Expectations Not Met but That’s OK

It was interesting to me that when we got our post-cruise survey from Viking, they had everything listed by expectations. For instance, a question might say, “Food in the main dining room: A) Exceeded expectations  B) Met expectations C) Did not meet expectations.” When I thought back on it, that was my problem with Viking. After listening to friends talk about how much they love Viking, reading a FaceBook group of Viking fans, and knowing that Viking clients are incredibly loyal, I was expecting an almost perfect experience. That was my problem and not Vikings. (Viking—do your surveys online. You are doing yourself a disservice because I truly believe you get more info that way. When I only have a tiny, multiple-choice survey with little space for comments, that’s all I give you.)

I also realized in retrospect that so much of what I knew I would love about Viking (I did a blog post about why we were moving to Viking, and you can read it here.) is things it does not have: kids, smoking (Ok, there is a tiny area outside, on deck 7 but Viking says “No Smoking” in their marketing), casino, ship’s photographers, art auctions and more. As little things went wrong along the way, I was thinking about those things, not the things that weren’t there that I loved them for. All those things were great; I just didn’t think about them because they weren’t there. But they really improved our cruise experience.

Since we got home, I have also been telling people who ask about the trip that “Now we know how long a vacation is too long.” A month is too long. Three weeks on a ship is too long. Especially when you are sick and quarantined or are self-quarantining. But if we were going to do three weeks, Viking is the cruise line I would do it on. So, without further ado, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what we loved and what we didn’t.

What we loved

  • Our stateroom. We had what Viking calls a Penthouse Verandah. It was the largest non-suite stateroom we have ever had. 338 beautiful square feet. With so much storage. How much storage? So much so that we had an empty drawer and a junk drawer—on a ship. Here are some pics of one of the best staterooms we have ever been in.
  • The mini-bar. On every single one of our previous cruises (except Celebrity Flora), one of the first things we would ask our room steward to do was to remove everything in the mini-bar. On Viking, we left it all in there. Why? Because it was all free. And it got completely refreshed every day. And if there were something you would rather have in there that wasn’t, all you had to do was ask. For instance, it was full of Sprite and Diet Coke—neither of which we drink. But we do love the Schweppes Bitter Lemon they served in the bar. So we asked if we could swap out the two we didn’t like for Bitter Lemon. Well, they didn’t regularly stock it, but they ordered it up from the bar at no cost to us.
  • All the upstairs food on the 7th deck. That means that we found some of the best food we have ever had on a cruise in The World Cafe buffet, Mamsens and the Pool Grille. I can count on my fingers the number of times in 30+ cruises we have eaten dinner in the buffet. We usually just do the buffet for breakfast or lunch but hardly ever for dinner. On Sky, we did. Almost every night because the food was amazing. I have never eaten so much outstanding seafood.
  • The service in the buffet is amazing. One of my complaints about the buffet on other ships is the absence of trays. Not because I like trays but because I only have two hands. One for a salad and one for the main course. Now, how do I hold the drink(s) that I want as well? So, I go and set my food on the table, and I run back to get the drinks, and by the time I am back, my food is cold. This never happened on Sky. Ninety percent of the time, within seconds of sitting down at the table with my salad and my entrée, someone was asking me what I would like to drink. The buffet also worked like a well-oiled machine. The managers were always coming by to ask how things were. Once I told one of the managers that the veal I had just grabbed was dry and tough. He immediately turned around, went to one of the chefs and told him to remove it and get new. That was impressive. I really felt like they cared what I had to say.
  • The room service was outstanding. Again, before this cruise, I could count on one hand the number of times we had done room service on our other cruises, but because of our quarantine situation with Kathleen’s food poisoning, we ate a lot on this cruise. We loved room service, especially breakfast. The order was always right, delivered hot, and except for one small hiccup with a pepper shaker, it was all outstanding. I do wish their non-breakfast menu had more variety, but everything we had was great.
  • The wonderful quiet places on the ship. I did an entire post on this subject a few days ago and I posted pics. Just click that link to read it. Suffice it to say; there were so many great places to sit and work on my photos and write posts. Or for Kathleen to go and read but still see the sights out the front of the ship or just someplace to have a quiet conversation.
  • Television choices. They were awesome. I know, who watches television  on a cruise? People who are quarantined. People who are feeling sick. People who are exhausted from being in a port and touring every single day. And we got to choose from quite the variety of shows, an excellent interactive map of our itinerary, old TV shows we love and more.
  • Embarkation and disembarkation. Not the transport from the pre-extension or back to the post-extension. But getting on the ship was a piece of cake. Viking under-promised and massively over-delivered. When we were checking in, we were told that our stateroom would be ready no later than 3:00 pm. So we headed up to the buffet for lunch (lots of tables available), and just as we were finishing up, our cruise director announced on the PA that all staterooms were ready—about two hours early. Under-promise, over-deliver. Both getting on and off the ship was about as easy as we have ever had in all our cruising.
  • Size of the ship. We loved it. It never felt crowded (except one night in the dining room). You could walk from one end of the ship to the other in no time. With only 9 decks and us on deck 5, we could get anywhere on the stairs, although we didn’t have to because the elevators were easily accessible. Kathleen hardly ever had to wait for elevators. But even though the ship is smaller than what we are used to, we never felt that much motion which we thought we would.
  • Fewer people. With only 928 total passengers, we never felt crowded.
  •  Laundry and pressing. In 30+ cruises, we have only sailed on one ship that had a self-service laundry. It was super to have clean clothes whenever we wanted them. And it was so great being able to not worry about it when we did laundry. I would go and toss stuff in a washing machine, set a timer with Siri and then go back when she went off. Same with the dryer. And since we were in a PV-class stateroom, we also got free pressing. So I would wash and dry my shirts and send them off to be pressed and they would come back the next day looking perfect.
  • The included WiFi. This was excellent. Very few glitches. No, I could not watch a Netflix movie, but I was able to upload all my pics, post to this blog, FaceTime twice with our grandkids and even watch Seattle Mariner highlights on YouTube. All for free. And it was only out on very rare occasions and never for that long.
  • The chocolate desserts. My brother just reminded me that I raved and raved about every single dessert that was chocolate. I am NOT a chocolate person. I prefer my desserts to have fruit in them or as the main taste profile (think lemon-polenta cake), but when we went to Manfredi’s, I had the best chocolate dessert I have ever had. From that point on, I made a point to try everything chocolate and almost every single thing was just as good. If you love chocolate, it might be worth going on a Viking Sky cruise just to eat it.

