctions, no hype and no glitzy formal nights.
There are also no passengers under 18. Activities are appropriate to the mature traveler. Production shows featured music from the '50s and '60s.
We became so relaxed that we scaled back our usual enthusiasm for experiencing it all onshore to have more time to enjoy the amenities this beautiful ship. We used an app for a self-guided tour of the Nordic art collection. And those heated tile lounge chairs and snow grotto were just too compelling. This time we came home relaxed from and enriched by our experience.
More on the ports next time.