Viking Ocean Cruises vs. the others.

I was somewhat surprised when I saw so many wheel chairs and walkers being escorted by so much grey hair in the cruise ship terminal. I knew this was an adult adventure, but I never cruised aboard Viking, and I don’t quite know what I was expecting, so I explained to my wife that “we” could join the kids club once on board because we were aged 65 years or less. That kinda set the tone for our next 7 days of adventure aboard our Viking Ocean Cruises ship to Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Having found a number 5 boarding pass sitting atop a chair next to my wife, apparently left from another waiting boarding member that got up to use the restroom or something, and my wife and sister-in-law having a number 9, I decided to board. “See ya”, I said and ascended aboard the escalator in the Miami embarkation terminal.

I thought it a bit odd that I had entered the ship and not a photograph had been taken celebrating the occasion and the atrium area of the ship had a pianist or three-piece string ensemble playing as I checked in . . . I don’t remember; but the staff member that assisted me obtaining a, semi-constant throughout the cruise, Wi-Fi signal was the first part of exceptional service for the next seven days aboard Viking Sun.


My first mission aboard the vessel was to secure some dining arrangements at Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant for the second night underway, and The Chef’s Table for our Thanksgiving day meal aboard and also my birthday. The Chef’s Table offers a pre-fix menu paired with wine, if you paid the extra $137 per person (mandatory both persons pay within a cabin) to have basically unlimited access to all beer, wine and booze while aboard. I was told by one of the ship’s staff that it covered 99% of all the alcohol on board with the only exemptions include one champagne by the glass and other extra curricular drinking events . . . to be explained later. We ended up eating at Manfredi’s twice. It was quite good. The dining aboard the Viking Sun was unlike what we had experienced aboard other cruise lines in that there was no assigned seating and the dining at the specialty restaurants (Manfredi’s and The Chef’s Table) were included other than the wine pairing as mentioned above. I’m learning that Viking Cruise are mostly “all inclusive”. adfh

I finally made my way to the Lido deck . . . or the 7th deck. It was not called the Lido Deck on this ship, where the pool, buffet, burger grill and the constant flow of umbrella drinks being served by eager staff await along with the gently rhythmic Reggae music being played by a live band on the pool deck stage. Nope, it was called . . . the seventh deck, with just some gentle tunes playing modestly through the pool area sound system. I did find the bar on that deck and quickly ordered a double to get me through my next tasks.

Shortly after that I heard over the ship’s P.A. system that all bags have been placed in all of the staterooms. This was at about 1:30pm and I’m used to finding our luggage looming outside of our, and everyone else’s, stateroom at around 3:30 to 4:00pm on Princess and Carnival Cruise Lines. Although those were much larger ships with three to four times the passenger capacity, the service never seemed to be insufficient or excessive either way except for few details like having the luggage not in the hallways . . . ever, . . . even on debarkation.

Soon after getting my drink on the ‘Lido Deck’, as it will ever be referred to by my wife and I, and taking a couple of pictures and sending a couple of texts to the wife still in the terminal, I found our room, and our balcony. Balconies are a very important mandatory feature of our (the wife and I) cruising criteria and every room on this ship had a NON-SMOKING balcony, on a trip to Cuba, … really. This was a very small ship; in fact, it was the smallest of six ships currently docked at the nine-ship capacity (I think they are claiming) Miami cruise ship terminal. Very impressive ship terminal although you’d think you were lost driving around in circles (by design) on the terminal roads. Anyway, for smoking, there was one small area on the starboard side, mid-ship, a deck above and aft of the pool area for all those Cubanos to be tested once we first arrived in Cienfuegos. But I don’t know about the first night, because we had traveled to Havana and back on a reasonably (it was good) comfortable tour bus line for our first days in port.