What we didn’t love

  • The entire food poisoning incident. I have written about it pretty thoroughly here. I personally was not happy with the way Kathleen was treated. It comes down to not listening to women when medical treatment is involved as well as jumping to conclusions. Everything worked out in the end, but it just should never have happened to the extent and in the way that it did. Kathleen had to miss at least three places that we had never been to before.
  • Any dining on decks one or two. This includes the main dining room (AKA The Restaurant), Manfredi’s and The Chef’s table. I want to look at them individually and tell you why we did not love them. None of these restaurants passed what I now call the “Steve Standard.” My brother Steve wrote this in his review of our May cruise on Celebrity Millenium, and I have stolen it from him because I think it is the best way to describe and evaluate a cruise ship restaurant. Here’s the “Steve Standard”: If this restaurant were in your neighborhood and you ate there, would you pay to go back? Pretty simple. And the answer for us for all three restaurants is no. They did not pass the “Steve Standard.” Upstairs, the World Cafe, Mamsens and the Pool Grille all passed. I would pay to go to any of them.
    • The Restaurant. On every other cruise we have ever been on, we have eaten 95% of our dinners in the main dining room. On this 21-night cruise, we ate exactly three dinners in the main dining room. Now I will give you that part of the reasons this happened was Kathleen’s quarantine when we ordered room service and long days onshore when we were just too tired and not at all motivated to get dressed to go to the dining room. But the times we did go, we were not pleased. Two of those times we felt the service was just weird. We are used to having the same servers for our dinners, but not only did we not get the same servers on these two nights, but we also had different servers for every course. And it seemed none of them really wanted to wait on us. Both dinners took more than 2.5 hours. That’s too long. We would be seated and then wait 20 minutes to get water or bread. Then another 10  to get our orders taken, then another 10 until the appetizers came, and it went on like this. And things would be missing from orders, or they would be cooked differently than asked. We were never offered a wine list, and when we would ask for one, it would take 15 minutes to get it. In the meantime, another server would just come around with the bottles of the evening’s included wines and start pouring those. We gave up. The third time we went to The Restaurant, we joined our new friends Corky and Larry, who told us they had cultivated a relationship with an outstanding server…and they had. He was amazing, and the wine steward showed up immediately to ask us about other wines. It was the kind of service we loved. And the food was great that night. But the noise level was deafening. We were sitting at a small table for four and could not hear each other talk. I still have no idea what half the conversation was about. I got tired of asking the other three to repeat what they said, so after a while, I just gave up and nodded my head. All in all, we just weren’t happy with The Restaurant.
    • Manfredi’s. One of the things we loved about Viking was that the specialty restaurants were free. On most ships, you pay extra for those. A lot extra in some cases. For instance, on Holland America, we went to Rudi’s, the seafood restaurant on board and paid $50 per person to go. So when we heard that we could get into Manfredi’s for $0.00, we were thrilled until we ate there. We went twice. The first time was the same sporadic service as The Restaurant. That got fixed the second time, but the food was never up to snuff. This is supposed to be Italian. I am an Italian-American, and I LOVE to cook Italian. I have lots of Italian restaurants I love. This is not a good Italian restaurant. Example: On Celebrity cruise line ships, there is an Italian restaurant called the Tuscan Grille. I love their calamari. I have been known to have it as an appetizer and an entrée at the same meal. I looked forward to that on Sky, but it was horrible. Reminded me of eating those old snack food, Bugles. Remember those? And their ribeye steaks (which are supposed to be amazing) were some of the thinnest ribeyes I have ever eaten. And my brother (who is a steak person) ordered one and got an entirely different steak. The only thing I had that I liked was a risotto with escargot. I might get that take-out from a restaurant at home. Suffice it to say that Manfredi’s was better than Olive Garden, but not by much.
