Cruise reservation and journey to Iceland from France
The resumption of cruises is slowly taking place in July 2021, and each company in turn is relaunching its ships. Some of these companies have had to drastically revise their offer, going so far as to eliminate a large number of cruises well beyond their resumption, until 2022. It will take months for the largest companies before being 100% operational again.
While interested in these reboots, I came across the Jupiter of the Viking Ocean Cruises company, positioned in Reykjavik in Iceland, and offering a cruise around the island in 7 nights. It was really on a whim that I tried to book this cruise which departed on Tuesday August 3rd 2021, while it was Sunday August 1st. Surprisingly, the company was still accepting reservations within 48 hours of departure!
It was done, just after checking the conditions for travel from France to Iceland, and taking a look at the available flights. The trip was possible if we were vaccinated and if we had a negative PCR test of less than 72 hours.
For boarding, the same rules: mandatory vaccination and recent negative PCR test. On board, wearing a mask is compulsory, except when sitting down to have a drink or eat, and except in your cabin. In addition, each passenger must accomplish 2 tasks every morning: put a little saliva in a tube in their cabin, the content of which will be used for a test, and take their temperature on the screens available everywhere on the boat. There were no cases of covid during this cruise, preventing a possible unfortunate passenger from being disembarked immediately and repatriated home, thanks to his compulsory Covid insurance.
The ship’s capacity has been limited to 750 passengers (instead of the possible 930) for this cruise. During the stopovers, the exits were free. The mask, on the ground, was only compulsory indoors.
Viking Ocean Cruises’ principles
The company Viking Cruises started its activity with river cruises. It has many boats around the world. Its activity on the oceans is more recent. The first ship for this activity was launched in 2015. Since then, the fleet has grown at a good pace, with now 8 boats: Star, Sea, Sky, Orion, Jupiter, Venus, Mars (2022) and Neptune (2022). All of these ships are basically identical. Same capacity (930 passengers), same design, same organization. It is an “all inclusive” company, which also boasts of not replicating the shortcomings of its competitors (including the famous “nickel and dime”). At each stopover, there is one excursion included in the price of the cruise and others, at an additional cost. Drinks are partially included, with wine or beer at meals. A wider choice of drinks is available à la carte, or with the “Silver Beverage Package” (approximately $20 per day per person). It is worth it if you have a few drinks outside of your meal and want to broaden your choice of wines.
Wifi is also included in the price of the cruise. There is no upgrade possible, and it is not wifi for streaming. It works pretty well but is not very fast.
Another point that differentiates Viking: the services linked to the type of the cabin. The more you choose a higher end cabin, the more the associated services increase. For example, in the Veranda (cabin with balcony, the simplest), you only have non-alcoholic drinks in your fridge (which are included in the price, and supplied daily). In a larger Penthouse cabin, the fridge will contain alcoholic drinks, as well as a bottle of champagne on the first day. Etc.
Another distinction between cabin levels is the timeframe with which passengers can book their excursions and dinners in advance. The Suites will see these reservations open the earliest, then it will be the Penthouses, then the Verandas, which will be able to reserve … what is left. There is still something that is not included in the price supposedly “all inclusive” : the autogratuities, this daily amount per passenger for room service, classic on most companies, but quite often now included in the price. Here it was $15 per day per passenger, or $ 210 for the 7-night cruise in a 2-person cabin.
Their presentation of what Viking is not … also commands attention!
My cabin was a Penthouse, approximately 34m2, with a slightly larger balcony than the Veranda cabins. The bedroom is in 2 parts, one with the bed, the other with a sofa and an armchair around a coffee table. It is comparable to what other companies often refer to as a “mini-suite”. For storage, it was impressive, with 2 pieces of furniture full of drawers, plus a cupboard at the entrance. One of the pieces of furniture serves as an office with electrical outlets in different sizes, as well as USB outlets. You also find this variety of holds on each side of the bed. We obviously appreciated the double USB sockets on both sides as well.
