I'd like to begin by introducing myself...
I'm Jim Zimmerlin (everyone calls me Jim Zim) and I always cruise with my wife, Kellyn. (Pronunciation tip: it rhymes with Helen.) We're from Grover Beach, California... a little beach town on the California coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. We've been cruising since 1996, and this was our 37th cruise overall... but our very first with Viking.
Up until 2014, we primarily cruised with Carnival. Then we decided to see if the other cruise lines had anything better to offer. We tried cruising with Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian... and came to the conclusion that each of the cruise lines had their own strengths.
In 2015, I started hearing about a brand new cruise line: Viking Ocean Cruises, and their very first cruise ship, Viking Star. From the people behind Viking River Cruises, the dominant river cruise line in Europe, this brand new ocean cruise line has a very different spin on cruising than the big cruise lines. Every cabin has a balcony. The ships are small and un-crowded. Children are not allowed onboard. They don't nickel & dime you by constantly charging extra for every little thing. There are no formal nights. They even let you carry your own alcohol on to the ship, if you'd like to.
That all sounded pretty darned good to me, so we decided to give it a try... and booked a cruise on Viking Star for the end of October 2016.
An Introduction To The Viking Star
Viking Star docked at the island of Tortola
The Viking Star was just a little over one year old when we cruised on her in late October of 2016. This was her first season in the Caribbean, and our particular cruise was only the second time she had done the "West Indies Explorer" itinerary. We didn't think it would be smart to book her very first Caribbean cruise... we thought it would be better to give them at least one cruise to work the kinks out.
The most iconic feature of the Viking Star is the infinity pool at the aft end of the ship. It was so beautiful back there that I couldn't stop from snapping pictures of it during the entire length of the cruise.
I snapped this picture while the Viking Star was in St Lucia
and the Royal Princess was also in port that day
One of the best things about the Viking Star is the fact that she is so un-crowded. Being in port with a mega cruise ship like the Royal Princess really reinforces it. You watch the people pour off of Royal Princess when she's in port, and then you compare it to the trickle of people coming off of Viking Star. Royal Princess carries 3600 passengers, and Viking Star was carrying less than 900 on this particular week! So, in all the pictures you'll see here, notice the complete lack of crowding and the abundance of empty chairs and loungers.
A morning shower created this beautiful rainbow in St Kitts
I don't know if people used this pool very much when the ship visited cold-weather ports in Scandinavia, but during this Caribbean itinerary it sure felt good to be in the water while the air temperatures were in the 80s and 90s. Unlike some Caribbean cruises I've been on with the big cruise lines, the water in this pool was heated and felt like just the right temperature to me. If even warmer water is what you prefer, a nice Jacuzzi spa is located right next to the infinity pool.
We enjoyed eating our breakfasts out on the patio area next to the infinity pool (more about that later) and I enjoyed several nice sunrises out in this area. Here's a photo of a beautiful sunrise over the island of St Kitts...
St Kitts sunrise
While the still photo is beautiful, a video of that sunrise is even better.
Please take a look at this short video I shot just before I took the still photo...
(To start the video playing, click the triangle in the middle of the video screen)
There was one design mistake that was made when Viking came up with the plans for this ship. They made the infinity pool too deep. The depth of the pool is 5 feet 10 inches for the entire length of the pool. There is no shallow end. At that depth, it is impossible for most people to stand with their feet touching the bottom of the pool and still have their head above the water. Therefore, you either have to swim, tread water, or cling to the edge. So, in almost every picture you'll ever see of the infinity pool on Viking Star, you'll notice that people are clinging to the edge. There's really no other comfortable way to spend more than a minute or two in this pool, due to the depth.
So, in my opinion, they made this pool too deep. If you ever go on a Carnival cruise, you'll notice that their swimming pools are about one foot less deep than the pools on Viking Star. This allows Carnival passengers to spend a lot of time in the pool, comfortably standing up on the bottom of the pool, but with their head still out of the water.
Here's a photo I shot on the Carnival Magic a few years ago, and you can see that with a pool that is slightly less deep, more people enjoy the pool because they can stand in it rather than having to tread water or cling to the edge.
Aft swimming pool on Carnival Magic
In addition to the aft pool, there's another pool located mid-ship...
Unfortunately, Viking made the same mistake with the mid-ship pool as they did with the aft pool. It's just as deep, and with no shallow end. So, when people get in to the pool, they tend to get out very quickly... it's just not comfortable to have to tread water or cling to the edges. Therefore, the pool sits empty most of the time.
Unlike the big cruise lines, the ship is so un-crowded that there is no "chair hogging" around the pools. The ratio of passengers to loungers is so much better on Viking that you'll never have a problem finding a couple of empty loungers when you want to spend time by the pool.
A very nice Jacuzzi sits next to the mid-ship pool
Beach towels are abundant near the pools. Staff typically place a beach towel at every lounger, and plenty more are available nearby. Unlike the big cruise lines, you don't have to check out a towel and then check it back in with an attendant when you are done. They treat you like an adult on Viking. If you need a towel, take one. When you're done with it, put it in the used towel hamper.
Extra towels are plentiful near all swimming pools
The mid-ship pool sits under a glass dome that can be slid fully open during periods of good weather and slid fully closed if it's cool, windy, or rainy outside. Brief showers are not uncommon in the Caribbean, and the Viking staff was really great about sliding the dome closed when they saw showers approaching on the weather radar, and then immediately sliding the dome open when the radar showed there would be no more showers.
For some reason, I neglected to shoot a still photo of the mid-ship pool with the dome closed, so I'm going to share this photo that was provided by Viking...
Photo provided by Viking Ocean Cruises
Unfortunately, there's a big problem at the mid-ship pool when they close the dome. It gets way too hot and humid in there. There's a whole bunch of air conditioning vents in the area, but they do a very poor job of keeping the area cool and comfortable. I did a little snooping around and it looks to me like the air conditioning system for the mid-ship pool area is the same system that provides ventilation for the Wintergarden located next door. If they were to run the air conditioning at full blast in order to properly cool the mid-ship pool area, the Wintergarden would end up chilled like a freezer. So, I think they have made a conscious decision to let the pool area stay too hot in order to prevent the Wintergarden from getting entirely too cold.
By the way, when the dome is slid open, it is totally not an issue. Hopefully, on their next generation of ships, they will design entirely separate cooling systems for the Wintergarden and the mid-ship pool areas... so that each can be kept at a comfortable temperature.
One of the greatest things about Viking Ocean Cruises is that they are not out to nickel-and-dime you. A lot of things that any other cruise line would charge extra for are included at no extra charge by Viking. One example of that which is evident when you're at the mid-ship pool is sunblock. If you forgot to bring any of your own, just step over to the bar near the mid-ship pool and borrow some of theirs! Don't take the whole thing... but feel free to use as much as you need.
But that's a very minor thing compared to all the other things that Viking gives to passengers for free, but which other cruise lines charge extra for. Free air travel to and from the ship's home port of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Free transportation from the airport to the cruise ship, and back again at the end of the cruise. Free beverages and snacks in the refrigerator in the cabin. Free movies on the TV in the cabin. Free Internet access. No extra charge to eat in Manfredi's, the ship's Italian restaurant. A free shore excursion in every port. Free beer, wine, and soft drinks at lunch and dinner. A free tour of the ship's bridge. It really was so refreshing the way Viking wasn't out to get extra money from us throughout the cruise.
Another thing that I really love about Viking Ocean Cruises is that they have banned smoking on 99% of the ship. There's just one small area at the very top of the ship... ironically, near the ship's smokestack, where smoking is allowed. This is an area of the ship that is very much off the beaten path and having a few people smoking up here doesn't bother anyone else at all. It was the perfect place to designate as a smoking area.
Speaking of the ship's smokestack...
As a passenger onboard Viking Star, you can feel very proud that you are cruising on one of the most eco-friendly ships in the world. Cruise ships used to be an ecological nightmare... burning large amounts of the dirtiest bunker oil available, and belching thick black exhaust out of the smokestack and in to the air.
The exhaust is so dirty that places like Southern California have spent a ton of money to wire up their cruise ship ports for high-voltage electricity so that the cruise ships could plug in to shoreside electric power rather than run their dirty diesel electric generators while the ship was in port. This is called cold ironing. The progress made to reduce pollution from automobiles would be negated if cruise ships and cargo ships were allowed to come to port and run their dirty diesel engines. But cold ironing only works when the cruise ship is docked and plugged in to the electric grid.
In many parts of the world, maritime regulations do not prevent a cruise ship (or a cargo ship, for that matter) from burning the dirtiest bunker fuel available and from venting all that dirty exhaust directly in to the air. But Viking Ocean Cruises has done the right thing for the environment by going to considerable expense to install scrubber technology that hugely reduces the harmful particulates in their engine exhaust. Specifically, 98% of the sulfur oxides generated by the diesel engines are captured by Viking Star's exhaust scrubbing system.
If you look at Viking Star's smokestack, you'll quite often see no visible exhaust at all. (In the previous picture, those are clouds, not exhaust, above the smokestack.) At other times, you may see a small amount of white-colored exhaust that looks a lot like steam. You'll never see thick black smoke belching out of the Viking Star... thanks to the scrubber system in the smokestack.
Viking Star docked in Tortola
Something I noticed about Viking Star that was an improvement over other cruise ships I've been on was the high quality of the outdoor patio furniture onboard. Look at the thickness of the cushions on this furniture located at the aft end of deck 8, one level above the mid-ship pool...
This kind of ultra-comfortable furniture is located throughout the ship, not just in a few areas. One night, just after sunset, my wife and I were walking around the upper decks of the ship and enjoying the warm Caribbean air. We ran across that big daybed in the previous picture, and it was a no-brainer to stop and enjoy some snuggling there on a romantic Caribbean night.
Here's another example of the very comfortable furniture located throughout the Viking Star. This is the furniture in the lanai on deck 7, near the Wintergarden and the mid-ship pool...
The furniture in the interior parts of the ship is just as comfortable. Here's a photo of "the living room" which is located near the atrium. It's a very comfortable place to relax, especially when there's live music being performed in the atrium.
Photo provided by Viking Ocean Cruises
I got a kick out of this big scale-model of the Viking Star. As soon as I saw it, I snapped a picture of it and sent it to my son (thanks, Viking, for providing free wi-fi to all guests) and mentioned that if he was looking for Christmas ideas for me this year, this big model would look good in my living room!
Notice what my wife was wearing in the photo. One of the big things Viking has going for it in my book is that there are no formal nights. Kellyn and I are VERY casual people, especially when we're on vacation. The outfit she was wearing was as dressed-up as she ever had to get on Viking Star. We liked that a lot! I've always found it odd that Carnival Cruise Line, which appeals to such a younger group of people, has not just one but TWO formal nights during a 7-day cruise. That always seemed odd to me. If I was running the Carnival Corporation, Princess, Holland America, and Seabourn would be the more formal cruise lines and Carnival would be super casual. But Carnival doesn't see it that way... and that's one of the things that contributed to my recent pivot away from cruising with Carnival.
The atrium is a focal point of the ship in the evenings, with live music performances and the occasional social event. For example, Halloween came during our cruise, so there was a big Halloween party in the atrium that night.
Some of the crew wore costumes, and a few of the passengers had thought ahead and brought special costumes to wear on Halloween. Most people didn't, though, because one key to successful cruising is to pack as light as possible! Notice that these two passengers brought very lightweight and space-saving Halloween items.
The interior decoration of the Viking Star is quite beautiful and tasteful, as you've seen in the pictures, so far. After enjoying the beautiful Scandinavian style of all the furnishings on Viking Star, I wonder how many passengers run to the nearest IKEA store as soon as they get back home!
While admiring the tasteful interior decoration of Viking Star, I can't help but think about some of the Carnival cruise ships I've been on... and the over-the-top Las Vegas style of decorating they used on many of their ships, thanks to their primary interior designer, Joe Farcus. The use of the color orange on Carnival seems especially egregious compared to the lovely earth tones on Viking Star.
Another Carnival-Viking comparison comes to mind when you step in to one of the public restrooms onboard Viking Star. The public restrooms on Carnival are pretty cramped, and they spent no effort at all on giving them style. They're just utilitarian. But the Viking Star has got just about the nicest, most spacious, most tastefully decorated public restrooms I've ever seen. Here's one example...
Note the lack of paper towels or air hand-dryers. Just like a bathroom in your own house, cloth hand towels are used. After use, drop the towel in the hamper down below. In addition to soap, there is also hand lotion. Classy!
While we're on the subject of Viking Star's public restrooms, I have to tell you my most embarrassing Viking Star story. Maybe my most embarrassing cruise ship story of all, actually. This is such a horrifying story that it should probably never be told, but for some reason I just can't resist sharing with the world what a gigantic idiot I am. So, here's what happened...
I was walking around the ship shooting photographs for this review. I had my big Canon DSLR camera with me. I needed to pee, so I made a bee-line to the first restroom I could find. It was actually somewhat urgent, if you know what I mean, so I was moving fairly quickly and didn't take a huge amount of time to analyze the sign on the bathroom door. Looked like the sign for a men's restroom to me. That was my first mistake.
