Category Archives: Travel

Viking Orion – Indoor Spaces

A ship with many nooks

Lowest floor of the Atrium

Scaled towards 930 passengers, Viking Ocean ships are naturally more intimate than many cruise liners. The atrium, known mainly as The Living Room, for example is relatively small and understated – showcasing the earth tones and soft furnishings you’ll find throughout the ship. There’s a grand piano used for music every evening, and a coffee/cocktail bar open throughout most of the day and evening.

The Living Room bar

There are spaces to read, to socialize, or to attempt puzzles or electronic games. Many of the spaces have a deliberately “library” feel, with shelves full of books to peruse.

The Living Room at night
Looking aft along The Living Room, 2nd floor

Carpets are styled to represent the wooden ribs in the hull of a traditional Viking Longship

Many nooks feature custom artwork
Deck 1 seating in The Living Room
A cozy nook
Looking down into the atrium from deck 3
A cocktail before or after dinner?

Beyond The Living Room, there are comfortable seating areas around The Winter Garden on deck 7.

The Explorer’s Lounge, Deck 8

The Explorer’s Lounge is at the very front of the ship, on decks 7 and 8. The area on Deck 7 includes Mamsen’s deli and Paps bar.

Explorer’s Lounge, Deck 7

The view from The Explorer’s Lounge is all encompassing, and the seating is comfortable throughout.

Viking Orion – Winter Garden

A quiet oasis

The Winter garden, made darker by the retracted pool roof

On several afternoons, usually just after lunch, we would sit and read in the Winter garden and have the place entirely to ourselves. On one occasion we were seated for almost 10 minutes before being approached by a member of crew asking if we wanted anything – the longest we ever sat anywhere before being waited upon.

Our preferred corner

We’d usually sit in the same corner, a group of 4 comfortable chairs next to the wall of glass separating us from the Pool Deck. You’ll see in the picture above one of many metal silhouette screens used as decoration around this space.

One of the primary attractions for the Winter Garden is afternoon tea, usually served between 4pm and 5pm. In the 60-90 minutes preceding this you’ll find the space becomes considerably busier, with staff setting tables and preparing for service.

Afternoon Tea

The chairs will start to fill, as Afternoon Tea is a popular event – and fully included in the fare. There is a wide choice of high quality loose leaf teas, but you may of course order a cocktail or glass of wine as you prefer. The snack tower is in addition to a scone with clotted cream and jam, and features nicely made savory and sweet treats.

Serving bar

Large wooden panels hide chinaware storage for tea service, and there is a kitchen area immediately behind. Taps suggest that draft beer may once have been served here, but we saw no sign of that during our cruise.

Across to the pool deck

A musician will attend during tea, seated near the piano even if not playing it. Chairs are arranged to suit small and large groups.

Bench and single seating

To the left of the bench seating shown above are glazing panels that open during tea service, adding adjacent corridor seating to the Winter Garden capacity.

Decorative metal panels, possibly magnesium? help disguise air flow return.

Viking Orion – World Cafe

A Buffet by any other name …

The World Café is on deck 7, and looks out onto the aft wraparound deck

Not as expansive as many “big ship” cruise buffets, this venue nonetheless manages to offer a useful variety of dishes for three meals every day. On several occasions we saw the same dishes available at The World Café as were being offered in The Restaurant, although not quite as nicely presented.

You’ll find an attractively presented selection of hot and cold food items; salads, very good sushi/sashimi, at least one signature sandwich, pizza, and a made to order pasta station.

Seating wraps around the stern of the ship in a “U”, with slightly different food choices offered on each side – so be sure to check them both out. A key attraction of this venue is the option to easily eat outside – simply take your plate and pick a table!

Sun sets over outdoor seating

If you do move outside you’ll find that the wait staff still track you down, even if all you’re looking for is a coffee or refill on the wine you had with lunch. We found that the quality of what was offered here was high, with great care taken over the presentation of serving dishes, and everything was spotlessly clean.

Amidships, just forward of the Infinity Pool outside, is the Aquavit Terrace bar – a popular spot whether just for a cocktail or something to go with your meal.

Late night at the Aquavit Terrace bar

We found that the World Café was very handy for times when we wanted to eat swiftly, or perhaps wanted a more casual outdoor experience. This is the only dining venue where evening dress code, relaxed as it is, does not apply.

Viking Orion – Manfredi’s

Alternative Italian themed dining

There are no extra cost destinations on Viking, instead the Chef’s Table and Manfredi’s are considered “alternative” dining choices.

