WEST INDIES EXPLORER
This was our first Viking Cruise (but our 11 cruise on various cruise lines) and we sailed on the Viking Sea flying both ways from Heathrow to San Juan (Puerto Rica). The journeys were long - especially on the outward journey as we had almost a four hour layover at Philadelphia. However, the transfer from the airport at San Juan was seamless - Viking staff were there to meet and greet us and we were soon on board the ship and in our stateroom, having cleared US immigration at Philadelphia. It was after 9.00 pm when we arrived but we were welcomed in our stateroom with a plate of delicious open sandwiches and a bottle of red wine. All staterooms have balconies and ours - a DV2 - was well fitted out with enough storage space for us both and the shower room afforded everything we required (the absence of the nasty leg clinging shower curtain was welcomed!). Our stateroom steward was efficient and thorough each day and both the stateroom and shower room were spotlessly clean as was the rest of the ship. We had the use of a 'pod' coffee machine which was kept well stocked with coffee pods as was the mini bar with soft drinks, water and snacks. There was no objection to bringing wine on board for use in the stateroom and no 'corkage' fee should you wish to take it into the dining rooms. Coffee, tea and soft drinks were available all around the ship at no extra charge. The Viking Sea is a small ship - 930 passengers and about half as many crew. There were never any queues and the clientele comprised people from the UK, USA and Canada, many of whom had sailed on a Viking River cruise. It was easy to find a quiet spot to relax and read. Internet was free so browsing the web, sending emails, etc was simple and trouble free. Swimming in the infinity pool was a joy. We enjoyed a tour of the Bridge one afternoon which was a highly informative and illuminating experience. Food in all the restaurants was excellent - both The Restaurant and the specialists dining rooms (no extra charge for these). There was always plenty of choice - meat, fish or vegetarian. The Buffet menu in the evening was similar to the Restaurant and it was never too busy. Staff were friendly, attentive and eager to assist. We especially liked Mamsen's (for lunch) where the range of open sandwiches (hot and cold), cakes, gateaux and Norwegian waffles was excellent. This area too was never crowded and it was easy to get a table. The bar staff were attentive and both wine and beer were available (free) at lunch and dinner. Cocktails were inexpensive - $7.50 each for a Tom Collins and a Rum Runner. The Explorers Bar became an after dinner favourite for a speciality coffee. There were nine inclusive tours - two walking tours and seven half day coach tours which took in the main highlights of the islands we visited. The local guides were interesting, informative and enthusiastic about their islands. The devastation caused by the last two hurricanes was evident on some islands but all were doing their utmost to encourage cruise ships to call. Our port call to Tortola was replaced with a visit to St. Croix - a charming island badly in need of tourism dollars. There is a small enthusiastic entertainments team on board who provided a range of 45 minute shows on some evenings - tributes to Abba, The Beatles, the Rat Pack were all excellent and great fun. Late one afternoon before leaving St Lucia we were treated on board to a superb steel band and free champagne. The resident musicians around the ship were talented and enthusiastic. There was a wealth of things to do - lectures, debates, cookery classes - something to suit most tastes. We liked the fact that it was 'all inclusive' (gratuities too) so there was no large on board bill at the end of the cruise. There was a small range of shops but no pushy sales people and no photographer. If you want the razzmatazz of sailaways, loud music, bingo and a casino then Viking cruises are not for you. But, if you want a small cruise ship with minimalistic Scandinavian design, excellent food, friendly staff and an eclectic mix of fellow cruisers then Viking Cruises are worth considering. The concept of hygge is evident throughout the ship. All in all it was a very relaxing and highly enjoyable cruise. A perfect way to spend time away from the British winter!
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