If you’re considering a cruise — but don’t think of yourself as a cruiser — here are 10 reasons that will tempt you to give a Viking Cruise a try
For a long time, the image we had in our heads of cruise vacations depicted tacky onboard casinos, screaming kids with face paint and balloon animals, and semi-tragic karaoke nights. We have been so used to crafting our own travel agendas that the thought of committing to the agenda of a cruise company, and then being stuck in the middle of the ocean, felt something like a nightmare. But after a friend told us about the ease and comfort of their cruise with Viking, we started to wonder what all the hype was about. Chris and I decided it was time to try something new...and wow, were our expectations wrong! As it turns out, there is a lot more to cruising than all-you-can-eat buffets and flashy Vegas-style shows.
We found ourselves really missing Spain and longing for good tapas, so our six-day cruise from Barcelona to Lisbon was perfect. Our itinerary took us through some of our favorite cities – Barcelona, Seville, Granada, and Lisbon – it was like a pub/tapas crawl but on the wide-open sea! It didn’t take long for us to get really excited about this unknown kind of adventure. Although we were hesitant, our Viking cruise redefined our conceptions of cruising as a vacation style. Truth be told, we absolutely loved our nautical getaway and have handfuls of oceanic memories to show for it.
1. The deep-sea style is comfortable and elegant
Some of our basic reservations derived from the false imagery we had in our minds about cruise ship design and style. The cruise ship commercials on family television channels come to mind – floating mega-resorts flaunting turquoise pools with spiraling water slides and dance floors with disco balls. Stepping onto the boat, aversions and all, our opinions washed away with the tide.
Our cruise ship was the Viking Sea, one of the newest models Viking has to offer. From the communal spaces to the individual staterooms, the ship fulfills its intention of feeling like a well designed, cozy home. Every floor seemed to have a space where you could relax in private and read a book, or sit around a small table with cocktails and friends. The design is inspired by Nordic culture with clean lines, soft colors of blue and brown and modern furniture strewn throughout. Walls are lined with books, everything from biographies to fiction and a smart collection of modern art adorn the different areas. Little details like leather handles, interesting trinkets and well-designed furniture prove that this ship has been well curated and well thought out.
2. The rooms are spacious
Anticipating the unique needs of every guest, Viking pays attention and it’s obvious in the details of the rooms. Each cabin has a balcony, you’ll find plenty of outlets, including USB ports (even next to the bed), Nordic style wool blankets and an on demand movie library, that actually has recent movies. The bathroom felt especially roomy with plenty of space to store our belongings and my several unnecessary bags of beauty products.
Our cabin was bright and airy with the nautical color palette reminding us we were at sea. Sometimes we would spend the late afternoon on our balcony, sipping wine from our well-stocked mini bar, or attempt to get work done in our little living room. WiFi was available throughout the entire trip, including our room, and there were no extra costs, which I was told is a rarity in the cruising world.
3. Dining at sea is a culinary experience
Admittedly, we were a little nervous about the standard of food that would be served aboard, but our fears were soothed in no time. Viking focuses on creating menus that are authentic, creative and simply delicious. With 3 restaurants and an all day dining venue, there are plenty of options to keep your palate intrigued and the best part, you don't have to pay extra to dine at their specialty restaurants, just make a reservation.
Manfredi’s, their stylish Italian restaurant, was my absolute favorite. With dishes like bistecca Fiorentina and Pappardelle al Ragù di Cinghiale, I was taken back to my favorite Italian cities for a moment. Our waiter entertained us with his lyrical menu descriptions. It was almost like he was singing to us, but it wasn’t cheesy, it was just a lovely part of his whimsical personality.
At the Chef’s Table, the five-course tasting menu rotates every three days, giving diners an international fix. Our theme was Asian inspired complete with dim sum and Peking duck...and we yes we ordered seconds. The main dining room, called The Restaurant, offers classics like grilled chicken and caesar salad as well as a regional menu that changes based on where the ship is docked. If you’re looking for something a bit more casual, there is always the World Café, which is an outstanding buffet, spilling out onto the outdoor deck. I only wish their sushi was offered 24/7!
4. A cocktail & wine package that is actually reasonable
Guests aboard the Viking Sea have their choice of house wine and beer during meals that are included. But If you’re like us, you’ll want to upgrade to the Silver Package for more drink options. At only $28 a day per person, the package is totally reasonable and will give you the flexibility when it comes to cocktails and wine. It will cover that Negroni you want pre-dinner, margaritas by the pool, or that nightcap on deck.
5. The Nordic spa will take you to new levels of relaxation
The Spa on our Viking ship was definitely one of the unique highlights of our cruise experience. We loved that the spa is based on the holistic wellness rituals of Nordic culture. The coolest part: the spa has the first ever at-sea snow grotto, a chilled room where snowflakes drift gently from the ceiling to stimulate your circulatory system. The spa also offers a thalassotherapy pool, steam room, hot tub, sauna, and cold plunge pool with heated ceramic lounge chairs. This spa knows how to spoil you.