Upon entering the bathroom, all I saw were several stalls... which presumably had toilets in them. Normally, in a men's restroom, you would also see a few urinals... but I didn't see any. I thought maybe since this was a European ship, maybe they didn't use urinals in a men's restroom like they would in an American bathroom. After all, American and European bathrooms can be very different... for example, the use of bidets in European bathrooms. In retrospect, the lack of urinals should have been a red flag for me. That was my second mistake. But I was in way too big of a hurry to fully think the whole thing through. So I headed to one of the stalls and very quickly pulled open the door, which was NOT locked closed. That was her mistake! "Her", of course, was the very shocked woman sitting on the toilet inside the stall, which had just been flung open by some big idiot of a man... holding a very large camera!
Yes, not only did I barge in to the ladies restroom, and not only did it happen to be occupied at that exact minute... when it probably sat empty almost the entire rest of the day... but when I barged in on the poor woman in the stall, I had a BIG camera in my hands. I can only imagine how completely mortified she must have been. I muttered a VERY sincere "I am so terribly sorry" as I ran out of the bathroom. And I never mentioned anything about the incident to my wife or anyone else... until now. Clearly, I am the biggest idiot, ever. Can't even decode the signs on a public bathroom! How stupid is that?
The reason I tell this story now, besides hoping you enjoy a good laugh at my expense, is to officially request that if anyone from Viking Ocean Cruises happens to be reading this... could you PLEASE add signs that say MEN and WOMEN to your bathroom doors?!?!
The Thermal Suite
The most relaxing place onboard Viking Star is in the thermal suite within the spa.
Still pictures just don't do it justice... so please take a look at this short video.
(To start the video playing, click the triangle in the middle of the video screen)
The good news about the big pool in the Thermal Suite is that they didn't make this one too deep! You can stand up in this one, with your head still above water. So, that's an improvement over the other two pools onboard Viking Star.
The bad news is that in spite of this being "the thermal suite", they keep the water in the pool around 70 degrees. I've been on some Norwegian Cruise Line ships that have a thermal suite similar to this, and NCL keeps the water in the thermal suite swimming pool very warm... like what you'd expect to have in a Jacuzzi... probably somewhere around 98 degrees or more. As far as I'm concerned, that's how Viking should have the water temperature in their thermal suite, too. The Jacuzzi is kept very warm like that, of course... but I think the big pool next to the Jacuzzi should be that way, too.
If the thermal suite looks good to you, you might also be interested in some of the treatments offered in the spa. Check out this price list of optional spa services. One really great thing about the spa services on Viking Ocean Cruises is that it is their company policy not to pester their guests to purchase products, additional treatments, etc. On most of the other cruise lines, it's not uncommon to go in for what you think will be a relaxing massage in the spa only to be hit with a hard-sell during your massage to purchase expensive products or additional services. It can ruin the relaxing experience that you had hoped for. At Viking, that simply will not happen. If you go in for a massage, or any other spa treatment, you will not be hit with a sales pitch in an attempt to get more money from you.
During the 1970s and 80s, I worked in radio... first as a DJ, and later as the Music Director of several stations, and finally as the Program Director of a station. The music of the 70s and 80s is in my blood, and to this day is still my favorite. So my favorite stage show on the Viking Star, by far, was the ABBA show they called "ABBA, As Good As New".
Viking Star's big music/dance productions shows are held in the Star Theater, which is every bit as modern and well-equipped as the theaters on the mega cruise ships, just a bit smaller.
There's a cast of six young performers that appear in all of the stage shows. Through the use of wigs and costumes, sometimes you can't tell which one is which from one show to the next, but it's the same six singers in all the shows. It's an attractive group of post-college-age kids... the youngest people onboard, by far! If you see a 20-something person onboard somewhere during the day... by the pool, or in one of the restaurants, it's almost surely one of these six performers.
After 10 days of attending their shows and seeing them perform multiple times, I concluded that these two in the front of this scene (in the next photo) were the most talented. It was a joy to see them in action. I wish I could follow them on Facebook, just to see where their careers take them in the coming years.
As luck would have it, I did happen to see these two eating lunch out on the patio by the infinity pool one day. I was a few tables away, so I didn't actually say anything to them myself, but I got to eavesdrop on a conversation they had with the passengers at a nearby table. It was interesting to hear them talk about the journey that brought them from musical theater class in college to the Viking Star. If I understood correctly, they went to the same college and have been good friends ever since, but I didn't get the impression that they were "a couple". If anyone from Viking is reading this... may I suggest an interesting activity you might add would be a "meet the cast" event? I bet people would enjoy an event where they would have the opportunity to ask questions to the cast of the shows. Maybe you could incorporate it in to a backstage tour of the theater... along the lines of what you do with the bridge tour. (More on that, later.)
The big production shows always happen in the Star Theater, but there are also musical performances out by the mid-ship pool and also in the atrium. My favorite musical venue, however, was a little lounge known as the Torshavn lounge. (Pronounced "TORSH-Haven")
I saw several good performances in the Torshavn lounge, and the acoustics are fantastic in there. It's a perfect, intimate venue for a musical act.
The musical entertainment on Viking Star is perfectly targeted to the 50+ age group that is their target audience. In addition to the ABBA show I mentioned earlier, their were musical performances that paid tribute to The Beatles, Motown, and the "Rat Pack"... and I enjoyed them all. I have been on several cruises on the big cruise lines where some of the music just totally turned me off... stuff you'd expect on the soundtrack of "Straight Outta Compton". The musical entertainment on Viking was a much better fit for this 59-year-old guy.
The background music that played in some of the public areas of the ship was really excellent, too. As a former radio station Program Director, there have been SO MANY times during my 37 cruises that I've shaken my head in amazement at the horrible background music I've heard. Out of all those cruises, I'd have to say that the background music I heard on Viking Star was the most perfectly selected of all.
One other thing I wanted to point out before we move on from the subject of entertainment...
There are two small movie theaters on the ship, known as Cinema 1 and Cinema 2. I thought it was quite ingenious how they were designed. They're located adjacent to the rear of the Star Theater, and the walls can be removed to create extra seating for big performances in the Star Theater. In the photo below of one of the cinemas, just imagine the screen retracting to the ceiling and that wall behind the screen opening up to reveal the audience seating in the big Star Theater. The seating in the movie theater becomes additional seating for the Star Theater. It was a very clever design.
Before I move on from the subject of entertainment, I do have to warn you that if you're used to cruising on the mega cruise ships, you won't find anywhere near as much entertainment on Viking Star. There were no comedy acts... there were no magicians or hypnotists or jugglers... and even though there wasn't a whole lot of entertainment offered, sometimes they had only two really interesting things to do on one night, and they scheduled them both at the exact same time. The whole evening scene is very much more subdued on Viking Star than what you may have experienced on a mega cruise ship.
Food & Dining
Soup, salad, bread, and wine at Manfredi's... the Italian specialty restaurant onboard
I thought the overall quality of the food onboard Viking Star was quite good. There were several items that really surprised me with how incredibly tasty they were. The food was definitely a step above what I was used to from the other cruise lines I've sailed with.
Lasagna on my plate (foregound) and swordfish on my wife's plate (background)
The service in the restaurants was not only a step above that of other cruise lines, it was two or three steps above. I was so impressed with the helpful attitudes of the restaurant staff, and never had any service problems. Just as one example, notice the bread and butter in that previous photo. When the server first brought the bread out, it was served true Italian-style with olive oil, not American-style with butter. I'm not a dip-my-bread-in-olive-oil kind of guy. So, I asked the server if she could bring me some butter. And then I decided to really present a challenge... I asked if by any chance they had some softened butter or whipped butter. Now keep in mind that this is a true Italian restaurant that doesn't normally put butter at the tables. So what are the chances that if they can find some butter for me, it's going to be softened or whipped? No, it's probably chilled, since it's probably sitting in a refrigerator somewhere. But you can't spread chilled butter on a dinner roll... so if you want to make this non-Italian California boy happy, you're going to need to come up with some soft and easily spreadable butter. And that's exactly what they did. And happily, I might add. I was impressed.
Another thing that really impressed me about the dining situation on the Viking Star was the classy styling of the ship's buffet restaurant, the World Cafe. Look at how beautiful this table in the World Cafe is...
I've been on cruise ships where the buffet restaurant had all the class of a school cafeteria.
Here's an example...
Norwegian Star, 2008
Specifically, compare the tables, chairs, and carpeting to what's on the Viking Star.
Another thing I really liked about dining on the Viking Star was that there were a whole lot of outdoor dining opportunities. The weather in the Caribbean is so great that we ate almost every meal outdoors, with the main exception being that one fancy dinner at the Italian specialty restaurant.
This outdoor dining area is at the aft end of the ship, between the infinity pool and the World Cafe. We ate a LOT of meals there:
If you look at the top right of that previous picture... notice how that one section of the ceiling is open to the air. I think that was a design mistake. They shouldn't have left that part open... it should be solid. During the several times during our cruise that we had some showers, this created a problem for people dining in this area. It would have been better if this entire area had a solid roof to protect it from rain. Maybe they'll fix that in their upcoming ships.
A larger area of covered dining that did offer good protection during rain showers is located on the port and starboard sides of the ship, next to the big picture windows of the World Cafe...
In my pre-cruise research, there were several mentions of the fact that these windows along the sides of the World Cafe were actually sliding doors... and that the intention was that during periods of good weather, the doors would all be slid open to transform the entire World Cafe in to a big open-air outdoor dining area. Yet, during my first few days onboard, I noticed that even though the weather outside was absolutely perfect, they never once slid open those patio doors.
Curiosity got the best of me, so I found one of the ship's officers and asked about why they weren't opening the World Cafe up to the outside air. He said that the whole open-air concept of the World Cafe worked perfectly in the Mediterranean but that when they brought the ship over to the Caribbean they immediately discovered a big problem. The warm Caribbean air is just too warm, making it uncomfortably hot inside the World Cafe when the doors were slid open. Also, it became a real safety problem because the air in the Caribbean is so extremely humid. All the humidity in the air was making the tile floor inside the World Cafe extremely slippery. After several passengers slipped and fell on the tile floors in the World Cafe during the ship's first week in the Caribbean, they realized that they were going to have to keep the sliding doors closed for the rest of Viking Star's Caribbean cruises.
Breakfast is a particularly strong meal in the World Cafe. As you can see in this next photo, the World Cafe's kitchen is right behind the serving station and easily accessible for the dining staff. So, they can easily make not only an omelet to order, but also a fresh hot waffle, some French toast, eggs Benedict, or several other made-to-order items. If you compare this to the buffets on the mega cruise ships, this is a huge step above. There have been so many cruises when I have gotten something from the breakfast buffet -- let's say some French toast... and it tastes like it was cooked 45 minutes ago. And that's because it was cooked 45 minutes ago, and has been sitting in a warming tray in the buffet ever since. It was so cool to see them grilling up French toast to order, and serving them hot... direct from the grill to your plate.
When on a cruise ship, no matter what cruise ship I'm on, I have a habit of eating pretty much the same thing for breakfast every day. Here's what it ended up looking like on Viking Star...
Notice the Lawry's Seasoned Salt... which I bring from home. It makes the eggs and potatoes taste better.
This was definitely a better breakfast than most of the cruise ship breakfasts I've had over the years. The most superior item was the croissant. Not only was it the best cruise ship croissant I've ever had (by far) but it was the best croissant I've ever had anywhere. Period. And the impressive thing is that they make them right on the ship... they don't just buy them from some bakery on land and keep them in a storeroom until they need them.
Another stand-out item was the bacon. It was perfectly crisp and well cooked, unlike some of the limp bacon I've had on some cruises. And it was thick and delicious.
Another surprisingly delicious breakfast treat was the potatoes. While they were never as fully cooked as I would have preferred, I was able to overlook that because they were incredibly tasty. The fact that the potatoes were cooked up with sautéed onions really gave them some great flavor. I'm a breakfast potato aficionado. For me, whether a breakfast is a winner or a loser is all about the potatoes. Anybody can cook eggs or fry bacon, but to make a truly great batch of breakfast potatoes is the real challenge. Some cruise ships take the easy way out and just deep-fry a frozen potato patty, McDonald's style. The breakfast potatoes on the Viking Star took much more effort, and it really paid off with some great flavor.
The omelet was good... nothing to write home about... but good enough that I enjoyed one every morning. My one omelet suggestion to Viking would be that they should be a little larger. It seemed like it was a little too small. In the USA, a three-egg omelet is the standard, and I don't think these omelets were quite that generous. In a perfect world, they would be.
The orange juice was good. Fresh squeezed would have been better, but I don't believe they have that on Viking Star. I've seen it on other cruise ships, so I was a little surprised that Viking didn't offer it. Or maybe they did, and I just missed it.
The only truly disappointing item on my breakfast plate was the sausage. I simply didn't care for the taste, so I never put any on my plate again after the very first day.
Moving on to lunch and dinner...
