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