Opposite the bed, a 42 “television is mounted on the wall. It is not possible to change its orientation, and therefore watching it from the lounge part of the cabin is not ideal. It is equipped with a sound bar, which improves the quality of listening. The system allows access to all the information of the ship, to book excursions or dinners in the various restaurants. A selection of international channels is accessible in TV mode, but during my cruise, the streams were almost all cut. Finally, it is possible to watch films or series on demand. The catalog is quite small, but sufficiently varied and free of charge. Note that, like most companies, Viking does not provide access to the TV’s HDMI sockets, so it is not possible to (physically) connect an external source. A bad point to me.
A fridge contains drinks included and renewed every day. In a Penthouse, there are a few soda, mini bottles of spirits, as well as a bottle of champagne (which is not renewed). A carafe of water is also available in the room.
The access to the balcony, as this cabin is a little wider than the Veranda, is different from the classic large sliding glass doors: a large fixed window brings light to the room and the living area, and a separate door, opens outwards. It’s a nicer setup, it’s true.
The bathroom is equipped with a shower, a basin surrounded by storage, and a toilet. The room is heated by the floor, which is not unpleasant! Various toiletries are available, renewed as the days go by.
Also available, an audio guide system which could be used during excursions, but also to walk around the ship and listen to explanations on the different parts or works of art here and there.
A chargeable cleaning service is available. Note that there are also “launderettes”, small self-service laundries, with washing machines, dryers as well as ironing boards and irons … and laundry product is free! Practice.
Le Viking Jupiter
You cannot be disoriented from one ship to another at Viking Ocean Cruises. All boats are the same. The passenger decks are numbered from 1 to 8, below which there is also deck A, where the sick bay is located and, most of the time, the entry / exit of the boat.
On deck 1 are a few shops, the gym, the spa, the reception (open 24 hours), the atrium, a lounge bar. On deck 2, the Chef’s Table, Manfredi and The Restaurant restaurants, with several private rooms, and a lounge surrounding the atrium up to deck 3. Between decks 3 and 6, mainly cabins. On deck 7, the Word Café, the Explorer’s Lounge, the swimming pools, the Winter Garden …
There are 2 groups of elevators which seem efficient enough that you never have to wait long. The design is Scandinavian, it’s quite sober but still very classy. Some animal skins give a “Viking” aspect to the different places. There are no interior cabins, they are all exterior with a balcony.
There is also a good surprise: here and there you can find electrical and USB outlets, sometimes directly integrated into the furniture!
The swimming pools
When you look at the Viking ships, you can’t miss the infinity pool at the back. This is one of the design highlights. Easy to access, you can swim there in peace because it is not too busy. Viking has chosen not to overload its ships with the number of passengers. You can feel it. You can enjoy a breathtaking view, whether the ship is docked or sailing. The water is heated (83 degrees Fahrenheit).
The other pool is indoors. It is larger and allows minimal swimming. Also heated, it adjoins a hot tub. It is located under a roof that can be opened when outside conditions permit. In Iceland, I have never seen it open! In the same place are the Pool Grill and the Pool Bar. You can therefore have a drink or a quick bite to eat during the day.
The 2 pools closed around 8 p.m. during this cruise. Most of the time, and it was a real pleasure, there were no crowds and the atmosphere was systematically calm, silent and therefore restful.
Bars and lounges
The Viking Bar is on deck 1, in the “Viking Living Room”. This is where the atrium is located, and where artists, violinists, pianists perform … it is a large living room with different parts and nooks, all warm. In addition to all the drinks, there is a snack corner whose content varies depending on the time of day: pastries in the morning, small sandwiches during the day, savory appetizers in the evening, sweet desserts later in the night…
The second bar is located in the Explorers’ Lounge, on decks 7 and 8. Located at the bow of the ship, it offers a panoramic view over 2 floors. Here too, snacks are available at different times of the day at Mamsen’s. The waffles are worth the detour!
It is at the back of the World Café that we find a third bar, the Aquavit Bar. It serves drinks for meals from this buffet, as well as orders from the outdoor pool.