Wow, if you love seafood, you're REALLY going to love the Viking Star. My wife is a seafood lover, and she was pretty darned happy with all the seafood onboard!
I'm not really a seafood guy, so I didn't pay much attention to it. I know that sushi was available in the dinner buffet every night, but I can't remember for sure if it was at the lunch buffet every day, too. I think it was, but I'm not sure about that.
Shrimp and lobster
My favorite part of the lunch and dinner buffets was the wonderful gelato they served for dessert. I'm a California boy... I don't think I've ever had gelato in my entire life. In my world, they either serve ice cream, or frozen yogurt. So I literally had to Google gelato just to see how it differs from ice cream. It sure looked and tasted like ice cream to me. Google explained to me that ice cream and gelato are very similar, there's just a lower percentage of fat in gelato and it's served at not-quite-as-cold of a temperature as ice cream is. (Reading between the lines, I take that to mean that there's a lower chance of getting brain-freeze from eating gelato than ice cream.) Anyway, at 59 years of age, my first gelato experience was a positive one. Can you tell that I've never travelled to Europe? Maybe someday...
Notice that they have a freezer to keep their gelato frozen, like any decent ice cream shop would have. It seems obvious, right? Well, if it's so obvious, why didn't Royal Caribbean build ice cream freezers in to their buffet restaurants? Royal Caribbean's system for serving up ice cream in their buffet is one of the stupidest things I've ever seen on a cruise ship! They grab a 5-gallon container of ice cream from their big walk-in freezer inside the kitchen, and bring it out to the serving area of the buffet... where it sits, at room temperature, for as long as the buffet is open. There's no freezer to keep the ice cream cold during the several hours the buffet is open! If you don't get to it in the first few minutes the buffet is open, the ice cream becomes a melting mess. Viking actually thought things through a bit more and built a freezer in to their buffet serving area. Thank you, Viking.
Next, I want to clue you in on an important fact about the World Cafe that I didn't figure out until day 10 of my 10-day cruise...
At dinner, they offer two items grilled-to-order: New York Steak, and Mahi-Mahi. I never figured that out until the last night of our cruise, because the New York steaks and the Mahi-Mahi are not just sitting out in the buffet line with all the other foods. In other words, if you look at all the foods offered, you won't see them. Because they don't cook any up unless you order one. Even though there's a big sign at the buffet that states New York Steak and Mahi Mahi are available from the grill, "prepared Ala Minute"... it never caught my eye. Perhaps if they had made a California-style sign that said "We'll be happy to grill up a steak for you, just ask!"
In any case, the only reason I had a delicious freshly-grilled steak on the final night of the cruise was that my wife saw the sign and asked me if I knew that if I just asked, they'd grill up a steak for me. So I went up to the chef and requested one. While it was cooking, I chatted-up the chef and laughed about the fact that I hadn't realized during the first nine days of the cruise that freshly-grilled steaks were available by request. He got a good laugh out of that, and pointed to the sign that I was standing directly in front of. He said it had been there every night of the cruise. I snapped a picture of it, so you could see what a big idiot I was for never noticing it. And note the smirk on the chef's face as he laughed to himself about how it took me 10 days to discover the steaks!
Regarding the steak... it was delicious, but I do have to offer two warnings. First, it takes quite a while to grill it. So, assuming you're not eating alone, tell your dinner companion to start on a salad or have some sushi or something. You won't be sitting down at the table with your meal anytime soon.
Second, order it a little more well-done than you normally would. I ordered my steak cooked "medium" and even after all that time that it was on the grill, I would describe it as "medium rare" at most. There was a LOT of pink to it. I should have snapped a picture of it, but after waiting so long for it to be grilled, I wanted to immediately devour it as soon as I sat down. In retrospect, I should have ordered it cooked "medium well" or possibly even "well done".
Besides the buffet, there's one other casual-dining venue onboard Viking Star, and that's the pool grill. Here's the menu...
The pool grill has a couple of great things going for it. First off, it's open later than any other onboard lunch venue. So, if you get back from a shore excursion and the other restaurants have all closed already, the pool grill might still be open. Second, it's your only source for hamburgers and hot dogs. Sometimes you just get a craving for a burger or a hot dog at lunch. If you do, the pool grill is your place. Another great thing about the pool grill is that everything is cooked to order. So, it's all served nice and hot... it hasn't been sitting around getting cold, like buffet-style food.
As you can see from the menu, there's a lot more to the pool grill than just burgers and hot dogs, too. My wife had the herb marinated mahi mahi, and she said it was quite good. She also had very good things to say about the salad bar at the pool grill. I think she actually liked it better than the salad bar in the World Cafe.
There is a secret item that you can order from the pool grill that's not on the menu! It turns out that they have onion rings. Just ask for them, if you want some. But be forewarned... they seem to be pretty stingy with the onion rings. I ordered onion rings on two different occasions, and both times they just give me a very small serving. I think it was four, if I remember correctly. Try asking for a large or generous order, and maybe that will help.
Regarding the quality of the burgers from the pool grill...
Well, I have to admit that I've been spoiled by the Guy Fieri burgers on Carnival Cruise Line. Those are AMAZING... and the burgers on Viking are not in that league. But I would give Viking's burger a 7 on a 10-scale. The meat was very high quality, and there was plenty of it. There are so many places where you get a big hamburger bun and a small hamburger patty. This is not one of those places. The burger-to-patty ratio was very generous.
One word of warning about the food served at the Pool Grill...
Most items are served with a side of coleslaw placed right on the plate. The coleslaw is a bit runny and tends to run in to your burger bun or hot dog bun or French fries or whatever else is on your plate... making them soggy and giving them a taste of mayonnaise. I suggest you ask them to either put the coleslaw on a separate plate, or to hold the coleslaw altogether.
My wife has some unusual dietary restrictions, so that sometimes makes eating on a cruise ship a complicated affair. She has to eat both gluten-free, and dairy-free. So, she eats a lot of salads, chicken, and seafood... as well as some occasional bits of beef. She helped me by eating the rarest parts of that slightly undercooked New York steak I got in the World Cafe. What she really loves is when someone can make a good gluten-free and dairy-free dessert or pastry. It hasn't happened very often on cruises, but Royal Caribbean and Princess were surprisingly good at this.
So, that brings me to a final analysis of whether or not we were satisfied with the food on Viking Star.
I guess I have to start by saying that we know we're a bit freaky when it comes to food, and maybe you should ask a "normal" Viking Star passenger rather than listen to our opinions! Not only does Kellyn have to eat dairy-free and gluten-free, but we also prefer to eat in a casual setting rather than in a fancy restaurant. It might shock you to hear that we never once set foot in "the restaurant" onboard the Viking Star... that's what they call what other ships refer to as the "main dining room". We never ate there. We don't like the dress code, or the length of time you have to spend to eat in a setting like that. We prefer eating dinner while casually dressed, not all dressed up... and if it can be done in 15 minutes (which it can in the World Cafe) that's even better. After 35 years of marriage, it's impossible for us to keep the conversation going during a fancy two-hour dinner. It was all said years ago... we don't have that much to say any more! Also, for someone who has to eat gluten-free and dairy-free, it works out great if she can see the food in the buffet before she commits to actually ordering and eating it. There have been many times in sit-down restaurants where Kellyn has ordered something that sounded like it would be OK, only to find when it arrives at the table that it was breaded or served in some kind of gravy.
As for Kellyn, she was quite worried before the cruise that she was going to have food trouble on a small-ship like this. One of the great things about cruising on mega ships is that they have GIGANTIC buffets, with a huge number of choices. She has always been able to find something at those big mega ship buffets. We were on Royal Caribbean's "Anthem Of The Seas" earlier this year, and their buffet was probably at least three times larger than what is offered on Viking Star. But to cut to the chase, I'm happy to say that Kellyn did quite well on this cruise. She said she would have preferred a much more extensive salad bar, like we've seen on the mega cruise ships... but in spite of that, she enjoyed the cruise, and food wasn't as much of a problem as she had feared.
As for me, I also missed the huge variety of food choices we've seen in the buffets on Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line... but I still managed to gain two and a half pounds during our 10-day cruise. So, I definitely found food that interested me. The thing I missed the most was the wide variety of specialty restaurants. I really look forward to the steakhouses that almost all cruise ships have these days. Viking Star doesn't have one. On Norwegian Cruise Line, the biggest treat of the entire cruise is a visit to their Brazilian steakhouse. And on Royal Caribbean, a lot of their ships have a Mexican specialty restaurant. That was sorely missed on this cruise. We're from California, where Mexican food is a huge part of our restaurant landscape.
But with all that said about what kind of foods they didn't have, I do have to state without question that a lot of the food they DID have was of better quality than I had tasted on other cruise ships. So while the huge variety wasn't there, the quality of food certainly was.
Our Cabin: #4061
Our "Deluxe Veranda" stateroom, cabin 4061
The cabins on Viking Star, even the least expensive ones, are pretty great. Every cabin has a balcony. Every one! There are no "ocean view" cabins, no "interior cabins", no "obstructed view" cabins. Every cabin has a nice balcony... and of course, the most expensive ones have spectacular balconies!
The cabins have multiple electrical outlets, with both European-style and American-style power connections... including one on each side of the bed... which is great for people that have to sleep with a CPAP machine. There are also four USB charging outlets (two on each side of the bed) that are perfect for charging your smartphones, cameras, and tablets. There's free Internet access for as many devices as you happen to have with you. If you and your spouse each have smartphones with you, plus a laptop and/or a tablet... they can ALL be used at the same time. And once you get your device connected to Viking's wi-fi at the beginning of the cruise, you never have to log back in, or log off when you're done. No matter how many times you use your Internet-connected device during the cruise, you never have to do a log-in after the very first day. Very convenient.
There's also abundant amounts of bottled water for free. Where other cruise lines want to sell bottled water to you, it's abundant and free on Viking. There's free bottled water in your cabin, as well as cases and cases of it at the gangway... so you're welcome to take some ashore with you, or to grab as much as you need on your way back on the ship after a hot day ashore.
In the previous picture, you may have noticed something unusual in the far corner of the room. I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but when we first arrived on Viking Star and began unpacking our suitcases, we discovered a pair of stowaways...
The stowaways: Disney's "Lady & The Tramp"
Every cabin on Viking Star comes standard with a pretty amazing bathroom. The floor tiles are heated, as is the big mirror... and that prevents the mirror from fogging up when you take a shower. The bathrooms have a very sophisticated, contemporary look. Here's what the bathroom in our Deluxe Veranda cabin looked like...
I assume that the bathrooms in the more expensive cabin categories are even larger. More about the differences between all the cabin categories, in a moment. I should also mention that whatever brand of toilet paper they use on this ship... it's FANTASTIC. It was the best toilet paper I've ever used. I wish it had been something you could buy in our area. I looked at a spare roll and it was nothing I had ever heard of before. Great stuff, though, and that was very classy of Viking not to buy the cheap stuff! (Like the other cruise lines do.)
Here's a look at the shower in our bathroom. It was larger than this photo makes it appear. We were fairly easily able to share a shower together one day.
Notice the shelf in the shower. This is super-convenient for the ladies, when it comes time for shaving legs. Also, notice in the corner that shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion is provided for free, and replenished as needed. So, there's no need to pack these items unless you are picky about the brand. A hair dryer is also supplied. There is even a full-sized umbrella in the bedroom closet, and a pair of bathrobes. Now I've been on a lot of cruises before... and on some of the nicer ones, bath robes have been provided... but where Viking really scored points with me was that they actually somehow figured out the sizes correctly. There was a small bath robe for Kellyn, and a large bath robe for me. My guess is that the room steward sized us up when he met us on day 1, and snuck the bath robes in to our cabin that evening when he made up our cabin. THAT'S attention to detail that we've never seen before in our 36 previous cruises!
Speaking of our cabin steward...
While we were tremendously impressed by almost all Viking Star crew members that we met, I'm afraid that our cabin steward was just not in their league. Having been on 36 previous cruises, we've seen a LOT of cabin stewards over the years. The best ones will pay attention to your schedule and get their work done at the times when you aren't in the cabin. For example, we tend to eat our dinner at 6 PM just about every night. A good cabin steward picks up on that and makes sure to get his work done in our cabin during that time. Ours paid no attention to our schedule at all. He started cleaning the rooms at one end of the hallway and worked his way down to the other end of the hallway as time went on. In other words, he got to our cabin when he got to our cabin... it didn't matter if he saw us walking away from our cabin or not. If he had not worked his way down to our cabin yet, he wasn't ready to start working on ours. The best cabin stewards we've seen have fit their schedules to ours. When they see us walking away from our cabin, they take the opportunity to get in, do their thing, and get out. But our guy was locked in to a routine of working his way down the hallway in sequence. That was inconvenient for us.
Still pictures of our cabin just don't do it justice!
For the best view, let me take you on a video tour of our cabin...
(To start the video playing, click the triangle in the middle of the video screen)
I made an unfortunate choice of words at one point in the video. I described the bed as a "double bed". Nope, that's not correct! It's two twins pushed together to create a King-sized bed... and it's VERY comfortable.
