Cruising deep fjords cut out of the earth by glaciers millions of years ago. Crossing the Arctic Circle in Norway, land of the Midnight Sun. Standing on the remote and windswept Scottish Islands where Vikings once voyaged. Viking Ocean Cruises Into the Midnight Sun cruise itinerary hit destinations I’ve long been dreaming of visiting, and when they invited me to come experience this 15-day I didn’t hestitate for a second. This was more than just a fjord cruise; it was a three country adventure that ventured into some of the most remote and difficult places to reach in Norway and Scotland. It was a chance to experience the infamous Midnight Sun, a natural phenomenon that occurs for a period in destinations like Norway above the Arctic Circle where the sun is seen still shining bright at the stroke of midnight. And having previously cruised with Viking on their river cruise offerings, I knew I would be in for the trip of a lifetime that blended adventure, luxury and gastronomy together perfectly.
Viking Cruises have always been a cruise line, no matter whether you’re cruising on their river or ocean itineraries, that focuses on the destinations. They strive to select the world’s most beautiful destinations and enrich your trip through cultural interactions. My first Viking cruise, a river cruise to discover Bordeaux, was quite literally life changing. I fell in love with the Bordeaux region and the city so much that I began researching how to move to Bordeaux only a few months later. A little more than a year after that cruise, we moved in to our flat in the heart of Bordeaux.
Viking customers are ones that proudly boast about the number of Viking cruises like they’re wearing them as badges of honor on their sleeves. And most Viking customers already have booked or book their next cruise before they even disembark the ship. It’s a cruise line you know exactly what to expect and always know that the consistency of friendly service, outstanding destinations, and life’s little luxuries will most definitely be delivered.
This is an incredibly detailed Viking Ocean Cruises review with an overview of each of our 10 ports of call, as well as a review of the ship itself. If you’re considering booking a Norway fjords cruise, then I think that Viking’s 15-day Into the Midnight Sun cruise is one of the best out there.
Into the Midnight Sun Viking Cruises Itinerary
The particular appeal of this Into the Midnight Sun Viking Ocean cruise is the ports of call. Places like Geiranger, the Lofoten Islands and the North Cape are destinations not easily reached. Viking managed to combine them all into a fabulous Norway cruise, plus add on an additional week visiting the remote Shetland Islands and Orkney Islands of Scotland. It’s also a fjord cruise, sailing into some of the most beautiful fjords in the world like the UNESCO Geiranger where waterfalls tumble down the mountainside and practically spray the ship with their power.
A 15-day cruise can be a lot to commit to for many people, with more than two weeks away from work. But what’s particularly great about this cruise is that two Viking Ocean Cruises itinearies have essentially been melded together into one epic trip. But if you only have a week to commit to going on vacation, you do have the option of taking only one segment of the cruise. You might be most interested in a Norway cruise and join just from Bergen to Lofoten. You can also join from Lofoten to London if the Scottish Isles are of more interest.
Day 1 & 2: Bergen, Norway
My Into the Midnight Sun Viking cruise began in Bergen, Norway. It’s Norway’s second largest city after Oslo, but don’t let that fool you in to thinking it’s an urban metropolis. Bergen is entirely surrounded by mountains and fjords, and as Tim exclaimed at first sight of it, we didn’t know whether to hike it or kayak it.
Even though I had 24 hours in Bergen with an overnight in the port just steps away from the heart the city, I was kicking myself that I hadn’t arrived a few days earlier. All those islands definitely beckon being explored by kayak and there are some fantastic hiking trails. And you can’t miss out on walking through the old wooden houses of Bryggen wharf and spending some time at the Bergen Fish Market.
The 2-hour included tour is one of Viking’s panoramic tours, so I decided to skip it. Instead, it’s very easy to walk the short distance from the ship over to the Torget Fish Market. From there you can purchase a ticket for the Ulriken Express Bus, which is the tourist bus that takes you directly from the city center to the lower Ulriken cable car station. The ticket includes the cable car ticket. You can either take the cable car round trip, or hike one way which takes are 1.5 hours. I also wanted time to spend in Bryggen Wharf and the fish market, so I opted to only hike one way. But I would have loved to do the full hike up to Ulriken, across Vidden to Mount Fløyen and back down to Bergen; however you need about 8-9 hours for that full-day hike.
