Do you want to explore the world without the hassle of switching hotels every few days and repacking (cramming!) your luggage each time? How about doing the research to find restaurants, museums and hotels for each location? Traveling is an incredibly wonderful experience, but it can be stressful. There are so many pieces to the puzzle.
The easiest way to avoid this is by taking a cruise, and Viking Cruises just might be the best out there.
It's the beauty and taste of Europe with the American conveniences and level of service. Viking Cruises are the most stress-free travel you can find and I want to share my experience with you.
You've probably heard of Viking Cruises, known for its river ships that float to beautiful cities like Paris, Heidelberg, Budapest, or Rome. But Viking introduced ocean cruises in 2015 to take you to even more destinations like Norway, Scotland, and England. I traveled with Viking through the mystical Fjords into the “midnight sun”, and I've come to the conclusion that: this is the best way to see Norway and visit popular spots like Edinburgh and London.
This photo was taken at the stroke of midnight during our cruise!
Norway is a huge country. And while it's absolutely stunning, the rugged coast makes it hard to really see the beauty of Scandinavia. Well, that problem is solved with Viking Ocean Cruises. The ship is the perfect size; large enough to keep you from feeling “stuck” on a boat, but small enough to fit into more intimate and remote ports of call.
In this post I hope to share about my Viking Cruise experience in Norway, Scotland, and London, and feature details on the value of taking a Viking Cruise. Here's a look at our 15 day itinerary:
Fair warning: this is a detailed post. I wanted to give you not only a real taste of the ship but my own experience on Viking Ocean Cruises.
Before I get into the details about the cruise, I'd like to share one of my most moving experiences on the cruise.
It was only the second day, but I went to the bar to order a White Russian, my favorite drink. Before I spoke a word, the bartender greeted me by name. Then he asked, “would you care for a white wine or are you ready for a White Russian?”
I was so shocked I had to gather my thoughts for a few moments before answering. This person not only knew my name, he knew my drink order(s). I was shocked at how diligent the staff was at speaking with the guests and making them feel at home on the ship. Many people even hugged as they remembered guests from past cruises! The most impressive aspect of Viking, besides the crew itself, is the number of repeat customers. You can always tell if something is really working if people come back for more. Sitting in the audience the cruise director asked, “who here has been on a Viking fleet before?” More than half the audience raised their hand.
And that's not a fluke.
Statistically speaking, more than 50% of people that take one Viking cruise, book another.
Why? Because it's an unparalleled experience. The ship's sleek, Norwegian design (it even sports a flag), delicious, fresh food, and incredible crew make for a truly unique experience. Even though the ocean cruises are newer for Viking, they've already been named the #1 Ocean Cruise Line by Travel&Leisure. Viking seems to really have an understanding of what counts when it comes to curating a great trip.
The cruise I took was “Into the Midnight Sun” and the itinerary started in Bergen, Norway, went to the top of Norway, through Scotland, and ended in London. The unique excursions coupled with the luxurious experience made me a Viking believer. I don't think there's a better cruise option out there.
What Makes Viking the Best Cruise Line?
Here are some of the benefits on board Viking.
- Each and every room is equipped with a private balcony – so you'll always have a great view at sea.
- There are multiple restaurants. Choose from Italian, fine dining, buffet, classic grill, local cuisine, or upscale cuisine with wine pairing.
- Your room is cleaned twice a day- you'll wake up and go to sleep feeling clean.
- Rooms have outlets for American plugs as well as European, so you won't have to worry about which adapters to bring.
- Free guided tours included at every port.
- Ships are small enough to get into more hard to reach ports.
- Ships are large enough that you always have space and room to roam and enjoy what activities you like.
- Free WiFi on board (yes, I really just typed that!).
- Flatscreen TVs in your room with tons of movies, TV, and local options.
- You can book everything online and have access to your itinerary via your TV or the Viking app.
I'd like to share more in depth about the different options for Viking so you can make a choice on booking a Viking Ocean or River Cruise.
Before You Board the Ship
One of the best parts about Viking cruises is that there is absolutely no hassle. It's the most stress-free travel you can possibly have. When you arrive at your port of call you'll be greeted by Viking staff (they're clear to see in red) as they usher you seamlessly to the destination.
Having cruised before, one of the most stressful parts is boarding the ship. You can wait in line hours trying to get through security, passport check, and finally receive your room card, to then be hassled over for the safety demonstration.
Here are some views you have while cruising with Viking:
Not with Viking. We had absolutely no line. The entire process took about five minutes. After friendly staff handed us our room key we were handed a cool glass of champagne and a hot towel.
The rooms are spacious and feature all the comforts of home. You have outlets for American plugs which makes it much easier to pack. There are also European standard plugs as well. You'll find a 42-inch flat screen TV, a closet, balcony, bathroom, and lovely shower. There's a stocked mini bar that's refilled daily and this is included in the price.
