I tossed in that “in the daylight” line because the last time we were in Québec City, we were here overnight, and I was lucky enough to be able to get some incredible shots. This time, I got a chance to actually take the same photo at midday that I took five years ago at 5:00 a.m. It will give me a great photo to show to people when they think I am crazy for getting up so early just to take photos. In fact, while I am mentioning it, here are the two pics, side by side. Five years ago at 5:00 a.m. and yesterday, at around noon. Click on the photos to read my captions.
It was around 5:30 am and as usual I was wandering around downtown Québec City, taking pictures. If you have never been to Québec, it is built on two levels. You can get from the bottom (where our ship was docked) to the top in one of two ways. There is a funicular (which I rode with Kathleen later in the day) and a very steep climb which is what I was doing when I looked down into the lower part of the city and got this shot. Again, for me, the light made all the difference. That and the solitude. It’s photographic proof that there are great photos to be had at as the sun comes up. And it’s a huge reason why I love cruises that have overnight stops so I can get up and take photos like these in cities around the world
It was noon. There were a lot of people and the sun was HARSH!
We had a pretty good day in Québec City. Kathleen and Jocelyn had gotten totally worn out from our three days in Montreal, so I set out with Cathy, Mike, Steve and Jamie to explore the city. As I mentioned above, we were here just about exactly five years ago. It was a lot warmer yesterday than it was five years ago. Our ship was docked just a few hundred yards up the pier from where we had been that time. But both were just a short walk from downtown. We walked through the lower town to the funicular that, for $5CAN, would take you to the upper town. It’s a good thing we were early because when I walked by the lower station later in the day, there was a line the proverbial mile long.
Once up at the top, we found something that amazed me—the Québec Marathon. What were the chances that the two times I would come to Québec City in my lifetime, I would be there for the marathon? Of course, that meant that we would have to see the city and work our way around the city, avoiding the race. We were able to get across the track with the help of race officials, but we still seemed to run into the racers wherever we turned.
We walked around, as Cathy was looking for a kind of embroidery museum that she had seen on her previous land-based visit. It was part of the works of the Ursuline nuns who pretty much-founded education here in Québec City. When she had been here before, she said it had been a cute little shop attached to the convent. Now, they have a complete museum, but it was more about the order’s history than the embroidery. The others decided to take a look and I decided to shoot a couple of photos of the church next door. Mike and Steve were out in almost no time, but Cathy and Jamie really enjoyed it.
I decided at that point to head off on my own to take some more photos and then head back to the ship to have a late lunch with Kathleen and Jocelyn. We ended up trying the Waves Grille. I would tell you all about the lunch and the Grille, but I am saving those thoughts for a big post on the food. That is really what Oceania is all about, and I want to hit it all at once. So here’s my meager number of photos from Québec. The light was just too harsh for me to really get into taking photos. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…
The first thing I saw off our verandah.We were docked net to the Coast Guard station and I am assuming these are buoys waiting to be placed.
The Château Frontenac Hotel.
It sits in the Upper Town.
It dominates the city.
And I have a very hard time NOT taking photos of it.
Even up close when we get into town. It is incredibly photogenic.
I think this guy is looking in the restaurant window to see how his buddies are doing…not very well.
I kept this one of the area in front the the Château because of the great clouds.
This woman is a street singer. I loved her look and Cathy gave her a nice tip for her singing and my taking her photo.
We see our first marathoner.
A very cool sculpture in a park.
I tiny hotel that looked so French I had to shoot it.
A French street not far away.
The provincial capital of Québec.
The Ursuline chapel. I loved the tin roof.
From different angles
And over the top of it.
The inside had a nice altar but after the Cathedral in Montreal, it was just meh.
Back on the ship, I saw this boat behind Vista that I liked.
When I do a live report on a cruise, I also put most of the text and one of the photos on a thread on Cruise Critic (for the non-cruisers, find out about Cruise Critic here). Fellow cruisers will ask me questions on the board, and I got one this morning. I thought I would post the question here as well. The person asking was comparing Viking Ocean to Vista and wanted to know if this was an “open ship.”
Here’s their exact question:
“Does the new Vista have the same openness as a Viking ship? Can one see the sky and water when in common spaces? Or is there drapery hanging from the ceiling, or are there walls of windows? I am a Viking Cruiser because of the ship design, first and foremost.”
Here’s what I told them:
If it’s sky and water you want, stick with Viking. Thanks for making me think about this. It’s not something I usually would even contemplate, but you really made me realize how little there is below deck 12. When I got up in Québec, I wanted to see the city. I had to climb to Deck 14 and go into the Horizons Lounge to be able to see the Hotel Frontenac. On Viking, I could have done that from at least three lower decks.
I would say, on the whole, this ship is more closed up. I know exactly what you mean. I found the Viking ship we sailed on to be VERY open. Like most cruise ships, some lower decks are public (in the case of Vista, that is, five and six) and some upper decks that are public (12 through 16—there is no 13). You can only see the water from the upper decks or your own verandah. I am typing this sitting on deck six. You can’t see a thing anywhere on this deck except in the dining room, and there, we have been put in a windowless corner every night because of the size of our party. Most of the rest of the dining room is covered with sheer curtains you can see through. Some people sitting by the windows have opened those up.
This also reminds me that on sea days, I exercise by walking on the ship. On Viking, there is a wrap-around promenade deck that I walk on. Here, the only place to do that is a very nice walking/jogging track around the back portion of deck 15. The Viking promenade is 1/4 mile, and the Vista track is 1/10th of a mile. So you see a lot of the same things again and again.
