Prague—cold and icy but still interesting

Goodbye Lisboa, Hello Prague

When I last wrote any real content, we were still in Portugal. As I mentioned briefly yesterday, the day of our flight from Lisbon to Prague was pretty uneventful. We had breakfast at the hotel, hung out in our room until 10:45, got picked up by our driver from Welcome Pickups right on time at 11:00, and we were off to the airport. Other than a long line at security, everything went pretty smoothly. 

Three hours later, we arrived in Prague. It was there that we were meeting my brother Steve and my sister-in-law Jamie, who we would travel with for the rest of the trip. They were supposed to have gotten in much earlier than us, as they were coming from LAX on KLM. Originally, they were scheduled for about a two-hour layover in Amsterdam before flying on to Prague, but the day before they were to leave, they received a note from KLM that their Prague flight had been canceled. YIKES! 

But everything worked out in the end. KLM was able to get them on another flight, but with a layover of more than five hours in Amsterdam. In what might have been fate, we got off our plane in Prague, walked up two gates to the restrooms, and when I came out, they were standing there. Their flight had arrived two gates down from ours…in an airport with four terminals, each with more than 25 gates. You have to admit, that’s pretty amazing. 

We were met by a rep from Viking Cruises because this is where our pre-cruise extension started. So now we (and all our travels) were their problem 🤪.

As we drove into the city, we noted that not only was it cold, but there was snow and ice everywhere. This would play a big part in the next day’s plans. 

When we got to the hotel (Viking uses a number of them in Prague—we were at the Prague Marriott), Steve and Jamie, who had been up since the day before at home (about 30 hours), were off to bed. Kathleen and I went into the hotel restaurant and split a sandwich before we did the same. 

Ice and Snow

The next morning, I had truly hoped to do my customary pre-dawn photo walk, but when I got up and saw that it was well below freezing and that the snow and ice were VERY slippery, I stayed in and wrote Tuesday’s post about our trip to Sintra.

The hotel provided a huge buffet breakfast that was part of our Viking extension, and we truly enjoyed it. My brother Steve said it passed the “Steve Test (he would eat there if it were a restaurant near his home). After breakfast, we were supposed to do a “Panoramic Tour of Prague” with Viking as part of our cruise. The tour was labeled as “challenging” in their description, but we were still going to try and give it a go with the idea that if it became too much for Kathleen’s knees, hip or back, we would bail and go back to the hotel. But now there was the problem of the ice. 

I decided to put on my boots and go out to walk around and see how slippery the sidewalks were. What I found was not good. I walked from one end of the block the hotel was on to the other. Along the way, I almost fell three times, and I saw at least four other people slip and wind up flat on their butts. On some of our most recent trips, going out for a walk has not been real fun for us. A few years back, Jamie slipped and fell while visiting us and broke her kneecaps. In May of 2021, Kathleen tripped while we were doing a shore excursion in San Francisco (on dry pavement) and broke her elbow, which meant a six-hour trip to the ER and surgery a few weeks later. I had fallen two years ago on ice a block from our old condo and really hurt my back. So only Steve seemed immune. 

Kathleen, Jamie and I elected to skip the morning tour and see if the sidewalks got any better as the day went on. Steve decided to brave it and headed out on the tour. At about 10:00 am, I decided to go and test again, and I walked for about 15 minutes and wound up in the central square of Prague, where their largest Christmas Market was going. This allowed me to get some photos (you can see them below) and to tell Kathleen and Jamie we could do our afternoon tour—a visit to Lobkowicz Palace. 

Visiting a Palace

Our morning tour (that three of us skipped) was one of Viking’s included tours. When you do their pre or post-excursion, you get a free tour every day, so skipping it was no big deal, but the Lobkowicz Palace was a tour we paid for and included lunch, a concert and a private tour of the palace. We really wanted to go. So at 11:30, Viking transported the three of us to meet Steve and the rest of the tour he had gone on that morning at the castle, where we would do some touring around before getting to the Palace. 

When it came time for the morning tour to end, it turned out that only the four of us would be going on to the palace. The rest who were finishing up the morning tour would return to the hotel. At this point, Kathleen’s knees (which she had really strained on the TukTuk ride in Lisboa) told her not to walk any further, and she headed back to the hotel with the morning tour bunch. 

Jamie, Steve and I went on and did the Palace. When we got there, after only walking about five minutes, I truly wished Kathleen had come with us. We were ushered into a beautiful room and fed a delicious lunch. Then, we were escorted to another room where a classical trio (one violinist, one cellist and one pianist) played a selection of classical pieces for us. They were very good. 

After the concert, our guide led us to a private balcony at the back of the palace where we could see incredible views of all of Prague. Of course, I took a ton of photos. The city looked like a Christmas dream, all draped in snow. 

After the balcony viewing, we were off to see the collection of art housed in the Palace. This kind of thing usually does nothing for me, but I have to say this was one of the best audio tours of a gallery I have ever heard, and I got a lot out of it. It was thoroughly enjoyable. The entire time, I kept thinking, “I wish Kathleen had stayed.” 

But then it was time to board the bus back, and we were led down what must have been a 300-yard, fairly steep ramp covered in ice and snow. It was at that exact moment that I was thankful she had gone back to the hotel. Even with a rail to hang on to, that ramp was a bit scary. And then, when we got to the bottom, we had to walk about another 150 yards to get to the bus through ice and slush. 

All this would have been a real problem for her, and I was so glad she had headed back earlier when the bus had left from where we had originally arrived—a very flat walk to get to.

To top it off, on the bus trip back, there were two sets of Viking cruisers. Some of the people on the bus were just finishing their cruise. They were doing their post-cruise extension in Prague (we are going in the opposite direction and doing Budapest at the end), and because of that, they were staying at a different hotel—a huge Hilton about 20 minutes from our hotel. Because it was closer to the Palace, we went to the Hilton first, where all but the three of us got off. The only problem we had then was that the bus driver had taken his usual route through a parking lot, and someone had parked their car illegally, and he could not move the bus until that car was moved. We sat on the bus while the hotel management tried to find out who owned the car before we gave up. We went into the Hilton and got a cab back to the Marriott. It was not the bus driver’s fault, but Viking should have done a better job of taking care of us. They said that they could get us a cab, but when we got to their tour desk, they said they would need to get the expenditure (around $8 US) approved and that might take a while. At this point, it was almost 5:00 pm, and we had 6:00 dinner reservations, so we decided to pay for our own taxi and got back to our hotel in less than 10 minutes. 

An amazing dining experience

Speaking of dinner reservations, a good friend we know from our Trilogy Travel Club back home had lived in Europe for a few years and either lived in Prague or visited often (I am old, I don’t remember which) had told me about a small, out-of-the-way steak place. Now, I am not really into steak, but I know my brother is, so I said great and made reservations. WOW! I am certainly glad I did. It was one of those dining experiences you only get once or twice on a trip. The place was a tiny, almost below-ground-level restaurant that had so much charm it spilled out the front door. It reminded me of a party mix…it was packed full of Czechs 😂 (I owe my granddaughter $1 for that one). We were the only non-natives in the place, and it was PACKED! 