There’s a restaurant and bar at the upper cable car station, and it’s worth taking in the views over a Norwegian cider or beer. If you’re hungry after the hike, try the Norwegian lamb sausage.
The Bergen Fish Market is one of Bergen’s most visited outdoor markets and it was the place for fisherman to sell their catch dating back to the early 1200s. Along with the stalls of city fisherman, farmers and fisherman that lived outside of the city would row their boats in and sell directly from them as they moored along the quay, before rowing back home again at the end of the day. Fisherman no longer directly deliver their fresh catch to the market as they once did, and today it’s mainly a tourist spot with different stalls selling fish, seafood and souvenirs. But it’s a fun place to photograph with the some of the stranger looking fish like monkfish, and you can get an excellent idea of what the locals eat. Many of the stalls also offer free samples, typically of the more common fish available like salmon.
If you only see one place in Bergen, it has to be Bryggen Wharf. Founded in 1070, it’s one of the oldest port cities of Northern Europe and became a Hanseatic Office in 1350. The Hanseatic League only set up four overseas Hanseatic Offices during their commercial dominance over three centuries, and Bryggen is the only one of the four that remains today.
Unfortunately, the wooden structures that make up Bryggen have been ravaged by fires many times over the years, and as most recently as 1955. Bryggen has always been rebuilt after every fire, and building methods follow the original techniques and plans. Even though the colorful facades and narrow wooden passages of the 62 structures that remain today largely date from when it was rebuilt after the fire of 1702, Bryggen has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As you wander in and out of the little shops and museums that now occupy the wooden buildings, imagine that is this only a fourth of what existed of Bryggen during the Hanseatic times.
Day 3: Geiranger, Norway
Geirangerfjord is the place where it seems Mother Nature got out her chisel and sculpted a natural work of art. In reality, this deep fjord and the mountains were carved out by the glaciers during the Ice Age. It’s said to be the most beautiful fjord in the world, and even under a blanket of clouds and fog, it definitely didn’t fail to impress.
Surrounded by some of the steepest mountains on Norway’s west coast, there’s almost no inhabitable shoreline in Geirangerfjord. The cliffs seem to rise straight up out of the sea and a number of waterfalls thunder down over them. The entire fjord is under threat of being erased off the map by the eroding Åkerneset, which is believed will cause a tsunami that will wipe out the village of Geiranger within just 10 minutes when the rock finally comes crashing down in to the sea.
There’s no dock and we tender in to the tiny village with a population of just 250. The tourism is essential to Geiranger, and the population swells in to the thousands in the short summer period when the fjord is accessible. But it’s a fine balance in preserving the already precarious nature with welcoming the tourists that fuel the economy in the tiny village. They’re working on getting their certification as a sustainable destination, which is a seal of approval given to destinations that work to reduce the negative impacts of tourism.
In Geiranger, it’s possible to do both the 2.5-hour included panoramic tour and an optional tour. The panoramic takes you up the to the Eagle’s Bend viewpoint, about traversing 11 hairpin turns, for the view over the entire fjord. We were just spectacularly unlucky with the weather on our day in Geiranger.
I also opted for the optional kayaking tour, but while I love kayaking, I had wanted to get up closer with the the famous Seven Sisters waterfall. We kayaked 8 kilometers round trip, but our group only made it halfway out to the waterfalls. Kayaking gave me a workout, especially as a single traveler that ended up paired with another single traveler that didn’t do their share of the paddling. But for an up close view of the waterfalls and abandoned farms, the optional jet boat tour that my friends and colleagues Howard and Jerry of Backroad Planet did would have been a better choice.
Day 4: Molde, Norway
Molde was my least favorite of all of our ports over the 15-day Into the Midnight Sun cruise. Described as a charming coastal town, I guess I expected it to look something more like Hamnøy in the Lofoten Islands. The town, at least where we came in to port, is more modern. But the optional kayaking excursion I booked, was really enjoyable.
