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




And We’re Off!

It’s almost time to start our big journey. Just before 2:00 pm on Monday, our good friend Marjorie is going to pick us up and take us to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport where we will check in with Delta and wait about three hours until we are scheduled to take off on flight 144, a non-stop to Amsterdam at 5:20 pm (just about 24 hours from when I am writing this). We did a COVID test this morning and we are good to go. Our meals on the plane are ordered and after we eat dinner, I will get our boarding passes printed out.

We are supposed to get into Amsterdam at 12:20 on Tuesday afternoon (that’s our route above). Hopefully, we will be on time and picked up at the airport and transported to what we believe is the greatest hotel on planet Earth, The Banks Mansion. By the time we walk into the “Living Room” at The Banks, my brother and sister-in-law should be sitting there having a drink (free bar!!!) and waiting for us to join them.

We are then headed to a traditional Dutch dinner at Moeder’s. Probably going to have stamppot, a traditional Dutch dish. According to Wikipedia, it’s Dutch comfort food. We had it the last time we were in Amsterdam and it was wonderful.

We will spend the next day (Wednesday) touring Amsterdam, going to the Van Gogh museum and having dinner at Restaurant ZaZa which we loved on our last visit to Amsterdam. Then early next morning we will all head to the busiest airport in Europe, Schipol, where we will catch our 12:20 pm flight to Athens, Greece. Hopefully, we will arrive pretty close to when we are supposed to, meet our other traveling companions (my sister-in-law’s sister and her husband) and hopefully head to dinner at a traditional Greek restaurant I have reservations for.

The next day we will tour Athens with Alexios from Tours By Locals (a tour company we have used before and I love). Then another dinner in the Plaka district. The other thing we have to do on Friday is to take a COVID test. Here’s a strange situation. Greece requires a COVID test to LEAVE their country. I get it when someplace wants to keep COVID out of their country by testing those coming in. But to require a test only for people leaving their country makes no sense.

Then next Saturday, we will board the Viking Sky for our 21-day cruise. Viking calls it the Mediterranean & Adriatic Sojurn. Here’s where we are going.

For Kathleen and I this will be a chance to revisit many places we have been. For the rest of our group, this will be their first time in this part of the world. Although we have been to most every place after we leave Sicily, we have never been to most of the stops in the Adriatic Sea. We have spent time in Venice and it has always been one of our favorite cities. It was really the first place we ever went to in Europe. Luckily for us, we have almost three full days in Venice. Our good buddies (and always neighbors, Jayesh and Lisa) were there last month and did some scouting for us, finding us some amazing restaurants to try. We can’t wait to try.

So I want to invite you to virtually follow us on this journey. I will do my best to post here on a very regular basis but with not a single sea day on this trip, I might run a little late. And of course, it also depends on the quality of the WiFi on the ship. So make sure you have subscribed so you can keep up with the ports. You know how much I love to share our travels. See you soon, right here.

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
—St. Augustine

Why Viking?

Since my last post was about why we are leaving Celebrity Cruise Lines after 25+ cruises I thought I would give you a quick explanation of why we have decided that the first cruise line we will try post-Celebrity (other than some HAL, RCL and Azamara cruises we have already done) will be Viking Ocean.

The first reason is that one of our closest friends (who we met when we started working at our original Expedia office) has been on a bunch of Viking cruises and has many more planned. She sold us completely for a lot of reasons. For us, it pretty much comes down to what Viking has but maybe it is really more about what they don’t have.

Here are the things we love about Viking and why we can’t wait to board the Viking Sky in about two weeks.