    • The Chef’s Table. This is a matter of personal choice. The Chef’s table has a fixed menu that rotates every three days. We had four reservations there, but due to quarantines, we lost our first one. Then the second and fourth time, they were doing a menu that had nothing on it that Kathleen could eat. She is allergic to shellfish (two courses) and duck (the entrée). So that was out. The one time we went was on a night that they were featuring California food. She had one course she could not eat (crab cakes) and they brought her a very nice cheese plate. And the food they did serve was pretty good…for what it was. But as I said, this is a matter of personal choice and at home I would never go to a fixed menu restaurant if I could avoid it. While I thought that dinner was fine, there was not a single thing on that night’s menu that I would have ordered in a regular restaurant. The menu for two nights later looked good but we could never make it work with our reservations.
  • The included excursions. Another thing that drew us to Viking was that they included an excursion in every port. But those excursions just did not work for us. Either they were too long, the guides were incredibly boring and talked as if they were being paid by the word, or they just weren’t our cup of tea. I did love that Viking provided free shuttle busses in every port where we weren’t anchored right in the center of the city (Kotor), but the included excursions were just not up to par. I wish that Viking would give you a credit for excursions if you don’t use them.
  • The optional excursions. Out of 21 days in ports, we booked an optional excursion seven times. Only two of them would I do again (Dubrovnik and Messina). Two of them were pretty good for half of the tour (Naples and Bari) , and one was good for about a quarter of the tour (Olympia ). One was just “fine” (Kotor), and one was downright horrid (Monaco) because it was way too long, had the worst guide of the trip and included way too much crapola (like shopping). Our buddy Corky said that Viking should offer tours that were listed as “shopping or no shopping.” I totally agree. When you compare these to the pre-cruise tour we did in Athens with George of Tours By Locals, the post-cruise tour we did in Barcelona with Olga, also of Tours By Locals and the Cinque Terre tour we did with the amazing Luigi, there is no contest—there were all bad. I will give you that they were less expensive than the tours we booked ourselves, but I would gladly have paid more for better tours.
  • The weird weeks of this cruise. Our friends Corky and Larry, who are long-time Viking cruisers, told us that our 21-day cruise (and their 28-day cruise—they started a week before us in Instanbul) was NOT like any other Viking cruise they had been on because it wasn’t really one cruise. It was (for them) four one-week cruises, and for us, it was three one-week cruises. Did this matter? It kind of did. For instance, we could not see, book or change our shore excursions until the next week’s cruise started. Or the number of people getting off and on really was strange. Our first two weeks were primarily with a great crowd of travelers in our age group, and it worked well for us. Most were doing two-week cruises. But when many of them got off in Rome, the new group that got on was louder, ruder and generally younger. They were only doing a one-week cruise, and that meant they wanted to get all their partying in right away. We preferred the older, travel-oriented folks we had with us from Athens to Venice. Corky tells me that this particular cruise on Viking Sky is one of the few where Viking does this. We hope to avoid that in the future.