On Viking Star, there are five basic types of staterooms to choose from. This chart on the Viking web site does a good job of showing some important differences.
The least expensive cabin category is the "Veranda" stateroom. This is a basic cabin, with a balcony. Every stateroom on Viking Star has a balcony, so from now on it will go without saying that every cabin category is a balcony cabin of one sort or another. In a basic "Veranda" stateroom, the refrigerator in your cabin is stocked with a few cans of soft drinks and a few snacks before you arrive, but those items are NOT replenished for free during the duration of the cruise. Also, all other passengers on the ship are allowed to make advance reservations for dining, shore excursions, and spa services before the "Veranda" stateroom people are. So, when you are finally able to make your reservations, you may find that the most desirable times may have already been taken. Finally, on embarkation day, these cabins are not available until 3 PM.
The next better cabin category is the one we were in, which is known as a "Deluxe Veranda" stateroom, or often known as a "DV" stateroom in the Viking world. These DV cabins are exactly the same size as the regular veranda cabins. The only difference is in the perks. In a DV cabin, they will replenish the items in the refrigerator each and every day of your cruise, at no extra charge. So, in my case, I was able to drink free Diet Coke during the entire cruise, because I asked the mini-bar attendant (who stops by once daily) to just keep it stocked with Diet Coke... as that was all I was ever going to drink. He put a total of six cans of Diet Coke in the refrigerator, and maintained it that way for the entire cruise.
Another perk that comes with a DV cabin is that you are guaranteed a reservation to Manfredi's restaurant. The regular Veranda cabin people don't get that guarantee. They can make reservations after all other passengers have had a shot at it, and if there are no spaces available at that point, they are out of luck.
Another perk for DV cabins is that they are allowed to make advance reservations for dining, shore excursions, and spa treatments before the regular veranda people do. But on the other hand, the passengers in the 3 more-expensive cabin categories all get to make their reservations before the DV cabin people do... so if having the best shot at reservations is important to you, you might want to book an even higher cabin category.
Finally, on embarkation day, DV cabins are available by 2 PM.
The third best cabin category is the "Penthouse Veranda", also known as "PV". These are 25% larger than the Veranda and Deluxe Veranda cabins. They have a couch and one chair, where the lower cabin categories just have two chairs and no couch. Also, PV cabins have an additional storage unit with a bunch of drawers for storing things... as well as a larger desk with an extra large drawer for storage. So, you have a lot more places to store things in a PV cabin than in the lower cabin categories. The refrigerator is stocked with alcoholic beverages, as well as soft drinks, and these are replenished daily. The PV cabins are available for occupancy by 1 PM on embarkation day, and there will be a complementary bottle of champagne for you. PV cabin people can make advance reservations for dining, shore excursions, and spa treatments 10 days before the DV people can. Complementary shoe shine service and pressing service is available.
The second best cabin category is the "Penthouse Junior Suite", or "PJS". These suites are 50% larger than the Veranda and Deluxe Veranda cabins. As with the PV cabins, the refrigerator is stocked with both soft drinks and alcoholic drinks, and is replenished daily. The PJS cabins are available for occupancy by 11 AM on embarkation day, and there will be a complementary bottle of champagne for you. PJS cabin people can make advance reservations for dining, shore excursions, and spa treatments 10 days before the PV people can. Free dry cleaning and laundry service, as well as complementary shoe shine service and pressing service is available.
The top cabin category is the "Explorer Suite", or "ES". These suites are about 2.5 times the size of the Veranda and Deluxe Veranda cabins, and are located in the corners of the ship. In other words, they have large balconies that wrap all the way around from the side of the ship to the back (or front) of the ship. If having the largest possible balcony is what you want, these are the suites for you. As with the PJS and PV cabins, the refrigerator is stocked with both soft drinks and alcoholic drinks, and is replenished daily... and the ES cabins are available for occupancy by 11 AM on embarkation day and, of course, come with the complementary bottle of champagne. ES cabin people get the first shot at making advance reservations for dining, shore excursions, and spa treatments. Free dry cleaning and laundry service, as well as complementary shoe shine service and pressing service is available.
What They Got Right, What They Got Wrong
After I had spent about a week on the Viking Star, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on what Viking Ocean Cruises and the Viking Star were all about. Let's put it this way... if this had been a baseball game between the Viking Star and an all-star team of every other cruise ship I had ever sailed on, the score would have been about 20-3 in favor of Viking. In the game, Viking had a whole lot of hits, but also a few misses.
With that analogy in mind, take a look at this video where I give my thoughts about the many Viking hits, and a small number of Viking misses!
(To start the video playing, click the triangle in the middle of the video screen)
In the video, I talked about how the Viking Star's crew is noticeably happier than crew members I've seen on other cruise ships. I mentioned several reasons why that is, but I left out one very important reason... they get free Internet access. Working so far away from their loved ones for such long periods of time is difficult, but having free Internet access makes that a little bit easier. Imagine if you worked away from home for 4-6 months at a time, and you didn't have free Internet access. It helps you to understand why crew members who have worked for other cruise lines are so happy once they take a job with Viking.
Another thing I mentioned in the video was that the average age of the passengers on our Viking Star cruise was probably somewhere around 70 years old... quite a bit older than we've seen on most of the other cruise ships we've been on. I have to admit that at first, I considered that a negative aspect of the cruise... like I was a youngster who had somehow signed up for a geezer cruise. But over the course of the cruise, I came to realize that it was actually a great thing. First, there's not having to put up with the noisy antics of kids, teens, and 20-somethings. But there was also the way that all the music and entertainment was geared to an older audience. I really liked that a lot. There have been so many times on other cruises where I hated the music in a show, or the music playing in the background at a restaurant, or the music playing out by the pool. Having music and entertainment that was targeted at the 50+ age group was great for me.
As you can see from all the little video clips, I shoot a lot of video during my cruises! I post a LOT of stuff to YouTube. I've got over 265 videos that I've posted to my YouTube channel... and I've actually made a ton of money off of it. YouTube advertising revenue pays for a big chunk of my vacation budget. You'd be surprised at how much money there is to be made on YouTube. The videos on my YouTube channel have had a total of over 110,000,000 views. That's a hundred and ten MILLION. I'm currently getting about 4 million views of my videos each month. There's a LOT of advertising revenue that's generated by all those views. So, now you know how the mailroom guy for Pacific Gas and Electric Company can afford to have gone on 37 cruises. It wasn't all YouTube... I've had a pretty good run on the stock market, too... but YouTube is a significant part of it.
Our Trip Begins... In San Juan, Puerto Rico
Viking Star docked at the cruise terminal in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Viking Star's Caribbean cruises begin and end in the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico. We've cruised to San Juan many times before, but have never begun a cruise there... we've only cruised to it as a port-of-call. The advantage of beginning and ending a cruise in San Juan is that you are starting so far south that the ship is able to go way farther south in the Caribbean without the need for "fun days at sea". On a normal 7-day cruise out of Miami, you'd typically have three "fun days at sea"... two to get from Miami in to the Caribbean, and one on the way back, after a quick visit to the Bahamas. (Or vice versa.) By home-porting their ship in San Juan, Viking Ocean Cruises was able to eliminate the sea days, and offer a very port-intensive cruise experience.
Before I talk about the fun we had in San Juan, though, I guess I should mention the true beginning of the trip. They say that getting there is half the fun, but in our case that was not really true. It wasn't much fun at all!
Complementary air travel to and from San Juan (from major North American airports) was part of the deal at the time we booked our cruise. I honestly don't know if that's something they offer all the time, to everyone, or if that was just good timing for us and we caught some special deal. In any case, the good news was that Viking arranged the air travel at zero cost to us... and it's not cheap to purchase two round trip tickets from California to Puerto Rico. I figure that if we had to arrange it, it would have cost somewhere around $1200. So, that was $1200 we didn't have to pay. I liked that.
The bad news was that because Viking was paying for the airfare, we had no say in the particulars. We couldn't choose an airline, or a time of day to travel, or any of that. Viking just picked the cheapest flight they could find, and told us to show up. In our case, that meant that we would be flying out of Los Angeles International airport at 12:50 AM. So, I woke up at 4:30 AM Pacific time... started work at my "real job" at 6 AM and did a 10-hour shift... drove home and changed in to travel clothes and then loaded up the suitcases in our car... drove four hours from our house on the Central Coast of California to the airport in Los Angeles... sat at the airport for a few hours... took a 3+ hour red-eye flight from LAX to Dallas... changed planes and took a 5+ hour flight to San Juan... boarded the free shuttle that Viking provided to take us from the airport to the cruise port... and finally walked onboard the Viking Star at about 4 PM... roughly 36 hours after I had gotten out of bed. Did I mention that it's impossible for me to sleep on an airplane? So, that was a REALLY long day for me! And of course, upon boarding Viking Star, it wasn't really practical to try to take a nap. We had a small lunch at the Pool Grill... our cabin steward stopped by to introduce himself... our luggage was delivered and we did the unpacking... we explored the ship... had a small dinner at the World Cafe... and went to the Welcome Aboard Show in the Star Theater. A very long day got stretched in to an absurdly long day! But wow, did we sleep well that night in that very comfortable bed in our cabin!
On that first night, the ship stays docked in San Juan overnight and all the way through the next day. In other words, we boarded the ship around 4 PM on a Friday, and the ship stayed tied up at the dock all the way through until finally heading out to sea on Saturday evening. If I recall correctly, sailaway time was something like 9 or 10 PM Saturday evening.
So, that left us the whole day on Saturday to enjoy visiting San Juan. As I mentioned, we had been to San Juan on several previous cruises. Her iconic feature is Castillo San Felipe del Morro... the old castle at the harbor entrance. Construction of the first version of El Morro began in 1539... but many improvements and additions were added over the years. The current layout, including the set of walls that surround Old San Juan, were completed in 1728. So what you see in this picture has lasted for nearly three CENTURIES. Pretty cool.
I snapped this picture of El Morro during a previous cruise to San Juan.
Because Viking Star sailed in and out of San Juan at night,
we didn't have a view like this on this particular cruise.
One of the many benefits of sailing with Viking Ocean Cruises is that they offer a free shore excursion in every port. In San Juan, they offered a free walking tour of El Morro and the old downtown area. Even though I had visited El Morro and walked around San Juan on my own during a previous visit, I thought it would be fun to go on the guided walking tour, as it would be led by a professional tour guide. I figured the guide would be able to fill in a lot more of the history of El Morro than I was able to pick up on my own. And in reality, our tour guide did exactly that. She's the one in the right of this next picture...
If I'm remembering correctly, her name is Ada, and she is a professional tour guide who lives in a town just outside of San Juan. She doesn't live and work on the cruise ship, she just leads tours of San Juan. So, she wasn't some crew member that got stuck with having to lead a tour group... she was a history buff who lives for the opportunity to show people around this interesting city. She helped bring it all to life for me.
A side benefit of having a tour guide like Ada is that she is roughly as old as most of the people on the tour, so she wasn't going to be pushing us hard to move faster than we wanted to go on a hot day. Whenever we came across a nice shady spot, she would have us stop there for a while, and she'd give us a little history lesson.
On tours like this, Viking uses a system called Quietvox so that everyone can hear the tour guide. Basically, the tour guide talks in to a small handheld device, and every member of the tour group has a very small pair of ear buds that allows them to hear what she is saying. If you roll back to two pictures ago, you can see Ada talking in to her handheld Quietvox device... and you'd be hard pressed to see that the passengers in that photo are actually using their own Quietvox hardware to hear her. I wasn't entirely impressed with the Quietvox system... the sound quality was worse than listening to an old transistor radio with an old earphone, back in the day. But it worked, and I was able to hear Ada even when I lagged behind to snap a photo. By 2/3 of the way through the tour, though, I got tired of the distorted sound quality and put the Quietvox in my pocket and just tried to stay close to Ada so I could hear her the old fashioned way.
Let me give you just one example of the kind of detail I was able to pick up from having a professional tour guide, compared to what I had picked up on my previous self-exploration of El Morro. Take a look at this next photo, of the lighthouse that was added on to the roof of El Morro...
What I had not figured out in my previous visit to El Morro was that the roof of the fortress was built in a very deliberate way to collect rain water in to large cisterns within the structure. It's a little hard to see in this photo, but the roof is not flat, it's sloped to direct rain water to a drainage system that allows it all to be collected and saved. Notice the guy in the blue shirt, and notice how the roof slopes down from where he's standing, and over to that drainage tunnel under the steps. The reason for this rainwater collection system was to collect enough fresh water to last the troops inside the fort at least 30 days... in case of a prolonged siege. I appreciated learning a few little nuggets like that from Ada!
Here's a beautiful view of the north coast of Puerto Rico, as seen from the roof of El Morro...
On the walk from the cruise ship port to El Morro, we got to see some of the interesting architecture of the old city. Ada explained to us that the old city within the compound walls originally didn't have homes any taller than one story. So when you see two and three-story buildings like this, they were constructed more recently than some of the one-story buildings that go all the way back several hundred years.
