Travelers looking to explore the Yangtze River in China or the Danube in Europe may have already heard of Viking River Cruises, which offers dozens of small ships plying various rivers around the globe. But the company has expanded to include larger ocean-going cruise ships, with a fleet of six ocean vessels (the seventh is coming in 2021) as well as an Expeditions line that will sail in Antarctica, Canada, and the Arctic starting in 2022.
Our editors have experienced trips on both the Viking Star (from Barcelona to Rome) and the Viking Jupiter (from Stockholm to Bergen). All of the Viking Ocean ships are similar, if not identical, and hold 930 passengers with plenty of onboard dining options. Read on to learn what we loved about these cruises—as well as a few drawbacks.
Viking Star sails all over Europe as well as to the Caribbean and the East Coast of the U.S., and it’s hard not to be enticed by some of the less-traveled ports the ship visits. The 14-night Cities of Antiquity & the Holy Land itinerary, for instance, starts in Rome and includes calls in Israel (Haifa and Jerusalem) and Cyprus as well as Naples and several Greek ports. Or head north to follow the 15-day Viking Homelands route, a journey that starts in Stockholm and passes through Russia, Finland, Estonia, Poland, Germany, Denmark, and multiple ports in Norway. Some of Viking’s Caribbean itineraries start in Puerto Rico (instead of Florida), minimizing days at sea and allowing passengers to explore islands like Tortola, Guadeloupe, and Antigua.
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(Almost) Everything Is Included
On most mainstream cruise lines you’ll pay extra for things like onboard Wi-Fi, dinner in an alternative restaurant, and beer/wine with meals—all of which are included on Viking Ocean Cruises. There’s always one free shore excursion in each port as well (typically an introductory bus or walking tour). Another nice perk? All cabins have balconies.
Note that a few things do cost extra, including spa treatments, gratuities for the crew, some shore excursions, and premium cocktails, wines, and spirits.
If your vision of cruise ships includes cheesy, over-the-top decor and crowded buffets, rest assured; as befits its Scandinavian sensibility, Viking ships feel elegant and understated. Favorite spots included the quiet Explorers’ Lounge, where you can curl up on a couch with a book from the well-stocked bookshelves, and the Nordic spa, where you can cool off in a Snow Grotto between trips to the sauna or hot tub.
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Longer Days in Port
On the Mediterranean sailing, Viking Star overnighted in two different ports (Rome and Barcelona), and stayed late in most others; passengers didn’t have to be back on board until 8:00 to 10:00 p.m.—unusually late for the cruise industry. Similarly, on the Viking Homelands route, there were two late-evening departures as well and two days each spent in St. Petersburg and Bergen. That means you have at least 12 hours to explore each day, with the option to take multiple excursions or to eat both lunch and dinner ashore if you want to experience the local cuisine.
Enrichment and Immersion
Daily lectures (such as “The Restoration of the Sistine Chapel: What Went Wrong and Why?”) and informational port talks help passengers get to know each destination before visiting, and many of the shore excursions go beyond the usual major sightseeing attractions. For example, one offering in Rome takes travelers to the ancient Etruscan city of Tarquinia, which predates the rise of the Roman Empire. And an excursion in Tallinn, Estonia, on the Viking Homelands tour lets travelers visit Lahemaa National Park and the coastal village of Kasmu. Viking also offers a Kitchen Table experience that involves shopping with the ship’s chef at a market in port and then working with him to prepare local specialties (such as Spanish tapas).
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Despite all of these benefits, there are a few important caveats to note about sailing with Viking Ocean Cruises. Most importantly, despite the overnights and longer days in port, these itineraries have the same major drawback as any other cruise, particularly in Europe: not enough time. Spending a single day in a city like Florence or Jerusalem will give you no more than a taste—especially in places where the port is a one- or two-hour bus ride from the city you actually intend to see. To avoid frustration, consider your cruise a sampler that will help you figure out which cities are worth a longer visit in the future.
Also, while the included shore excursions are a nice perk, independent travelers who chafe at the thought of shuffling along with 35 other tourists behind a guide holding up a Viking sign should book their own private tour (for a more personalized experience) or simply go it alone.
Cruises start at about $3,000 per person (not including airfare). Learn more on Viking’s website. For savings, check out the Last Minute Travel Specials page as well as multiple itineraries for Quiet Season Mediterranean Cruises.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Why This Viking Ocean Cruise Is the Best Way to See Northern Europe
- The Ultimate Cruise Packing List
- 10 Bucket List Cruises to Take This Year
Editor’s note: Both Ashley Rossi and Sarah Schlichter traveled as guests of Viking Ocean Cruises. This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.