Your room is cleaned twice a day so you'll always come back to a fresh room. The balcony was one of my favorite places to hang out and look at the beautiful Fjords, small farm houses, and animal life.
The Viking Ship (Sea)
Our ship for Into the Midnight Sun trip was the Viking Sea. This is by far one of the prettiest ships I've been on. It's elegant and refined but also comfortable and livable.
The ships are smaller which means they can get into more ports and take you closer to more places. However, the ship is by no means or overcrowded. Some days walking around Michael and I kept wondering to each other- where is everyone?! It feels like you often have the ship to yourself.
There are touches of Norway throughout the ship such as the reindeer hides, the lichen garden under the stairs, hidden trolls drawn into the bamboo wall detail when you take the elevator, and the clever use of space on the ship.
The Wintergarden, where you can relax or come each day at 4pm for tea, has two ravens. Norwegian folklore says that the ravens gather truth and knowledge. There is also metal artwork throughout which represent places Viking ventures around the world.
The Explorer's Lounge features constellations that light up as the sun sets and feels as if you're setting off on a brand new journey.
There's a sun deck where you can play shuffleboard, take a walk, or just lounge and enjoy the view.
These small touches really set Viking apart and make you feel like part of the experience.
The Dining Experience
If you book a Viking Cruise you are in for a treat when it comes to food. The word that comes to mind is phenomenal. Multiple restaurants offering a wide array of cuisine and also paying particular attention to the local cuisine.
Options for dining are truly incredible and you'll always find something that will satisfy. All restaurants are included in the price, with only one exception of the Kitchen Table. This is incredible to me because the food was just so good! Here's a look at the various dining options:
The Restaurant – this is the more upscale dining with a refined atmosphere. You're seated in a lovely, lush blue room where you can choose from the classic options or you can choose the daily specials. This is the largest dining option but feels intimate because it's divided up nicely. You also have great views of the sea from the tables. You can dine here daily for dinner or breakfast and it's sometimes open for lunch as well.
World Cafe – for a laid-back atmosphere this buffet-style dining is really good. Every night, despite always trying what was on special, we couldn't help but eat the King Crab legs and sushi. Extremely fresh and delicious. Although this is serve yourself, a waiter will still come by to pour you your drink of choice – which includes complimentary wine or beer. Or both.
Manfredi's Italian Restaurant – everyone raved and raved about Manfredi's, and for good reason. With ingredient's flown in from Italy, how can you go wrong?! The Bistecca Fiorentina, a thick-cut steak marinated for 3 days in aged balsamic vinegar, melts in your mouth. But my favorite is the handmade pasta and the divine dessert. Plus the space is absolutely stunning with muted oranges and beige:
The Chef's Table – this fine dining option is such a treat. With a set menu and multiple courses, it's a feast for all the senses. The menu is themed to a certain region or food style, such as Norwegian, Chinese or sweet and salty. The menu is changed out every couple days so you can try out all the varieties.
Pro tip: make sure you book at least one of each of the dining experiences (Manfredi's or Chef's Table) ahead of time to ensure you get to experience each.
The Kitchen Table – This is more of an experience than just a dining option. There is an additional fee here, and for good reason. You and the chef go to the port to pick out local ingredients for the night's meal. Not only will you get to see how it's made, you'll learn more about the history of the cuisine. I think one of the best ways to get to know a location is by trying the food. And this experience is an immersive way to do just that.
Pool Grill – during our cruise the Pool Grill was open from 2-5pm every day. This was one of our favorite places to hang out and get a great pulled pork sandwich, hot dog, burger, or onion rings. They even had guacamole and specialty frozen drinks. This was such a treat because it's so hard to find well made American classics in Europe!
Mamsen's – This is a casual place to have a late breakfast, a traditional Norwegian open-faced sandwich, or cake. You need to go at least once to have a made-to-order waffle and the interesting Norwegian cheese. Upon looking at it, I thought it was peanut butter. But it's salty and surprisingly tasty with the waffle. However, my favorite part of Mamsen's is the nod to the owner of Viking's grandmother. On the wall is a photo mural showing a woman pulling a sled. This happens to be Hagen's mom pulling his daughter (and ship's godmother) Karine in a sled. They also use plates from the Grandmother's china pattern as well as her recipes for the food served here.
Wintergarden – You can come here at 4pm daily to have an extravagant tea (again, included with your cruise!). You'll get a three tier tower full of delicate sandwiches and sweets along with your choice of dozens of different tea. My favorite was the Bombay Chai. The sunroof over the Wintergarden means it's well lit and just outside are relaxing lounge chairs to watch the sea from.
Room Service – Of course if you don't want to leave the comfort of your room you can always order in. Room service is included in the price and you can order 24 hours a day.
Should you add on the cost of drinks?