Quebec City is the most European of any city in North America; they speak French all the time. There is a part of the town called Old Quebec, which is really like being in France. The architecture is just gorgeous, food, shopping. I’d say Quebec City is the most beautiful city in North America I’ve seen. —Sebastian Bach
When last I wrote, we had just boarded Vista and been through a beautiful embarkation. When we left the hotel in three separate Ubers, we truly believed we would not be boarding until at least 1:30 or 2:00. But about halfway through our Uber ride (Kathleen, Jocelyn and I), my brother texted that they were letting anyone on and should they go through. We said to hang on; we would be right there. The cruise port was only a 10-minute drive from the hotel. But by the time we got there, the others had gone through and were waiting to board the ship.
We got in line (which was a little longer by then) and were also on board within ten minutes. The port of Montreal is the EXACT opposite of the port of Vancouver, where on our last cruise in May, embarkation had taken three hours and forty-five minutes (you can read about that fiasco here).
When we reached the inside of the ship, we were met by an officer who asked for our key cards (which came to us in a really cool little leatherette folder) so he could see where our muster stations were. We had already watched the video at home when we did our check-in and again a few days later when they sent another reminder (I think we got about five e-mail reminders to watch the video). The officer directed us to our muster station (we were in the main dining room), and we headed there immediately, got our key cards scanned and as far as Oceania was concerned, we were through with them until we sailed the next afternoon. We headed up to the buffet for lunch, where the rest of the gang was holding a table for seven for us, and we started to sample the amazing food that Oceania calls “the best at sea.” Just a note here. I could start going on and on about the food here, but I am going to do a complete post on the culinary glory that is Vista cuisine (at least so far).
Our stateroom–Concierge Verandah 9118
When we boarded, we were told that our suites would be ready by 2:00 p.m. and the rest of the staterooms soon after. But about halfway through lunch (close to 1:00), there was an announcement that suites (not us) were ready. We were in a Concierge verandah, and they announced that those would be available by 2:00 and the rest of the staterooms by 3:00. Lo and behold, at around 1:30, there was an announcement that our staterooms were ready. It was then I realized what had happened with our embarkation time, and what was now true about stateroom readiness was that Oceania was one smart cruise line. They were practicing one of the greatest marketing tools known to business: underpromise and over-deliver. Tell us things will be bad; we grumble a little and then be a hero by getting them done a lot better. It’s impressive to me and something I love to have happen. Should they not have been able to deliver early, they were fine. I had already grumbled.
But getting back to our stateroom, we are in Concierge Verandah 9118, which is aft of amidships on deck nine. We had read that the staterooms were pretty large, and our last stateroom on HAL’s Koningsdam was only 185 square feet, so we thought these would be much bigger at 250 square feet, but honestly, they don’t feel any bigger. Sadly, we have been spoiled by our last three major cruises. In July of 2021, our first cruise back after the pandemic shut down was on Celebrity’s Flora in the Galapagos. Those staterooms are HUGE—almost suite size (330 square feet). Then we were lucky enough to snag a Neptune Suite on HAL’s Nieuw Statendam, and they are even bigger (380 square feet). And last year, we did 21 nights on Viking Ocean in a Penthouse Veranda, and it was smaller than the Neptune but much larger than we are now (338 square feet).
I am only really concerned about the comparison to Viking Ocean because we are VERY loyal cruisers (as evidenced by our 20+ Celebrity cruises), and we are looking for our next cruise line to give our loyalty to, and the stateroom we are in now is just about the same daily price as the much larger one we had on Viking Sky. Not only was it larger and had about 3x the storage space (the worst part of our current stateroom) and about the same size bathroom. The shower is bigger, but not by enough that I noticed it. But where we have a tiny couch and the usual oval miniature coffee table today in 9118, on Viking, we had a full-size couch and coffee table plus plenty of room between the bed and a full-size dresser/desk. Let’s look at some room photos instead of continuing with the comparison. And I apologize for the fact that I took the pics after we had unpacked. I usually get them right away, but because Jocelyn was in a regular verandah stateroom, she came down to ours while Kathleen unpacked, and I walked around the ship taking photos.
BTW: No admonition on looking at these on a cell phone. Feel free. Not my best photography. And if you click the first one, they play as a slideshow. If you can’t read the captions, do the slideshow and if they are still cutoff, click the i in the circle.
Welcome to Concierge Verandah 9118
Right inside the door is a control panel with a card holder below that turns your electrical off and on.
The screen controls temperature (works well) and buttons for Do Not Disturb and Make Up the Room.
This is the view from the room back to our door. Large mirror on the right. Two hooks beyond that for coats. We also brought our own magnetic hooks.
Totally cramped left-hand side of the bed.
But with a full compliment of plugs including one USB A and C and a US electric socket as well as switches that controlled most of the lighting in the cabin.
Looking across the stateroom from the left-hand side. Tiny couch and table.
Two of us barely fit sitting next to each other.
The desk and chair are both so short my head can barely be seen in the mirror above when I am sitting down.
In front of left side of the bed is a small counter with water bottles and ice bucket. You can take the metal ones home with you at no charge.
Above that shelf is a cabinet that houses…
Two shelves and the safe. The safe is the biggest we have had at sea and my laptop and camera both fit inside.
Next to that is the closet. If it just had a few more shelves below the hanging area.
Below the shelf is a small fridge with complimentary soft drinks at our level of stateroom.
Here’s the bed.
The bathroom is quite big.
Lots of space.
Big Oceania mirror
And even more storage.
Our verandah which we haven’t used much yet.
But the very nice chairs do have cushions. Our verandah is larger than most verandah staterooms
A great feature of the stateroom that I almost forgot is the huge (for this size room) television. There are a lot of choices on this Smart-TV. Free movies, TV shows, A great bridge cam, two maps—one interactive, a music library, ship info and of course you can check your ship account as well.