Viking guests are big fans of Manfredi’s, but I have to confess I was less enamored. The menu is always the same, with a daily fish and pasta special. Several items are famous in the cruising community:

Manfredi’s famous bread basket

The bread is one of the things much beloved by guests, and it was good – just not “write home about it” good to me at least. Paired with the supplied olive oil and shaved parmesan it was really good 🙂

If you have the Silver Spirits Beverage Package you can order any wine by the glass that is under $15, and they all were. From that point onwards it’s a bottomless bottle, with your glass constantly refilled. It makes for a very relaxed dining experience.

On our first visit, the evening of our arrival, I decided to try the much acclaimed rib-eye steak, which I ordered medium-rare. It arrived rare, almost blue, and very fatty – I probably carved off a third of it and left on the side of the plate. Tracey had freshly made Gnocchi which was silken and divine – absolutely heavenly. My sides included some very nice potatoes and sautéed tomatoes – very nicely done.

On our second visit we dined relatively early – 6:30 I think – on a day when we’d enjoyed afternoon tea at 4pm, and so weren’t especially hungry. I had a calamari started that was very good, and lobster ravioli as the daily pasta special that was also good.

On our next Viking cruise we probably won’t reserve a sitting at Manfredi’s – it was OK, but didn’t light any fires for me.

Viking Orion – Chef’s Table

A culinary journey paired with wine

The Mexico themed menu we sampled

The Chef’s table is a quietly themed space in which to experience a food journey. The menu changes every few days, and is always a 5 course meal paired with wine. All passengers have access to the included wine pairing, and if you have the Silver Spirits Beverage Package you’ll be offered the Premium Pairing for no additional charge.

Chef’s Table Dining Room

Viking Wine Stewards were unfailingly generous during our week aboard – unstintingly generous. Each course is prefixed with a conversation about the wine chosen to pair with it; you’re encouraged to taste the wine, compare your impressions with the tasting notes from the Wine Steward, and then consider that when eating the paired course.

Wonderful large plate/bowls elegantly set off delicate dishes

In one case we were encouraged to let a wine breathe before the course arrived – I goofed and drank a fair amount of the glass, so it was simply refilled 🙂

Tracey eats very little meat, and so we’d asked for her to be offered vegetarian alternatives to the meat courses. This was handled seamlessly, and her dishes were presented with all the care lavished on the primary menu items.

We each had different dishes, mine with beef and hers without.

Flavors were well balanced, everything was perfectly cooked and arrived hot (or cold) with exquisite presentation.

Our window setting couldn’t have been more perfect.

The setting is warm but still informal. There’s no white linen and though the food is “formal” but the setting is all about enjoying the experience. We thoroughly enjoyed both our Chef’s Table meals, and would prioritize it over Manfredi’s if returning to Viking.

Viking Orion – outdoor spaces

Quiet solitude or shared energy – you choose

Our cruise sailed with only 400 passengers on a ship designed for 930, so naturally we were rather spoiled.

Aft sun deck and infinity pool

The Aquavit Terrace (aft deck) features sun loungers and padded seating around the iconic infinity pool. This is a serene spot even underway, and the appeal is increased by proximity to the World Café, which is just forward of it and for which there are a number of dining tables.

Looking aft across the Aquavit Terrace and Infinity Pool on deck 7
World Café dining tables, aft on deck 7.

Use of this aft space is very relaxed, you’re free to bring out anything from The World Café that garbs your fancy while it’s open, and the bar just inside offers a full range of drinks. We finished lunch one day and took our wine outside to a shaded table – we were followed a few minutes later by one of the staff asking if we’d like a refill on the (included) wine that had been served with lunch.

Looking forward to the entrance to the Pool Deck

You’re free to take a glass of wine, beer, or cocktail for a stroll outside, including up to the sports deck on 8.

Sports Deck on 8, looking aft towards the pool roof (open)

The Sports Deck features shuffle board, mini golf, bowling, and a number of nicely secluded spots to seat and relax.

Seating area between artificial hedges, near the bow on deck 8
Small details abound.
The pool deck, amidships on 7, with the roof open.
Looking down at the midships pool from deck 8

The other primary outdoor space is on Deck 2, where the promenade deck circles the ship – 4 times around is a mile

Outdoor seating for The Restaurant on Deck 2

I don’t think we ever saw the outdoor restaurant seating used, probably because we had so few passengers onboard, but it’s a lovely looking spot.

Looking along the length of the ship on the Promenade, deck2

Meeting Viking Orion

It’s good to be “home”

The bus unloads us in what would normally be a parking lot, but which has been taken over by the Viking shore crew. We head into the arrivals hall, here from the days when passenger steamers were the only way on and off the Island.

Passenger hall and Viking guest services right alongside ship

Our passports are checked to confirm identity, and we’re handed an envelope containing our room keys. Finally we’re heading up the ramp and onboard, where the A/C feels pretty good.

