Viking Ocean Cruises - From the Caribbean to the Amazon
I have always been fascinated with the Amazon River. It was a dream for me to be able to sail from the source the river to the mouth and visit small native villages, walk through the tropical forest and experience the wildlife. Who wouldn't like to watch monkeys swinging on vines going from tree to tree? Who wouldn't want to experience witch doctors perform their rituals? Who wouldn't want to swim with exotic fish and fly with colorful birds? This was an opportunity to live part of my dream with a bonus of setting foot on Caribbean islands.
To be honest, I knew that we could not explore the entire river. A large passenger ship could only sail as far as the river let it sail. Besides, we were at the headwaters a few years ago and checked off most of my to-see list. The lower part of the river that we were on was much more developed (in relative terms) and much less exotic. The native villages were large metropolises. The monkeys that we saw were in French Guiana. Although some passengers saw pink dolphins, the fish that we saw were dried piranhas sold by vendors near our piers. Birds were heard but not seen. Viking's excursions were designed to get us out of the ports and let us explore the countryside. Ann and I did this and had some very interesting walks in the tropical forest although after three walks scenery and the presentation became repetitive. We learned a lot about tropical trees and undergrowth as well as practical survival techniques that had been used for centuries. We learned which ants to stay far away from and which tree limbs we could use to build a roof. We also had some scenic boat rides and saw houses built on stilts along a small river. We learned a little about the culture with its ethnic mix of South American and European races. We were fortunate to see a Brazilian folklore performance with its elaborate costumes. I was generally happy with our explorations on the Amazon.
The shores along the river were sparsely populated and the land beyond was very flat. Contrasting with the brown river water, the foliage that we could see on the banks was thick, lush and green but not very tall. The cities where we docked were densely populated but fun to walk around. To my eye, there was a lack of city planning and zoning with historical and modern buildings next to run-down housing and shopping areas. There were a lot of buses and cars driving on marginal pavement.
I think that the next rivers that I want to sail on are the Mississippi and the Congo just so I can contrast them to the Amazon.
The non-Amazon excursions that stand out to me were in Iles du Salut where we visited the old French prisoner island and Castries where we sailed on a catamaran to visit a plantation and later stopped in a cover to go swimming. The other excursions were get off of the ship and see a little countryside.
Speaking of the ship, the Viking Sea is one of the newest ships in the Viking fleet. It is classified as a small ship and was built in 2016. Its length is 745 feet and its beam is 94.5 feet. It carries 930 passengers. Compared to the much larger Holland America ships that we have sailed on in the past, the feel of the Viking Sea was much more pleasant. The boarding experience was much nicer with no long lines when we checked in. When we walked up the gangplank, there were no photographers "commemorating" our boarding. I do not recall any obtrusive official photographers during the entire cruise. I do not recall smelling cigarette smoke and there was no casino.
Our veranda cabin was very comfortable but a little cramped. We had to coordinate using the closet because it was so close to the bed. Our small veranda had two chairs and a table. We did not use it much because it was often damp and sometimes windy while we were underway. It gave us a feeling of extra spaces, though. There were plenty of outlets for our electronic devices and free wifi was a luxury. We had two upholstered arm chairs, a table and a desk with another chair. Our king size bed was comfortable along with bedside tables and controls to operate the lights. The closet was adequate and drawer space was OK. Temperature control was responsive. My favorite appliance was the Espresso machine which brewed very strong tasty coffee each morning. Our bathroom had plenty of storage space for our toilet kits. It also had a roomy shower with a large shower head that distributed water evenly and efficiently. A special feature was the heated floor which we did not need so much in the equatorial climate. The hallway leading to our door had an annoying bright night light that I had to cover with one of our large pillows each night. We could have turned it off but that would have turned off the bathroom light which we needed. The mini refrigerator had complimentary soft drinks and snacks.
The dining areas on the ship were outstanding. The World Cafe was a buffet where we had almost all of our lunches and some of our breakfasts and dinners. The only time it was crowded was during a special seafood meal where passengers went nuts over the shrimp and crab. At other times there were much fewer diners giving us an opportunity to talk to the wait staff. We found that they came from countries all over the world, were very friendly, remembered you and spoke excellent English. The food was very good, too. Besides the food displayed on the buffet, we could make special orders for eggs, sandwiches, etc. We had good desserts and complimentary beer and wine with lunch and dinner.
We also ate in The Restaurant, The Chef's Table, Manfredi's Italian Restaurant, Mansen's Cafe and the Pool Grill. Although Manfredi's was really good, my favorite was The Chef's Table. It had a delicious rotating country themed menu with wine parings for each course. We left each time feeling very happy. Although the food was very good, the service at The Restaurant was irritatingly slow both at breakfast and at dinner. It got better later in the cruise. The were no additional charges for eating in the specialty venues although we had to make reservations.
We had before-dinner drinks in the Explorer's Lounge a few times. This was on Deck 7 at the bow. It had large windows with an excellent view of where we were going.
There was an Atrium that spanned Decks 1-3. This was a large public area where small performances were held. We also spent some time sitting on its comfortable couches reading during downtime.
The Theater on Deck 2 was the venue for entertainment and for meeting our excursions. Musical entertainers were very good. I really enjoyed the Viking Singers, a quartet from England. The group also had some solo performances. I was surprised that they also were part of the ship's crew when help was needed to coordinate large groups.
The interior has a modern Scandinavian design. Colors were light with no glitzy frills. The stairwells have have woven tapestries depicting Norse scenes. This makes climbing the stairs more interesting.
If asked if I would recommend sailing on a Viking ocean ship I would emphatically say yes.