We opened our menus and saw a wonderful option just perfect for the four of us. It was a steak platter featuring five different cuts of steak, with three sauces and four side dishes for less than $100 USD. Add that to the two excellent bottles of a good red wine we drank, and we had quite the meal. This restaurant not only passed the Steve Test for me, but if it was near our house, I might go there every couple of weeks. The food and service were top-notch, and the prices were a great value. Especially when the servers only expect a 10% tip. We had a wonderful time. If you are ever in Prague, make it a point to eat at Bila Krava (which I am pretty sure means White Cow). You will not be sorry. BTW: That platter with the sauces and sides was plenty for us. And it was totally delicious.

Of course, after that, it was an $8 Uber back to the hotel and bed. We had a big day coming up on Thursday. 

At this point, let me show you the photos I got yesterday around Prague and at the Palace. Hope you enjoy them. 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…

Our Jewish Quarter Tour, then on to Nuremberg.

In the morning, after a repeat of Wednesday’s superb buffet breakfast, we were off on a tour that featured much less walking than the one Steve had taken the day before and a lot more chances to sit down during talks that Kathleen could take advantage of. Plus, we would be in and out of buildings all morning so that we would stay much warmer. 

Our tour was of the old Jewish Quarter in Prague. We got to visit five separate synagogues and hear about all the horrible things that had been done to the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia for centuries. 

But we also saw some true beauty in these incredible places of worship as well as some horrible sadness in the synagogue that is covered with the thousands of names of Czech Jews killed by Hitler and the Nazis. 

The tour took most of the morning, and our tour guide, Eva, was EXCELLENT. In fact, all our guides here in Prague have been excellent. Steve truly liked the very nice lady who did the morning tour, and we joined him for the end of that tour. He thought she did great as well. 

The Jewish Quarter tour lasted until noon when we returned to the hotel, got some lunch, walked out to find a piece of local artwork (those of you who have been in our home know where that’s going), and then we boarded a “luxury motor coach” to Nuremberg, Germany where we will spend tonight. As I am typing this, I am truly sitting in that luxury motor coach (no sarcasm intended here—it is a really, really nice bus. If it only had WiFi, it would be perfect) headed to Nuremberg. It’s 3:39 in the afternoon here, and we won’t be at our Nuremberg hotel for another three hours, so I thought I would do a little writing on the way. Next up for you are my photos from our Jewish Quarter tour. 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…

As I write this, it is Thursday morning…you are still enjoying Wednesday evening…and I am up posting this at 4:45 am. We are staying at the Grand Meridian Hotel in Nuremberg. It (like our Prague hotel) is a Marriott, but a much older and historical one that they purchased. Older and historical means…strange and weird to me. The rooms are tiny, the doors open out into the corridors/hallways, the bathrooms are minuscule with tubs with high sides, and the WiFi is slow. They are passing the hotel off as a “historic, boutique hotel.” I myself like boutique hotels. The Hotel Portugal we stayed in in Lisboa was a “boutique hotel.” This one is just depressing to me, with long dark corridors and a single (JUST ONE) elevator to cover a hotel with a capacity of more than 80 guests per floor on six floors. Coming in and out with luggage can be a long wait. And that elevator holds about five people max. Needless to say, Viking picked this hotel, not me.

We had a quick dinner (if you can call it that) in the hotel bar before retiring to our cells 😜 for a good night’s sleep (the beds aren’t bad). The place just seems like an expensive jail or maybe an abbey or a convent (to me). We are here for two nights before we depart for Regensburg, where we. board our longboat for our first-ever river cruise. More about our Nuremberg adventures coming up soon.  (Editor’s note: the quote below is my reaction to the names in the Jewish Synagogue in Prague. Sorry if I offend anyone.)

A thousand years will pass, and the guilt of Germany will not be erased.  —Hans Frank


Greetings from snow and icy Prague

As the headline says, we are in Prague. There is snow and ice everywhere, but we still had a great day yesterday. Well, half a great day. I really want to tell you about it, but we were out late with my brother Steve and sister-in-law Jamie at dinner until late in the evening, and that meant I had to process photos this morning, so I am not writing until right now. We have to meet them for breakfast in about 45 minutes, so I need to change and shower.

But I didn’t want you to think I had deserted you. I will have more about Prague tomorrow as well as the trip we are taking this afternoon as we spend three hours getting to Nuremberg, Germany, by “luxury motor coach.”

In the meantime, here’s our group eating dinner last night at an amazing restaurant that a friend from our Trilogy Travel Club recommended to us. It was a great meal and a great experience. See you tomorrow.

Our last full day in Portugal. Off to Sintra and Cascais

Monday was our last full day in Portugal. I am writing this at 4:08 am on Wednesday, December 6 while sitting in the conference center of the Marriott Hotel in Prague. Yesterday was fly day (we flew TAPAir from Lisboa to Prague) and we are now in the snowy north. This means no report for yesterday unless you want to know about a fairly boring three hour flight.

I regret this is the only picture I took of Miguel. He is an outstanding guide and we highly recommend him.

But back to Monday when we got up early (we were meeting our guide for the day at 8:30 so no pre-dawn walk for me) had our breakfast and were driving away (another Miguel) by 8:20. We had found Miguel through what is becoming our go-to source for tour guides—Tours by Locals. He was wonderful. We jumped in his spacious Ford, and we headed for Sintra, the summer home of Portugal’s kings and queens. Sintra is located just north of Lisboa, about 40 minutes by car, in what passes for mountains in Portugal. But it was here that the kings built their summer palaces and that we would tour that day.

The drive out is a great time for us to get to know Miguel and for him to tell us about himself and Portuguese life in general. We love hearing about what is going on in a country now, as well as picking up the historical highlights. Unlike many of our previous guides in other countries, our Portuguese guides have been very open to discussing their political systems, their current problems with their government and many other topics that most guides won’t touch. We found it very open and refreshing.

Since it was rush hour in Lisboa, Miguel had all kinds of back roads he used to get us to Sintra. He is a Sintra native and has lived there all his life, so he knows all the shortcuts. He had us there and parked in no time. Once there, we got out and walked up a short hill, and he took us to a street that looked to be something only mountain goats would climb. Kathleen looked at it like Mt. Everest, but he said, “No, I just want to take you to the first shop up the hill for a little surprise.” Sure enough, we walked into a bakery that has been open under the same familial ownership since 1862. WHOA! That bakery opened in the middle of our civil war! Amazing. He insisted we try the specialty of the house—”the pillow.” So we couldn’t disappoint him (even though we had just had breakfast about two hours before) and he got us one each with a cappuccino. He described the “pillow” as a sweet roll full of the same egg cream filling as the Pastéis de Belém we had the day before but in the same form as a maple bar back home. And of course, covered in sugar. They were delicious but I could feel my teeth decaying as I took each bite.

After our brief stop at the bakery, we were off to walk around the village of Sintra and then tour the oldest palace in Portugal. This is true because the summer palaces had not been destroyed in the great earthquake/fire/tsunami of 1755. That had destroyed the palaces in Lisboa, and the royalty moved to their summer palaces in Sintra while things were being rebuilt in the city.

I have a lot of photos from this entire day, so I am going to break them up. This first group is from the village of Sintra and the palace itself. 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…

I need to mention here that my amazing bride climbed so many stairs to get through that palace. It seemed like they never ended, and like steps built more than 200 years ago, they were all of differing heights and widths. She did it all. I tell you this because when we were through touring this palace, our choice was to go to another palace (The Pena Palace) where there would be even more walking and climbing or heading back to Lisboa via the coast. Miguel did promise me a chance to take photos of the Pena Palace (which he assured me was much more impressive outside than inside) before we headed out of Sintra. For the sake of Kathleen’s knees (that she strained two days before getting into and out of the TukTuk), we chose the coast. But here’s the Pena Palace from the outside. Pretty impressive.