That about covers all of it. So what’s the final verdict? Well, we booked another Viking Ocean cruise while on board. So I guess that says it all. We have booked a 14-night cruise in 2024 from London up to the Norwegian fjords and ending in Bergen, Norway. We have never done this itinerary before, and it will give us a chance to compare a regular itinerary with this three week mess.

I hope you have enjoyed following along on our journey. I also hope if this was the first time you have read the blog, that you would both subscribe for future journeys and go back and read about some of what we have done in the past. I have been doing this since before the pandemic, and there are a bunch of other trips you can read about. I will be back in a couple of days with my promised treatise on how I do my photography.

True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information.   —Winston Churchill

13 thoughts on “Expectations Not Met but That’s OK

  1. Well said and I agree; having been your follow passenger. NO MORE SHIP’S TOURS. I hate buses, the guides rush, and they are just not enjoyable. I too was expecting better from the speciality restaurants. Manfredi’s was just sad; if I order a think cut ribeye do not server me a top sirloin (that is not anywhere on the menu). Chef’s Table was better, but it does not pass the “Steve Standard” (we went 3 times over two weeks and all three times had the SAME meal. Ok, we liked it, but something different would be fine). We only used the main dining room for breakfast 4 times and dinner twice, as the service was poor. We did love the stateroom, our attendants, the ship’s spaces, and the buffet. Oh, remember Jim described the stateroom mini-bar; well it has mini-bottles of Vodka, Rum, and Bourbon. We are not Rum or bourbon drinkers and requested gin. They had no mini-bottles of gin, but to our delight the provided us a full litter bottle of nice gin, no charge! We also had them swap out the coke and sprite for bitter lemon, tonic and ginger ale. Twice daily ice service to our stateroom was a treat. Anything we wanted in the stateroom was quickly provided. The attendants also came to learn our habits, e.g., eating dinner early and then retiring, and our cabin was always made up early (they must have watch us leave for dinner). The beds were a little hard for our taste. Jim: You forgot to tell everyone how much you loved the chocolate desserts.

    1. Ben McEvers

      Standard mini-bar stock on every cruise so far: Vodka (Smirnoff), gin (Beefeater), Scotch (Dewars), rum (bacardi). Never bourbon.

      1. I can attest that our mini-bar liquors were far from usual. We saw the Dewars, some off-brand rum, Smirnoff and Gray Goose vodka, Jim Beam Bourbon and no gin unless you asked for it and they could find it. Steve got lucky. Our stateroom attendant couldn’t find any at all.

  2. bseabob

    I feel like you are trying to be over fair…..is there such a word combination? But I think you get my drift. It matters not that I would never go on such an itinerary because I do not cruise for frequent stops. Every 2/3 days in port or maybe an overnight is what I look for. Regardless it just does not seem like it was worth it. the bones of a good cruise , number of days, size of ship, variety of restaurants etc. are there and it seems like it should work but it just didn’t.
    An excellent telling of a cruise experience for anyone looking for information. Just not an enjoyable holiday for you guys.

  3. Judy Fite

    Thanks so much for the thorough evaluation. As for us, I think we’ll stick with Celebrity as we do enjoy the entertainment, Blu, Luminae, specialty restaurants, and now love the Apex. Agree about the photography, but we have been known to go to the casino once or twice. All about personal preferences. Glad you booked your Norwegian fjord cruise. You will absolutely love it! We have been on one and are returning in 23. The scenery is fabulous! You will be wearing out your camera! Thanks again for the evaluation of your Viking experience.