It was lead by a husband and wife team of locals from Molde and the weather was actually perfect – sunny with a bit of cloud cover. Moldefjord is quite calm and our much smaller group than we had for the kayaking tour at Geiranger made the experience. We actually were able to kayak quite a distance all the way over to Hjertøya Island, known as the “heart island” because of its shape. While Moldefjord isn’t as dramatic a setting as Geirangerfjord, we did see a lot of bird life on the various little islands we paddled past like the orange beaked oyster catcher. The water was also so crystal clear that we could see the sea life below us.
There isn’t anything like whales or porpoises that you typically see in the 2-hour kayaking excursion, since Molde is a busy port with a regular ferry making trips across the fjord. But kayaking was truly a great way to spend my time in Molde.
Day 6: Tromsø, Norway
Tim and I had been to Tromsø previously, but it had been winter when it was a white winter wonderland. The 2-hour included panoramic tour covered the sights we’d already seen exploring Tromsø before, so I opted to explore on my own.
I decided to hike up to Fløya, the eastern mountain rising 671 meters over Tromsø for a birds eye view of the city. There is the public city bus number 26 which you can take from near the tourist to the Novasentere stop near the Fjellheisen cable car station, but I opted to walk the 3 kilometers from the ship to the cable car station to begin the hike. The trail is to the right of the lower cable car station and is a gradual sloping incline through forest for about 4 kilometers to reach the upper Fjellstua station. Since a storm looked like it was brewing, I didn’t hike the remaining 1.5 kilometers up to the summit of Fløya. But the panoramic view from the upper station affords sweeping views over Tromsø, the Arctic Cathedral, the open sea, the fjords and the 1238 meter high Tromsdalstinden mountain across the fjord.
There’s a restaurant inside the Fjellstua station and the reindeer burger hit the spot after the long trek up from the ship.
Take the cable car, which opened in 1961, back down. It runs every 30 minutes. I happened to run in to the optional Portals to the Arctic excursion, which visits Fløya with a round trip ride on the cable car, and hitched a ride back over to Tromsø center on the Viking bus. The timing of running in to the Viking excursion was kismet as the rain suddenly came down from the sky in buckets.
It’s worth noting that our ship was in port in Tromsø on a Sunday, and aside from a few museums and tourist shops, quite literally everything was closed. This is a good port to have an excursion or activity planned for.
Day 7: Honningsvåg, Norway
Honningsvåg was easily my favorite port of the entire cruise because a king crab safari had been on my bucket list since our first trip to Norway back in 2012. The king crab safari was one of the optional excursions offered by Viking Cruises and it was the one thing I knew I absolutely had to do. I booked it the moment I had access to the My Viking Journey portal after my Into the Midnight Sun cruise had been booked.
The excursion is run by Destination 71° North and we walked the short distance from the ship to their offices to suit up in extra warm and waterproof suits, before our small group of just five passengers boarded a RIB (rigid inflatable boat). It’s a short ride out to the middle of the fjord where our guides hoisted up the heavy king crab pot, which was full of at least 20 or so monstrous king crabs. We took two, which would be plenty to feed our small group, and continued the short distance to the Destination 71° North base camp.
At base camp the guides give some information about how king crabs came to be in Norway, how and what they eat, and their policy on the best way to humanely kill and cook them. The crabs are then killed and prepped to be boiled, which is done in a huge pot over a camp fire in one of the Sami lavvu tents. Even though it was July, it was not a warm day and the hot tea around the fire while waiting for the crab to cook is a welcome reprieve from the wind and cold.
Our two king crabs were about 4 kilograms (nearly 9 pounds) each, so there was plenty of king crab legs to go around in our small group. It was quite literally the best king crab I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve gobbled up a lot of king crab in my lifetime.
The king crab safari was even better than I’d anticipated and my favorite of all the excursions I took on the cruise.
Day 8: Lofoten, Norway
Our group of bloggers and journalists arranged a private excursion through the shore excursion desk, which was basically renting the bus to take our group to Hamnøy.
Hamnøy is the oldest fishing village in the Lofoten Islands and is incredibly small, but also astoundingly picturesque. A smattering of red, green and white wooden fisherman’s houses are nestled on a rocky island. Racks for drying cod fish, the food that sustained the Vikings and helped them to travel longer and further than any of their contemporaries, dominate the little island. In summer, most of the racks were empty but for a few very sticky ones full of the drying fish. And when the breeze blows, the stench hits you like a ton of bricks.