The World Café offers coffee and tea continuously, day and night.
Finally, the TorsHavn is the night bar, staring at 9PM and open late. Musicians play during the evening.
The main restaurant is called “The Restaurant”… It is possible to reserve a table, but it isn’t an obligation, and there are no fixed hours like first and second service (phew!). In addition to the proposals that change every day, a starter, main course, dessert menu is inspired by the culinary traditions of the stopover of the day or the region of the cruise, as well as a vegetarian menu. Gluten-free dishes are indicated throughout the menu and are quite numerous. It is open for breakfast and dinner, and also for lunch if the boat is at sea.
The World Café offers a buffet version for eating. As with most cruises now, you no longer serve yourself but ask a waiter for what you want. You can go there for all meals, breakfast, lunch and diner. It’s varied, fresh, and it changes every day. There is a station for the pasta of the day, made to order in front of you.
There are 2 specialty restaurants, included in the fare. You can therefore dine there without paying extra. Reservation is compulsory there (although you can try your luck without, depending on the space remaining). The first is Manfredi’s, of Italian inspiration. The dishes are plentiful, and the menu is huge. It does not change during the cruise.
The second restaurant is called The Chef’s Table. It is a name that can be misinterpreted because on some companies, this term Chef’s table refers to a very particular diner, paying and quite expensive, very limited in number of places. This is a gourmet meal that the ship’s Chef Cuisiner prepares, usually with food and wine pairing. On Viking, this restaurant does not correspond to that, but to a specialty restaurant whose principle is to offer a themed menu (such as Asian Panorama or California Cuisine). It consists of an appetizer, a starter, a granita to cut the meal (a kind of “Trou Normand”), a main course and a dessert. I was able to test 3 different menus during this week of cruising. It was quite irregular, but never bad. However, a few dishes scored points. For example the spicy moulted crab or the Thai-style rack of lamb: very very good. Each dish is accompanied by a wine selected by the Sommelier, so 4 different wines. It is possible to choose higher quality wines during this dinner, at a cost of $25 per person. Note that if you have purchased the Silver Beverage Package option, you are automatically entitled to these wines, at no extra charge.
Mamsen’s, located inside the Explorer’s Lounge, should not be forgotten. It is also open at all meal times. It is a cuisine advertised as good for health, with incredibly fresh fruits, which can complement succulent waffles … At noon, there is a steak tartare which is also worth the detour!
Overall, the dishes served on Viking are good, with some weaknesses but above all some flashes, to be found throughout the various menus.
Fitness and spa
The gym is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Uncrowded, access was free. It is classically equipped, the equipment is recent and in good condition.
The spa is included in the price of the cruise. Access was limited to 6 people maximum at same time, pandemic requires, and it was therefore necessary to reserve your slot of one hour. The changing rooms, in addition to the lockers which can be closed directly with the keycard, are equipped with a shower, a whirlpool, a relaxation area, a sauna and tea making facilities. The main room offers a large bath with various jets, a snow room and a hammam. The place is very pleasant, especially with so few people. I was really lucky to find myself there alone, because I had chosen the last slot of the day (the time at which the other passengers dine!).
The Theater, the Cinema, the Dome
The theater has a rather original form. Between each row of classic seats are low tables with rotating armchairs … this makes it a hybrid place between a lounge and a theater! Another originality: on the upper part of the room, on each side, there is an extension which can be separated from the rest of the theater. It turns this part into small movie theaters! You can watch films or documentaries there.
Another cinema room: the Dome. Accessible at the level of the Explorers’ Lounge, on decks 7 and 8, it is a sphere-shaped room, with large armchairs, in which the films are shown on the dome-shaped ceiling, by several projectors. This creates an impressive immersion effect. The documentaries were obviously filmed for this format. Among the themes: the northern lights, astronomical subjects, volcanoes … Sessions can be booked from the cabin television. There are about twenty places, and a lot of sessions throughout the duration of the cruise.