On to Cascais

After seeing the outside of Pena Palace, we headed on some beautiful backroads (where we were pretty much the only car going in any direction) to the coast. As soon as we arrived, we were blown away by the ocean. Yes, I have seen an ocean before, but where the Atlantic meets the European continent with amazing green water waves coming to the shore in one successive wave after another was somehow just mesmerizing. Check out my photos. And do yourself a favor; see them as big as you can. 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…

I knew going in that Portugal had some beautiful coastline but I had no idea it would be this amazing. A little further north is the city of Nazare, where the monster waves (they say they are the largest in the world) are. Check out this video to see what I mean. It is truly both scary and amazing.

After I had worn out my camera battery and filled my camera’s memory card, we hopped back into the car to head for the city of Cascais, which we thought looked a lot like the city of La Jolla in Southern California, just more charming. Here are the shots I took there.

Back to Belem

After we had lunch and walked around in Cascais, it was time to head back to Lisboa and our hotel. Our tour had taken most of the day, and we were ready to take a nap. But I still had one set of photos I wanted to take. Granted, it was not the time of day I preferred to take them, but I wanted to try it. And those were in Belem, where we had gone the day before on the HoHo bus. But it was so cold and the sky so flat when we were there I didn’t have the motivation to walk to get the shots. Today, though, was beautiful, so my plan was to get Kathleen back to the hotel to take a nap and then for me to get on the HoHo bus (our passes were still good) and go all the way back to Belem. This would have taken me more than an hour to get out there from the hotel. When I was telling Miguel what I had planned, he said he could easily drop me in Belem, and then I could take the shots I wanted and take the bus back to the city center. This was a marvelous solution, and he was so great to make the offer.

So he dropped me in Belem and took Kathleen back to the hotel so I could shoot photos of two of Lisboa’s most iconic monuments—Padrão dos Descobrimentos and the Belem Tower. The first of these is a monument and tribute to Portuguese explorers over the years. There are a lot of them, and they truly opened up the world. The monument is amazing. It stands almost at the mouth of the Tagus River, where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. You will have to see the photos. I did close-ups and overviews. It is a joy to shoot. Then, I moved on to Belem Tower, a monument to Portuguese culture that sits on the river even closer to the Atlantic. Again, you will have to see the photo (that’s all it takes is one) to appreciate why I wanted to go back and shoot it in good weather. 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…

That about does if for Lisboa and Portugal. We had a really incredible visit and can’t wait to go back…in October. This is definitely one of my favorite cities we have been to. Every part of this stop on our journey worked great. The hotel was wonderful, the people we met were awesome, food was delicious—as always, we ate too much of it. If you get the chance—visit this place. You won’t be sorry.

I like to dream about Portugal, and it’s less easy when you are there.  —Maria de Medeiros

Day 2—HoHo, HoHo, rain, a little fog and Fado

You might notice there are four Hos up in the headline. That’s because today was all about the HoHo (HopOn, HopOff) bus. And there is a lesson to be learned…but we will get to that. Come on along as I tell the story and give you some visual fun as well.

Hop-on, Hop Off

Originally, we had been scheduled to do our food tour on the second day of our trip, but the company called and asked us if we could swap from Sunday to Saturday. We were OK with that, but I think in the end, it wound up costing us some money. Don’t get me wrong, I think it was the right thing to do, but this is where the lesson comes in.

Our original plan on our first full day was to take the HoHo bus around the city. This is something we like to do because it provides an overview of the area, and we learn where we might want to go back and see later. Usually, in cities the size of Lisboa, there are at least two, if not three, routes, and they include some additional stuff with your ticket (discount admission at museums, boat rides, etc.), and in this case, that was true as well. We never had time to use any of that “extra stuff” and we only ended up using the bus for three rides.

I had pre-purchased a 72-hour pass about six months ago based on recommendations from people I trusted. The plan was to use it daily to get around the city. Since we didn’t start using it until the second day, we really lost a day right off the bat. Then, on top of that, we ran into what I am now calling the “running race jinx.” You may recall that when we were in Québec City last October, our day was shaken up by the Québec Marathon being run throughout the city on the only day we were there. We have run into the same thing in at least four other cities, and it happened again. Sunday was the Lisboa Marathon. And even though I considered skipping the touring and doing the race myself 😜, it meant that the HoHo bus could not do one of their two biggest routes…the one we wanted to take first. The one that would take us to the area known as Belem.

Not only that, but the bus company neglected to post a sign at their base/first stop (a block from our hotel) that told us that the stop would not be used until after 1:00 pm. So we stood around waiting for a bus until one of their workers came by and told us to walk to the next stop up a hill.

I have to take part of the blame for not realizing the stop was closed. There was a small sign taped to the bus waiting area that said, “Stop will be closed on 3/12/2023 due to the Lisboa Marathon.” And being a typical American (shame on me), I thought it was an old sign saying the stop had been closed on March 12. But in Europe (and most of the rest of the world), they list the day first when writing a date; the sign actually said it would be closed on the third of December. It dawned on me right about when the worker showed up to tell us to walk to the next stop.

I should also mention that the weather had turned bad for us. Some rain, but it turned a lot colder. So that meant that I felt like I was freezing for most of the day. We hadn’t broken out the heavy sweaters and coats we are saving for Prague and beyond because we thought it would be much more temperate in Lisboa. (Apparently, it is because we found the hotel has no heating system for their rooms. To get heat, you just shut off the air conditioner. The buildings are well-insulated, and they don’t have enough cold days to warrant having heaters.)

When we finally hiked to the other stop, we were informed that the Belem route would not be available until 1:30 pm, so we did what they call the “Modern Lisboa” route. It was very nice, and we learned a lot, but for me there were not a lot of photo opportunities. And because it was so cold, we didn’t go up to the open-air top to sit on the wet seats that had been out in the rain. So, no photos except through windows. I don’t suppose Kathleen was as disappointed as I was, but we both would have liked a warmer bus (on the bottom deck) and a softer seat. Old butts don’t do well with rock-hard seats. That route took almost two hours, so after we got back to the first stop, we walked around the Christmas Markets and we just enjoyed each other’s company. We also stopped back at the hotel because we had been told the stop near the hotel would reopen in the afternoon.

We set out again at 1:30, and sure enough, the stop a block from the hotel was open, and so was the Belem route. We jumped on that bus and did a tour that was more interesting but still not as pretty as the city had been the day before because of the blanket of clouds it was shrouded in. Let me drop in some photos here so you can get an idea of what I am talking about. 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…

Pastéis de Belém

Before we go any further, I have to tell you about the BIGGEST reason we came to Belem—Pastéis de Belém. I am pretty sure I mentioned in writing about the food tour that the tiny custard tarts we had eaten to end the tour were from what Fred had told us was “the second best place in Portugal to get them.” Well, Belem is where you find the best. How do I know? A whole lot of people have told me, and the fact that the Pastéis de Belém has been baking them since 1837 in the same exact place.