It was around a 1-hour drive each way to Hamnøy from where the ship was docked outside of Leknes, so we only had about 30 minutes to walk around the little island. It was a quick photo mission but breathtaking enough to leave me longing to return to the Lofoten Islands for a future kayaking trip.
It’s also worth noting that Leknes is definitely a port to book an excursion or rent a car. The ship docks several kilometers from the town of Leknes, which is not located on the sea and is one of few towns in the Lofoten Islands that does not depend on fishing as its main industry. Though a shuttle continuously runs back and forth from the ship to Leknes, there’s not much there to keep tourists interested for long. There is a stunning white sand beach walking distance from the ship that looks more like it belongs in the Caribbean than Arctic Norway, but a dip of your toe in the sea quickly reminds you exactly where you are.
Day 10: Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland
In 2013 the national tourist board of Scotland dressed two of the miniature sized Shetland ponies named Fivla and Vitamin in Fair Isle sweaters to promote tourism to the Shetland Islands. Well, it worked because I’d been wanting to visit ever since.
The included incursion promised a visit to a Shetland pony breeder, a stop at a coastal castle and a scenic drive. It was a 2-hour panoramic tour and mine wasn’t scheduled until the last one of the day.
The ship was docked near Lerwick and a shuttle ran from the ship to the center of Lerwick consistently. I took the shuttle to Lerwick first thing in the morning and then took the public bus to Scalloway. Scalloway is the former capital of the Shetland Islands and a partially ruined castle stands there. The building of the castle began in 1599 under the direction of Earl Patrick Stewart, who was such a harsh ruler that it’s said that the Shetland people’s hair and blood are present in the castle’s mortar.
I arrived early enough that a sign directed me to fetch the keys to open the castle from the nearby hotel. I had the castle entirely to myself as I climbed up the staircase to the empty rooms.
Back in Lerwick, I had time to wander the cute town, visit Fort Charlotte and shop along Commercial Street. A stop in the Shetland Fudge Company for their homemade fudge is a must.
The included excursion was honestly a bit disappointing. We only stopped for a photo stop of Scalloway Castle from a cliff view point quite far away. There were four other buses plus our bus at the stop at the Shetland pony breeder. And though one of the ponies had an 8-week old adorable baby, there were just too many people and you could tell the horses were all over entertaining visitors all day long from two different ships in port. It was much more satisfying seeing the other Shetland ponies I’d seen happily grazing in wide open pastures earlier in the day.
Day 11: Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland
Kirkwall is the main town and capital of Scotland’s Orkney Islands. I’d briefly researched the Orkney Islands as the Northern Lights are occasionally seen here in winter and had considered a trip there last winter, but opted for Edinburgh instead. What I didn’t know is that the Orkney Islands are home to some of the most important archaeological sites in Europe, like Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar. Closely tied to the Vikings in Scotland, Kirkwall was even mentioned in Norse Sagas and is a rich repository of relics and ruins from the Viking Age.
I also wasn’t prepared for just how strikingly gorgeous the Orkney Islands would be, even on a gray, misty and windy day like the day we visited. I chose the option tour, which was a scenic coastal hike from the Yesnaby Cliffs to Skara Brae. It turned out to be my second favorite excursion of the entire trip after the king crab safari.
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The Yesnaby Cliffs are known for the spectacular Old Red Sandstone, sea stacks and the migratory nesting birds that briefly make their home here each summer. While we didn’t spot any puffin as we hoped we might, we did see many pairs of nesting Arctic fulmars with their very fuzzy chicks. We also found the rare Primula Scotica (Scottish primrose) flower that only grows in a few places in the world and has a brief second flowering in July. The flower is no bigger than your fingernail, so it takes a finely tuned eye to even spot it.
Our 4-hour coastal hike took us along the Yesnaby Cliffs before cutting across Orkney and along another beach before arriving at Skara Brae. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Skara Brae is Europe’s most complete Neolithic settlement. It was occupied from about 3180 BC to about 2500 BC and is older than even Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Egypt.
