The Viking Sea
Barcelona to Lisbon
by Olivia Balsinger
Recently I had the privilege of spending a week aboard The Viking Sea, sailing in luxury and comfort from Barcelona to Lisbon. Although I am by no means a connoisseur, I have dabbled in my fair share of voyages over the years on a variety of different vessels—large boats, small boats, luxury boats, family boats. (Let’s just say I’ve seen a boatload). After all of these experiences, I can say frankly that none compared to the Viking’s latest ocean liner, Viking Sea. From the moment I stepped foot on Viking Sea, I recognized immediately that Viking has set a new standard for ocean cruising.
My time aboard the Viking Sea can be described via several binaries: intimate yet expository, old school yet state-of-the-art, enriching yet relaxing. It is a genuinely ageless experience, with a diverse program that can be curated to appeal to every demographic. You may choose to simply sip a cup of Norwegian coffee in the Wintergarden in the company of your oldest friends; or, maybe you would prefer listening to the mellow tunes in the Torshavn dance hall, cocktail in hand, as you sway like the rhythmic waves that carry you from port to port.
The ship carries up to 930 passengers and 550 crew members, who hail from all over the globe. With such a small guest-staff ratio, you can expect nothing less than pristine service.
Those who are familiar with typical cruising crowds may know that Viking isn’t exactly the “let’s get drunk and hit up the casino before the disco” kind of crowd. (Viking cruises don’t even have casinos onboard!) In fact, the CEO and chairman of Viking Cruises, Torstein Hagen, said that the average demographic of Viking passengers is even older than other cruise lines.
And although I myself miss this elder demographic by a few decades, I never felt I was at a disadvantage. I enjoyed the entertainment, of course, but what was truly impressive was Viking’s ability, in this day and age of constant connectivity, to create an environment that helped me completely and absolutely relax and be present.
And that is precisely why I loved it. Because a journey with Viking brings you back to the simple. To the idea that even today, you don’t have to be entertained by the newest and most modern video entertainment system or virtual reality set (while still having impeccable access to complimentary, unlimited Wi-Fi onboard!) Instead of spending my time at the disco, standing in heels that gave me blisters, trying to impress the nearest stud muffin, I was in the auditorium, listening to the cha cha cha and the clickety click of Barcelona salsa dancers and learning the history of the rhumba. Afterall, as Hagen often jokes, “This is a thinking man’s cruise, not a drinking man’s cruise.”
The premise behind a Viking cruise itinerary is to expose passengers to everything there is to know about a destination—its food, its music, its culture. The goal is to entirely immerse you in another world where Ted Talks and lectures on history and culture for the sailing destinations replace traditional cruise movie theatres, where a meditation class frees your mind from trivial societal thoughts and…dare I say?…relax.
The Viking Sea’s decor is also calming, permeating with understated elegance of Scandinavian design– light woods, delicate textiles and soft lines are consistent throughout the ship. I would often meander around the ship, taking in the ornate artwork, tapestries and artifacts that decorate the walls.
Viking’s motto is “Exploring the world in comfort,” an accurate adage to the standard at which they have held themselves and undoubtedly excelled. Whichever stateroom and price point a traveler chooses aboard the Viking Sea, they will still have ample space, as even the smallest of the 465 cabins measures a quite generous 270 square feet. Additionally, all rooms come with a balcony—the prime location to enjoy a decadent breakfast, watching the waves and the distant horizon. The bathrooms have heated floors and the closets boast more storage space than the average cruising ship. Additionally, the cabins are kept pristine—serviced twice a day– and each room features a large king size bed (which can be split into twins), comfortable seating and a desk area.
I was also grateful for the plethora of amenities throughout the evenings at sea. I enjoyed multiple nights under the stars in the zero-edge infinity pool on the top deck of the ship, overlooking the sparkling ocean below–or relishing a four course meal of fresh Tuscan cuisine at Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant with its myriad of choices. Another favorite pastime of mine was partaking in the intimate Scandinavian tradition of the Snow Grotto and sauna; there is something about the juxtaposition of burning water versus the chill of the snow that gets your blood flowing.
While you can certainly spend days aboard the ship enjoying its many amenities, one of the highlights of any cruise is docking in exotic ports and wearing those figurative explorer pants. And the Viking Sea was engineered in such a way that it can sail into more intimate ports that would not necessarily be on a larger shop itinerary. Viking prides itself on its focus on destinations and ability to give travelers an in-depth experience on a variety of itineraries.
I was able to get a taste of the western Mediterranean by the multifaceted, quite varied journey between Barcelona and Lisbon, with stops in Cadiz and Seville. Though I have previously wandered both cities with solely a knapsack on my back and no sense of timing or plans, the organization and structure that Viking provided for the excursion programs allowed me to experience highlights of destination in a digestible manner. Each port we visited included an optional free excursion to become acquainted with the city, most of which included a driving and walking component.
Other optional excursions may have cost a bit more, but allowed us to dive-in culturally to parts of the country than may have otherwise gone unseen. I chose to take a four-wheel drive tour through the rolling hills outside of Cadiz. We ventured to the village of Veejer de la Frontera—a network of steep streets with whitewashed houses, the only color coming from the flowers peppering the balconies. This unique European character stems from the Arab conquering of the city the same year the Iberian Peninsula was invaded. It is one of those pinpoints on a map that I never would have never thought to explore had I been traveling alone.
Another immersion experience, rightfully named The Kitchen Table Experience, allows you to immerse in the local culture by learning some tricks of the culinary trade; this new set of skills will be the ultimate souvenir to bring home and impress your friends (because, lets face it, ordering via an app every night gets pretty old.) For only $199, the experience begins with a visit to the local market in Barcelona, in the company of the executive chef, to buy ingredients in Spanish. Travelers then have the opportunity to create authentic and delicious masterpieces, the chef on hand to assist and provide guidance every mouth-watering step of the way.
We have ample time in our daily lives to experience the grandiose—flashy billboard signs, over-the-top performances with blinding disco lights, IMAX movie theaters in three-dimensional glasses. But every once in a while our society needs to be brought back to simple experiences with complex meaning– to the pursuit of leisurely and thoughtful dinners that do not require engagement with six screens simultaneously; to learning about the cruise destination through engagement activities such as speakers, films and salsa performances. To disembarking at the end of the journey and thinking, “Wow. I actually feel like I understand this part of the world a bit better than I did before.” That is a Viking Sea experience for you.
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