We had been warned there would be a line for their takeaway window, but if we went to the other side of the building to the sit-down cafe, we could get right in. Even Rick Steves has this in his books. Well, so many people have read his books and seen his videos that now you can get them as takeaways in about 1 minute, but the line for the sit-down cafe was at least a half-hour long. Being late in the day and totally worn out, we decided to skip the sit-down and get them takeaway.  As you can see from Kathleen’s photo, we got them, but we had a REALLY long day getting them. I also might add that we bought two of them. One each. They were truly delicious and were absolutely better than any of the other eight or so we had eaten before this…but be warned. They are 10 euros each for about three bites. Worth it? Not really, except to say that you have eaten a Pastéis de Belém.

After our Pastéis de Belém we were back to the bus stop for a very long wait (it was so long that we considered doing an Uber back to the hotel) the bus showed up, and we headed back. One of the things we didn’t like about the tour to Belem is that you go back on the same route you went out on—nothing new to see here.

So, what’s the moral of the HoHo bus story? Don’t pre-buy 72 hours of touring. You never know what you will have time for. We could have saved some money and lessened our expectations if we had only purchased one day. And there was no discount for purchasing them early, just a warning that you might have to stand in line and wait to buy them. Nothing could have been further from the truth because we were able to get on and off with no line at every stop. It would have taken us about two minutes to buy our passes from the bus driver or one of the workers at the stops. Warning: This may not be true in the high season (March to October) when the crowds are heavier.

Fado Dinner

On the evening of our second full day, we booked a Fado dinner. Fado is the national music of Portugal. It is a sad, mournful music. We had heard so much about it that we decided to make reservations to see the show while we had dinner. The restaurant opened at 7:30, and of course, we were first in line. We were seated immediately and they brought bread, took our orders for soup, dinner and wine.

I need to note here (and Paul and Gail our British friends are laughing right now) that we are typical Americans and usually eat dinner at 5:30. So waiting to eat until 7:30 is really different for us. And it got worse. The wine, bread and soup showed up by 8:00, but then the Fado show started. Other Fado shows we had seen on YouTube had shown the servers continuing to bring food while the singing was going on but this Fado place (Club de Fado) did not allow that. They wanted total silence during the performance (and to be honest, that really made it better), but that also meant we didn’t see our entrées until sometime after 9:00.

To make matters worse, we saw others that had ordered after us served way before we had ours. In fact, the only way we finally got ours was by telling our waiter to go ahead and tally a bill with just the wine, soup, and bread, and we would be leaving. Guess how fast the entrées showed up? Almost instantly. We ate them and then headed back to the hotel before the second half of the show. By the time we were done eating, it was after 10:00, and we had to be up at 6:00 am for our tour of Sintra.

To top it off, the food just wasn’t that great. I guess when you are there for the show, the food doesn’t have to be that good. I took a few photos with my iPhone (I didn’t want to carry the big Nikon to dinner), and you can see them below. Since I took them with a phone, feel free to look a them on your phone.

Pre-dawn Photo Walk

Editor’s note: When I went to grab the photos from the bus ride, I discovered I had not shown you the results of my pre-dawn photo walk on Day 2, so please see below for those. They are much better than what I took during the day because it wasn’t really raining, and I could walk further because we weren’t getting on the HoHo bus until 9:30. Again, 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…

That was our complete second day in incredible Lisboa. Even with the clouds, rain and the late dinner, we had a great day. I think if we do it again, we would find a different Fado show. Off to bed late because tomorrow is our tour of the amazing Sintra. Come back for that.

Frankly, I’d rather go by bus.  —Prince Charles

Lisboa—more day 1

Yesterday, I got you through to a great breakfast at the beautiful  Hotel Portugal.  Our day only got better food-wise as we had planned a food tour with Eating Europe. We had previously done a food tour with them in Amsterdam a few years ago (they have tours in many European cities), and it was wonderful, so we thought we would try them again because the one in Amsterdam was so great. And this one was, as well.

We met our guide, Fred (his actual name is Frederico, but he says Fred is easier) at 10:00 am, and we’re off on a four-hour tour. Three hours were superb food samples around the city with Fred, and one hour was a Tuk-Tuk tour with Miguel (who really loves speed) as well. Tell me the truth. Does Fred not look like Linn-Manuel Miranda? And he has a lot of mannerisms that kept me thinking we were on our tour with Hamilton himself—one of the funniest and most fun guides we have had in all our time touring. We hope to see him again when we return to Lisbon next fall.

Our tour consisted of four stops for food and a one-hour Tuk-Tuk ride. We first stopped for an amazing pork sandwich with a glass of the local white wine, Vino Verde. Both were delicious. As we walked from there to where we would meet Miguel, Fred told us a lot about the history of Lisboa as well as the traditions about food. He was a totally knowledgeable guide who was also a great entertainer and as you will see in my photos, really up for anything.

Once we reached the plaza where the Tuk-Tuks were, we met Miguel, jumped (more like crawled) into his Tuk-Tuk, and off we went for a very crazy and bumpy ride up into the city’s hills. We stopped at a Roman ruin, an amazing overlook of the entire city and found that Miguel was almost as good a guide as Fred—just not as funny.

Our Tuk-Tuk ride took around an hour, and we finished at a restaurant that was high on one of those hills. This was one of the reasons we had decided on this particular tour. The other tours they offered didn’t have the Tuk-Tuk ride and warned of a lot of walking uphill and downhill. With Miguel and his Tuk-Tuk, we only had the downhill. Our second food stop featured two other Portuguese specialties. One was a coated and fried ball with tomato and basil filling; one was veal. Both were delicious and came with a special may0-mustard sauce. We also tried green beans with a tempura-style coating and we learned that the Portuguese had not only invented this type of coating but taken it to the Orient in the 1500s. Who knew?

After this lovely tidbit (nice word, unh?) served with sparkling wine, we started our trek downhill to our next restaurant, which was owned by a former Michelin-starred chef.  There, we tried an octopus salad (even better than the one I had the night before) and a codfish dish. Codfish is a staple in Portuguese cuisine. Fred told us that Portuguese chefs brag that there are 365 different codfish recipes that they can make, so you never have to have the same one twice in one year. Kathleen had skipped the octopus so the chef roasted her some veggies and they too were outstanding. She wasn’t really thrilled with the codfish dish (it wasn’t my favorite either) but by then we were getting full so it didn’t really matter.

While at this very cool restaurant, we saw a hilarious collection of art that is very famous in Portugal. It seems that more than a hundred years ago, after Portugal threw out Spanish rule, the king of Portugal sent a gift to the king of Spain. Of course, once you see the gift, you understand its significance. The king of Spain sent him back an even bigger one, and they continued for some time. Fred was happy to show us these “gifts,” and I have other photos showing the other sizes in my gallery below. The “gifts” are hollow and full of the “best wine of that country.” Often, they had a spigot (as this one does) to dispense the wine. This one that Fred is holding is the largest in the collection. And they had a special surprise on the bottom to make everyone happy. You will have to look at the other pics to find out what it was. And by the way, did I mention that Fred was a total ham?

After our entrée and art show, we were off to dessert back in the old city at the bottom of the hill. It was the Portuguese egg tart known as a pastéis. These tarts are everywhere in Lisboa. By the time we got to this one, we had consumed at least six of them in the hotel at breakfast. On our Sunday tour, we would travel all the way to the suburb of Belem to get one of the originals (and yes, it is worth the trip, and the one you get there IS better than any other). Fred told us the place he took us had the “second-best pastéis in Lisboa, and we agree.