One other thing that is kind of a pain. If you cruise, you know where your big suitcases go when you are done unpacking them—under your bed. You can’t slide large suitcases under these beds. They are too low. We were kind of worried about that until Mike told us that you could ask your stateroom attendant to put them under there for you. They have a special tool that lifts the beds. Sorry, but that’s poor planning on Oceania’s end. I mean, buy a bed that’s a little higher (like every other cruise line).
All in all, we feel like this Concierge Verandah stateroom is a poor value when compared to a similar-priced Penthouse Verandah stateroom on Viking Ocean. Score one for Viking. But that might be the only one. Stay tuned.
I have been black and blue in some spot, somewhere, almost all my life from too intimate contacts with my own furniture.
—Frank Lloyd Wright
Every time I think that things will get better, they get worse. So many bad things have happened that I can’t remember if I have already written about them or if I still have to. I have to say I have not talked to a single person on this cruise that is happy about it. Not one.
And I feel so bad for the crew. They are working as hard as they can, but they are HUGELY understaffed and HUGELY overworked. Having talked to some crew members, they work 11, 12 and sometimes more hour shifts. Everything to do with food is being manned by fewer people than they would normally have. Here’s how the end of yesterday and today went.
I posted early this morning, but I think I forgot to mention that we had a comedian who performed last night in the BB King venue, and he was pretty funny. The place was packed, and there were lots of people standing around the edges. He did two shows, we were at the first one, and the laughs were quick and numerous. See, there’s something positive.
We did dinner at the buffet, where only one side was open. That meant there were no seats on that side of the room, so we sat on the other and walked back and forth. I ate what I call my “not willing to stand in line” menu. I would get anything that I didn’t have to stand in line behind ten people to get. Not much selection in that lineup.
I have not mentioned how HAL is handling the buffet. In about 85% of the buffet, you cannot serve yourself. There is a plastic shield preventing you from doing that. In 15%, there are tongs and a space to reach through for a roll or a small sandwich. The only problem is that if you get a roll and want butter, you must get in line to ask for the butter. Or (like I did last night) I grabbed a sandwich and then took the same tongs to reach a little further back for potato chips and was quickly scolded by the person behind the counter that I was not allowed to reach that far and if I wanted chips with my sandwich, I would need to get behind the 11 people in the line. I was welcome to as many sandwiches as I could eat, but not the chips. Go figure.
Breakfast in the Main Dining Room
This morning, against my better judgment, Bob talked us into going down to try to get into the dining room for breakfast. We had not eaten any meal in there as of yet and really wanted to see what it looked like. So we went down expecting a long wait. Lo and behold, we were second in line and ushered to our table at 8:10. Keep track of that number; it’s important 😜.
At 8:40, we were still waiting for water and coffee and had not had a waiter stop at our table for anything. Judy was coughing and really needed water, and Bob pointed out that there were water pitchers on a table behind me. So I grabbed one and poured us all some water. Before I could set the pitcher back down, a waiter grabbed it from me. He finished pouring and went and brought us back to carafes of coffee, one with decaf for Bob and the other for the rest of us. Sadly, they were lukewarm and became cold pretty quickly.
The server came back about five minutes later to take our orders. He told us that it might take a while since they had just had a big group of people come in, and there were a lot of orders coming in. By this time, it was close to 8:55. I really wanted to point out that if he had taken our orders when we came in, we would have had our food by then, but I didn’t. I want to point out that this situation was NOT HIS FAULT! He was covering a lot of other tables, and the food was NOT coming out very quickly. We knew we would be waiting a while for the food to come back because the tables near us had been seated before we were, and they didn’t have food yet, either.
The food finally showed up at about 9:20. This is where it really gets good. Kathleen had ordered buckwheat pancakes, and they were OK but not hot. Just lukewarm. Judy had ordered banana pancakes, and as you can see from the photo above, they came with exactly THREE slices of banana on them. I asked her if there were any mixed into the batter, and she said, “No, these are just buttermilk pancakes with three slices of banana on top.”
Bob and I had both ordered the same thing—the ham and cheese scramble with hash browns, and I also ordered an English muffin. Now wouldn’t you think that a “scramble” would have the eggs scrambled into them? You know, scrambled eggs? No, when Bob moved aside the tortilla chips that were, for some reason covering his “scramble,” there were two (kind of) soft-boiled eggs on top. When I moved mine back…there were two hard-boiled eggs on top. That is NOT a scramble. It just isn’t. The ham, cheese, green bell peppers, onions and potatoes looked great, but the entire dish was dry without the scrambled (or poached, soft-boiled or any other kind of egg other than hard-boiled) eggs.
Not being willing to eat hard-boiled eggs, I called another waiter over and asked them to take them back and get me some scrambled eggs in my scramble. He did, and miraculously within about 5-7 minutes. But one small problem. The veggies and ham that were on the bottom were not cooked. Basically raw. The scrambled eggs were on top, and they were almost raw, very runny. And the cheese? Nowhere to be seen. It has probably run off with the hash browns and English muffins because they weren’t there either. So I pushed the veggies and ham aside and ate the wet eggs. Just as I was finishing them, out came two servings of hash browns. One was cooked almost well-done, and the other was close to raw.
We just gave up at this point as the coffee was cold, and it was obvious that my English muffin had gone to HAL food heaven with Bob’s Dive-In hot dog. I hope they are doing OK together. We left the dining room at 9:50 according to Kathleen’s recollection.
