June 2015 - Viking Star to Europe - Northern Europe
My wife and I are both in our early 50's and have never sailed Viking before. We signed up for this cruise about 2 months before after someone else must have cancelled. We have sailed with Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Oceania before but never Viking. We were not sure what to expect but since it was a new ship and the itinerary looked good we decided to give it a try. We did the Viking Homelands trip. After booking the trip the reviews started to come in on Cruise Critic and I became nervous I may have made a bad decision. The reviews started improving as our ship departure became close so I was a little less nervous. Overall, we had a great time. The ship is really nice, the crew are fabulous and the room was overall very good. The common areas are just lovely with sitting areas throughout, lovely furniture, and contemporary and peaceful places to sit. We enjoyed the changing large picture in the atrium and walked past it many times during the day to see what was shown.
We had a deluxe veranda stateroom 3049 which was on the lowest floor. The size of the room was similar to a balcony room on RCCl or princess. The storage was tight as there were only 3 small drawers and one shelf. The closet had an upper shelf where I kept most of my stuff. I did not like the way the two doors had to slide back and forth so when I went to my stuff my wife could not get to here things. Other than that the room was fine. There were two comfortable chairs and a desk. The bathroom was really nice with large shower and heated floors. The mirrors were treated with something to keep them from fogging which was great. The water temp as others have noted varied and it would get hot and cold all the time so it was hard to have a consistent water temp which seems odd for a new ship. The TV as others have noted did not work well at all. It would freeze during live tv, on demand did not always work, I had to call almost every day to have it restarted. There are only 6 live tv channels Fox news, MSNBC, BBC news, sky news, sky sport, prime us, and prime something else. There were many on demand free tv and movies which were mostly very old movies and the few we watched often would freeze during playback. The free wife was nice. As others noted the wifi was slow but again it was free. I could almost never send a video but could send pics and check email.
Food was overall very good. I would say it was better than Princess and Royal Caribbean but not as good as I was expecting given the price paid for this trip. The Italian (Manfriddis) was excellent and we had dinner there 5 times and the Chefs Table was also very good and we had dinner there 3 times. We did not have problems getting late reservations. Some people did not like the Chef's table but we enjoyed the meal. It is a set menu that now changes about every 5 days. It is basically 3 courses with 2 palate cleansing courses in between. The free wine and beer at meals was nice but I would have liked to have the wine at beer free all the time or at least at all venues during lunch and dinner hours. It was a pain to have to go to the restaurant for the drinks rather than at any of the bars. I enjoy drinking good wine and at first the wine was drinkable but they would change to different wine bottles after one would run out. So some of the wines were ok and others were very bad. At the first stop we went to the wine shops in port and bought several bottles to bring to the dinners and drink in the room. There is no corkage and they were very nice in getting us large glasses to drink our wine. The menu choices were usually good but breakfast was a little monotonous. I usually like to have smoked white fish in the morning as almost every cruise I have been on had this as an option but Viking only had lox and herring. The buffet was very clean and they would cook made to order omelets and other things at an open kitchen which was nice. The late night choices for food were very limited. After the restaurants were closed there was only one place for food and it was basically sliced meats. No late night desserts or cheeses to be found anywhere. The evening buffet did have crab legs and sushi choices. The sushi choices were the exact same rolls for 2 weeks straight. They were ok but not great.
Entertainment. This was the real low point of the cruise for the two of us and for this reason alone, we would probably not sail with Viking again. Viking clearly has a target passenger audience in mind and that is probably the 65 and older crowd. There were a few shows with the same 6 singers at each show. They were good singers but the shows were just too corny and much worse than shows we have seen on other ships. I think there may have been 3 or four shows for the 2 weeks in the main theater and there were a couple of others in the small lounge and atrium. Many of the passengers seem to enjoy them but the younger ones were just not entertained. There was a classical guitarist who was great, a pianist who was good but seemed to repeat the same 15 songs for the whole two weeks, and a classical trio which were good but also repeated the same 15 songs. Additionally the classic trio would stop after each tune for a few minutes and look at each other for 3 minutes while they tried to pick the next piece to play. Late night there was the Torshevan Lounge. We went there a few nights only to hear a Lawrence Welk style band that did not seem to know any song that had been released in the last 20 years. The ship really needs some kind of evening entertainment. There was no disco or piano bar and the same band was with us the entire 2 weeks. The band sounded good but the songs were so out of date and the lounge was almost completely empty every night. Most of the passengers in our age group were very disappointed at the lack of evening activities. They was a movie screen by the pool and 2 theaters on the ship but there were only a few movies shown.
Spa: We used the free spa area which was nice. We did not get any treatments as they were expensive.
The staff was very well trained. Always greeted you with a smile and were there to help. The only issue is when you called to get help many times the phone would not be answered. We had issues with our tv and air conditioning and would call and call but no one would pick up.
Excursions. We were looking forward to Viking as we heard the excursions were good and included. Some were very good and others were just bad. Our guide in Copenhagen was outstanding, Aaberg was terrible and painfully slow, Gdansk was pretty good and Stavenger was ok, and Flam was just awful. In Flam, we signed up for the free farm tour. It was an hour bus ride (which was very scenic) to a lodge where we had soggy waffles for an hour and then drove back. Our entire bus group was not happy with that tour. In St Petersburg we hired a private guide for 2 day with SBP tours which was well worth the money. In Germany, we skipped the 3 hour ride to Berlin each way and rented a car from Sixt and drove around Germany for the day which was a lot of fun. (FYI, the sixt rent a car station is in the main cruise terminal where all the other ships come in so you need to walk over to the main cruise terminal. It is a short walk but no one seemed to know where it was).
Embarkation and Debarkation was easy. We used a taxi when we left Bergen and just walked off with our luggage. The taxi was about 60 dollars and they took credit cards. Viking wanted 49 per person.
Overall we had a very good time but given the lack of entertainment, the variability in the excursions and the price paid for the services I'm not sure I would sail with Viking again. The itinerary was great and the staff super nice but I don't think at my age I would go with Viking again. Most of the passengers are 65 and older. I believe my wife and I were the youngest couple (52) of any of the passengers not travelling with their parents. It was pretty clear we are not Viking's target audience. The price of this cruise is very similar or maybe more than Crystal Cruises and I was expecting a similar level of food and service. I think Viking is slightly better than RCCL and Princess and I did enjoy the small size of the ship. I also enjoyed the no formal nights and no stupid photographer running around trying to make you buy things. Viking has a no Nickel and diming attitude but that isn't completely true. They upcharged all their excursions, they could give you free wine and beer all the times etc., and could do a little better on the quality of the food offerings in the main dining room.