Itinerary and excursions
The journey around Iceland was particularly pleasant. Especially since the passengers were allowed to leave the ship in complete freedom, and even without a mask on the outside. For some stopovers, the ship was not at the dock, and it was necessary to take the tenders to go ashore and return. Very well organized, it was fluid and fast.
At each stopover, an excursion is included in the price of the cruise, and others, chargeable, can be purchased according to your wishes. The included excursion is generally quite basic (city tour by bus, walk from the boat, etc.), but sufficient to learn the history of the region as well as local customs and traditions.
Having booked only 2 days before the departure of this cruise, I came across already full excursions, for the first days of the trip. For the second part of the cruise, most of the proposals were still available.
Throughout the cruise, lectures on the places visited and their history are given at the theater. Great way to learn more. All this makes Viking a very good company when it comes to the information given to its passengers.
Also note a particularity of Viking Ocean Cruises: often the itinerary includes a night on site at the beginning and / or at the end of the cruise. An excellent idea that allows you to take advantage of the departure and arrival cities without having to resort to a hotel. These 2 often stressful moments of the cruise are greatly improved. On this Iceland cruise, departing from Reykjavik, the ship stayed an extra day there, leaving time for those who had spent their first day joining the ship to explore the city in peace.
On this point, Viking can boast of having very good service. Not only in the permanent smile of the waitresses and waiters, who tell you all the time “good morning, good afternoon, good evening, have a good night …”, but also in the implacable desire to be of service to you. An anecdote: while I was in the infinity pool, at the back of the ship, a waiter came to bring me a glass of champagne, without my asking for anything. I can tell you that it had not happened to me often (never)!
The servers quickly remember if you have the Silver Package and adapt. They offer you alternatives to what you have already drunk, to suit your tastes. And without having to be a bar pillar! At the table, they remember your different choices and rarely have to ask you the same question several times!
Cabin service is also impeccable. If you have an evening reservation at a restaurant, you can be sure they won’t be in your cabin until that time, to avoid disturbing you. Same with morning excursions, they line up with them if possible. This makes it a service of incredible discretion. However, the cabin attendant comes to see you regularly to make sure you are not missing of anything.
Throughout the cruise, it was not uncommon to be able to discuss with the various managers, who regularly come to ask you for your opinion, to worry about whether everything is going well, how we found the dishes, the atmosphere, the service… all this probably explains why the service is top!
The cost of the cruise
Viking is in the luxury cruise segment. It’s not ultra luxury, but I would say relaxed luxury. They only retained the pleasant part of the luxury companies: impeccable service, unfailing politeness, an all-inclusive price, a reduced number of passengers on the ship, and a very classy design, without being pompous. And they left aside the white gloves, the dress code, the “formal nights”, the tuxedos, the fake butlers and their somewhat stuck rituals. They have also left aside other classics from less luxurious companies, such as art galleries and their repeat auctions, intrusive sale of photos, queues, most of the options with fees and anything that allows the company to charge you for anything and everything. And 2 other things that are not to displease me: the ship does not have a casino, and is reserved for adults. So “unfortunately” you won’t be able to find kids screaming and running around, jumping on the sofas …
So with all that, the price suffers. For a 7-night cruise around Iceland, departing from Reykjavik, and for a “Penthouse” cabin (type intermediate between cabins with balconies and suites), it cost $ 3799 per person (or $ 542 / night). In addition, there is a service charge of $ 105 ($ 15 per day per person). The drink package, to have access to the entire bar menu (with rare exceptions, such as certain champagnes or some very high-end spirits) was $ 19 per day and per person (with the obligation to take it for all cabin passengers). Profitable amount as long as you add one or 2 aperitifs and choose more popular wines at the table. And all the more depreciable the day you mage at the Chef’s Table, since the premium wines are then included (instead of the $ 25 requested).
Definitely a company I really want to cruise again on. It is moreover expected, if the pandemic does not come too hard, once again, to call it into question: I booked a South transatlantic, from Barcelona to Buenos Aires for 21 nights. Departure scheduled for November 14, 2021.
The photo album on Flickr is here.