HAL rips off everyone on the ship…or at least attempts to
So after this wonderful breakfast, we decide to go and check out scenic Prince Rupert. Regular readers of this blog know that I walk a lot. My daily walk is always between four to eight miles. Kathleen, on the other hand, is not a big walker. She has a few things that make it difficult for her to walk long distances, and she can’t keep up with me. When we do go out together in a port, I try to walk slower so we can stay together, but she knows it is driving me crazy…but we make do. This also means that we like to tour by tram or bus.
So today, we get off the ship, and there is a tram that takes you around Prince Rupert. Super! When we go to buy tickets, we are asked for our sea pass card. Now this is NOT a HAL excursion. Anyone can walk up and take it. But once they knew I was off the ship, they wanted my sea pass and would not take cash. So I gave the woman the card, and she wrote us a receipt. She had told me the trip around town took 90 minutes, and the cost for us would be $59.95. She handed me the receipt to sign, and I was SHOCKED to see it was $59.95 EACH! For a 90-minute tour around a very small town. We decided to skip that.
Then we started talking to a couple of local people who worked for the tram service, who were only too glad to fill us in on what was going on. It seems that HAL (and all the other Carnival Corp lines who stopped here) were buying out all of the trams for the days they have ships in port. Then they set the price for that day for everyone. Even if you happen to drive to Prince Rupert and want to take the tram, you pay the price set by the cruise line that is in town that day. He said the day before when Princess had been there, the price had been $69.95 per person. I don’t know about you, but this is just WRONG as far as I am concerned! They buy out the entire set of 15 trams (the only ones in town) to be able to charge their own customers more. Shame on them!
And later on, when I went out walking on my own, I passed one of these trams and saw them stopped in front of a house with the driver pointing at the house. That’s cool. Then as I went past him, he moved up one more house and started talking about that one and the people who had lived there. I walked another 300 yards to the corner where I was going to turn and looked back, and he had pulled up two more houses and was doing the same thing all over again. You see, I think Prince Rupert must not have that many things to show people who are from out of town, so they probably tell the guides/drivers to take as long as you can describing things to stretch this out as long they can. I am fully willing to hear from anyone who took this tour that it was a good value.
I also want to point out that when we got off the ship, there was not a single vendor selling any kind of tour. No boats, no helicopters, no airplanes, no taxis. Nothing near the port. The collusion between the city and the cruise lines is really evident here in Prince Rupert.
Lunch on board Koningsdam in Prince Rupert—how sweet it ISN’T!
After we had tried to go out (we did walk around for a short time), we came back to the ship; I changed into my walking shorts and a tee shirt and went out to do my four miles. Had a very nice walk as the weather was uncharacteristically (we were told by a local) beautiful and sunny. And then, when I came back, I had to again…stand in a 20-minute line to get back on the ship. We took our grandkids to Walt Disney World in February, and we were told by Disney that it was the most crowded four days in the park’s history. We have stood in more lines to get places on this ship than we did there. And at least at WDW, they give you something interesting to look at while you wait in line.
Once I was back, we went up and got a sandwich/slice of pizza on deck 10 (above the buffet, next to the indoor/outdoor pool). Got it pretty quick (which was awesome), but then we both felt like something sweet afterward (I had missed my English muffin at breakfast, remember?), so I went down to check out the desserts in the buffet. Above is the list of the desserts they had on offer today. Below is a picture of the actual desserts that were available directly below the sign. This was the only place to get sweets (except for a small ice cream station serving two flavors of ice cream with a line of at least 15 people waiting at all times) on the entire buffet. This is the second day in a row that this has happened. Nothing there for sometime before the meal is set to be over. At the point I took this photo, they still had more than an hour before the time the buffet was scheduled to close. I did walk by a little later and they were putting out a few apricot tarts but as soon as they were out, a swarm of people grabbed them all. Ah, the hoarding of desserts.
They did get me to spend money on gelato again. HAL has been doing really well getting me to spend money on extra stuff. Besides the gelato, I have purchased meals in specialty restaurants (which have been really great so far) on four of the five nights of this cruise. We are eating in Canaletto (the family-style Italian place) tonight and Rudi’s (Fish house) tomorrow night, the last night of the cruise.
For your viewing enjoyment here’s my selection of my favorite Prince Rupert photos from early morning and my walk around town. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…
Early morning as we were sailing into Prince Rupert.
The sky was kind of layered.
This boat looked like it was going to sink, bow first.
But it didn’t sink and it was overshadowed by a huge freighter waiting to take a load on.
As I walked off the ship on my walk, there was a crab boat unloading right next to the gangway and these women were sorting them.
This guy would hook up the crab pots to a winch and they would be hoisted to the dock.
This guy guided them on to the dock to start the sorting.
When I came back, this guy had his crab waving to us.
As I walked up a fairly busy street, this deer ambled by and just started grazing next to the parking area.
These two Mounties were in full dress greeting people as they came off the ship. Later I saw them taking photos with people at Service Park.
Found the very cool, old and falling apart church at the top of the hill.
It makes an interesting subject but it desperately needs a coat of paint.
My Prince Rupert Panorama.
It’s after dinner as I am finishing up this post; we are back in our stateroom. I have succumbed to the lure of a reduced-cost WiFi package and picked up the last three days of the cruise for around $25 US. Worth it to be able to check some things going on with Kathleen’s estate stuff and a medical appointment I have coming up, plus I get to post the rest of the way.
We had a very nice dinner at Canaletto, and we all ate way too much. When we had been on Nieuw Statendam with my brother and his bride, we had thought the food was kind of weak in Canaletto, but it is much improved here on Koningsdam. So far, we have eaten in three of the four specialty restaurants and we have had great food, efficient and friendly service and wonderful experiences. I just said to Kathleen, “this is where HAL is putting their experienced waiters and cooks—the specialty restaurants. Where they make money.” Again, that’s pretty sad, but I believe it’s true.