We got a heavenly 80-minute couples massage, where we were pampered head-to-toe after a long day of sightseeing. The spa also provides beauty services – I got a brow shaping and tinting service and it was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. There is something about sailing that is naturally relaxing, but indulging in spa services on the sea takes the cake.
6. Your inner-explorer can roam free in the port towns or on excursions
With options like visiting the Alhambra in Granada, a walking tour to view Gaudi’s famous architectural masterpieces and a market to table experience, it’s safe to say their are plenty of excursions. Although Viking offers included walking tours of each port town, there are a variety of options (at an additional cost) to choose from as well. If you don't feel like being in a group, it's totally okay, the team at Viking will do what they can to set up something private, or make sure you have maps of the port towns and neighboring towns.
For this trip, we skipped the organized tours and instead decided to venture off on our own. We wandered the different towns and said hello to our favorite tapas bars, just basking in the Iberian sun.
7. Sea days are more fun that you think
If you’re worried that you might get stir crazy on the cruise ship, we understand where you’re coming from. But Viking offers plenty of onboard entertainment that doesn’t involve elvis-impersonators. The Kitchen Table experience was the most memorable for us. At $199 a person (limited to 8 guests), we joined the chef at Barcelona’s infamous market, La Boqueria, to pick out fresh local ingredients. That night, once the ship set sail, we reconvened for a private cooking class. The class was equally informative and fun, and we left with some new culinary skills to take home. With the wine and bubbles flowing, this was a genuine market-to-table experience, which let us talk to the cruise chefs and get to know a few fellow passengers.
If a cooking class isn’t up your alley, you can join one of the daily lectures enriched with knowledge on the art, history, and culture of your destination. Or, kick back and enjoy one of the frequent movie screenings on the boat, like Vicky Cristina Barcelona. With the combination of the pool, the bar, the sights, and the provided entertainment, you will have plenty to keep you occupied on your cruise vacation.
8. A laid back and relaxed crowd
At this point, you might be asking yourself, “Okay, this all sounds great. But what about the people surrounding me everyday?” I have only good news to report. Most of the guests onboard are older and retired, so you don’t have to worry about noisy kids or loud obnoxious partiers. We thought that we would be pressured to socialize with the other guests during our trip, but it was just the opposite. We had plenty of time to lay back, enjoy ourselves, and participate when we felt like it. Although the cruise was almost at 100% occupancy, you would never know it. There was plenty of space for privacy and at times it felt like we had the entire ship to ourselves.
9. There is comfort in a set itinerary
Our itinerary was masterfully planned. Check it out:
Day One: We arrived at the port in Barcelona, Spain and boarded the Viking Sea. The cruise ship stayed docked overnight, and we spend the evening exploring the decks of our new home for the next six days.
Day Two: Before we left Barcelona, we made a trip to the market with the cruise staff for the Kitchen Table activity. We departed from Barcelona at around 6:00 p.m. and were able to catch the scenic colors of sunset at sea. That night we had a blast participating in the Kitchen Table activity and indulging in rich Catalonian cuisine.
Day Three: Our third day was spent cruising the sea. We spent the day sipping on cocktails, lounging poolside and playing in the spa.
Day Four: We arrived at the port town of Malaga, in Granada, Spain around 8:00 a.m. Because we hadn’t seen Malaga before, we stayed and passed the day absorbing Alacazaba and exploring the nearby market. We boarded the ship at 6:00 p.m. that evening.
Day Five: We arrived in the port town of Cadiz, in Seville, Spain around 8:00 a.m. We took a coach to the center of Seville and went back to our favorite destinations. We left Seville around 5:00 p.m.
Day Six: We arrived in Lisbon, Portugal at 9:00 a.m. This was our disembarkation day, but we decided to stay and explore the narrow alleyways of picturesque Lisbon for a couple more days.
10. You can rest assured that there is no formal night.
Being forced into a tux for a formal night felt a little reminiscent of high school prom. It definitely wasn’t Chris’s idea of fun or relaxation, so when we heard that Viking only expects you to look presentable, Chris instantly decided he needed cruise clothes. Viking encourages you to dress how you want, even to the restaurants. Without the dark shadow of being required to dress up, Chris was happy to get dapper.
In all seriousness there is no dress code, just dress appropriately and you’ll be fine. People do tend to dress a bit nicer for the restaurants, but it’s totally up to you. This was an important point for us on the cruise, because we like to travel in our own style!
Here’s the Bottom Line
If you aren’t convinced about this whole cruise thing yet, consider this: cruising is something different to try. For seasoned travelers, you can consider a cruise as another experience to add to your repertoire, or a great excuse to see your favorites. For newer travelers, cruising is the perfect way to dip your toes into travel to discover what you like and what you don’t. In spite of our initial hesitations, our Viking cruise was unforgettable. Most importantly, we were reminded of the rewarding importance of trying new things!