Here are the rest of the photos from the food tour with captions to explain their significance. 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…

After the tour (and still suffering from jet lag), we went back to the hotel for a short nap. Kathleen extended her nap into the evening and stayed in to surf the web and keep track of what was happening in the world. I, on the other hand, went out to take photos of the amazing Christmas decorations all over the city. I took a ton of photos, so I will let Lisboa speak for itself. I will just say that this city LOVES Christmas, and when they decorate, they DECORATE! And we didn’t think we would see Christmas Markets until we got to Prague. Were we ever wrong? Here, there seems to be one in every square, and there are big squares everywhere. Here are my photos with very few captions because they’re just the WOW decorations. 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…

That about does it for Day 1. As you can tell, we were BUSY! Back with Day 2 soon.

Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling.  —Edna Ferber

Lisboa Day 1–Almost too good to be true

When we last met, Kathleen and I were sitting in the airport in Paris, waiting to board our flight to Lisboa (The Portuguese spelling–trying to be authentic). We were exhausted, tired, beat, worn out, and did I mention…exhausted. I wish I could tell you how we liked the flight from Paris to Lisboa, but I don’t have a clue. From the moment we got on the plane until five minutes before we got off, I was sound asleep. Well, as asleep as one can be in the seats that pass for Business Class on intra-Europe flights.

I am pretty sure I have mentioned it before, but intra-Europe flights don’t have Business or First Class seats. What they do have is a regular coach seat (these on Air France had the worst legroom I have ever experienced), three on each side of the aisle, with the middle seat left empty. That’s Business class. I only want a US domestic FC seat for my money, but I have never seen one. But in this case, it only meant I woke up enough to shift my legs to the other side of the seat in front of me before I went back to sleep again.

We got to Lisboa expecting to have to clear passport control, mainly because we had been told by our original Delta pilot that if we were just transiting between two flights, we would not go through passport control and customs and would do that at our final destination. It turns out he was WRONG! All that time spent waiting in line in Paris paid off. We got off the plane and kept walking, expecting to run into someone who would ask for our passports. But we never found them. We did find our luggage, and then our driver (who I had booked before we left home) from Welcome Pickups. They are all over Europe, and if the service we got here is any indication, I will be booking them a lot in the future. The cost was slightly more than a taxi or Uber, but it was so nice to be met by a friendly man with a sign that had your name, who helped you to the car, got you to the hotel and then walked you right to the front desk.

We are staying at the Hotel Portugal. They call themselves a “boutique hotel in the center of old Lisboa.” We learned about them from our good friend Mike Priesman, who stayed here a few years back when traveling with his son. If you want some great recommendations on anything travel-wise, go over to Mike’s website (click here) and find your destination. If Mike has been there and has stayed at a hotel, you can stay there and know it will be exactly as he has described it. This one certainly was—as were any of the ones he has recommended in the past.

The best part about this hotel is the location. Walking distance to just about any place you want to go. And if we can’t walk, it is within walking distance of almost every mode of transport we know of. A huge taxi line is a block away, and a big hop-on, hop-off bus stop, a trolley line, and a metro stop. All within 10 minutes of walking time. But there are lots of other reasons to stay here as well. They pass what I call the Big Three Hotel Test—lots of hot water, great water pressure and the included breakfast has superb coffee. I can put up with everything else, and this place has those and more—including a big shower, comfortable bed and the aforementioned breakfast. Our only quibble is intermittently poor WiFi. I’m working on this at 3:30 am today in the lobby, where the WiFi is awesome.

One of the things we loved when checking in was that the young lady at the front desk was beyond helpful in showing us directions to just about everything we wanted to see. She had maps for us with food recommendations and lots of great tips about where to go and what to see. She gave us a dinner recommendation that was only a few blocks away and told us the food would be great and the prices would not be “tourist prices.” She was right. Most of the people eating there were locals (the servers greeted many by name and knew their regular orders), and the food was wonderful. I had a superb octopus salad (regular readers aren’t surprised) and a dish called, “Portuguese fish and rice. So much great fish, so little time. This came in its own pot and was amazing. No way one person could eat it all, and I can’t begin to tell you how good it was. This restaurant easily passed the “Steve Test.” (If you eat in a restaurant while traveling, and that restaurant were near you once you got home, would you go there again?) If it were in Redmond, we would eat there weekly.

After a short walk back to the hotel, it was off to bed. The first night was not great (our only minor setback so far) as I had committed a big travel no-no and had not hydrated enough on our flights. This meant that I woke up in the middle of the night with a SPLITTING headache. Worst I have had in years. But after some Tylenol and lots of water, by the time I got up for my pre-dawn photo walk, I was feeling great. Crisis averted. Let this be a lesson to me—and to everyone who reads this—when you fly, drink a lot of water. One of my hardest conundrums when flying overnight is to balance the water intake with the number of times I have to use the facilities on the plane, interrupting my sleep. I went for sleep this time and paid for it later on. BTW: I also tried something different on this flight to help me sleep. It did get me a few hours of shut-eye (that would have been more if some tech-types sitting next to me hadn’t talked throughout the entire flight). I purposely did not have any alcohol, didn’t turn on the in-flight entertainment system, took my Kindle, and just read a book. I have to say it worked pretty well. May try it again in the future.

After that fun night, I was up for my usual pre-dawn photo walk. The photos I took on the walk are below. If it looks like the streets are wet, they are, and it’s from rain. But we never saw the rain. It rained again during breakfast, and we never saw them either. The weather here has been close to perfect since we got here. The highs are in the 60s and sunny, with the lows in the high 40s when I go out to walk just before sunup. I will take it. Speaking of pre-dawn photo walks, here are the pics I got yesterday morning (and a few from the night before). 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…

I was originally going to give you our first full day in Lisbon, but I have only gotten to breakfast (which, as you can see from Kathleen’s smiling face), which was awesome. And there is so much more to tell about the food tour we did and the incredible Christmas decorations and Christmas markets that I need to make that an entirely different post. This trip is going to be tough blogging. Just too much to cover (on the first day) and no time to do it. It is a good thing I am back on my regular schedule of rising at 3:30 am (local time). But still, between processing photos and writing, this will take a while. So be prepared for me to be writing about Lisboa when we are actually in Prague (on Tuesday), writing about Prague when we are in Vienna, and finishing the entire trip sometime after we are home on the 18th. I hope you like it so far (the trip and the post) because there is much more to come.

I’ve got two places I like to be—Portugal is one. —Cliff Richard

Day 1—Almost There

I have absolutely nothing better to do right now than write this post. Plus, I have been up for 24 hours at this point, and I still have at least eight more to go before I can go to bed. We are about three and a half hours through a five-hour layover at Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris, France, where the weather is cold and foggy.

Our travel day started off well with a perfect pickup by Century Car Service. We have been using them for a while now and are very happy with them. Our forever neighbor Lisa told us about them as she books them for her group at Microsoft. They are ALWAYS early. I love that. The drivers are classy, the cars sparkle, and we get whisked off to the airport like we were on a magic carpet. (Lousy analogy—but remember, I have been up for 24 hours.)

When we got to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac), we got through check-in and TSA pre-check security pretty darn quick, and we were off on the train to the S-gates, where we could spend our time waiting in The Club, a very nice lounge we get to use courtesy of our Chase Sapphire Visa card. What was especially nice was that our old friend Seth Wayne was also flying out (on British Air) simultaneously, so he came in and spent some time talking about travel like we always do. Seth is our friend who used to be a television weather person, had a weekly travel show on the radio (that I was a guest on a few times), then worked for Holland America and now owns his own escorted travel business, Sail with Seth.