    1. You are so right Judy. It is all about personal preferences. You mentioned speciality restaurants and I use to LOVE the ones on Celebrity. But they took away Qsine, Murano and the old cruise liner restaurants on the M-class ships. And replaced them with places that are about the show and not the food. That’s one of the reasons we decided to leave. When it comes to food, we are really looking forward to our Oceania cruise in September 2023. We have not sailed with them before but our buddy Mike has and says the food is the best in cruising.

      1. Judy Fite

        Jim, We do so enjoy Murano & wondered why they took away Chops. We used to love that. I forgot to mention that we also agree on the photography and art auctions. Such a waste & I wonder who attends those auctions. From what I’ve seen the art is peculiar! Plus, I don’t like all the paperwork we just throw away each day. If I want a spa treatment, photos, or art I’ll go and don’t need all the propaganda! We have friends who only cruise on Oceania and rave about it. I’ll look forward to your critique!

  4. What has happened in the world over the last few years has changed many things forever and cruising is just one of those things. Skilled people who have worked in the industry have just simply not gone back to their jobs and there a huge set of freshly trained staff right throughout all the cruise lines in their place without the skill set of their predecessors. I think its going to take a considerable about of time before we get the level of service we were always accustomed to. That said, it has been great to take to the seas again and appreciate the world again. I have thoroughly enjoyed your musings and photos from this recent trip and look forward to any future instalments. We are now gearing up for our 2 December trips and counting the days down (64 days as I type).
    Thank you for taking us with you on this voyage and recording your experience, I totally appreciate what it takes to do this so well done. 👍🏼

  5. Aloha Jim,

    I was so…relieved, I think was the overriding emotion…to hear that, overall, you enjoyed your Viking cruise. I agree with much over your assessment except that we enjoy the Restaurant. We had our own little cadre there, of course, &, except on rare occasions, sat alone & had no trouble understanding each other, especially since we communicate telepathically much of the time. Breakfast & lunch in the World Cafe, but dinner in the Restaurant. I prefer it to the two specialty restaurants, but Larry likes some variety. I like their breakfasts occasionally but we were always gone on this trip. You really missed a treat when you skipped the Lobster Thermidor: outstanding!

    We agree about the PV1 staterooms except that I was so DONE with what Larry termed the “ass end” of the ship….which is precisely where we are situated on our equally long Baltic cruise next summer….that I texted our TA late in September & told her to grab the last Penthouse Suite on that cruise; amidships. It wasn’t the long walk (it probably contributed to our mere 1# weight gains). It was the fact that we didn’t run back for jackets in Sëte because it was so far. It was 71°F & the (absolutely wonderful) guide kept asking if we were cold. I answered, “Are you kidding? We’re from Hawai’i; darn right we’re cold!” Then he was truly worried & pointed out every shop selling jackets or sweatshirts. It was a fabulous tour & when I mentioned that not everyone wanted to shop he divided the group, sent the shoppers on their way & took the rest of us on an extra hour of tour! That’s how we learned about salted Bourguignons.

    Re excursions. Many of these were especially poor by Viking standards. We’ve had incredibly better, included as well as optional, on both our previous ocean as well as the Grand European River Cruise we took. We complained & when I called Viking the other day because there was a discrepancy in our final bill I was told we have a sizable refund coming ….most of it on excursions. Good! There were, however, some excellent ones; Troy, Crete, Delphi, Dubrovnik & Śibenik although Śibenik was wonderful only because of the charm of the guide. It’s actually one of the ones we registered a complaint about since it was nearly indistinguishable from Split. There were several where we, & an abundance of others, left by the back door of the bus stiffing the worthless guide (sometimes tipping the driver in front of her/him!). Rhodes, Olympia, Bari (one of them) & Monaco stand out, though Éze was nice & I loved the open market in Nice. Florence is close. Florence is almost saved by our remarkable experience in totally deserted Pisa which, of course, annoyed the shoppers because the shopping kiosks weren’t open yet. Kudos to the driver who shot off the bus-loading area at the pier so fast he left everyone in our exhaust & parked in an empty bus lot in Pisa. The guide left us at the gate, however & made a total mess of Florence. We had a non-shoppers conference on a bench in a square during “shopping hour” (& a half) where we grumbled her tip down to a pittance. It wasn’t HER fault the glorious museum was closed, of course, but I blamed her anyway as she walked us through the promenade with all the statues – replicas, of course – of important figures, concluding with a mock up of Michelangelo’s famous David whose feet were obscured by scaffolding. If I learned nothing else on this cruise it was to despise scaffolding.