Our Muster Station (A) is The Restaurant, and so we head up to Deck 2 and then aft, somewhat overwhelmed with new sensory input as we try to process “live” all the places and images that we’ve seen so often in stills and video. I feel a bit grubby after all the travel to be honest, when everything around us seems so nice. Muster is over quickly and it’s up two more flights of stairs to deck 4, and a stair well we will come to know quite well.

It’s quite a long march to the stern where our corner Explorer’s Suite awaits us. We meet our room stewards Darwin and Gusti along the way, they both seem very personable. Finally we’re at the door.

This is the first thing you see when entering 4120, Port side Explorer’s Suite – minus our bags of course

First impressions are very favorable – apart from anything else it feels oh so good to be away from crowds of people and able to wash our faces. It’s 4:50pm – I’d mentally prepared myself that I’d be glad if we were onboard by 5pm. We start to unload a little and explore.

The bedroom, and second door to the balcony/deck

The benefit of having access to so many online videos, and the fact that all Viking Ocean ships are basically the same, meant that we were well prepared for our suite.

Looking into the “wet room”, with both shower and tub

The rooms were as expected in terms of layout, space, and furnishings.

The shower room has it’s own window 🙂

Possibly the only unexpected aspect was the cleanliness of everything. Every inch of the room, including the inner corners of the bathroom vanity drawers, was spotless. I guess that’s the benefit of being cleaned twice every day.

The biggest surprise was how much larger the balcony felt in person than we had thought from some of the videos we’d seen.

Looking off to Port from our balcony
Looking towards the center of the ship across our balcony

The table isn’t really practical for 4 – there isn’t enough room to access all the chairs, but it’s plenty big enough for two to have breakfast!

Room service is included for all Viking cabins, available 24 hours a day

On the side deck is a double lounger, a nice place to read while sipping the complementary Champagne

On the double lounger on the side deck, under the bathroom window

That included Champagne was in the min-fridge in the main part of the room, it’s refilled every day with both soft drinks and alcohol. I asked that they stock it with Diet Coke, Diet Tonic, and Gin. There were two beers each day too – though wine and beer was also included with every meal.

Flying to Bermuda

What already sucked, sucks harder

We took advantage of discounted airfare from Viking, which meant they arranged our flights. In retrospect I probably would not do this next time as the savings weren’t material, and I’d prefer to have more control over our flights. Our outbound flights are on American, and I’m able to enter our Known Traveler numbers but can’t pay to pick better seats. On the returning United flights I’m also able to enter Known Traveler and I can also pay a small amount for exit row seats.

There aren’t many flights to Bermuda, perhaps only 6 arrivals each day. We were on a 07:00 flight from O’Hare to Charlotte, then 50 minutes to get to the connection to Bermuda; each flight is about 2 hours. I’ve booked a 03:00 Private Car service, simply because I’ve found Uber a bit hit or miss that early in the morning, and to our considerable relief the driver is outside at 02:30 and happy to wait.

There’s no traffic this early in the morning, and our driver is a speed demon meaning we’re at O’Hare in 30 minutes – pretty much a record from Naperville. We’re super early, but are we early enough? Because of the need for American Airlines to check our BTA we cannot use online check-in or a Kiosk, and must wait in line for an agent. At 03:30 there are only two on duty, and the line is impressive.

Even at 03:30 there’s an impressive line at O’Hare

We stand in line, slowly inching forward, until around 04:00 when two things happen: extra staff arrive to start a shift an a customer service rep pulls us out of line and directs us to the First Class desk, which has no one waiting.

Once we’re at the check-in agent things are relatively straightforward. I’ve assembled printed copies of our BTA and other paperwork in plastic document sleeves, just to make them easier to slide in and out of my backpack. There’s the usual international passport check, and we get to pay for our bags. I’m pleased to see that our boarding passes carry the “TSA Pre-check” mark, and that the TSA security line is open; we breeze through in mere minutes.

By 04:35 we’re through security, not really that much worse than times past. We take the chance to refill our water bottles, conscious that dehydration is something to manage on the trip. The rest of the outbound experience is pretty normal, and 50 minutes proves to be plenty of time to get between gates at Charlotte. Once we’re at the departure gate for the Bermuda flight it’s obvious that many of the passengers will be headed to Orion with us – let’s just say that I feel like the young guy in the crowd 🙂

It’s really, really, feeling like this is actually going to happen. We’ve read the horror stories of canceled cruises, last minute positive tests, cancelled flights – but here we are on the flight to Bermuda.

Land Ho!

Land is sighted under a mound of clouds, plopped in the middle of so much bluer than blue water.

What will come to be a common sight, azure sea and forested land

It is with a huge sense of relief that the Bermuda shore comes into view beneath us, and we land uneventfully.