A guided tour of the site tells the history of how Skara Brae was discovered after a deadly storm left part of the stone roofs of the village uncovered in 1850, and William Watt of Skaill started an amateur excavation of the site. After uncovering four of the houses, the project was abandoned in 1868. It was left mostly alone with the exception of a rowdy bunch that looted and took an undetermined amount of stones and artifacts from the site in a single weekend in 1913. Another epic storm carried away part of one of the stone houses, washing it out to sea in 1924. Finally in 1927, the University of Edinburgh got involved to secure the site and further investigate it.
There’s eight clustered buildings and the site is quite interesting. Back at the main visitor’s building, we had time to warm up with hot drinks and snacks in the small cafe. I shared a cheese plate with one of my fellow hikers and it was the best cheddar cheese I’ve ever had. I asked about it, and discovered it was an Orkney smoked cheddar made right on the island.
Back at the ship, there were shuttles continually running to take passengers in to Kirkwall. Even though I only had about 45 minutes, I hopped on the shuttle to go in search of buying some Orkney smoked cheddar to bring home. The town is small, but cute and I had enough time to make a very quick tour of the main street where many little shops and the church are located. You have to take the exceptional Orkney ice cream and cheese. It’s seriously that good!
Day 12: Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh has been Scotland’s capital since the 15th century and you can easily fills days exploring it. Tim and I had been to Edinburgh just a few months before this cruise when we spent three exploring in spectacularly cold and windy weather.
The ship actually docks about an 1-hour drive away from Edinburgh in Rosythn, so I opted for the 4-hour included panoramic tour with the intention of either taking the train or an Uber back to the ship. The Edinburgh Highlights panoramic tour does a great job of showing some interesting spots like the impressive schools J.K. Rowling’s kids actually attended and one that served as inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books. Once we reached the New Town, our guide gave the option to hop off for anyone that was using the tour as a means of transportation in to Edinburgh. With only 1-hour of the tour left I decided to stay on, and I’m glad that I did because the tour actually drove up right up Arthur’s Seat.
The bus tour ends with dropping everyone off somewhere on or near the Royal Mile and as close to Edinburgh Castle as possibly, depending on the traffic. You get free time and a meeting spot and time to get picked back up by the bus to return to the ship. Or you’re welcome to make your own way back to the ship, which is really easy with an Uber.
Something Tim and I had missed doing because of the wind when we had visited for the Christmas Markets was the rooftop tour of St Giles Cathedral. Located right on the center of the Royal Mile, the rooftop offers stunning views over all of Edinburgh. It’s only open to four people at a time, but it’s sort of an Edinburgh secret. Even without advance booking on a busy July day when eight other cruise ships were also in port in Edinburgh, I was able to walk right in and get a rooftop tour with my friends Rob and Adam.
Day 14 & 15: London, England
Our final port on the Into the Midnight Sun itinerary was London, England. The great thing about Viking’s ship size is that unlike the larger jumbo sized cruise ships, we could sail right through the Thames Barrier and up the Thames, docking right on the river in Greenwich. The city of London and sights like Westminster are just a tube ride away.
We arrived during London’s spectacularly hot heat wave, when the UK experienced their hottest summer on record. In fact, London recorded its hottest day of 2018 with temperatures of 35°C (90°F) recorded at Heathrow the day of our arrival in to London. Having just come from the Arctic and even Scotland, where it was still cool and windy enough to need a fleece at the very least, we especially felt the oppressive heat.
If Tim didn’t live a short distance away in Cambridge, I’d have bucked up and run round London. But I opted for Viking’s included tour: a 2-hour walking tour of royal Greenwich before calling it a day and heading to a pub for a pint and some fish and chips. The included tour was the best included tour I went on of the Into the Midnight Sun itinerary and our local guide told about the Cutty Sark, took us through Greenwich Market, found us some shade as he told us about St. Alfege’s Church, found another shaded spot as we learned about the Queen’s House and finally briefly took us to a few of the must see exhibitions in the National Maritime Museum.
