I am one of those people who is happiest by far whenever I am aboard ship.
As you can imagine, I haven’t been very happy for a year and a half. So when Viking invited me to come along on Viking’s “Iconic Mediterranean” itinerary, I jumped at the chance to sail away. I have lots of great memories of Viking’s ocean-going ships. Sleek, white and Scandinavian, they’re among the highest-rated cruise ships in the world. And since they are identical nonuplets, once you’ve traveled on one, you feel incredibly at home on all eight others. Viking Jupiter would be my home for 8 days as we plied the western coast of Italy and the southern coast of France.
That I was sailing on Jupiter was also slightly ironic.
My last Viking adventure was to see Jupiter christened, remotely, in Los Angeles in January of 2020. Viking had invited literally hundreds of travel pros to launch both Jupiter and their Expedition ships, Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. With much fanfare, Viking took over the same ballroom that had hosted the Golden Globe Awards the week before. We were all giddy with all the good Viking News. In weeks, the world went on lockdown and with it, every cruise line in the world. So here I was, 21 months later and a half a world away, boarding Viking Jupiter in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. What would be different? What would my “Welcome Back” voyage be like?
What changed? Almost everything. And almost nothing.
Of course, anyone who has traveled anywhere, and I confess that I have, knows the world is a very different place. It starts long before you leave home. Compulsory vaccinations and Covid-19 tests are as essential as carrying passport. Masks are mandated for all air travel and, in Italy, aboard all public transportation. That’s before you get anywhere near your Viking ship. First and foremost, to board the ship, you must produce all your documentation. And to board Viking Jupiter, in accordance with Italian law, then and there, you are given a compulsory nasal swab test—and not just the one that skims your nostrils. Italy, hard hit during the earliest days of the pandemic, has an especially strict Covid Protocol. Next door in France, there was nothing like the Italian regulations. After the Italian Government’s Covid team’s test, we were seated, socially-distanced of course, until our number was called and we could board the ship. The fully vaccinated passenger list gave a collective sigh of relief…behind their masks, of course.
I would almost say Viking Jupiter had a ‘new ship smell’
Since Viking Jupiter returned to service in July, that smell is the scent of clean. It’s part of Viking’s Healthy & Safety Program. And you’ll be aware of it, make no mistake about it. In addition to the already incredible standards of clean aboard Viking vessels, all guests and crew receive daily non-invasive saliva tests. Aboard every Viking Ocean ship, a full-scale laboratory has been installed. (On Viking River ships, a network of shoreside labs does the work of reviewing every test.) In addition to the labs, new air purification technology was also installed. All staterooms always featured independent air handling units so that technology is now throughout the ship. And yes, you are asked to wear masks, your temperature is taken electronically at the entrance to all restaurants and physical distancing is practiced. But none of that really takes away from the thrill of being at sea and the adventures that await on land.
Shore Excursions have their own sets of rules…at the bequest of the local Government
Yes, there are restrictions on shore excursions. Social Distancing means fewer occupied seats on tour buses—not necessarily a bad thing! And of course, masks are required. And in Italy, the biggest bugaboo is that you can’t wander off on your own. There’s free time but it’s confined to a very small area whatever excursion you chose. Any plans to shop are pretty well dashed by the rules. On the other hand, you are seeing some of the world’s greatest treasures in Italy’s premiere museums and galleries. France, on the other hand, was much freer and independent touring was a snap. The French Riviera never disappoints and Covid hasn’t changed that. Finally, there’s Barcelona. With the most highly vaccinated population in Europe, Spain still obeys the dictate that makes masks mandatory in indoor settings. You can see the best of Barcelona’s interiors—Sagrada Famillia and Palau de Musica come to mind–, you just have to wear a mask to do so.
I spoke to an authority after I returned home and Omicron emerged… Are these the most Covid-Conscious Ships Sailing?
Rajeev Shrivastava, the CEO of the travel insurance marketplace, VisitorsCoverage.com, had the following advice for would-be cruisers. “As the situation develops, monitor the CDC and keep in contact with your cruise line to learn about any updates and new requirements.
Be prepared to adhere to the local or country-specific rules like additional COVID tests upon arrival and departure, mandatory quarantines, or travel documents required by the cruise lines, the destination country or the local authorities. Cruise travel insurance, such as SafeCruise, ensures that passengers receive medical attention should they need it for COVID or any other sickness or accident. In a cruise, a serious medical situation with no hospital around means emergency medical evacuation and this type of insurance covers it.
Is it all worthwhile?
Darned right it is! Everything to love about Viking and cruising is all there. The restaurants, the lecturers, the fascinating ports of call are all in place. The incredibly attentive crew are so glad to be back at work. And absolutely everyone on the ship is fully vaccinated. How many of us can say that about the place where we live?
Cover photo: Livorno_Panorama_Sunset
Photos credit Viking and Monte Mathews, thank you