San Francisco Bay Area
CruiseClout score: 95.0
Viking Sun: Midsize ship offers tons of included perks
Since Viking Ocean Cruises launched its first ocean ship in 2015, the fabled cruise line has won a slew of awards. In July 2018 Travel + Leisure readers voted Viking the #1 Ocean Cruise Line for ships carrying 600 to 2,199 guests. (All of its ships carry 930 guests, so Cruiseable classifies Viking Sun as a midsize ship, while other publications consider it a small ship.)
I was fortunate to voyage on Viking Star not long after her launch in 2015. Viking Sun launched two years later, and during my just-completed two-week sailing, it was like catching up with an old friend. Nearly all aspects of the Viking ocean ships are identical, and why not? They're spectacular from bow to aft. Viking Sea and Viking Sky round out the foursome.
Throughout our Scandinavia voyage, we reveled in the fine dining, the intriguing itineraries and the ship's uncrowded public spaces. The décor is honest and modern, featuring clean lines, light-filled venues and Scandinavian flourishes, a tribute to the company’s Nordic roots.
Viking Sun is spry enough to fit into smaller ports of call, which means you won't get overwhelmed by hordes of cruisers at destinations that are off the beaten path. And while the fare is higher than you'll find on the major cruise lines, you get more for your money. Here's what is included in your base fare:
- All 465 cabins are balcony staterooms of at least 270 square feet in size.
- Fine dining at two alternative restaurants, Chef's Table and Manfredi's, at no extra charge
- Access to the LivNordic Spa with its large whirlpools and thermal suite
- An included shore excursion at every destination
- House wine and beer at no extra cost during lunch and dinner, and you get plenty of free water in your stateroom
- All port charges and government taxes are included in your fare
- Free (albeit very slow) WiFi
Who will like sailing on Viking Sun
Viking Sun is perfect for those who enjoy leisurely sailings with knowledgeable expert guides at destinations that you may not have visited before. (On our voyage, we'd never heard of Eidfjord or Stavanger, two pretty coastal villages in Norway.) On our sailing the passengers were all white (we were visting Scandinavia, after all) and the vast majority in their golden years — and while cruising attracts a homogenous crowd, an emphasis on attracting a more diverse clientele would be most welcomed. On board were 733 Americans, 67 from the UK, 31 Australians, 23 Canadians and a smattering from Europe and Chile.
Where Viking Sun sails
Viking Sun sails Scandinavia, the Baltic Sea, the British Isles and throughout the Mediterranean and Caribbean.
Viking Sun features a fair-size swimming pool and small infinity pool at the ship's aft, a glorious two-deck Explorers Lounge observation venue and the Wintergarden with afternoon tea time in a relaxed setting amid the strains of classical music.
Port talks in the Star Theatre were both entertaining and informative, with great run-downs of local history and culture and terrific previews of shore excursions without a commercial come-on. The entertainment at night punched above its weight (see below).
The environmentally friendly ship includes several of the popular features of Viking's river ships, the al fresco dining venue Aquavit Terrace, lots of outdoor space on the sun deck and a promenade that encircles the ship.
Because Viking Sun is a smaller ship, she has direct access into most ports so guests have efficient embarkation and debarkation — we didn't have to tender in even once. Itineraries include a lot of overnight stays and opportunities for having dinner in port. We enjoyed bantering with Viking's tour guides who live in the countries we visited and know the region and its history well.
Where we went & what we loved
Our two-week Scandinavia itinerary called on these ports: Stockholm, Sweden; Helsinki, Finland; St. Petersburg, Russia; Tallinn, Estonia; Gdansk, Poland; Warnemunde with a train to Berlin, Germany; Copenhagen and Aalborg, the Netherlands; and Stavanger, Eidfjord and Bergen in Norway. We enjoyed sunshine every day except the last day in Bergen, where it rains 231 days a year. Sweden, were told, was baking in its hottest summer in 230 years.
We loved each and every stop, with St. Petersburg, Tallinn and Copenhagen particular favorites because of their history and rich architecture. We found a canal cruise of St. Petersburg and Copenhagen to be a refreshing way to take in the local landmarks and cityscapes.
Entertainment & activities on board
Viking Star is not a ship that parties late into the night — and that's fine, since you'll likely be up at the crack of dawn preparing to hit another port. That said, there's plenty to do on board. Some highlights:
- In the Star Theatre, the Viking Sun Singers — an engaging foursome (three from the UK, one from Norway) — gave multiple high-energy performances that were worthy of a 5,000-seat venue. With two acts per night on three occasions during our voyage, they laid down a flawless performance of '60s classics, hits from the Beatles, Abba and more. You can also catch a movie in the Star Theatre or on deck on some evenings.
- The Living Room, on the first floor of the three-deck Atrium, always seemed to be thrumming, with a small ensemble in the evening or Olga on grand piano as paintings by Edvard Munch fill up the atrium screen. Turn to your left and you'll see guests gather around a lively little bar or steal some quiet moments in a cozy alcove.
- The two-story Explorers' Lounge, forward on deck 7, offers sweeping vistas as the ship glides into new ports. The second floor brims with artifacts that honor Viking heritage and depict ancient trade routes.
- The Infinity Pool at the ship's aft was busy most afternoons. Though small, it affords you an unobstructed view of the surroundings. I hopped in while we were pulling away from St. Petersburg.
- The Spa, run by LivNordic, a Sweden-based company (a nice change from the Steiner spas found on most cruise ships), was a highlight. The room includes a whirlpool, sauna, ice water bucket and the first snow room at sea.
- The stylish and light-filled Wintergarden offers high tea, finger sandwiches and biscuits at 4 pm daily.