Bermuda Airport is very new

The Bermuda arrivals experience is bright, clean, well cooled, and survivable; we land around 3:00pm. We present our BTA several times, have passports checked in a very easy manner, and wait to collect our bags. Once through customs we’re asked to leave our bags to the side of the arrivals hall while we join first a line to collect the pre-printed barcoded lab test form, and then a line for a nasal swab. After the swab we collect our bags and head outside.

As expected there are Viking red shirts waiting for us. We’re checked off against a list and hand over our suitcases, then follow directions to waiting buses. It’s warm and humid, but not horribly so, though by this point my mask feels pretty sweaty and gross. We down more water while waiting in the bus.

The drive to Hamilton takes about 30 minutes, on very narrow, winding roads flanked by limestone rock walls. The roads are full of scooters, we’d been told to expect this as there are relatively few private cars due to limited road space.

Finally we arrive, and there’s Orion right on the main street in the heart of Hamilton. What a sight!

In all her beauty!

Preparing for bermuda

Travel ain’t like it used to be

Bermuda is a small Island, and by May of 2021 they’ve almost eliminated COVID. They’re keen not to let it back in.

In order to travel to Bermuda we must be vaccinated (by the time we book in May we’re there), and we must have negative PCR tests no sooner than 3 days before we arrive. We hadn’t realized that there were different types of COVID , but apparently there are. The “antigen” test is fast and cheap, but seemingly not accurate enough for travel purposes – we need a PCR test, though it can be a “Rapid PCR”.

You can get a PCR test for free from CVS, charged to your medical insurance so not really free – just paid for by someone else, but there’s no guarantee on turnaround time. “Typically 1-2 days” isn’t confidence inspiring when the timeline is as close as ours. We fly on a Tuesday, and so the proceeding Friday is the earliest we could be tested. Further research shows that we can pay for guaranteed 8 hour results through a private lab, but it’s $300. Each. I book both the free CVS test on Friday July 30th, and the paid lab test for Saturday July 31st in preparation for our Tuesday August 3rd flights.

Friday 30th July: the CVS test is self administered – drive up to the window and retrieve the test bag through the dispensing tray. Under the watchful eye of the clinician, wipe the inside of your nose with a cotton swab, pop in a vial of liquid, seal and return. The paid test the next morning (July 31st) is very similar, only someone else swabs your nose.

4 hours later, all clear!

We received the CVS results within 22 hours, at about the same time as the paid results from the lab – noon on Saturday 31st. The next step is to submit the Bermuda Travel Authorisation request (online), uploading the PCR test results and photographs of your CDC vaccination card – and pay $75

All systems go!

The next morning (Sunday August 1st) at 07:02 we receive confirmation that our BTA has been cleared, and the formal hurdles are now past.

Up Next – Flying to Bermuda

Viking ocean cruise

Taking a cruise in the times of Covid

We aren’t cruisers …

April 2021, and we’ve been largely isolated at home for a little over a year. Our approach to life during the pandemic has been very conservative; either home delivery of groceries or curbside pickup, the closest we’ve been to other people has been when we went to get vaccinated.

Now that we have each had a first shot there’s a sense that the light at the end of the tunnel might not be a train coming to flatten us. We are feeling optimistic, and Tracey suggests we should take a vacation – and she wants it to include water. We discuss a cruise – she’s been on several many years ago, I went on QE2 once in 2008.

She has cruised NCL before, and it turns out they have just started taking bookings for a “return to cruising”. Discounts are deep, it’s for vaccinated passengers only, and a one-week itinerary from Jamaica to Mexico, Belize, and Honduras is very affordable. Some more research suggests that The Haven is for us, offering some sense of “small ship” experience in the mainstream context of NCL. We book within a day of conceiving the notion.

A few weeks pass, we research and book excursions, we watch everything on Youtube – arguably the Youtube research we should probably have done before booking. We stumble on Emma and Cruise With Ben & David; we watch their reviews of Viking. Unspoken between us is the sense that perhaps this would have been a better fit for us for a whole variety of reasons.

Blessing in disguise

May 26th: NCL cancels our cruise, and gives a full refund. From the disappointment arises a crisitunity: we could book with Viking instead? Some quick research finds a 7 night “Bermuda Escape” cruise – basically a seacation with some days in port and a couple of sea days needlessly sailing the Atlantic. A Junior Penthouse Suite is actually cheaper than what we had paid NCL for a Haven aft balcony suite, especially considering the included excursions, free Silver Spirits Beverage Package, and included everything. We book on the same day as the cancellation from NCL, directly on the Viking website paying the entire fare due to the closeness of the sailing date (August 3rd).

Map of the Bermuda Escape itinerary

Up next – Preparing for Bermuda