Here's another particularly beautiful scene we saw during our walking tour of old San Juan...
Since most of the people on our walking tour were in the 65+ age group, a lot of them expressed concerns at the beginning of the tour about whether we would be walking up large number of steps. Ada assured everyone that we would not... that almost the entire walk up the hill and to the top of the El Morro would happen on sloped streets, sidewalks, and ramps... with very few steps. This turned out to be absolutely true. Even though it was a very warm and humid day, as they almost all are in San Juan, the walking tour was do-able for anyone that was able to walk long distances. We probably covered a couple of miles by the time it was all over. One nice thing about the tour was that anyone could bail out at any time... there was no requirement to stay with the group from beginning to end. If at any point you wanted to catch the free trolley back to the cruise ship, or take a cab back, or walk back... you were free to do so.
Speaking of the free trolley...
If you ever visit San Juan and want to explore the two nearby fortresses, El Morro and San Cristobal, the city of San Juan provides a free trolley service... and you can hop on right in front of where the cruise ships dock. The trolley stop near the cruise ships is stop #14, so look for this 14 sign directly in front of the Subway sandwich shop located right there at the cruise port...
From stop #14, take the trolley over to San Cristobal, which is the first fort on the route. At San Cristobal, buy a ticket from the National Park Service... and that ticket gets you in to not only San Cristobal, but also to El Morro. Just save your receipt. Once you have your ticket, explore San Cristobal at your own pace... and when you've had enough, my suggestion would be to simply walk west to El Morro. You can see it from San Cristobal, and it's an easy, scenic walk. You could wait for the trolley at the stop where it dropped you off in front of San Cristobal, but it can be as much as 30 minutes between trolleys... and you can easily walk it in far less than that.
Once you walk (or take the trolley) over to El Morro, just show your National Park Service receipt for free entry... and enjoy exploring El Morro at your own pace. There are reasonably nice bathrooms at both forts, by the way... your National Park Service entrance fees at work for you! And speaking of those entrance fees... on Viking's free walking tour of San Juan and El Morro, Ada, our tour guide, paid the entrance fees for everyone in our group. So, that was pretty cool.
When you're all done touring El Morro, you can either wait at the trolley stop in front of El Morro and take the trolley all the way back to the cruise ship port, or you can set off on your own and just walk back. It's pretty easy to get from El Morro to the cruise ships. El Morro is at the top of the hill... the cruise ships are at the bottom. If you're heading downhill, you're pretty much going to end up at the cruise port. Plus, the people are friendly, so don't be afraid to ask to be pointed in the right direction. And there are LOTS of policemen all around this part of the city... so you can definitely ask one of them for directions, if you need them.
After sticking with Ada and the tour group all the way through the old city, through El Morro, and part of the way back... we finally got a little tired of walking at their leisurely pace, so Kellyn and I said goodbye (and thank you!) to Ada, and headed off on our own.
On the bus ride from the airport the day before, we had spotted a restaurant in the old downtown area that served Mexican food. We're from California, the land of many great Mexican restaurants... and we knew that cruise ships only rarely served Mexican food... so we figured since we had a free afternoon in San Juan, we would try to find that Mexican restaurant we saw from the bus... and hopefully, have some good Mexican food for lunch. I'm pretty good with navigation from just a visual, so I remembered exactly where the restaurant was, and practically took us right to the block it was on. However, at that point, I made one fatal mistake!
It turns out that on that one block were two restaurants that looked somewhat similar, only I had not remembered that particular detail. So, I knew I was on the right block, and when I got to the "La Cueva Del Mar" restaurant, I figured that must have been the Mexican restaurant we had seen from the bus. If I had just walked a few doors past La Cueva Del Mar, I would have seen "Lupi's" restaurant, which was the Mexican restaurant I had seen from the bus. La Cueva Del Mar was a Puerto Rican seafood restaurant. I was fooled by the Spanish-language name of La Cueva Del Mar. You see, in my world in California, if you see a restaurant with a Spanish-language name, that's a Mexican restaurant. But in Puerto Rico, Spanish is the primary language... and seeing a Spanish language name on a restaurant doesn't mean much, in and of itself. If I had been smart, I would have picked up on the fact the "Del Mar" is Spanish for "of the sea". I would have realized I was walking in to a seafood joint.
Anyway, to make a long story a bit shorter, Kellyn likes seafood... so we opted to eat at La Cueva Del Mar in spite of the fact that I had my heart set on Mexican food and there was absolutely none on the menu at La Cueva Del Mar!
There is a happy ending to this story, though! Our lunch at La Cueva Del Mar was somewhere around 1 PM, and Viking Star wouldn't be sailing away until 9 or 10 PM that evening. So, after lunch we headed back onboard the ship, had a nice shower and did some relaxing... and when dinner time rolled around we walked off the ship again and headed over to Lupi's restaurant... the little Mexican food place a couple of doors down from La Cueva Del Mar. On a scale of 1 to 10 the food quality was only a 5... but I was happy to get some Mexican food, as I knew there would probably be no opportunity to do so in the next 10 days.
My dinner at Lupi's restaurant, 313 Calle Recinto Sur, in Old San Juan
There was a funny incident during our dinner at Lupi's...
Our cruise was happening during the same week that the Major League Baseball world series was taking place, between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. Kellyn and I are Los Angeles Dodgers fans, so we weren't emotionally invested in this year's world series... but we were at least curious about whether the Cubs would break their curse and win it all this year. The last few days at home before our vacation were a whirlwind of working and packing, and I didn't pay much attention to the news. Then we had a travel day to get to San Juan, and I was completely out of touch with the news. So, as we were sitting in the restaurant and enjoying our dinner, my mind started to drift to the world series, and whether Chicago was getting the upper hand over Cleveland, or what.
I knew that there are parts of the Caribbean that are totally baseball crazy... for example, the Dominican Republic. But I didn't know if Puerto Rico was one of those places. They are, after all, a territory of the United States... so I thought there was a good chance that people in Puerto Rico might be following the world series.
Our server in the restaurant was a friendly young man who looked to be in his early 20s. It seemed possible that he might be a sports fan, and might know where things stood with the world series. So, I asked him about it.
His response to me went something like this...
Boston is doing very well. Miami is doing well. And New York ALWAYS does well!
So, he managed to name THREE teams (there are only two in the world series) and he managed to name three teams who were NOT in the world series. In other words, he was just trying to BS an answer to my question. As soon as he walked out of earshot, Kellyn and I just busted up laughing!
Day 3: Tortola
Day one was embarkation day in San Juan. Day two was the day the ship stayed in San Juan and we took the free walking tour. That brings us to day 3, and our arrival to the island of Tortola. We had been here on a cruise once before... just nine months earlier. During that previous visit, we took an excursion to a world-class beach on the nearby island of Jost Van Dyke... one of the British Virgin Islands. A boat called the "Rebel Yell" took us from the cruise ship to the beach on Jost Van Dyke during that previous visit. That was during the month of January, and it was just a little bit cool that day... so it wasn't the most perfect beach day ever on Jost Van Dyke. If the air temperature had been ten degrees warmer, and the water temperature had been five degrees warmer... it would have been a perfect day on a fantastic beach. So, after a good but less-than-perfect January day at Jost Van Dyke, I promised myself that I would come back to that beach someday during hurricane season, when it tends to be a lot warmer. (It's those warm ocean waters during August/September/October that fuel the hurricanes.)
That brings us to this day in Tortola. I noticed that Viking Star offered a beach excursion to Jost Van Dyke, so it was a no-brainer to sign up for it. The delightful surprise was that this excursion to Jost Van Dyke was once again via the "Rebel Yell". Same boat, same Captain, as nine months earlier. This was great news, as far as I was concerned. And it was quite a bit warmer today than it had been on that previous visit in January, so things were looking good when we boarded the Rebel Yell. But an unexpected turn of events was just around the corner.
The boat ride to Jost Van Dyke takes about an hour, and about 45 minutes in to it there was a VERY loud noise from the engine compartment of the Rebel Yell... followed by a nasty burning smell, and what looked like either smoke or steam escaping. The Captain came down and checked things out, and immediately knew that we weren't going to make it to Jost Van Dyke that day. When the steam cleared, it was apparent that a fitting on a coolant line had failed, coolant had sprayed on to the hot engine... making the steam and the foul smell... and it was not something that was going to be able to be fixed out there in the open ocean. A tow boat was called via radio, to tow us to the nearest marina for repairs.
The Rebel Yell being towed to a nearby marina for repairs
This unexpected turn of events was a disappointment, of course. I had hoped to get back to one of the nicest beaches I had ever seen, on a much warmer day than my previous visit. But as luck would have it, the day ended up turning out amazingly well!
It turns out that there's a small beach resort right next to the marina where they towed the Rebel Yell. While we were being towed, someone... either the Rebel Yell's Captain, or the Viking Shore Excursion representative that was travelling with us... called ahead to the little resort and made arrangements for us to be able to relax there and enjoy their facility. And since they didn't know how long it would take to fix the Rebel Yell, they also arranged for shuttle buses to pick us up at the end of our visit, and take us back to the ship. These guys were really good at turning a bad situation in to a good one! Here's the little beach, next to the marina, where we got to spend a few hours...
And as luck would have it, right next to the beach was a very nice swimming pool...
The swimming pool at Nanny Cay, on the island of Tortola
There were lots of available loungers, most of them under the shade of big umbrellas... a restaurant and bar... and that beach was great, with nice sand and very warm water. All in all, it was a great way to spend a few hours.
When it was time to head back to the ship, I assume the repairs on the Rebel Yell had not been completed... as they put us on shuttle buses and took us on a somewhat wild ride from one side of Tortola, over the big hills in the middle of the island, and down to the cruise port on the other side of the island. Here's a picture I snapped on the way down the backside of the hills, as we approached the city of Road Town, with the Viking Star docked at the pier...
It was impressive to see the way the crew scrambled to turn a bad situation in to a good one that day. And the most impressive part of all was the class that Viking Ocean Cruises showed that evening, when they delivered a letter to our cabin apologizing for the unexpected turn of events, and promising that the full cost of the excursion would be refunded to our account... since it didn't turn out to be the excursion that had been promised. Never mind that it turned out to be a delightful excursion, and that I never asked for or expected that the cost of the excursion would be refunded... they did it because that's the way Viking does things. I guarantee you that if that same chain of events had happened on one of the big cruise lines, any refund of money, if it ever happened at all, would have only come after a whole lot of complaining and a VERY long fight with the ship's management.
I'm pretty darned impressed with Viking, that's for sure.
Day 4: Antigua
I've never been to Antigua before. Didn't even know how to pronounce it correctly! It turns out you just ignore the u. An-TEEG-uh. Not An-TEEG-Wuh. I have a big map of the Caribbean in my office at work... it's rare, after 36 previous cruises, to be able to put a new pin in the map!
Here's the view as we approached the island of Antigua
As you'll see in the next picture, we weren't the only cruise ship
visiting Antigua that day.
There was a mega cruise ship there with us... the Royal Princess.
Look at the incredible size difference between the two ships!
I thought it was pretty cool to see the Royal Princess in person, as I do hope to sail on her someday... or on her sister ship, the Regal Princess. They do some nice 10 day cruises out of Fort Lauderdale. I've sailed with Princess twice before, and enjoyed both cruises. They were on older ships, though, so I feel I really do owe it to Princess to try one of their newest ships in order to really be able to make a fair comparison against the other cruises I've been on. I had strongly considered booking a cruise on Regal Princess in 2016 or 2017... but other more interesting opportunities ended up winning out. I would not be at all surprised to find myself on Royal Princess or Regal Princess sometime in 2018.
By the way, I think Antigua plans to attract a lot more cruise ships in the future. They've currently got one dock, which can handle a total of two ships in port at the same time. But I'm told that they're going to build a second dock, which will give them the ability to have four ships in port on the same day.
On this day in Antigua, we opted to go on the "beach escape" shore excursion. Kellyn and I are beach people. We live in a beach city in California, but the Pacific ocean water is so darned cold along the California coast that we never ever go in the water there. It's a real treat when we're in the Caribbean to be able to relax on a warm beach and swim in the warm water. Here was my view from a lounger on the beach during our shore excursion in Antigua...
On this day, I spent a LOT of time out in the water where you see those five people.
Kellyn was happy to relax in her lounger under a big umbrella, reading a book on her Kindle.
So, remember how on the previous day we found ourselves stranded after the small excursion boat we were on developed engine trouble? I took a walk down the beach in Antigua, and laughed out loud when I saw this...
Compared to whoever was on THAT boat, our little run of bad luck was nothing! I snapped that picture of the little shipwreck, and when we got back to the ship (the land of free Internet service... thank you, Viking) I posted it to Facebook with the caption "second day in a row we had boat trouble on an excursion!" But just below that, I added "just kidding!"
Later in the day, back at the pier, Royal Princess was the first to leave.
I snapped this photo of her as she started to pull away from the pier...