- We didn't spend any time in the nightclub, Torshavn, where the music seemed especially low key.
While luxury lines such as Silversea, Seaborn and Oceania win raves for their cuisine, Viking Sun is knocking on the door. Some guests aren't aware that you can make as many reservations as you'd like in the fabulous alternative restaurants The Chef’s Table and Manfredi’s Italian Grill — at no extra charge — until the venues fill up. So we wound up spending only three nights in the main dining venue, The Restaurant. Breakfast, meantime, was a daily delight at Mamsen's. And we took full advantage of the fab weather and enjoyed al fresco dining in Aquavit Terrace at the aft of the ship for both lunch and dinner.
The Restaurant, the mainstay dining venue on the ship, serves standard Continental and American fare with added splashes of regional specialties. During lunch and dinner, I loved the floor-to-ceiling windows that offered an al fresco ambience.
On my first night, I made the mistake of ordering the rib eye steak, which was thin, overcooked and lifeless. (Wait until Manfredi's, which serves one of the best steaks at sea.) A second dinner proved more rewarding, with a well-seasoned samosa appetizer, Pad Thai and crepe dish. And on a third night, we opted for group seating and had a rip-roaring conversation with folks from North Carolina and Texas while enjoying duck breast and nicely textured ravioli. Service was smart and efficient, and the house wines (one red or white) proved up to the task on all three occasions. (We passed on the wine at lunch.)
World Café & Pool Grill
We wound up having dinner most nights at the World Café, given its informal vibe and wide-ranging variety of global cuisines and regional specialties. Have sushi, or a Scandinavian dish, or pizza, or that odd-looking Asian delicacy that you have to ask the name of. Cappuccino and espresso drinks are also available, gratis.
In the mood for a burger or salad? Head right outside the World Cafe's doors to the Pool Grill next to the ship's main pool, where we had some wickedly leisurely lunches.
Manfredi’s Italian Grill
We managed to score two fantastic meals at Manfredi’s Italian Grill. The restaurant offers a range of Tuscan and Roman dishes, but one of the best meals of the voyage was a succulent, finely seasoned rib-eye steak paired with a nice French blend. (As a Californian, I did wish there were some Cabernet Sauvignon selections in the nightly lineup; the offerings were Euro-centric even though the passengers were 81 percent North American.)
Chef's Table & Kitchen Table
We had two equally memorable meals at The Chef's Table, where we lingered over a five-course dinner in a cozy, hushed room. The Chef's Table features theme dinners, one of ours was "A Gastronomic Journey Through Time," with a nod to the Roman Empire. Our courses included an amuse bouche, a Gallic Oxtail Consomme (which was better than it sounded), a granita to cleanse the palate and a Renaissance-style lamb filet, topped off by a nut brownie. Each course was exquisite. We went for the premium wine pairing for $25 apiece, with a Riesling, Sangiovese, Tinta Barroca and Grenache Noir. Wonderful all around.
We didn't pony up the extra $299 per person for dinner at The Kitchen Table, where a handful of guests accompany the chef into a market to select fresh, local ingredients to prepare for their dinner, held in a spartan room resembling a test kitchen.
Mamsen's, on deck 7 forward in the Explorers' Lounge, became our go-to spot for breakfast right off the bat. I loved the Norwegian waffles served with fresh fruit and berries (sometimes I gave in to the cream) while taking in the surroundings of a new port. Oatmeal, pastries and other fare are also on tap. It’s also open for lunch and after-dinner snacking. Mamsen's, inspired by the recipes of Viking founder Torstein Hagen's mother, remained largely a hidden gem throughout the voyage, never crowded and always mellow.
The crew on board was smart and affable, with our room steward, Julio (from Cusco, Peru), doing an estimable job during both morning clean-up and evening turndown service. Staff members were professional and courteous throughout. The only missteps came when we were at the pool for more than an hour without spotting a steward and a couple of times when a waiter or chef forgot our order.
All-Veranda Staterooms: Guests can choose from five stateroom categories, starting from a 270-square-foot veranda stateroom. All staterooms have private verandas, king-size beds (or optional doubles), large, classy showers (with a diffident hot-cold water temperature), nice robes and 42-inch flat-screen TVs that let you call up your dinner reservations or onboard account at a glance. A really nice selection of movies (new releases, James Bond flicks, etc.) and TV channels (MSNBC, Fox, Sky News) is available, though both TV shows and films frequently cut out when the ship lost contact with its satellite feed.
Explorer Suites: Viking Sun features 14 Explorer Suites, which are two-room suites ranging from 757 to 1,163 square feet that offer sweeping views from wrap-around private verandas as well as the most amenities and privileges of any category on board.
During the day, guests wear casual attire. At night you'll see more sport coats and dresses, and a collared shirt is required in the restaurants during dinner, but the overall vibe is relaxed. There are no formal nights on Viking Sun.
Designed with the environment in mind, Viking Sun features energy-efficient hybrid engines, hydro-dynamically optimized streamlined hulls and bows for maximum fuel efficiency, onboard solar panels and equipment that minimizes exhaust pollution and meets the strictest environmental regulations.
Internet on board
First, the good news: WiFi is available throughout the ship, including your stateroom, and it’s free. Now, the bad news: The VSAT satellite connection is disappointingly slow. I measured download speeds of 0.16 to 0.39 mbps and an upload speed of 0.39 mbps — with frequent dropoffs. It's an industry-wide problem that needs solving for those of us who like to share photos and videos during the trip.
J.D. Lasica sailed on Viking Sun as a guest of Viking Ocean Cruises. See Cruiseable's Ethics & disclosure policy.
Have you cruised on Viking Sun? What was the highlight? I'd love to hear about your own experience in the comments below.
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