As many times as I’ve been to London, I had actually never spent any time in Greenwich. It’s a quirky neighborhood that was interesting to explore close to the ship. And back on board the ship relaxing with drinks in the Aquavit Lounge, I watched the most spectacular sunset I’ve ever seen in London. It was the perfect end to the Into the Midnight Sun cruise.
Time in port: 24 hours
The Viking Ocean Cruise Ships: Viking Sea
The Viking Sea is the second in Viking Ocean Cruises ship offerings, with currently a total of five ocean ships. The Viking Sea launched in 2016 and is identical to the 930-passenger Viking Star that launched Viking’s first ocean cruises in 2015. Viking was named the #1 Ocean Cruise Line for ships carrying 600–2,199 guests by Travel + Leisure in the 2018 World’s Best Awards while I was on the Into the Midnight Sun cruise and it’s easy to see why. Cruise Critic has also just awarded Viking three prestigious luxury ocean awards including Best Luxury Value for Money, Best Spa and the highly-coveted Best New Luxury Ship in the Cruise Critic 2018 Editors’ Pick Awards.
Still considered a “large” ship, Viking never feels crowded. In fact, on at sea days where all 930 passengers were on board our sold-out cruise I often wondered where everyone could be. With plenty of public spaces to guests to spread out in, comfortable cabins that can rival the rooms of higher-end hotels, two pools, a spa, gym and a sports deck with putting green, there’s more than enough places for guests to enjoy onboard the ship.
The focus with Viking is on the cruise port destinations themselves, with the ship having a very cozy Scandinavian minimalist design. Instead of the bright neon colors I previously experienced on oceans cruises, the Viking Sea is bright and airy with neutral shades and inviting touches like soft throw blankets thrown over the backs of the chaise loungers for those chilly evenings. Or the funny touches like the Norwegian trolls that you have to take the main elevator to spot. And the floral motif dishes that make you feel like you’re in your grandmother’s dining room rather than on a ship.
Viking does cater to the 55+ crowd and no children under 18 years of age are allowed on board. While that may be a turn off to some, especially families looking to cruise, it’s quite the opposite for me and Tim. Just like Viking’s philosophy that the destinations should be at the focus of the journey, we’re there to see and experience the world. A relaxing, luxurious ship atmosphere where we can rejuvenate from a day out exploring mimics exactly how we typically travel combining adventure with luxurious hotels to call home at the end of the day.
There’s 464 staterooms on board the Viking Sea and every single one has a balcony. A balcony, even on a colder climate cruise like Into the Midnight Sun, makes a huge difference.
On our first ocean cruise to Greece, Tim and I didn’t opt for a balcony room and instead went for the inside room preferring to spend our money on our excursions and other upgrades like specialty dining. But you end up spending quite a bit of time in your room, and you want it to be light and spacious.
Viking Sea’s cabins range from the 270 square foot veranda cabins all the way up to the 757 square foot Explorer’s Suite that is bigger than our entire flat in Bordeaux. The cabins are done up in a blue and white motif that lends to the lightness and airiness of the cabins.
I sailed in a deluxe veranda cabin, which is also 270 square feet like the veranda cabins but offers additional perks. The cabin was spacious with an incredibly comfortable king size bed, a small sitting area with a love seat and coffee table, a desk area to work (which you’ll find a set of binoculars tucked away in), the aforementioned balcony which I sat out on a lote more than I expected to, and a bathroom with a comfortably-sized shower and vanity with plenty of storage. The bathroom has both heated floors and an anti-fog mirror. There’s also a built in set of drawers and a closet for putting away all of your wardrobe.
The mini bar is complimentary and replenished daily. It comes stocked with snacks like trail mix and chocolate bars and soft drinks. The staff quickly came to know which soft drinks and snacks I preferred and they’d often leave me two of the dark chocolate Toblerone minis knowing I never ate the white chocolate Toblerone minis. There’s also extra room in the drawer-style fridge if you pick up something off ship that needs refrigerating, like the Scottish beers and cheddar cheese I purchased in the Orkney Islands.
There’s also an in-cabin Nespresso-style coffee machine and a tea kettle. Even though coffee and tea is always available in the World Cafe up on deck 7, having the machine and kettle in my room meant I didn’t have to leave late at night if I wanted a cup of tea before bed.