There were two things about that scene that I found interesting, which is why I snapped the photo. First, you could clearly see the effects of her aft thrusters on the water. These aft thrusters, which are basically big propellers that are pointed SIDEWAYS, combined with another set of thrusters in the bow, give cruise ships incredible maneuverability. Thanks to the thrusters, the ship can literally move sideways. Or spin in a complete circle. Or pivot. You never see a cruise ship being pushed by a tug boat. There's no need! Cruise ships are incredibly agile, thanks to thrusters.
The other thing I found interesting about this view of the Royal Princess was the was that the rows of balconies are staggered a bit, rather than being in a straight vertical line. In other words, each row of balconies sticks out a little more than the row above it. It's hard to see it in the photo, but if you look carefully, you'll see what I mean. I'm not exactly sure why they do it that way. Couldn't the upper cabins be built a little larger if the rows of balconies were in a straight vertical line? Also, isn't it a little awkward that the people on the upper balconies have a direct line of sight view to the balconies below? When I do finally sail on Royal Princess or Regal Princess, I'm going to remember that little detail and book a cabin on one of the highest balconies!
I also noticed something funny as Royal Princess was sailing away...
They were having a sailaway party up on the deck by the pool, and they played a song that seemed very un-Princess to me! I've sailed with Princess twice before, and their passenger demographic tends to be in the 40+ age bracket... plus, a few young kids that Grandma and Grandma have brought along. It's a mostly white, very mature group of passengers on Princess. So, I was surprised that as Royal Princess was sailing away, and those of us on Viking Star were quietly relaxing and having a sophisticated adult experience, Royal Princess was blasting "Get Down On It" by Kool & The Gang over their very big, very loud speakers by the pool. If it had been a Carnival ship... it wouldn't have surprised me in the least... but Princess?!?
Day 5: Saint Lucia
We've been to St Lucia before, and during that visit we took a really great snorkeling excursion. It didn't look like Viking offered that particular excursion, and we didn't really like the excursions they did offer, so we decided to not book an excursion at all for this day. The plan was to just stay onboard, enjoy the swimming pools and the Jacuzzis, and shoot some video footage of the Viking Star for YouTube.
Viking Star docked in Castries City, St Lucia.
That last photo was taken at a nice little viewing area up at the front of the ship, on deck 7, directly in front of the Explorer's lounge. The viewing area is a bit of a secret... it doesn't show up on the deck plans! So, you have to explore and discover it yourself. It's a great place for getting photos when the ship is pulling in to port.
Once our ship docked in St Lucia, I realized that we were at a different pier than we had been during our previous visit. The big cruise ships dock at a big pier across the bay. Smaller cruise ships like Viking Star are able to dock at this other pier located downtown. In that previous picture, note that building with the red roof, in the upper right corner of the photo. That looked like some kind of marketplace or tourist-oriented destination to me. I wondered if there were any good restaurants in that area. So, we called an audible at the line of scrimmage and decided that at lunch time, we would walk off the ship and explore the town a bit. If it was sketchy or scary or not what we were looking for, we could always just jump right back onboard the ship.
So that's exactly what we did... walked off the ship at lunch time... walked over to that building with the red tile roof... and to my surprise, it was indeed kind of sketchy!
You stay classy, St Lucia!
I didn't like what I was seeing in downtown Castries City... I didn't see a restaurant that interested me... and the little hairs on the back of my neck were telling me to get the heck back onboard that very luxurious cruise ship. Kellyn was pretty much BEGGING me to get out of there. So, we high-tailed it back to the ship!
Later that day, I had reservations for a free tour of the ship's bridge... and that was pretty darned cool. I loved every minute of it, and the only thing that surprised me in a negative way was that the Captain of the Viking Star didn't take the time to lead the tour himself, or at least make an appearance so we could ask him a few questions. The tour was led by some other member of the bridge crew.
I've been on cruise ship bridge tours before, so I pretty much knew what to expect. Some of the other passengers got a good laugh out of seeing the steering wheel, though. I think they expected some big huge steering wheel like they used to have on old sailing ships. The Viking Star's steering wheel, for use when the ship is not on auto-pilot, is a little smaller than most people probably imagine...
With those two round things above the steering wheel,
it almost looks like an arcade game that you have to put quarters in to!
But that yellow thing above the wheel is actually just an old-fashioned level...
so they can easily verify if the ship is leaning at all.
The thing on the bridge that I actually found the most fascinating was this dry-erase board...
I found it interesting to see the kinds of information that they posted on the board. For example, that we only had 877 passengers onboard this week. The capacity is 930, so I guess they have a few empty cabins this week. That's kind of interesting, especially for a small ship like this, that they weren't able to sell every cabin. On a mega ship with thousands of cabins, I could see how they might not fill every one, every week. But it surprised me that Viking Star was not sailing full. Maybe I'm misinterpreting that 877/930 thing, though. Maybe the 930 passenger capacity that you hear mentioned would only be if every suite was full of additional passengers. For example, on some cruises a suite might have only two passengers in it, and on other cruises there might be an additional passenger or two staying on a sofa-sleeper or a rollaway bed.
I was also interested in the fact that this is how they keep track of whether or not the glass dome over the mid ship pool is open or not. And how far open it is. I would have assumed that there would be some more hi-tech scheme for getting this information to the people who need it. Oh, and the password for the fire alarm is 6236. I don't think I'll ever need to know that, but I'll keep that on file.
I also thought it was interesting that Royal Princess was scheduled to depart at 6 PM, and we would go immediately after that. They went first the night before, too. I wonder how the ships decide who will go first? Is there something about mega cruise ships that makes it more logical for them to be first out?
I didn't think of any of those questions when I was actually on the bridge and could have asked them. I just snapped photos and shot video, and let the other passengers ask all the questions. But later on, when I reviewed my photos, I was full of questions! Too late.
There was an aspect of the bridge tour that really fascinated me. Years ago, I did the "Behind The Fun Tour" on Carnival. It's a tour lasting 2 or 3 hours, that takes you not only to the bridge, but to the engine control room, behind the scenes at the theater, in to the kitchen as they prepare dinner, and gives you a tour of several crew-only places such as the crew bar, the crew Jacuzzi, the crew training facility, the food and supply storage area, and even a tour of a crew member's cabin. It's a big, long all-access tour... and it was pretty cool.
But there had been an incident a year or two earlier that upset Carnival and made them VERY careful about tours. Careful is probably not a strong enough word. Paranoid would be more accurate! What happened was that a passenger on a "Behind The Fun" tour spotted an interesting memo on a bulletin board in a crew-only area... and snapped a picture of it. Later, he posted it to CruiseCritic. (It wasn't me, by the way!) That memo caused a GIGANTIC commotion on CruiseCritic (let's not complicate this story by discussing what the memo was about) and Carnival got really upset that their secret memo had been shared with the world. So, from that point on, they totally banned cameras from their "Behind The Fun" tours. In fact, they were so paranoid about somebody shooting an embarrassing photo or video during a tour, that they got strict about tour security. They checked IDs of everyone on the tour, had everyone go through a metal detector to make sure they weren't carrying a camera, and really put the fear of God in to the people in the tour groups.
So, with all that in mind, I had to really chuckle and admire Viking for their totally indifferent manner regarding the bridge tour. It was like going back to a more innocent pre-9/11 era where people trusted and respected each other. There were zero security precautions at all. They never checked IDs. They never even counted to see if anyone had snuck in to the group who had not signed up for the tour. When they opened up the door to the bridge, they didn't pay any attention to who or how many came in. And we were free to shoot as many photos or videos as we wanted to... or even to wander off a little bit and look at something carefully while the group moved on to something else. I absolutely loved that they treated us like trusted VIPs, not potential terrorists.
With all that said, I hope they don't feel betrayed that I posted a picture of their dry-erase board! I don't think there's anything except the fire alarm password that would worry them... and if they're worried about the password, they can just change it.
Anyway, back to the story of our day in St Lucia. At the end of the day, as the sun was setting, I got one of the best photos of the entire vacation. The view of the sunset from just above the infinity pool was amazing, especially with Royal Princess sitting at the dock on the other side of the bay. The tugboat and sailboat in the bay were a nice bonus.
An interesting fact that may surprise you about that beautiful photo was that it wasn't shot with my big Canon DSLR camera. In fact, very few of the photos you see on this page were! About a week before our cruise, I got a new cell phone... the Google Pixel XL... and it's got a pretty great little camera built in to it. In fact, some analysts have said that it's the best cell phone camera, ever. I wanted to see for myself if it was as good as the hype, so I vowed to shoot most of my photos on this particular vacation with my new Google Pixel phone, rather than with my big Canon DSLR. I figured it would be a good test.
Now that I'm home and I've had the chance to closely analyze the photos, my verdict is that they're good as far as cell phone photos go, but I wont' be leaving my Canon DSLR at home on my future vacations. I can definitely see the difference, especially in low-light situations. And the lack of a zoom lens is very limiting. So, I'm still a DSLR man.
Day 6: Barbados
Royal Princess is stalking us! Yes, for the third day in a row, Royal Princess is right there with us. Also, if you look over on the left side of this picture I snapped as we docked in Barbados, you'll see we have a new buddy tagging along with us now... the Carnival Fascination.
From our balcony, we had a pretty great view of Royal Princess...
as well as the arrival of Carnival Fascination.
Viking Star was docked at what is known as "the sugar pier".
When a cargo ship docks here, that contraption on the left fills them with sugar...
one of Barbados' most important exports.
As I explained earlier, Kellyn and I are "beach people"... so it should come as no surprise to you that we signed up for the "Barbados Beach Break" excursion today. They loaded us on to a bus for a very short ride to a nice resort at a beach. Kellyn positioned herself on a lounger under a big umbrella, and dove back in to some book on her Kindle. I positioned myself in that warm Caribbean water. Situation: normal.
Our Barbados beach excursion began at 9:30 AM, and lasted three and a half hours... which put us back onboard Viking Star in time for a nice, free lunch. Life is good.
While we're talking about Barbados, I have to tell you a funny story about our last visit here. We were here just seven months earlier... during a cruise on Royal Caribbean's "Anthem Of The Seas". On Barbados, they have a local rum that they're very proud of... it's called Mt. Gay rum. In fact, one of the Viking Star shore excursions in Barbados is called "Mount Gay Rum and screw dock experience". What the heck that means exactly, I don't know! Do you get screwed on the dock after drinking too much Mount Gay rum, or what? Your guess is as good as mine.
Anyway, the people of Barbados are very proud of their Mount Gay rum. On the other hand, I'm kind of fond of Malibu rum. The last time we were here, on a shore excursion that had an open bar, I ordered a Malibu & Coke from the bartender... a guy I can best describe as "a cheeky sod" from Barbados. I think I may have offended his national pride by ordering a Malibu & Coke instead of a Mount Gay rum & Coke. So he said to me, with his disdain not at all hidden, that Malibu & Coke is "a girlie drink"... and wouldn't I rather try the Mount Gay rum with Coke? In situations like this, I defer to the wisdom of the legendary anchorman, Ron Burgundy, who says "when in Rome..."
So, I told the bartender to go ahead and pour me a Mount Gay rum with Coke. I'll never do that again! That Mount Gay rum is horrible! So, if you ever find yourself in Barbados, consider yourself warned...
Day 7: Guadeloupe
Breaking news: Royal Princess is no longer stalking us. We have Guadeloupe to ourselves.
Kellyn and I had never been to the island of Guadaloupe before, but we didn't end up setting foot on the island this time, either. We didn't like the sound of any of the shore excursions that Viking offered here, and the weather forecast called for rain... so we just decided to have a nice lazy day on the ship. And within a few hours of our arrival, it did indeed start raining. In fact, by the end of the day, it ended up raining pretty hard... with a heck of a lot of lightning.
Kel and I stayed dry and warm all day though. We spent quite a bit of time on these very comfortable loungers next to the mid-ship pool. After the clouds moved in, someone on the bridge must have been watching the weather radar and seen that rain was just about to come our way... because within a few minutes of the crew closing the glass dome over the pool, the showers began.
Very comfortable padded loungers are located along both sides of the ship
next to the mid-ship pool, and they have a great view.
I shot a time-lapse video of the bad weather moving in over Viking Star.
You'll see the skies get more and more nasty looking over time
and then at about 1:50 in to the video
they finally close the glass dome over the pool.
(To start the video playing, click the triangle in the middle of the video screen)
In that time lapse video, you can actually see me swimming in the pool at several points. (The guy wearing the blue baseball hat in the pool.) You may be wondering why I was wearing a t-shirt and baseball cap in to the pool. Earlier in the cruise, I wasn't as careful as I should have been about staying protected from the sun. My shoulders and nose had gotten a little sunburned. I think it's rude to wear sunblock in to a swimming pool, so I opted for a hat to protect my nose and a t-shirt to protect my shoulders.
Another thing to notice in the time lapse video is how very few people actually go in to the swimming pool... and how those that do go in, don't stay in for very long. This is, of course, due to that issue I mentioned earlier where whoever designed the Viking Star made a mistake in making the swimming pools too deep. At least, I consider it a mistake. I don't know whether anyone else does...