After our visit with Seth, it was time to board our Delta flight, non-stop to Paris with connections (that’s what we are waiting for right now) to Lisbon. We flew on Delta coming home from Europe in the fall of 2022, and we were really not that happy with them. The seats in Business were hard as rocks; the food was just okay. For what we pay for Business Class, we kind of expect better.

So, if that is the case, why did I book a flight on Delta? The answer is—I didn’t. I booked a flight on Air France. I booked it about eleven months, and somewhere in the middle of those eleven months, Air France decided that flying to and from Seattle was just not profitable, so they pulled out and codeshared all their flights with Delta. So I didn’t pick them out; Air France did. We weren’t happy.

We are OK with it now. We are on an older plane (in this case, it turns out that’s a good thing as the newer ones have harder seats), and the food was pretty darn good. The service was excellent, and I am actually looking forward to going home on their service from here in Paris to Seattle.

When we disembarked in Paris (we have never flown to or through DeGaulle airport—the only time we have been to Paris, we flew into a smaller airport north of the city), we had to walk about a mile to get to where we could wait for our next flight. Not only that, we had to go out of and back into security and clear passport control. Took about an hour and a half. And their security is a total pain. You have to take everything out of your bags that we haven’t had to do in ages. My laptop, my Kindle, my Phone, my belt, Kathleen’s quart bag of makeup and beauty stuff, our coats…you name it, we had to put it in a basket for scanning.

Thank goodness we didn’t have a tight connection. We were happy to see what gate our next flight would be because there was an Air France First Class lounge right next to the gate. And sure enough—there was…but it was closed for renovations and the nearest other lounge we could into was back on the other side of that security and passport control we had just cone through. There was no way we were going back.

So we have been sitting here on very hard chairs (I just checked with my butt, and it agrees with me), freezing as this is a very cold part of the terminal, and the temperature outside is barely freezing.

This morning, before we left, my buddy Bob was giving me a hard time about flying. He is not a fan. Usually, I am okay with it, especially when we are in business or first class. But this long layover in a cold terminal on a hard seat is beginning to get to me. And then I think—what the hell? You are on vacation. You are in Europe. You got to fly here in Business class. Shut the heck up and stop complaining. I think I will do that as soon as we get to our Lisbon hotel, and I can take a shower and a nap. On the West Coast, where we live, it is 3:30 am. It’s 12:30 pm here in Paris, and we won’t be at the hotel until around 4:00. I’ll let you know tomorrow if we make it 😜.

What’s important is that a customer should get off the airplane feeling, ‘I didn’t just get from A to B. I had one of the most pleasant experiences I ever had, and I’ll be back for that reason.   – Herb Kelleher

Let me sum up…

This should be the last post on our Vista cruise from Montreal to Miami. I hope you have enjoyed following along and the photos I have posted. I promised a final review of what we liked and didn’t. Also, since Oceania has decided to become more Viking Ocean-like with their new Simply More inclusions, I will finish by comparing the two. They both desire to occupy the same space and attract the same cruisers.

When doing this post, I consulted all seven members of our party, and they mostly agreed with me. And please—realize these are my perceptions. Not yours. If you had a different experience on your cruise, let me know, but don’t challenge me on my opinion of what I experienced.

What we loved…

  • Obviously, the food. Oceania promises the best food at sea, and in 90% of their venues, they succeed. Every single place to eat was as good or better than any place I have eaten on any other ship. If cruising is all about food for you—you want Oceania.
  • The new-ship smell. Kathleen came up with the description. It was great to sail on a ship that was only six months old. Everything was bright and shiny. Of course, this won’t be true in a couple of years, but if you get on board this year, you should have the same experience.
  • Service was incredible. We haven’t had service like this in quite a few cruises. Besides the crew members themselves their training, the way they are treated and how they are managed. What a massive contrast to our last cruise on HAL’s Koningsdam, where no one was trained to do their job, and some of the things they did were just dangerous.
  • Vista is beautiful. Great design. Some nice art. Just about every part of this ship is gorgeous to look at.
  • The shower in my brother’s stateroom. I’m not sure if he had a different shower than we did; I do get it. He is a big guy, and a big shower is important to him. Sadly, I disagreed because that oversized shower (a big square) meant there was less room in the rest of the stateroom and less storage space.

What we thought needed improvement…

  • Their entire system for doing WiFi. Come on, Oceania. It makes me log in and out and kick my wife off. Even worse, it meant she couldn’t text me if she wanted to ask me something or let me know where she was. I totally realize that the new Simply More program (which includes two device logins) will be an improvement. But if you have more than one device on the ship with you (a phone, tablet and computer), you will have to log off one to get on the other. That means I have to log off or kick myself off before I can receive something else on the new device. Give us WiFi like every other cruise line if you get “FREE” WiFi. Quick messing with it. Even the guy in the digital center hates it. He said it is his biggest complaint. And from what I have seen on Cruise Critic, it hasn’t worked very well since the Simply More changeover.
  • Speaking of technology—they need to get an app! Every major cruise line has an app that you can text in (without having an internet package), you can see the daily program, you can check your account, you can see the menus for that evening, and so much more. In 2023, not having your own app says you are just stupid and living in the last century.
  • The elevators. I touched on this when I wrote about the ship’s public areas, but the elevators are ridiculous, and for a new ship, they broke down far too often. Thankfully, I don’t believe anyone got stuck in one, but there are just not enough of them. Sadly, they can do nothing about this, but they can improve it on future ships.
  • Very few spaces where you can see the sea. For a cruise line named after the ocean, they didn’t want you to see the ocean when they designed this ship. If you don’t have a verandah, you can’t see the ocean until you are on deck 12. Below that, the only place you can see off the ship is the Grand Dining Room. That’s nuts. All the other windows on decks five and six are covered with drapes, and there is no access to outdoor decks, let alone an actual promenade deck that encircles the ship. Again, this is one thing they can’t improve on Vista but should make note of for future ships.
  • The AC can’t keep up. If you are in the Aquamar Kitchen, the Waves Grille and most of the Terrace Cafe and doing a warm-weather cruise—you better love hot and humid temps. Both the Aquamar and the Grille are open to the outside and have no air conditioning that we could see. On cold days, they have heaters but not even fans for hot days. On our last sea day before we got to Miami, the temperature was in the high eighties/low nineties and the humidity was close to 90%. Finding a place to sit in the buffet where you didn’t get a blast of hot, humid air whenever someone came into or went out of the room was challenging. If you are from Florida, this probably won’t bother you, but those of us from the northern climates were dying.
  • Someplace to sit. There is really no place to sit and have a pre-dinner cocktail that doesn’t have music playing in it. Piano player in Martinis, dance band in Horizons and string quartet in the Grand Lounge. This is especially true if you want to get together with new or old friends and talk.   But this problem is one they can fix now. Just play excellent background music (like they play all day) in Martinis. No Bill Murray-style lounge singer with a grating voice who tries to drown out every single conversation. That should do it. If people want a quiet conversation pre-dinner, the only nice lounge is the Smoker’s Lounge. So many convert that to a regular lounge and just make the entire ship non-smoking?

That’s about it. See, we really had a great cruise. Yes, we missed two ports, but O gave us a future cruise credit for the one they were responsible for, and the other was due to weather, so it was not their fault. On the list of all our cruises, I would put it up with our HAL cruise on Nieuw Statendam or one of our early cruises with Celebrity until they decided they didn’t like cruisers our age anymore.