I’m scammed almost every day. Or, if not scammed, at the very least someone tries to scam me. Usually more than once a day. —James Altucher
Well, we are on our way. As I write this, I know I won’t be able to get it online until tomorrow in Ketchikan, and I am not even sure I will be able to do that. YEAH! I WAS! We are sitting in Ketchikan right now.
So, let’s get this out there right now. After 35 cruises, this was the WORST embarkation we have ever experienced. To be honest, I am not sure who to blame here, but they better fix it soon. It could be Holland America’s fault, or it could be the management at Canada Place. Either way, it was horrid.
I went out around 10:00 am (or should I say down) from our room on the 14th floor of the Pan Pacific to find out the best way to drop luggage and get into the lines to get on the ship. I had really good luck because I got some inside knowledge about dropping luggage from a very nice Canada Place employee. So Brian and I went down to Parking Level 2 and dropped our bags. If we hadn’t done that we would have gotten into the check-in line, had to wait in that line to go down an elevator, drop off our bags and then get in another line to go upstairs and check in. At that point, we thought we were getting ahead of the system.
Check-out time at the hotel was noon, and our “listed boarding time” was 1:00 pm. We decided to go down to the hotel lobby at noon, and Brian and I would go down and scout out the best way to get in line and see if they were holding people to their assigned times. We discovered that we could go ahead and get in line right then. It looked like we would just go up an escalator and be off to check-in. We couldn’t tell what was beyond the escalator, but we could see others coming down and heading off to what we thought was a line to get on the ship. We couldn’t go up the escalator and come back down without going through the process, so we went back to get Kathleen and Michelle.
Then we walked all the way down, got on the escalator and went up. By then, it was about 12:15. When we got to the top of the escalator; we were taken out into a hallway where we had to get in a line that ended way back in the lobby of the hotel…where we had just come from. We literally could have taken an escalator to the ground floor and gotten in line. At one point, this line went all the way out to the street. That’s the length of one and a half cruise ships.
I didn’t want Kathleen standing through that long line, so I suggested to her and the others that they step outside and sit on a bench and that I would stay in line and text them when I was close to the door it looked like we would go through. It was VERY warm in this confined hallway waiting in line, and it moved sloooowwwllllyyy—inches at a time. Part of the problem was that there were three ships embarking that day, and people kept getting in the wrong line, so the line kept growing.
After about 40 minutes, we finally reached a door where we thought (hoped) we would get checked in and get onboard. But just like waiting for rides at DisneyWorld, there was an entire other room with winding back-and-forth queues. We spent another 35 minutes or so getting through this room and then had our picture taken by HAL (even though we had submitted one in their app), and they confirmed that it matched our passports. Once we were done doing that, we were sent down the other side of the escalator. We had come in on to what we hoped would be the ship…but that was not to be.
We were funneled into a room with airport-like scanners to have our carry-on luggage scanned and to walk through metal detectors. To get to the detectors, we waited in another line (with people from all three ships) for at least 40 minutes, hoping against hope that when we got through that line, we could get onboard.
But it was not to be. Once through the scanners, we found another large room with around 15 lines going up and down to get us to Canadian/US Customs. It took us about 40 minutes to get to the front of that line where there were machines you shoved your passport into, and then it created a little receipt-like sheet of paper that you handed to the Customs person as you exited that room.
When we finished that, we were told we could board the ship. But we still had a way to walk. So far, we had traversed the length of Canada Place (a building long enough to have two big cruise ships docked next to it) at least twice on two different floors. We walked about the ship’s length back to where we could board Konigsdam, and someone asked us for our boarding passes (after all this—where else could we have come from), and we had to bring them up on our phones again. (Next time, I am printing them out and pinning them to my shirt.) It felt like I was asked for them and my passport about 25 times. Notice, I said it felt like. Probably only 24.
Once we got past that guy and got on the gangway, we were up and almost on the ship, but again…we were asked for our boarding pass…come on, people…talk to each other.
Total embarkation time—THREE HOURS and 15 MINUTES! We got in line at 12:15 and got on the ship at 3:30. I should also mention that Konigsdam was supposed to sail at 3:00. Glad they didn’t. We didn’t end up sailing until after 5:00. The captain announced it was because we were parked in by the Princess ship behind us, but I am sure the truth was that about half the 2,900 passengers on this ship were still being processed.
We will admit that we were spoiled. On our last cruise with Viking, we embarked in Athens, Greece. We were picked up by the Viking bus and taken to the port. We got off and walked through a single metal detector, had our bags scanned and walked onboard. Less than 15 minutes from the bus door to being sitting down to a glass of rosé in the restaurant.
I am hoping that all this is because this was only the fourth day of ships leaving from Canada Place in 2023 and that things will get improve…soon. They better improve or people will stop sailing from Vancouver.
Here are a few things that would have made this better that you might want to know if you are sailing from Vancouver. First, I made the mistake of checking my rolling bag. I should have taken it on board with me. Not that our bags got lost. We were in line for so long that when we finally got on board, not only was our stateroom ready, our bags were on our bed. But because I had thought that it wouldn’t take too long to get through check-in, I checked my carry-on-sized, wheeled luggage. And that meant that I had to carry my computer/camera bag on my shoulder for more than three hours. Just an FYI: fully loaded it weighs about 15 pounds. Today my shoulder is really wishing I had kept the rolling bag so I could have just pulled the camera bag on it like I usually do.