    I have a more strenuous complaint about the method of giving feedback for the guides….or lack thereof. In the past there have been forms delivered to the staterooms. The first four excursions on this cruise they passed a tablet through the bus. Then….nothing. It was only when I complained bitterly that ‘My Viking Journey’ had disappeared upon embarkation (& with it the descriptions of the excursions) that I was told to “use the app” (‘Viking Voyager’) about which I had forgotten entirely, having no need to reserve anything that I couldn’t do by phone. (I’m old remember). Turns out THAT is where one finds feedback forms for one’s excursions….available for about six minutes, then they disappear. Worse, they are, as you noted, in the five choices format; how did your guide meet these five criteria, score 1 to 5. NO PLACE FOR COMMENTS! Not that there would likely have been room enough for mine (or yours) anyway, favorable or unfavorable.

    My overall evaluation of this cruise?
    °Loved the crew; I had not one complaint about any one of them. We didn’t see as much of our room stewards as we generally do, but I chalk that up to the fact that they always had a bunch of staterooms turning over. Always requests for hangers, people who had forgotten a necessity & were too needy to go to Guest Services & ask for it themselves (or the shop & buy it, for Pete’s sake!), people locked out of their safe who needed their passport for disembarkation at daybreak (or their money for a private tour; that can happen now, can’t it?)
    °It wasn’t so much that it was too long….I’ll tell you next August….but I will NEVER go on another port-a-day cruise! You had been to many of these places & took days off. When I had, it had been decades ago; Larry had not, ever. So we did an excursion a day, sometimes two. I had back surgery in May & Larry was in a constant state of amazement that I kept up, and worry that I wouldn’t be able to. It wasn’t until I got home – & it wore off – that I remembered the epidural I had three days before our departure. Thank goodness it kept pain at bay for the entire trip!
    °Only Sky does this four cruises/one ship thing, & only, I’m told, in the Mediterranean. I checked, because, if our long Baltic cruise were one, I’d have cancelled it! Never again. It was a mess. You covered why. A mess. Mostly because of the excursions, I think, but horribly hard on the crew, and while I had no complaints, I’ll bet service would have been even better had not, especially room stewards, not been burdened with a constant influx of new passengers. And almost everyone pitched in on Saturdays. They were up at 5 AM and still fetching & carrying at 9 PM. (And, of course, they’d been offloading luggage since 10PM the night before!)
    °Thoughts on the Spirits Package: We priced their “premium wines” and discovered they weren’t as “premium” as we expected. However, research showed two things:
    Even at a minimum we drink more than $20/day in wine, liquor & soft drinks if we go to one affair (Port Talk, history lecture or show) in the Theater & have even a soft drink, stop at the bar after an excursion or before dinner once & have wine sent to the room twice. AND
    Viking has, BY FAR the least expensive spirits package at sea at $19.95/day…. including gratuities. Others start at $59 (often for their beginner package, “premium” is more) and go to an astounding $129/day! Many are PLUS gratuities of 15-18%, some stop at $10/drink (Viking is $15) & so on. All in all, I came away feeling that Viking is doing well by its passengers; you can always upgrade to a better bottle of wine and get 15% off. If they raised it much we’d be out, but as it stands, it’s worth it.

    Great blog!
    Stay in touch,

    1. Corky, I have to say that I could almost here you say that all out loud. We just loved meeting you and Larry and hope we can sail together again (on Viking?) some day.

      1. Ditto. But if we do, I’m following you like a shadow! Your Tarragona post broke my heart; we stayed aboard! You have good instincts & great ideas (e.g. Cinque Terre).
        How about Antarctic Adventure aboard the Viking Polaris December, 2-15, 2023? We’re adding a pre-cruise extension to Easter Island….Have you been to Easter Island?

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