Let’s Compare

Over the last six months, Oceania has been bringing out its Simply More program that incorporates much of what Viking Ocean Cruises does. It adds free wine and beer at dinner, free internet (but only two devices at a time per stateroom) and more. So clearly, Oceania sees itself competing with Viking Ocean for the same clientele.

Since we left Celebrity, we have been looking for a new cruise line to lend our loyalty to. And so far it has come down to Oceania (O) or Viking Ocean (VO). So, since both O and I have decided to make a comparison, here is ours based on this 15-night cruise on O’s newest ship and our 21-night cruise on the slightly older Viking Sky last year around this time. Here’s how I see it. Again, please realize that this is MY PERCEPTION. If you had a different experience, please let me know but don’t attack my reality.

  • Stateroom Design (Viking wins). Staterooms on Viking for close to the same price are much bigger—there is a ton more storage space, which is important on longer cruises that we seem to take now.
  • Bathroom Design (Viking Wins). Even though my brother likes his shower better on Oceania, I like the bathroom layout much better. No wasted floor space
  • Internet (Viking Wins). I think I have been over this enough. From the minute we got on board Viking until the minute we got off, we had complete WiFi on every device we owned. I am not even sure if Viking offers an internet upgrade.
  • Cruise Ship App (Viking Wins). Oceania has no app. Viking’s isn’t perfect, but I can at least see what is going on during the day without a paper copy, and I can check menus around the ship and text each other.
  • Elevators (Viking Wins). Enough said. Kathleen never had to wait for an elevator on Viking. Ever.
  • Lounges (Viking Wins). There were a number of places we could get a quiet drink and have a conversation.
  • Closed-in Ship (Viking Wins). You can see the ocean from almost any public space on a Viking Ocean ship. Not true on Vista, where you can’t see it until you get to deck 12.
  • Promenade Deck (Viking Wins). If I am on deck five and want to know what the weather is like, I have to wait until I get back up to my stateroom to find out. There is no place below deck 12 (other than my verandah) where I can step outside. Plus, as a walker, I much prefer a walking track that is partially protected. With Vista’s being on deck 15, they closed on a number of days to walkers and joggers because of strong winds.
  • Interior furnishings (Viking Wins). This is really a matter of taste, but I just love Viking Ocean’s Scandinavian design. Much of Vista’s public space was beautiful, but some bordered on gaudy. I said bordered (the lighting in the Grand Lounge was really close to Vegas).
  • Horizons/Explorer’s Lounge (Viking Wins). Horizons is a cocktail lounge/dance hall. Explorer’s Lounge on Viking is on two levels. The top one is for quiet reading (I did most of my writing and photo processing up there), and the lower level has a bar and excellent seats for conversation.
  • The entire spa (Viking Wins). I am the first to admit that even though we were in a Concierge stateroom, I never tried the Aquamar Spa, but in my mind, Viking wins this one because everyone has access for free. Not just those in Concierge or above staterooms.
  • Outside activities (Oceania Wins). Deck 15 and 16 had so much you could do on sea days it wasn’t even funny. From bocce to shuffleboard, from pickleball to mini golf (not to mention the golf simulator and cornhole), it was a veritable playground for those wanting an outdoor diversion. If I had one criticism, it would be that they need more barriers to the wind as they had to close these decks fairly often at sea…which defeats the purpose.
  • Culinary Center (Oceania Wins). I don’t even think Viking has a Culinary Center. It is undoubtedly a draw for me.
  • Smoking Lounge (Oceania Wins). If you want to smoke on Viking, go outside in the weather. Vista’s Smoking Lounge is gorgeous. How about both cruise lines ban smoking entirely, and then Vista can open up her Smoking Lounge to people who want to gather before dinner and not hear music?
  • Casino (Viking Wins). Because they don’t have one. The space they saved by getting rid of their casino went into the Wintergarden, a beautiful room where anyone can gather. With Viking, we were drawn to the things they don’t have as much as to the things they do. No kids under 18, no casino, no ship photographers, no upsell in the spa, no indoor smoking, etc.
  • Artist’s Loft (Oceania Wins). Another great extra on Vista. I didn’t use it, but it was jammed every single day.
  • Complimentary pressing (Viking Wins). Oceania said we got pressing of our clothes when we arrived. There were coupons in our stateroom. Five of them. That means that you can have five things pressed. On Viking (in the PV–the stateroom we had), you got free pressing all the way through the entire cruise.
  • Free Laundry (Viking wins). We got about the same amount of free laundry on both ships, but the note on Vista said that it could take “up to three days.” Well, if I have three pairs of pants and two are dirty and I send them to be laundered and then I spill something on the one I kept, I am out of luck for three days. I do realize that they were under-promising and over-delivering because many who sent their laundry out got it back one day later. But I can’t take that chance.
  • Launderettes (tie). Both have great self-serve laundries, although the ironing boards on Vista could be bigger.
  • Beds (Oceania wins). This is a hands-down thing. My bed on Viking was almost unusable. It was way too hard for me. Our bed on Vista was excellent (Kathleen thought the pillows sucked, but they didn’t bother me that much).
  • Ships across the entire line (Viking Wins). We were on Vista, Oceania’s newest ship. The entire line has seven ships, with one on the way in 2025. We have heard that Vista, Marina and Riviera are all about the same size and have the same features. But the other four are old R-class ships with some of the tiniest staterooms in all of cruising.—175 square feet in their verandah staterooms, and their Penthouse Suites are only 260 square feet—they call that a suite? Our Concierge verandah on Vista was 250 square feet. The staterooms on those ships are just too small. And those ships were all built in the 1990s. That’s just too old. Viking has 11 ships, with one on the way in 2025. They are all identical—seriously. You go on one, you go on all of them. And all were built since 2014, with four of them going into service since 2022.
  • Deposit and Final Payment Due Dates (Oceania wins). This is a total given. Viking is notorious for having the earliest final payment dates in all of cruising. For instance, if I buy a Viking cruise today (October 2023) that will sail in December 2024, my Viking Ocean final payment will probably be due on December 31, 2023. But by the same token, Oceania’s final payment will be due 90 days before the cruise sales. Of course, you can still get all your money back from Viking before 120 days with only a $100 PP booking fee loss (and you can apply those to another cruise), but the biggest complaint I hear from Viking cruisers or those who want to cruise with Viking but haven’t tried them yet is this early final payment date. When someone asks me why they have that early a date, I tell them, “Because they can.” Their passengers are amazingly loyal. If people stopped booking Viking or their ships were sailing empty, this might change. But as of now, it isn’t.

Food! I thought this deserved a special category all its own

  •  Grand Dining Room/Main Dining Room (Oceania wins). I HATE Viking’s dining room. There were low ceilings and a staff (at least on our cruise) who was totally disorganized, not to mention some food that wasn’t really that good. O wins here big time.
  • Specialty Restaurants (Oceania Wins). Was there ever a doubt? There are only two on Viking—Manfredis and Chef’s Table. Manfredis is a sorry excuse for an Italian restaurant, and the Chef’s Table has a fixed menu. It changes every few days. If you don’t like what you get when you go on the day of your reservation, you are stuck. I was stuck. All four Vista specialty restaurants are better than either of these.
  • Grille (Viking Wins). Surprise. But the Grille on Viking is so much better than the Waves Grille (for lunch) that it isn’t even close.
  • Buffet (Tie). I almost gave it to Oceania here, but cold desserts and serving entirely the same menu two nights in a row knocked it down to a tie.
  • Mamsens/Baristas (Oceania). I have to get this to Baristas. I love Mamsens, but Baristas’s pastries and coffees are so much better.
  • Aquamar Kitchen (Oceania Wins). Because there is nothing like it on a Viking ship. And I want to eat lunch there every single day.
  • Pricing (Tie): Here’s a comparison of two different cruises in three types of staterooms.