This is a tough question. My answer is yes because the price is so low and means you'll get all the top shelf options. However, beer and wine are included with lunch and dinner so that might be enough for you!
There are a couple areas to hang out at night and have a glass of wine or your favorite cocktail. Torshavn Bar has music from the house band nightly, a fun and energetic vibe, and is a great place to try a martini. We also had a martini tasting here which was one of the highlights of the experiences on board.
Explorer's Lounge is absolutely beautiful with Norwegian details that make you feel at home. You get a breathtaking view of the sea and a comfortable setting to view the stars.
Throughout the ship you'll find fresh baked cookies on display which are delicious and dangerous. You won't go hungry on this ship!
So often with cruises I feel like they get you on board to nickel and dime you. Yes, you get the cruise, but as soon as you are on board you have to pay a hefty price for extras. Especially for things like excursions. I really love the fact that there is always one excursion included each day.
Here's a view out of our balcony in port in Bergen, Norway:
We opted for a mix of excursions that were included and some that were a bit extra. For example, we did a husky dog trek in Norway which was a bit more, and in my opinion, well worth the price.
There are multiple excursions offered each day for a range of activity levels and interests. Viking really puts effort to find excursions related to the places you visit with an emphasis on culture, history, locals, and art. This is something that really appealed to me because I not only want to visit the beautiful places, I want to learn about them and it's people. I felt that I had a better understanding of both Scotland and Norway after my cruise.
The cruise was 15 days with only 3 days at sea. That means there is an emphasis on the destinations and the ability to really explore each location.
There is always something to do on board the cruise. You have music, lectures, or drink tastings. The spa and gym are well equipped and you can always find a place to relax or watch a movie.
The spa is something I highly recommend. I had one of the best massages of my life on board! Instead of choosing a deep tissue massage, I went with the “mindful” full body massage and felt as if I was in nirvana. My masseuse was from Sweden and talked about the importance of breathing and relaxing.
Each night there were opportunities to hear music. Whether it was the piano, Broadway singers, the Viking house band playing classics, or a guitarist, you could find live music all over the boat. In the Star Theater you will have more productions with a tribute to Motown or Beatles and Abba cover songs.
But one of the aspects I loved the most were the lectures presented throughout the cruise. If you wanted to learn about where you were going, for example, the Arctic Circle or the Fjords, you could go to a lecture with one of the experts on various topics.
There is a resident historian and three guest lecturers discussing topics that are pertinent to the areas we cruised. We saw them throughout the ship and would often stop and talk to them and ask them various questions about where we were headed.
There were also daily port talks, so you could learn about each stop before you arrived. If you wanted you could also watch the recorded port talks in the comfort of your room whenever was convenient for you.
Each night you receive a Viking Daily that shares what's going on for the next day such as entertainment, port talks, and information about the port.
Should you book a Viking Cruise?
My answer is a resounding yes. It's a different way to travel and a great way to see the world. All of your belongings stay in one place (no packing and unpacking at each stop) making it easy to go from place to place – there's even laundry on board free of charge.
All of your costs are up front which is particularly nice in expensive places like Norway. Though the cruises are not for a backpacker's budget, the value is exceptional. Michael and I were shocked by the level of service combined with the incredible food and options on board alone.
Things to know about Viking Cruises
There are no kids allowed on the Viking Cruises (must be over the age of 18 on Ocean and 12 for River cruises). This provides a more upscale experience and it also means you're not going to have the pool overrun with kids.
To book a cruise, a $500 deposit is required to secure a reservation on a Viking Ocean Cruise. Your final payment is due no later than 90 days before your scheduled departure date.
For the Viking cruise you need to bring with you a valid Passport. Three weeks before departure you'll receive travel documents outlining your itinerary, helpful location information
Is a Viking Cruise worth it?
Bottom line: a Viking Ocean Cruise is well worth the price. Especially in places like Scandinavia where prices are sky-high, you're getting all of the amenities without being nickel and dimed.
As someone who lives abroad it was very clear for me to see the Viking difference. Living in Europe is often hard because things just aren't convenient. I also get frustrated with lack of attention to detail and with Viking this was never a concern. In fact, they go above and beyond to make you feel right at home.
One of the questions I've received again and again is about the age demographic. It is an older crowd. But the activities are geared towards people of all ages. You're never going to get bored – on or off the ship. We made so many friends and chatted with people from all over. Age really didn't seem to be a factor.
Viking isn't just a cruise ship. There's a story, a family, and history. From the incredible staff, the attention to detail, and the true luxury experience, you cannot beat Viking.
Viking Cruises go out of their way to make every detail of your travel experience well worth it. Whether it's the staff knowing your name and drink order, getting a hot towel after your travels at the port of call, or just relaxing in the ambiance of the artfully decorated ship, you will be happy you took a Viking Cruise.
I was a guest on Viking Ocean Cruises but all opinions are my own.