Another tip for getting through the lines quicker is to bring a cane or be with someone with a cane or crutches. Our buddy Bob had brought one with him (that he borrowed)probably just to hit me with it, and when an attendant saw him, she whisked him and Judy off to the front of the line. It really didn’t help that much since he only got on about 30 minutes before we did. Another trick is to be fairly high in Holland America’s loyalty group, the Mariners. We are two-star, but you don’t start getting priority bookings until you are four or five-star. Lastly, if you book a Neptune suite, you get right in a different line, and you get to board first so no one is ahead of you.
Let’s close this sad story with one piece of advice for everyone. If they say you can board at 1:00 pm, get in line at 10:00 am. You might get on by 1:00. Pay no attention to the boarding time they give you. No one else does.
On board the Konigsdam
We kind of know this ship. Long-time readers of this blog know that we sailed on her sister ship, Nieuw Statendam (NS), back in January of 2022 down in the Caribbean. Konigsdam was the first ship in the Pinnacle Class of Holland America ships, and NS was the second. They are virtually alike, with NS having some tiny improvements.
The biggest differences between us were two things. First, on NS, we had a Neptune Suite. If you forget what that was like, you can see a video of it by clicking here. It is the largest stateroom we have ever been in at sea. On this ship, we have the basic verandah stateroom. The Neptune Suite is HUGE. Massive king-size bed, huge verandah, full desk, full-size couch and the bathroom…oh, the bathroom. This is the best comparison that I am sure of; our entire bathroom on this cruise would fit into the shower of the Neptune Suite. Seriously. Queen-size bed, miniature couch, tiny desk, barely any room to get around the bed. (Photos of our stateroom are below.) Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…
Here’s a big pano looking from the entry way.
Two bathroom shots
There is no way a grown man can sit on the toilet facing forward. Not one who is taller than six feet.
The verandah looking forward.
And looking aft.
Looking back from the verandah
We are truly spoiled. In our last three out of four cruises, we had either a suite (on NS) or two of the most amazing staterooms in the world—Celebrity’s Flora and Viking Ocean’s Penthouse Verandah. Both are almost twice the size of the stateroom I am writing this post in.
The other reason our NS cruise was so much better…the number of people on board. This morning we spoke to the cruise director here on Konigsdam, the delightful Bettianne. She just happens to have been our cruise director on NS as well. We told her facetiously that we thought the ship was a touch more crowded now than when we had sailed with her last in 2021. She reminded us that she had warned everyone on NS that it would probably never be that way again. You see when we sailed on NS, it was when restrictions were starting to loosen up from the pandemic. Masks and vaccinations were still required. This ship holds 2,700 people when fully sold out. That’s just about what we are sailing with now—2,700 people. But back in January 2022, no one except the really brave was out there sailing, so when we did that cruise, there were only 900 people on board. It was like having your own private ship. Combine that with having a Neptune suite, and this is a totally different experience.
Pre-cruise, I (as the travel agent) had booked all eight of us reservations at two (of the four) specialty restaurants on board. It’s really hard to get a reservation for eight. In fact, much to my disdain, they were only able to put us at two tables for four next to each other in the first place we went to last night. Ticked me off because there were many tables for two. They could have slid together so we could all be at the same table. It also meant the only nights they could accommodate us were the first night and the last night.
So last night we went to Tamarind, Konigsdam’s Asian restaurant. We had eaten there twice on NS with our buddy Seth, who worked for HAL then. Both times on NS, everything about it was superb. And I am thrilled to say the same is true on Konigsdam. Outstanding food, outstanding service, great cocktails and one thing was even better…our server told us we could have as many appetizers as we liked. We all ordered two! Plus, I got each table an order of lobster rolls from the sushi restaurant that is part of Tamarind (sushi is NOT part of the one price for Tamarind; you pay for that separately—but it is a great price. Eight rolls for $7.95) and they are soooo good.
That was it for me. A couple of the group went to BB King’s Blues Club, but we were wiped out from the waiting in line (and for me, the six-mile photo walk at 5:00 that I posted pictures from yesterday). We went back to the stateroom, and we were out like lights.
More tomorrow. Here are a couple of pics I took of the Canadian Inside Passage. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…
And of course, a pilot boat. I do love pilot boats.
That’s about it at this point. All I can say to close this out is that the ship is CROWDED. There are signs at Guest Relations stating that there are NO empty staterooms, so no upgrades are available. I am guessing that has been there since we got on. We were not able to eat dinner in the Main Dining Room last night because the wait was more than an hour to get into Select (open seating) dining. We gave up and paid for dinner at the Pinnacle Grille. The food was very good but we really weren’t planning on eating there on this trip. Right now, as I am typing this, we are waiting to make “reservations” for the main dining room tonight. That’s ridiculous.
Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded. —Yogi Berra
I love shooting panoramic (pano) photos. Not the kind you do with your iPhone. The ones I take are usually composed of a series of photos I have taken from the same place, with my feet firmly planted on the ground. I swivel my upper body and shoot anywhere from six to 15 photos. Before I start shooting them, I take a photo of my left foot. Then when I finish, I take a photo of my right foot. When I am doing my photo triage, later on, I know where the pano starts and ends.
Then I process those photos in Camera RAW and stitch them together in Photoshop. From that, I have gotten some pretty good panoramic photos. But I will let you decide. I decided to put together this post because I have so many panoramic photos, but I can’t post them on Facebook or Instagram because they crop them severely. When I do, you can only see the very center section. So here are a few of my own with a caption that tells you where I took them. As you will see, I take them both indoors and out, of scenery and people as well. Anytime I have a subject that won’t fit into one frame. My shortest (the indoor one in Naples) is only three photos stitched together. My longest (not sure which one) might have as many as 20.
Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. To really see these, you have to see them BIG!
My best pano…Puerto Vallarta sunrise
My most recent pano…The Boeing Museum of Flight
Victoria, British Columbia
Cinqe Terre, Italy
The first Olympic stadium, Athens, Greece
New Orleans, Louisiana
Niagara Falls, New York
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Mariner Spring Training Game, Peoria, AZ
View from the Acroplis, Athens, Greece
Athens harbor, Athens, Greece
The Parthenon, Athens Greece
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Akaroa, New Zealand
Dunedin, New Zealand
Interior of the dining room on Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam
The beach at Seaside, Oregon
The Biosphere outside Tucson, Arizona
Avalon Harbor, Catalina Island
Dawes Glacier, Alaska
Allure of the Seas
Inside a mall in Naples, Italy
In the beginning, the cubists broke up form without even knowing they were doing it. Probably the compulsion to show multiple sides of an object forced us to break the object up – or, even better, to project a panorama that unfolded different facets of the same object.
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 theirmarketing), 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.
Looking in from the door.
Looking back from our verandah
The verandah. We have had bigger but this was nice.
Not only a couch, but a chair and the most usuable coffee table we have ever had in a stateroom
A really nice desk and bureau. Both (as well as the closet) had drawers.
And a huge shower for a cruise ship stateroom.
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
When we cruise, the first thing the real cruisers want to know about is the food. But the second is the embarkation/disembarkation. It’s been my experience after more than 30 cruises that if things are going to go wrong, one of these two times is when that will happen.
With this disembarkation, I am happy to say that nothing went wrong…except to say that they made us get off the ship (this is every cruiser’s lament). Pretty much everything went off without a hitch getting off the ship. We got up, had breakfast, and were asked to be out of our stateroom by 8:00 am. Sat for an hour in the Atrium, got our tag colors called, grabbed our luggage, took it to a van (since we were doing Viking’s post-cruise two-day extension), it was loaded into a van that followed our “luxury motor coach” into Barcelona from Tarragona.
That’s where thing kind of went bad. Viking now had to do something with the 35+ people on the “luxury motor coach” from 9:30 am when we got on until 1:00 pm when the Nobu Hotel in Barcelona would be ready to check us in. So they arranged a “luxury motor coach” tour that would drive us from the ship to Barcelona and then drive around Barcelona, showing us some of the sights. This started with them getting us lost before they even got the “luxury motor coach” out of the port (Seriously!).
Then they sent us a guide who admitted up front that he usually worked with Japanese tourists, so his English was not very good. On top of that, he also (like other guides we had previously toured with) felt like they had to fill every moment of the three-hour sojourn with the sound of his voice. He even started singing at one point. I overheard another passenger say, “I thought the guy with the flute yesterday was bad, but this guy is so much worse!” I had to agree. And since he was not confident in his English, he seemed to be much less confident in his directions and tour facts.
It took us about 70 minutes to get from Tarragona to the outskirts of Barcelona. He talked about 90% of the time. Mostly gibberish to us because his English was so poor. Our first stop in Barcelona was at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. This gorgeous art museum we thought was built high above and far from the city and not near anything. I took the header photo I am using today from in front of it.
We later learned that we were less than a mile from our hotel but that it would take almost three full hours to get there. And we didn’t stop to see the museum, just to use the bathrooms. Viking had bought tickets for us to get into the museum, but then we had 15 minutes to use the bathrooms and get back on the “luxury motor coach”…so we could be driven around and mumbled at while seeing the sights through a “luxury motor coach” window. As a photographer, this is my idea of torture. Seeing things I want to shoot but not being able to shoot them because the reflections in the “luxury motor coach” make it impossible to get a good shot. I did take a few when we got off at the museum. Here’s what they look like. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…
The inside of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
From here, I could have walked to our hotel in 30 minutes but, it took us 2.5 hours to drive there.
La Sagrada Familia from the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.
Once we arrived at the hotel around 1:15 pm, we were told to go up to the second floor and that we would be checked in at a special desk just for Viking cruisers. When we got to the second-floor room they were using, there was about an hour’s wait to get registered. This is because they had planned well by sending the first “luxury motor coach” off and then not sending the second one for about 30 minutes. That way, we should have been staggered when we reached the hotel and able to check in without any lines. But this was not to be after our “luxury motor coach” driver got lost getting out of the port, and by the time he figured out how to get out, “luxury motor coach” number two was ahead of us, and we were not that far ahead of “luxury motor coach” number three. That meant we all pretty much got there at the same time. Viking had close to 250 people staying at the Nobu Barcelona. It was very much like the Marriott where we had done our pre-cruise extension in Athens. Both of them were four or five-star, high-rise hotels that were well outside (not in easy walking distance) of the main attractions of their respective cities. The rooms were nice, and the included breakfast at both places was delicious, but I would have traded that for something a little closer to where I wanted to shoot pics.
So instead of standing in line to register, we left our bags with the bellman at the front desk and took a taxi to a wonderful restaurant that Kathleen and I had eaten in when we were here in 2007—La Rita. The restaurant had been there for about 10 years before that and is still going strong. The menu was exactly as we remembered it. I made reservations almost a month in advance because when we go to Spain, we make our main meal, our lunch. People in Barcelona eat dinner around 9:30 pm, and we just can’t eat that late. So we have our main meal at lunch (around 2:00) and then grab some tapas in the evening.
After lunch, we came back and were able to check in easily, with no lines at all, and our rooms were ready. We unpacked, I did some posting on this blog and some photo processing, and we hit the hay for a very busy day on Sunday, our only full day in amazing Barcelona.