Here’s a price comparison on a 2024 New England cruise. This is much like the one we did, minus Miami and Charleston.

  • Viking Penthouse Verandah (338 square feet) for 15 nights in New England is $8999 per person. Per Night cost on Viking is $599 pp
  • Oceania Concierge Verandah (173 square feet) 18 nights New England on Nautica (one of the older ships) $10,599 per person. Per Night costs $588 pp
  • Oceania Penthouse suite (260 Square feet) $13799 pp, $766 per night pp.

Or I did a Mediterranean cruise in the same time frame. Comparing a Rivera–10-night Med cruise in the fall of 2024 with a 15-night cruise in the Med on any Viking ship.

  • On Viking: Penthouse Verandah for 15 nights Med (338 square feet) $ 11809 Per night $739 pp
  • On Oceania: Concierge Veranda Stateroom (242 square feet): $6299 pp Per night  $629.
  • Penthouse Suite (420 square feet) $ 7599 pp Per night $759

Yes, each line offers different things with their base price, and they aren’t all the same. I met a guy on Vista, an accountant who does an Excel spreadsheet for all their cruises. I am not that interested. A few dollars either way doesn’t make that big a difference to us. Ultimately, it all comes down to what is important to you. If it’s food, sail with Oceania (stick to their bigger ships), but if it is pretty much everything other than their final payment stuff, try Viking. All that said, we have future cruises booked with both of them, so I guess we are still deciding.

Reality doesn’t bite, rather our perception of reality bites.
—Anthony J. D’Angelo




It’s All About the Food

As is the case on so many cruises, it’s all about the food. There is something about being able to eat out at a restaurant every single night during a vacation, and they never bring you the check (except for drinks).

Within the cruise industry, it is common knowledge that Oceania is known to have the “best cuisine at sea.” Is this true? My judgment is that I expected too much and that 90% of their food is better than 90% of the food on other cruise lines. Other lines we have been on have had some dishes or meals that have stood out over the years. The original United States Dining Room on Celebrity’s Infinity was amazing, as was Qsine before Celebrity ruined it with their stupid Petit Chef. Some meals in Club Orange on Nieuw Statendam were as good as anything we ate on Vista. The grille on Viking Sky is better than the Waves Grille on Vista. But all in all, Vista has better food overall.

The Steve Test

After our disastrous Celebrity Millenium cruise in May of 2022, my brother Steve came up with a way to rate food and restaurants on a cruise better than I have ever been able to do it myself. From then on, I have called this the Steve Test. Here it is: If you eat in a food venue on a ship, be it the main dining room, buffet, grille or a specialty restaurant, and that restaurant were near you once you got home, would you go there again?  

That’s pretty simple, right? I think it is the best way I have ever heard of to rate food on cruise ships and I will rate each venue (and, in the case of some of them, by the dish or meal) using the Steve Test.

Please keep in mind that the Steve Test Ratings below are my ratings. Steve will (I hope) chime in with a comment about what he thinks passed his test.

Editor’s Note: Since this is about the food, I struggled to figure out how to cover it. I didn’t want just to list things we ate. So let’s take it venue by venue. And sorry, but I don’t have the menus for every restaurant, but my buddy Mike will when he does his review. I am more about taking “pretty pictures,” and Mike is about remembering that you want to read the menus. I will post a link as soon as his review is up. Is it done yet, Mike?

The Grand Dining Room

This is the best place to start. We ate dinner here our first three nights and never went back. It wasn’t that we didn’t like the food. It was because they had just about the same food in the buffet, and when we went to the buffet, we didn’t have to dress up and put on hard-sole shoes. We also found that dinner took so much longer there. If we went to dinner when the dining room opened at 6:30, we never got out of there before 8:30. Sometimes that is fine, but when you are going to bed at 9:00, it leaves you stuffed and feeling bloated when you are trying to sleep. We also found that we ate too much. We would be seated; they would bring out some bread to keep us going while we went over the menus. They would take our order and bring more bread. We would eat it. They would bring the appetizers…and more bread. Then the same thing through the salad course, the soup course and finally the entrées. The only course without bread of some kind was dessert. And yes, I have absolutely no self-control when it comes to bread of any kind. So we switched to the buffet for dinner.

I will say here that the dining room food and ambiance were far superior to Viking Ocean or pretty much any cruise ship dining room we have eaten in for quite a while. Here are some of the dishes we had in the Grand Dining Room. I tried to remember what they were, but it’s been two weeks. I will mention if they were either exceptional, bewildering or just bad. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping.

We also had breakfast in the Grand Dining Room once because they serve lamb chops for breakfast, and we all had to try that—because we all love lamb—at least Steve and I do. Here’s the pics on that.

My Steve Test Rating: Nope, not special enough. Nothing really stood out. If this restaurant were next door to my house, I wouldn’t go back.

The Terrace Cafe

In the buffet, we found pretty much the same food as the dining room but in a more relaxed setting, and we also found (much to our surprise) that we ate less. For one thing, a lot less bread. We would all go grab a salad or some sushi, have that, and then instead of eating bread and waiting for the next course, we would just walk back and get an entrée or two. When we were done with that, we went back and grabbed a dessert. And all of it was excellent food.

We did have a couple of quibbles. First, the desserts were always cold. Even cobblers and bread puddings that should have been served warm were kept cold on purpose. It ruined a bunch of very good desserts. Second, sometimes, they would repeat menus/theme evenings. The last two nights had the exact same menu, and we actually think that some parts of what was available that evening were just leftovers from the night before. Sadly, this is what their parent company, Norwegian Cruise Line, is doing with their top-tier Haven product. They have the same menu every night in their Haven dining room, so why not migrate that idea to Oceania? It would also be nice if they had a couple of other large tables. With seven of us, we had only two tables in the buffet where we could all fit. Steve and Jamie would often go up and save one of those two big tables so we could all eat together. Other than those three rather minor things, we loved the Terrace Cafe.

The thing I really loved the most, Terrace, was the service they gave our buddy Jocelyn, who was walking with a cane. Almost every time she would go to get some food, she would come back to the table with no plate in her hand…but she would be followed by a server or maitre’d with her plate in their hand. I loved how they took such great care of her—heck, of all of us.

My Steve Test Rating: I would go back…for certain items and for the amazing selection of things. There was never a night (not even when we had the same menu two nights in a row) that I couldn’t find something I really wanted to try.

I also need to mention one amazing meal that we ate in the Terrace Cafe. Other than our night at Toscana, this was the most memorable food I had on board. I wish they had done this menu again and again. I would have eaten there every day. It was a Mexican-themed lunch. And the Chocolate Mole’ Braised Short Ribs were the second best dish I had on the entire cruise…from any Vista restaurant. It is really hard to get a chocolate mole’ sauce to work. So many chefs try it but Vista’s chef hit the ball out of the park. That plus there were a lot of other great Latin-American dishes as well.