  • No one under 18 can cruise on Viking. (It’s not that we don’t like kids; we took our grandkids on Royal Caribbean. That’s where kids belong.)
  • No smoking. Anyplace. We are vehement anti-smokers. I get the worst headaches when I breathe cigarette smoke.
  • No art auctions.
  • No casinos. These two normal places on most ships take up room that Viking uses for rest and relaxation.
  • No charge for beer or wine with lunch or dinner.
  • No ship photographers in your face all the time selling photos no experienced cruiser really wants.
  • No upselling in the spa.
  • No charge for internet access.
  • No charge for specialty restaurants. You are guaranteed two reservations per cruise and long-time Viking cruisers tell us it is no problem getting in to the restaurants on more nights than that once you are on board.
  • Viking includes one shore excursion in every port. These are usually walking tours of a downtown or coach tours of the surrounding area…or a combination of both. There are also other excursions you can purchase at reasonable prices.
  • All staterooms are at least verandahs. There are no inside (no windows) or outside (a window that does not open). There are also a few suites, but about 90% of the staterooms are verandahs.
  • Every stateroom has a minbar that is included. You know, like the ones in many cruise staterooms or hotels where a candy bar costs $5. Depending on the type of stateroom you are in, yours get restocked every day or every other day. Also depending on what stateroom you are in, you get alcoholic beverages in your minibar. In our Penthouse Verandah stateroom, ours will be refreshed every day and we do get gin, vodka, whiskey and one other liquor as well as mixers.
  • A couple relax inside a penthouse veranda stateroom on board the Viking Star

    All the staterooms are large staterooms. The smallest class of staterooms on the ship are 270 square feet. By comparison, the smallest staterooms on a Celebrity ship are 170 square feet. We are in a Penthouse Veranda (not a suite) and our stateroom is 338 square feet. That is only 40 square feet smaller than the Neptune Suite we were in last January on Nieuw Statendam. I am going to post a video tour of what our stateroom looks like once we are onboard. Based on what we have seen it is very comparable to what we had on Celebrity Flora.

    Penthouse Junior Suite Bathroom
  • The staterooms have huge bathrooms with heated floors and a gigantic (for a cruise ship regular verandah stateroom) shower enclosure and we get both a couch and a chair around a coffee table.
  • Only 928 guests on the entire ship. There are 465 crew members which is about a 2-1 ratio—above average for most cruise lines.
  • Their smaller ships can get into smaller ports. On our cruise next month we go to a lot of small towns in Greece, the Adriatic, Spain, France and the back side of Italy’s boot that a big cruise ship could not get near or would have to tender into.
  • Viking focuses on ports and traveling. Our cruise is from Athens to Barcelona with NO sea days (my next post will show you our complete itinerary). It will be exhausting but at least there are four overnights (Athens before, Venice, Livorno and Barcelona post-cruise).
  • No formal, fancy chic or “whatever cruise lines are calling it now” nights. Dress in the dining room is fairly casual. They just ask that you don’t wear shorts or jeans. That means less packing.
  • There is a full laundry on every deck. so more reasons you can pack less. There is no charge to use their laundry. All soap and fabric softener included. If you have clothes that need ironing, those are available too. And if you are in a PV or higher stateroom (like we are) all pressing is free.
  • No waiting in lines because there are so few guests and the ship is so well designed.
  • No nickel and diming. You can have a great cruise without paying an extra cent. Everything is included except gratuities and we pre-paid ours.
  • Much more interesting food. The menus look amazing as do the videos we have seen about the food.
  • The ships are gorgeous—a clean Scandinavian design. We have seen so many pictures, read a bunch of descriptions and watched a ton of videos.
  • No caste system. If you are in the lowest category of stateroom or the highest suite, no one will know what category you are in after you are on board. Everyone has access to everything. No special places/restaurants/sections for suite guests.
  • Longer cruises in more exotic places. I refuse to fly all the way to Europe for a 7-night cruise. Other than the Baltic, that’s about all Celebrity (and most other cruise lines) do anymore. Most of our Celebrity European and Down Under cruises were 14 nights minimum. Viking has 7, 14, 21, and 28-night cruises. That’s worth going to Europe for. And we are. Watch for our itinerary announcement early next week.
  • We have been told that their televisions play Downton Abbey on repeat. We LOVE Downton Abbey so we will be all set 😜 if we are stuck in our staterooms. I plan to watch the entire series all over again in between shore stops.

I think that pretty much covers it (as if that weren’t enough). And yes, it is more expensive. A Viking Ocean cruise is not cheap but we believe it is a great value. I priced out our 21-night cruise on Viking Sky against three seven-night cruises on Celebrity (they don’t have any 21-day cruises). When you add in everything we get and that they don’t have—Viking wins hands down. Come on along with us over the next few weeks and find out if we are right.

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get. —Warren Buffett