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”.
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.