I had thought I could wind up the entire cruise with two more posts, one about Barcelona and disembarkation and one to sum up the cruise. But once I started talking about disembarkation, this one got too long to include our awesome day in Barcelona, so you will have to read two more. See you tomorrow. (BTW: we are home in Redmond after a hellacious day of flights and being up for 26 hours straight.)
You’d have a hard time finding anything better than Barcelona for food, as far as being a hub. Given a choice between Barcelona and San Sebastian to die in, I’d probably want to die in San Sebastian. —Anthony Bourdain
When we first booked this cruise with Viking, the itinerary finished in beautiful Barcelona. About three months later, we received a note from Viking that we would NOT be docking and spending an overnight in Barcelona. We would instead be docking and spending the night in Tarragona, a (we researched) small, industrial city south of Barcelona. (You can see how far apart they are above.) That kind of ticked me off because I was really looking forward to being able to wake up on the ship and then go for my pre-dawn photo walk and still be able to sleep on the ship that night.
We later learned that Viking had to switch because even though Barcelona is a HUGE port for cruise ships, there were going to be so many there over the two days (Friday and Saturday) that she would not have been able to stay for three full days. She needed four days tied up at a pier because we would have two days there (arrived Friday morning, disembarked Saturday morning) and then the cruise that followed ours would need the same (embark on Saturday afternoon, sail late on Sunday). Viking just could not take up a berth in Barcelona for that long. So that’s why we wound up in Tarragona.
In hindsight, I am so very glad that we did because it turned into one of my favorite photographic experiences on the trip. And I almost missed it once we were there. I almost missed it because we had tickets for the Viking-included excursion called “A Snapshot of Tarragona,” and when we got up, we just weren’t sure that we wanted to go. After being on the road since August 29, we were pretty much done. Kathleen wanted to just stay on board and pack, but she encouraged me to go ahead and take the excursion. I still (up until 15 minutes before it left) had not committed myself to go. But go, I did.
The first thing to note about leaving the ship was that it was docked a VERY long way from the gate to the port. In other words, this was NOT a port I could have walked out of. And then, once you got out of the port, it was a long way to the city. To say it was a very long way is an understatement. When we got on the “luxury motor coach,” we were then driven for about 30 minutes, and we were still in the port. It is a HUGE industrial port, and we were moored all the way out as far as you can get before still being at sea. And the road out of the port had what seemed like continuous speed bumps that the “luxury motor coach” could not go over quickly. Once we were out of the port, it was another 20 minutes before we were off the coach at the edge of downtown.
At this point, I am beginning to think that I made a mistake in coming. Viking was running shuttles all day long, about every 15 minutes, so I knew I could go back whenever I wanted. Our guide for the day was another guide that seemed to be paid by the word. She walked us around some Roman ruins (as much as I love Italy, if I never see a Roman ruin for a few years, that will be OK with me), which were pretty cool, but they didn’t really hold that much interest for me. I have so many photos from my Tarragona day that I will put the Roman ruins and what we could see from them here. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…
The first Roman wall and turret.
Looking behind me, this more modern church.
Of a chariot race track.
More ruins still.
And the obligatory narrow street scene.
And more ruins.
Lived the cool patterns on this tile.
And another cool street.
On the other side of the citadel.
More narrow streets. But cooler colors.
More citadel but another view point.
Inside the ruins
Upstairs on the ruins.
More and more ruins.
Stop the ruins!
And the (even though they are cool) narrow streets.
But I did live this actual ruin that was left in place. Each door goes into a different restaurant’s patio.
Yes, more ruins.
With cool windows
And cool verandahs.
One more ruins for you.
What did grab my interest were explosions and gunshots going off about three blocks away. We had been told that there was a Catalunya-wide festival going on that weekend (Catalunya is the “state” that both Tarragona and Barcelona arein) so we were pretty sure that this was what we were hearing. We could also see fireworks and a parade at the end of those three blocks. Here’s what I saw when I looked down the streets and then walked around to do some more investigating.
You can see the crowds.
I took this from about two blocks away. You can see a lion “float” on the right.
Throughout the city center you could see people like this having a festival breakfast on the sidewalks.
And the crowds were growing.
The square was filling with people.
There were many more people having a meal together.
The wine was flowing at 9:45 am
Note the different colors of shirts everyone is where.
Here’s the green team.
And this is what they would be competing in later in the day—human pyramids.
No, I did not get to see the human pyramids in Tarragona. To show you the photo above, I took a picture of a picture. But we did get to see one being built on Sunday in Barcelona. We weren’t able to see one built in Tarragona, because around noon, it started to rain, accompanied by quite the thunderstorm, so they were canceled for Friday. After looking at a few more ruins, the guide said we would now have some free time, but not to go downtown, it would be too loud and dangerous near the parades. So you know what I did…I went right downtown where the parades were. I am so glad I did. An amazing experience, as you will see.
On the way downtown, I found people getting ready for a parade. It turns out they do the parades twice in the morning. Once from the square and once back. So I ran into a bunch of people getting ready to march on my way down. Here’s a quick gallery of those people.
The red team members getting ready.
Not sure which neighborhood these guys represented.
When I finally reached the city square, I could tell they were getting ready for something. At this point, I thought I had missed it all. Then I heard (from a side street) firework explosions. I headed from the square to where the parade would be coming from, and this is what I saw. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…
What downtown looked like before the parade.
I heard the parade comiing so I headed up the side street where the explosions were coming from.
This curve was just a little up the street
But it was close confines.
All that smoke you see is coming from the fireworks and it was LOUD!
Costumed characters lighting off fireworks.
You can see how smoky it is.
The mascots of each neighborhood led their groups down the hill.