Day 8: Saint Kitts
Here's a picture I snapped as Viking Star approached the island of St Kitts. This was the third time that Kellyn and I have visited St Kitts, but the first time I have ever seen the top of that mountain on the left side of the picture. During our previous two visits, that mountain top was completely clouded over. After last night's very nasty weather in Guadeloupe, where we had a LOT of rain and lightning, it was great to see good weather this morning in St Kitts!
Approaching the island of St Kitts
I have to admit that St Kitts really is not one of our favorite places in the Caribbean... it's a rocky, volcanic island and doesn't have many beaches. If you go there, you might want to take the "Scenic Railway" excursion which takes you on a narrow-gauge railway and gives you a good view of the island. Another excursion we've done there previously is a sailing excursion to the neighboring island of Nevis. This time around, we were in the mood for another lazy day on the ship, so we didn't sign up for any shore excursions.
As you may recall, Royal Princess had been tailing us for a few days, but yesterday we finally shook them off. Today, the Carnival Fascination has caught up with us once again. We saw them two days ago in Barbados, but they must have gone somewhere else yesterday while we were in Guadeloupe. Now, here they are with us again.
Carnival Fascination joins us in St Kitts
There were a couple of things that I found interesting... dare I say "fascinating"?... about having Carnival Fascination to stare at from our balcony.
The first thing I find interesting is that Viking Star and Carnival Fascination are roughly the same size. OK, Viking Star is just a little bit smaller, but not by much. Yet, in spite of the similarity in size, Carnival crams 2500 passengers on the Carnival Fascination while Viking Star's maximum capacity is 930. They are literally crammed full of passengers, and we've got wide open spaces with no crowding at all. I just love that about Viking. It changes the entire tone of the cruise experience.
The other thing that's interesting about Carnival Fascination is the way they literally welded balconies on to the ship. When Carnival Fascination was first built, it had almost no balcony cabins at all. Over the years, Carnival started to realize that people really like balconies... and that only having a few balcony cabins on Carnival Fascination was a problem. So, they put the ship in to dry dock, cut in to the hull to add some sliding doors where there used to only be windows, and then welded on a whole bunch of balconies to those cabins with the new sliding doors. They created 98 new balcony cabins out of what were previously just cabins with windows. It really was a clever solution to the problem. You can see the welded-on balconies very clearly in this next photo...
Those balcony cabins on the left used to be just like those "oceanview" cabins on the right, before the big modification.
Another really interesting thing to note about Carnival is how hard they try to get extra money from you during your cruise. I could list dozens of ways, but let's just keep it simple and say the high cost of anything from the bar... the high cost of Internet access... the money you pay to use the self-service laundry facilities... the money you pay to dine at their specialty restaurants... the ridiculously high cost of buying a photo they take of you... and the money they make off of you if you play bingo or gamble in the casino.
The reason I bring that up is because I noticed something really interesting while the Carnival Fascination was in St Kitts. Both ships were scheduled to sail from St Kitts to St Maarten overnight. St Maarten isn't very far from St Kitts... just a short hop away. It doesn't take long to sail between the two islands. Yet the Carnival Fascination left HOURS before we did... it may have been four or five hours... and they arrived at St Maarten AFTER we did the next morning. Want to know why? It's all about making money off the passengers.
A cruise ship won't open its casino and gift shops when it's docked in port. If they did, they'd have to collect and pay sales taxes to the country they were visiting. So, even though the Carnival Fascination had all the time in the world to get from St Kitts to St Maarten, they were in a big hurry to get the heck out of St Kitts that day... because they wanted to open their casino and gift shops. Nickel and diming the passengers is a much higher priority than giving passengers more time on the island, at least if you're one of the big cruise lines. Viking thinks a lot differently about things like this... and I love that about Viking!
Day 9: St. Maarten
The island of St Maarten definitely is one of our favorite Caribbean destinations... so we were excited to visit here again. I think this was our fourth visit. Here's the view in the morning as we docked...
Sunrise in St Maarten
St Maarten has many excellent beaches, and there are two in particular that I like to go to. One is the world famous Maho Beach, at the foot of the runway of St Maarten's international airport. Here, while you sit on the beach and enjoy food and drinks from the nearby restaurant, big airplanes fly very low overhead as they land at the airport. It's fun to watch on YouTube, and even more fun to experience in person!
That picture of the airplane landing over Maho Beach was taken during a visit we had there in February of 2015. We decided to visit a different beach this time around. I'm not even really sure what the name of the beach is that we decided to visit... I know how to get there, but I don't know what it's called! It's the closest beach to the cruise ship port, and it's really easy to get there once you learn how.
When you get off the cruise ship and head off the pier and towards all the shops adjacent to the pier, veer LEFT instead of veering right towards the shops. As you veer off toward the left, follow the signs to the water taxis. Eventually, if you follow the signs, you'll come to the water taxi terminal...
The water taxi terminal in St Maarten
Purchase water taxi tickets here, and be sure you buy round trip tickets, so you can get back later! Then you'll board the water taxi (a boat that carries about 100 people) and it will take you over to the nearby beach. Once at the beach, just walk towards all the umbrellas and loungers on the beach, and 20 different guys will all offer to rent you a lounger and an umbrella. Pick one. If you're interested in a few drinks, you'll find that some offer package deals that include a lounger, umbrella, and some drinks.
Unfortunately, the weather didn't completely cooperate with us in St Maarten. As you can see in the previous photos, it was somewhat cloudy. Also, the wind really picked up as the morning went on. There were a few raindrops, although not a lot. To make matters worse, there were a whole bunch of local vendors stopping by our location and trying to sell us trinkets, massages, hats, etc. It got really annoying after a while. The straw that broke the camel's back was a performance nearby of some native band that featured a bunch of drummers pounding incredibly loudly on their drums. I couldn't stand the pounding sound, and even my MP3 player and noise-cancelling headphones couldn't block it out. So, we eventually had enough, and headed back to the ship for lunch after a less-than-idyllic day in St Maarten.
In hindsight, we should have gone to Maho Beach. I enjoy watching the planes land (it's not annoying, there's only one every 30-60 minutes or so) and I don't recall that beach having a problem with vendors bothering us as we tried to relax. So, next time we visit St. Maarten, we'll definitely head to Maho beach.
To get to Maho Beach from the cruise ship pier, just veer RIGHT towards the shops. Work your way in between the buildings and on the other side of the buildings is the taxi stand. Take a taxi to Maho Beach. (At the cruise ship terminal, "taxi" generally refers to a big van that carries about 16 people, and that's a good thing because it keeps the cost quite low.) After spending time at Maho beach, it's very easy to find a taxi that will take you back to the cruise terminal. They hang around waiting for tourists just like you.
Day 10: St. Thomas
In St Thomas, we started out with a few clouds again... but the weather actually improved as the day went on. And we ended up having one of the greatest shore excursions of the entire cruise!
Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas
We signed up for the snorkeling excursion to Turtle Cove. This was an excursion that we had done on two previous visits to St Thomas, and I remember it as having some great snorkeling. I remembered right. I'm a pretty confident snorkeler, so I was one of the first people off the boat and in to the water when we arrived at Turtle Cove. I wasn't in the water for 60 seconds when I spotted my first turtle. And because I got in the water so fast, I had the turtles all to myself for a few minutes... until all the other snorkelers finally caught up with me.
This snorkeling session with wild sea turtles was definitely best documented with a video, not still pictures. So, please take a look at this video of it...
(To start the video playing, click the triangle in the middle of the video screen)
After a nice excursion snorkeling with the turtles, we headed back to the dock. After a whole week without any Mexican food, we decided to stop by Señor Frog's restaurant before getting back onboard the ship. At Señor Frog's, we had a nice lunch, served by a delightfully friendly waitress, who was happy to have a customer that day. It turns out that Viking Star was the only ship in port that day, and that Señor Frog's just isn't the kind of place that your typical Viking Star passenger hangs out. So, Señor Frog's was almost completely empty on this particular day. Luckily for our waitress, Kellyn and I are not your typical Viking Star passengers. So, we had a nice lunch, and tipped generously.
While we were there at Señor Frog's, I snapped a picture of this sign that made me laugh...
The End Of The Cruise
Before we knew it, we were back in San Juan and it was time to get off the ship. The 10 days had just flown by. It was a really great cruise. Sure, there was room for improvement in a couple of areas, by they really got a LOT of things right on Viking Star. There was quite a bit more things I totally LOVED about Viking Star than I disliked.
Just before disembarking the ship and heading to the airport,
I snapped this photo of the Viking Star docked at the cruise terminal in Old San Juan
As we walked off the ship, there was a bus waiting outside the cruise terminal to take us (and our luggage) to the airport. This was a nice benefit of having the airline arrangements made by Viking... they also provided transportation to and from the airport. So, not only did we save the cost of airfare to and from San Juan, but we saved the cost of a taxi to and from the airport.
Viking had arranged two flights to get us back to California. The first leg was San Juan to Dallas, and the second leg was Dallas to Los Angeles. There was a 90 minute layover scheduled in Dallas.
Unfortunately, our flight from San Juan to Dallas got off to a bad start, and then things got downright terrifying shortly after that! Here's how it all went down...
When we fly, I usually try to arrange to be in seats towards the very back of the airplane. I do this for several reasons: An un-obstructed view out the window, with no wing blocking the view... it's easier to get to the restroom when you're at the very back of the plane... and in the very unlikely event of a plane crash, the people in the rear tend to survive more often than the people in the rest of the plane.
However, on this particular day, since we had a somewhat tight layover in Dallas (I usually try to arrange flights with a two hour layover, to leave a little wiggle room for delays, and to leave enough time to grab a quick meal) I went with a different strategy in picking our seats. I decided to put us in whatever seats I could get that would be close to the front of the plane, so we could get off the plane that much faster. This put us just in front of the wing, with one of the engines right out my window.
In sitting in a seat like this, I can't help thinking about a few incidents that have occurred in the airline industry over the years where an engine suffers from a catastrophic failure, shooting metal bits in to the air, puncturing the fuselage, and injuring or killing the person in the seat closest to the engine. I know, I know... the chances of that happening are miniscule. Airline travel is super-safe these days. Yet, those kind of catastrophic engine failures HAVE happened in the past. Extremely rarely, but they have happened. So, that's in the back of my mind when sitting in a seat that looks out on to one of the engines.
So, there we were, sitting on the airplane in San Juan, stuck at the gate due to a "minor mechanical issue". It ended up delaying our take-off by a good 90 minutes or so... which meant that unless some kind of miracle occurred, we were going to miss our connection in Dallas.
Finally, they resolved whatever the mechanical issue was, and the airplane finally took off on our journey to Dallas. Just a couple of minutes after take-off, though, was the scariest incident that has ever occurred to me in all my years of flying.
As we were ascending through some clouds, there was a very bright flash of light (similar to lightning) outside the window, and a VERY loud bang or explosion sound. Passengers in the plane screamed. It seemed that something VERY wrong had just happened to the plane.
The first thought that ran through my head was that nightmare scenario of catastrophic engine failure, and metal engine parts ripping through the fuselage. With one glance out the window, I could see a perfectly intact engine that seemed to be operating normally. So, that wasn't it. Maybe it was the engine on the other side. A glance to the other side of the passenger cabin revealed no metal bits had punctured the cabin. OK, that's good. The cabin is intact. Great news.
Whatever had happened, that bright flash and the sound of an explosion surely wasn't a good thing. It seemed likely that we were going to have to turn back around and make an emergency landing in San Juan. Well, there goes any hope of making that connection in Dallas! I just hope we land safely, and that Kellyn and I get home alive at some point.
All these scenarios were going through my head in the first 60 seconds after the incident. Thankfully, everyone in the cabin was staying calm. There had been screams right at the time of the big bang, but everyone had been holding it together ever since then... even Kellyn... and that surprised me! She panics really easily. After 35 years of marriage, I would not describe her as someone who is usually cool in a crisis. Yet here she was, being cool in a crisis. That was certainly an unexpected but welcome development.
The next thought that crossed my mind was that no matter what was about to happen, I had better get it on video! I'm a winner either way: either something really bad happens, I get it all on video, and I make a ton of money on YouTube from it... or nothing happens, the video is a waste of time, but I live happily ever after. There's an upside to both of those scenarios! So, I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket, pointed it out the window at the engine, and started recording.
Finally, after a VERY long minute or so of wondering what the heck had just happened to our airplane, the pilot came on to the public address system and made this announcement:
(To start the video playing, click the triangle in the middle of the video screen)
Once I heard the announcement, I was overcome with a sense of relief greater than I have ever experienced in my life. I thought at a minimum we would be making an emergency landing in San Juan. Worst case scenario, we were going to die today. And then the pilot said that basically, it was nothing to worry about. To go from "we might die today" to "no problem" in the span of a minute or so is a pretty crazy experience. And the fact that the whole thing freaked me out a bit and Kellyn was cool as a cucumber through the whole incident... well, that was just weird!