The food aboard the Viking was decent as was the food aboard any one of the other cruise vessels I’ve been on as an average. I actually felt the foods served aboard the Sun’s buffet dining area was rather limited and just mediocre; there just wasn’t a whole lot of excitement in the food arena. The same layout format throughout the ship of the newer lines that have been coming out of Italy; everything down to the two watering stations next to the mostly unused, on this vessel, shuffle board and miniature golf sports deck. This ship did have a very nice spa and gym area on the 2nd deck (?). It included a steam bath and ice bath rooms that were kinda neat. I can say we did it. The spa area also had a bucket plunge device that drops a bucket of cold . . . not on this ship . . . cool . . . possibly room temperature water over your head. It also had a very impressive bubble machine (that’s what I call it because that’s all it was doing) large Jacuzzi-style tub that was about 92 degrees and a much smaller hot tub that was about 94 degrees. Don’t forget about the iceless water that is served with each meal. Not a whole bunch of excitement aboard this cruise line . . . and not a bunch of stimulation either.

In hindsight, I think I am beginning to realize the quality of the Viking Cruise Line vessels and vacations. They are what I call, “very Hiltony”. Meaning the quality, simplicity, comfort and expectation is very much like the Hilton hotel brand. I have asked myself and my wife several times if we would ever chose Viking again. Our answer is ‘never say never’. We may be looking for this level of cruise line in a few years. Also in hind sight, since witnessing a few things while in Cuba, Viking Cruise Lines seem to do everything with the highest level of perfection toward their brand standard. All of their ship tour adventures seemed top be planned out to the “t”, and everything was always inclusive. We never had to tip or pay for anything . . . and the cruise personnel would tell us that the tip is taken care of and to only tip if you feel it necessary.

The seven days aboard Viking was nice, clean, calculated, anticipated and comfortable. The staterooms were very nice without the towel animals on the bed and the stateroom steward kissing my ass every visit back to my room. Our steward did miss a very important ‘ice in the room every day at 4pm’ request, and I never saw him around that hour to ask him for it again. All I know is that we looked for it many of the days we were on the ship. So when it comes to tipping the steward staff, as was very common on other cruise lines we have traveled on, Viking stewards seemed to be less forcibly social with the traveling guests. The wife and I would rather our room not be visited other than minimally to refresh towels every couple of days. We hang the “Do Not Disturb, sign on the door knob with expectation that the stewards are to remain clear . . . . unless I need ice! The bath area, bed area and closet storage in the room was very accommodating and there is storage below the bed to put your luggage. The balcony area is a decent size with adequate privacy from any next door snoopers.

Since we were of the youngest 10% of the occupancy of the ship, and we usually always had a drink in hand, the bartenders, soon new our names and our drinks . . . and our room numbers. Every staff member, that I had witnessed, would use a personal ‘cell-phone’ styled device to enter all information about drink, food ordering or retail sales in the stores. Our picture was taken upon embarkation for our ships identification badge that was used to access our stateroom and both embark and exit the ship in ports. The ships crew would just verify our picture with our purchase as it was placed on our stateroom final bill. I thought the use of personal data devices for this purpose was convenient for the ships crew.

The Viking staff had everything figured out for the guests. Even when we got to Cienfuegos, Cuba, the ships own 220 passenger life/tender vessels were used to transport us to and from the terminal in that port as we anchored in the harbor off of the docks. This ship also had a fairly new crew, so some things (evolutions) didn’t quite go as planned. Like retrieving of the anchores when leaving Cienfuegos had set us back for about 2 hours due to them being fouled and the ships engineering crew chasing the anchors  around like monkeys chasing around a football. Just below my balcony . . . it was great entertainment.

As for Viking Ocean Cruise lines being compared to other cruise ship lines and how it all comes into play with the overall enjoyment of a ship-board cruise, I’ll have to check out more lines to compare. I did find another writer that does just that, compares the cruise lines from within. I look forward to reading some of his stories as well when I get ready to make my final cruise destination plans aboard another cruise line.


The beer bong. An emotional education about water conservation.

A recent walk with a workmate . . . while enduring extremely tough working conditions (I hate these days), we had entered a discussion about creating yet another course for educating those persons in our work structure about environmental programs. It’s what I do, so I’m usually always inviting the creative ways of thinking, educating and learning.

morning walkThis morning’s picture was on another hike out in the field at an extremely vulnerable opportunity to witness the various endangered species I am entrusted to protect, and educate those that use this environment, to help protect it, and the species that are already there.

