Once again the bags are packed, the fridge is cleaned out, my desk is almost clear and Chet is fretting about all the last-minute details of leaving home for a few weeks.
Yes, we are bound for another cruise and so looking forward to sailing with a brand new cruise line, Viking Ocean Cruises, in one of our most favorite cruising grounds, the Baltic.
The new cruise line…brought to you by the folks who run Viking River Cruises…began sailing in April of last year and is already receiving rave reviews. Most notably, in July of this year Viking was named the #1 Ocean Cruise Line by Travel & Leisure readers in the 2016 World’s Best Awards, knocking out luxury-line Crystal Cruises from its 20-year run in that position.
So, naturally, I want to know what makes Viking Ocean so darned special. We just sailed with Crystal last fall. We know why it wins accolades. So we are eager to experience what Viking has to offer.
Viking River Cruises was founded by its current chairman, Torstein Hagen, and strongly reflects Scandinavian design and traditions. One inclusion I know I will enjoy is the Nordic spa that everyone on the ship can access, whether or not they purchase treatments…or so I am told.
But it is clear that Viking will be a distinctive experience. At first its prices seem high for a mid-level cruise line but then you realize that they offer an included tour in every port, free wi-fi for everyone, verandas on all staterooms, free self-service laundry, premium dining venues at no extra charge and beer and wine with lunch and dinner. That is a hefty amenities package, borrowed of course from its very successful river cruise product.
But it is not for everyone. Its itineraries are very port-intensive, usually one every day, with very few sea days. There is no casino, no production shows, no bridge lessons, no cooking classes. Entertainment consists of folkloric troupes, and piano and cabaret shows. Or so they say on various cruise forums. I am eager to find out.
They certainly know how to make a great first impression. As soon as you book, they set you up on a special website called MyVikingJourney. There you can make all sorts of choices for your cruise. While many lines have something similar, Viking really presses you to make all … and I mean all… of your reservations in advance, particularly for shore excursions and meals in the special restaurants. They continue to send frequent emails about your itinerary and then a few weeks before the cruise send you a cruise package which include leather bag tags, luggage tags for boarding the ship, a booklet that includes your cruise documents and summarizes all shore excursions and ship policies, a checklist for your travel documents and a modest ditty bag. Rather nice, when most cruise lines now just have you print off your cruise docs from the web.
I also love this 15-day itinerary which takes us from Stockholm to 11 ports, ending in Bergen, Norway. While I have been to several of the major cities, there are a few that will be new. Tour prices in Scandinavia can be hefty so I signed up mostly for the included tours. Hope that was the right move. I look forward to sharing them with you.