The rest of the flight was uneventful, and we made it to Dallas... but too late to make our connection to LAX. And this is where I gained a whole lot of respect for American Airlines. I imagined having to stand in some horribly long line at customer service to try to arrange an alternate flight to LAX. I imagined that flight would be six to eight hours from now, and I'd arrive in California so late that I'd have to stay overnight at a hotel because I'd be too exhausted to drive home. Basically, I thought everything was a huge mess.
Turns out... it wasn't! American Airlines is really good at this stuff! As we were flying from San Juan to Dallas, the folks in American Airlines head office realized that we weren't going to make our connection, so they re-booked us on the next flight. And they had boarding passes ready for us as we came off the plane. The whole thing was resolved within 60 seconds of walking off the plane. It was fantastic customer service. And the very good news was that the next flight to LA was only about two hours from then. So, that gave us plenty of time to sit down at a nice restaurant and have a good meal, which would be enough to last us the rest of the day. It was a perfect and positive resolution to a bad situation, and I consider myself one very lucky guy.
The Owner's Suite
In my pre-cruise research about the Viking Star, I had read something about a top-of-the-line suite onboard the ship which is used by the owner of Viking Cruises whenever he comes aboard. For obvious reasons, it's known as the owner's suite... and if you look at the deck plans, you can see it on deck 7 forward, on the starboard side. I had read that it even has a giant boardroom with a huge conference table where the owner can have meetings with the ship's officers.
The management of the Viking Star is very accessible, and totally willing to take care of the special needs of their passengers. They introduce themselves at the Welcome Aboard show, there's a big display in the atrium with pictures and names of the officers, and there are quite a few mentions in the daily newsletters about the officers and how you should let them know if they can help you. So, I knew exactly who the ship's General Manager was when I ran in to him in the atrium one day. I decided to go out on a limb and ask him an oddball question... "Is anyone staying in the owner's suite this week?" He said that he didn't think there was. Then I asked him if it might be possible to arrange for a tour of it, so I could take some photos. He said he thought that could be arranged. He introduced me to another one of the officers, told her what I wanted, and she asked me when I would like to tour the suite. I said 9:30 AM the next day. She said to meet with her in the Atrium at 9:30 AM, and we'd do it. It was as easy as that.
So, here are my pictures of the owner's suite, for your enjoyment...
The living room
Another view of the living room
A wide shot of the living room and dining area.
I suspect that couch may actually be a sleeper-sofa, but I'm not sure about that.
This next photo is not my photo. It's from Ralph Grizzle,
who runs two popular web sites, avidcruiser.com and rivercruiseadvisor.com.
I saw this photo on his web site and it was so perfect for this story about the owner's suite
that I wrote him and asked for permission to use it here. He was very kind, and said yes.
Ralph Grizzle's photo of the actual owner of Viking Cruises, Torstein Hagen, in the owner's suite!
The dining area
Another view of the dining area
The master bedroom
Another view of the master bedroom
The walk-in closet off of the master bedroom
There are THREE restrooms in the owner's suite.
Two of them are just toilet and sink only.
But the master bathroom, attached to the master bedroom, is pretty great!
Another view of the master bathroom
Attached to the master bathroom is a sauna, with a view out the side of the ship
The kitchen (sometimes referred to as the galley)
The conference room
Another view of the conference room.
I suspect that couch may actually be a sleeper-sofa, but I'm not sure about that.
As far as I know, when the owner of Viking Cruises is not planning on being onboard (and
they told me that he's only onboard about once or twice a year) you can book the owner's suite just as you would any
other cabin. I don't even want to think about how expensive that would be! I don't think it shows up on
their web site when you look at the cabin choices. I'm pretty sure you would have to call and talk to someone to
make special arrangements to book a cruise in the owner's suite. And while yes, I've had a good run in the stock
market and with YouTube over the last few years... no, I won't be staying here, ever. I suspect it
takes a real high roller to be able to afford this suite!
I've scanned a few documents that were given to me during the cruise, which I think you might find useful. Just click on the links to view them, or right click on the link and choose "Save As" to save a copy to your computer.
Viking Star Deck Plans
Viking Star Daily Newsletters
(See special note below)
Viking Star Spa Price List
West Indies Explorer Shore Excursion Price List
Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act Info
All-Inclusive Beverage Package Information (Silver Spirits plan)
Room Service Menu
Special note about the Viking Star Daily Newsletters:
I have scanned all 10 days of the newsletters in to one big PDF file. It's 26 megabytes to download it. You might not want to try that with a slow Internet connection... for example, from a cruise ship. But as long as you've got a decent high-speed Internet connection, you should be able to view and download them without any problem.
Unlike every other cruise line I've ever sailed with, unlimited Internet access is offered to all Viking Star passengers at no extra charge. Before the cruise, the big question in my mind was whether the Internet connection would be any good. Things have come a long way since the early days of ocean-going Internet access. I've been on some ships where it was totally slow and flaky... and then there's the newest Royal Caribbean ships that have an amazing system using the O3B network of low-orbit satellites to provide a surprisingly decent Internet connection.
At the beginning of the cruise, I was startled at the results when I ran a Speedtest to see how Viking Star's Internet connection measured up...
The ping speed tells you that they're using a standard satellite system like most of the major cruise lines use... not the super-fast O3B network that Royal Caribbean uses on their newest ships. If they had been using the O3B network, that ping time would have been about half that.
The download speed is astoundingly fast for a cruise ship. In fact, almost unbelievably fast... as in I really don't believe that number is accurate, because in my normal use of the Internet onboard Viking Star on the day I took that measurement, it really seemed kind of sluggish. The upload speed was surprisingly high, too... but I do have to say that at one point during our cruise I did upload a video to YouTube, and it did work. It was slow... like 20 times slower than it would have been at home... but it did work. I really don't believe the accuracy of those upload and download speeds, though.
I have a nephew that works in I.T. and he told me once that all Internet service providers game the system. If a request to access SpeedTest.net comes through, it is given the highest priority, bypassing all bottlenecks and put ahead of all other access requests. But if you just try to access a regular web page, or upload or download a file to some regular server, you don't get any of that priority treatment and you end up with much slower throughput. So, I think that's what was happening with those Speedtest results. It never seemed that fast to me in my real-world use of the Internet on Viking Star. And in fact, as the week went on, things seemed to get slower and slower.
I think on the first day or two, some of the passengers on Viking Star had other things on their minds besides using the Internet... and then as the cruise went on, more and more people started using it, which slowed things down. There were certain times, like during game 7 of the world series... when Viking didn't carry the game on their TV system... that the Internet was slowed to a crawl. So, it seems to me that how well the Internet worked on Viking Star was completely dependent on how many people were all trying to use it at the same time. When I used it at 5 AM, it worked pretty well. When I used it at 11 AM, when most of the passengers were off on shore excursions, it worked pretty well. But at 5 PM, or 8 PM... not so much.
But hey, the price was right! Thank you, Viking!
I also want to say that Viking is totally ready to help you if you have any problems getting your device connected to the Internet. I had made a change to a network setting on my laptop about a week before our vacation... and then totally forgot about it. When we got onboard, I couldn't get the laptop to connect to the Internet. It frustrated me for quite a few hours, and then finally I went down to the Atrium to see if the guest services people could help me. Within a matter of seconds, they had their I.T. expert looking at the settings on my laptop, and within about a minute, he had it all working. Fantastic customer support from Viking! Thank you.
Now there was a little funkiness involved in using the Internet at
sea. Your device connects to the ship's wi-fi, which connects via satellite to some site somewhere in Europe or
Canada or Indonesia, depending on some factors that are completely unknown to me. So, my smartphone had one heck of
a time trying to figure out where I was on any given day. Sometimes it would display a weather report for
Canada... sometimes the Netherlands... sometimes Jakarta, Indonesia... sometimes for the island that I was really on. It would give me
alerts of "heavy traffic in your area" when I was in the middle of the ocean. It was kind of funny, actually!
A Large List Of Things I Loved About Viking Star
VERY un-crowded with far fewer passengers onboard than other cruise ships I've been on
Adults-only... no children allowed onboard
No nickel and diming... almost everything is included at no extra charge
All cabins have a balcony
The thermal suite in the spa
The mid-ship pool can be enclosed under a glass dome during bad weather
Extremely happy and friendly staff, offering excellent customer service
Internet access is free, even for multiple devices... and there's no need to log in each time you use it.
Self-service laundry facilities are free
Movies on the cabin TVs are free
Our flight to San Juan was free
Room service is free
Free bottled water in the cabins and when entering or leaving the ship
Free beer, wine, and soft drinks at lunch and dinner
A free shore excursion in every port
All but the lowest cabin category have free soft drinks and snacks in their refrigerator, replenished daily
All but the two lowest cabin categories have free alcohol in their refrigerator, replenished daily
You can bring your own alcohol onboard without fear of it being confiscated
Bar prices are more reasonable than most other cruise lines
An unlimited alcoholic beverage package is available at a reasonable price.
The quality of the food is excellent
Beach towels are abundant and there is no check-in and check-out system for towels
Umbrellas are available for borrowing as you exit the ship
NO smoking, except for in one small remote area of the ship
No formal nights
No staff photographers trying to sell overpriced photos to you
No sea days
No announcements over the PA system to try to entice you to do something they'll make money on
No electric scooters allowed onboard for the mobility-impaired
No extra charge to eat in their Italian specialty restaurant
No extra charge for a tour of the bridge
If you order a drink from a bar server, you don't have to present a card or sign a receipt. Just give your cabin number. That's it.
The interior decoration of the ship is gorgeous
There are numerous comfortable places within the ship where you can sit and have a quiet chat with someone
The cabins are tastefully decorated and nicely designed, especially the bathrooms
Because there are so few passengers, shore excursions tend to be less crowded
The background music that plays in public areas of the ship is perfectly tailored to the type of passenger that sails on Viking Star
If you get a massage or other spa treatment, they will not pester you to purchase additional products or services
The passengers tend to be VERY well travelled and you can learn things from them if you get them talking
Their sales offices are located in Southern California, so when you call on the phone to book a cruise or ask a
question, they do not speak with an accent and are easy to understand and converse with!
A Small Number Of Things I Didn't Like About Viking Star
The aft swimming pool and the mid-ship swimming pools are too deep
It gets way too hot and humid at the mid-ship pool when the glass dome is closed
The big pool in the thermal suite should be heated MUCH warmer
Not enough storage in Deluxe Veranda cabins
Not enough entertainment
Some entertainment is scheduled at the same time as other entertainment
Not as many food choices in the buffet as I'm used to on the mega cruise ships
Not as many shore excursions offered as the big cruise lines
Not as easy to eat gluten-free as it is on a mega cruise ship
Our cabin steward didn't adapt to our schedule, and seemed a bit grumpy (but that was the only slightly-grumpy crew member I met on the entire cruise)
Viking wanted full payment for the cruise approximately one YEAR before the cruise date!
Need A Travel Agent?
Booking a cruise can be confusing, especially if you haven't been on many cruises before. There are lots of first-time cruiser mistakes that a travel agent can keep you from making.
If you're interested in booking a cruise with any cruise line... please feel free to use the services of my travel agent, Caitlin Gallagher. She's extremely pleasant to deal with, easy to talk to since she lives in the United States and speaks without any kind of an accent, and quite experienced and knowledgeable about different types of cruising. Caitlin is the owner of Ambren Travel. Visit her web site, check out the Ambren Travel Facebook page, or contact her using the information below.
What Camera Do I Use?
Whenever I post these cruise reviews, I always get questions about what camera I used to take the photos. I used four different cameras to shoot the photos and videos you've seen here.
The majority of the photos were actually taken with a cell phone. About a week before the cruise, I got a new Google Pixel XL cell phone, which runs on the Android operating system. I read a lot of hype about this phone that said it had the best camera of any smartphone, ever. I thought I'd test that out by taking it on vacation with me and using it as my primary camera.
Some of the videos and a small number of the still photos were shot using my big DSLR camera: the Canon EOS 80D.
If you're in the market for a high quality digital SLR camera, the truth is that the Canon EOS 80D is probably too much camera for most amateur photographers... so the one I actually recommend for most people is the Canon Digital Rebel T6i. If you get one, make sure you get the T6i with the 135mm lens, not the cheap version with the 55mm lens.
I also like to have a Canon EF-S 10-18mm lens with me when I'm on a cruise ship. This is a wide angle lens, which is extremely useful when trying to shoot in small spaces (for example, inside a cruise ship cabin) or when shooting something very large (like a cruise ship, when you're standing on the pier next to it.)
I also bring along a tripod with me, to allow me to shoot long-exposure shots in low-light situations. It's also handy to have for shooting "selfies". I've got a tripod that is just the right size to fit inside my big suitcase but which is heavy duty enough to be stable. It also has a fluid head, which is something that's very important to look for in a tripod if you intend to use it when shooting video.
Any video that involved walking around and shooting with the camera in motion was shot with a DJI Osmo motion-stabilized video camera. Any underwater video was shot with an Olympus TG-830. That's a slightly older model now... so if you're in the market for a waterproof camera for snorkeling, you should get the new version which is the Olympus TG-850. All the other videos were shot with my new Canon EOS 80D.
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