Yes, I work in the environmental field and I write training lessons about environmental programs to hopefully educate those that use the land to help protect it so others can use the land the way we use it today.

So the question came up about educating individuals about water and energy conservation. Simple stuff some may say. Shut off the faucet and turn off the lights, right? The discussion continues toward the reason why we don’t spend time educating individuals about such seemingly logical tasks.

Well, we live here in Southern California and water is often times always an issue; at least it is in San Diego since we are actually a costal desert. Now I’m not going to go deeply into what our environment is and the landscape structure and whether we really live in a desert or whatever. At my workplace I am surrounded by scientists, engineers and specialists that can answer all of that for me. I am hired as an Environmental Protection Specialist; but more so, my specialty resides with knowing a lot about all of the programs enough to write training for them and manage an information website. I follow all these people around to try to learn what I can so I can teach people about the environmental programs thus freeing up the scientists and engineers to do the science and engineering stuff. It’s actually fun when I can get the scientists (very analog thinking) and engineers (very digital thinking) together in the same room and throw a conversation instrument out on the table. These folks go on for days . . .

Now back to my dilemma. During our morning walk, I had brought up the point about teaching students about water conservation and potential methods to successfully accomplish that task. Remember, water conservation is thought to be a simple subject with some simple answers resulting in the final outcome of “turn off the faucet”. I then looked to my scientist (the guy I’m on the walk with) for suggestions. oak3

I pointed out that most of my students may not really know how water gets to the faucet and how the use of pressure is created from a water tank located atop a hill or tower somewhere nearby. The water is pumped into the tower from a lower level stream, lake or river. Ours is mostly reservoirs supplied by the Colorado river. Needless to say, our water here in Southern California comes from somewhere else and it costs money to get it here . . . thus some of the charges on your water bill. I then pointed out to my scientist the wasteful behaviors of even some of those individuals in our work area, as I had witness several of them washing their lunch-time dishes in the office kitchen one day. I would watch them open the faucet up full blast to rinse them. I would also watch them open the faucet full blast to rinse out a recyclable plastic food container. Now, over the last couple of years I had begun to wonder about the benefits or detriments of recycling since it is a necessity to clean our recyclable containers to prevent odors and vectors (varmints). I continue to ask if it is as beneficial to recycle in areas needing strict water conservation  efforts like San Diego County in states such as California. Seems like we are always in drought conditions. Beer bong

As I watched these workmates of mine washing dishes and recyclables with forceful amounts of water going down the drain, I would ask them if they knew how water gets to the faucet and if they could just put water in the largest dish or bowl already in the sink, add some soap, do a little scrubbing then rinse it all off. They would usually feel bad at first but often times would say, “it’s not my water bill”. They would turn the  faucet down a bit, and hurry their way through their dishes so the next person could mount up and clean up, turning the faucet on full blast once again. I thought to myself about how I could strike emotion into these educated individuals.

I mentioned I work along side of scientists and engineers. I’m guessing some of them had been to college based on the various degrees they hold. We even have a PhD in our office. Now I know from my life long learning, that with college comes partying. With partying comes a bit of drinking. College students are always looking for a new game to free their minds from the rigors of the classroom and continually come up with things like beer pong and I had even recently found a beer bong in my RV. Friggin’ college students! Yeah I have a feeling that the beer bong got left behind from my eldest son (a college graduate) and his friends one evening. That gave me the idea about teaching these scientists and engineers (yes one of them is responsible for the water conservation program) about conserving water and drinking beer.

I asked one the guy I was on my morning walk with about how a beer bong works, and explained that it is similar to the way water is stored in a water tower. If the valve on the end of the beer bong is opened, the water comes out full force. If we close the valve a bit, just like shutting the faucet off a bit to conserve water, it takes longer for the beer to come out. He warned me about using that example in class. I said to him, “that’s what is missing in education today, the emotional bond between teaching, understanding and learning”.

I’m probably going to use that in class someday, just as I have already used that example in the kitchen with those scientists and engineers. I mean, who doesn’t understand the beer bong. Close the valve a little.