I also love that even though most Viking passengers are American, there are both 110 volt and 220 volt outlets in the cabin. It makes things so much simpler when you don’t have to bring plug adapters and converters.
Some of the additional perks that a deluxe veranda cabin comes with are 1 guaranteed priority reservation at each of the alternative restaurants onboard which you can make starting 60 days before you set sail on the My Viking Journey portal, priority shore excursions bookings that open up 67 days prior to departure and can also be made through the My Viking Journey portal and priority spa reservations that open up 60 days before departure.
Laundry service is a surcharge for everyone on board unless you’re in the Penthouse Junior Suite, Explorer’s Suite or Owner’s Suite, but every deck has a complimentary laundry room for guests to use. There’s washers and dryers, plus a place to iron anything if you need to. For a 15-day cruise and to keep my suitcase down to my usual 21-inch spinner, I definitely took advantage of having a place to do my laundry on board.
It’s also definitely worth mentioning that Viking has made wifi onboard complimentary for all guests, an industry first. It is satellite, so it works great in bigger ports like Bergen and London while you can expect it to be slower while at sea and in more remote ports. Even so, I was able to do basic internet browsing, check and send emails, and post to social media throughout the cruise. Just don’t expect to be able to upload and download large files or stream, though we were able to stream the World Cup while in one of the ports.
On Board Dining
For a small ship, there’s a variety of dining options on board. And the best thing about dining on the Viking Sea is that there is no additional charge for any of the specialty restaurants – with the exception of The Kitchen Table which is part shore excursion and part dining experience.
World Cafe (Deck 7) is the buffet and is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Never really a fan of buffets, this is actually where I chose to eat most often throughout the cruise. No reservation was needed and it was casual attire. Since some of my days were long and exhausting, I didn’t necessarily want to get all gussied up to go to dinner. Plus, the sushi bar was my favorite foodie thing on the entire ship and it was incredibly good. Sushi is pretty expensive in Bordeaux and something I only treat myself to on occasion. But I consumed so much sushi on the Viking Sea, I was sure to turn in to a piece of salmon sashimi by the end of the cruise.
Aside from the sushi, there were a few other staples at dinner like the salad bar where you could put together your own salad or the cooks would make Caesar salads to order for you and the dessert bar. The hot foods were all cooked to order and changed nightly, usually mimicking similar dishes on the menu in The Restaurant. There were also several themed nights like Norwegian night with king crab legs, a special station out on the back deck where cooks prepared salmon and venison dishes, and other Norwegian specialties were on offer.
At lunch, there’s the staple salad bar and a cooked-to-order pasta that changes daily. There’s also a pizzeria with two different pizzas available daily, and there’s a carving station for made-to-order sandwiches.
Breakfast has an array of cereals available, pastries, bagels, muffins, cold cuts and cheeses. The hot serving stations of lunch and dinner serve cook-to-order eggs, pancakes and waffles. Eggs benedict is my breakfast indulgence and you could order it with turkey bacon, ham, or salmon. If you ask nicely, they’ll even make it with crab.
The Restaurant (Deck 2) is the other main restaurant on board, which is sit down fine dining. Reservations are recommended, but not necessary. Even on the most popular night, which was lobster night, I only had to wait about 15 minutes for a table without a reservation.
The Restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner, and on some days also for lunch. The menu changes daily throughout the cruise and is on a 21-day rotation, so you’ll never see the same menu throughout your entire cruise. Generally I found the menu quite closely mimicked the hot cook-to-order dishes available in World Cafe but in a more upscale setting.
Lobster night is one not to miss, especially if you love steamed lobster as much as I do.
Manfredi’s (Deck 1) is the Italian specialty restaurant on board, and a favorite among just about everyone. Only open for dinner, Manfredi’s books up quickly and it’s nearly impossible to get in without a reservation. Even adding a third person to the reservation I already had for two presented a little challenge, though the host sorted out a table after a short wait.
It’s arguably the best restaurant on board the ship and it often said to be the best Italian dining venue in the cruise world. The ingredients come from Italy and the menu is a rustic interpretation of classic Italian favorites. I say interpretation because there are definitely Italian-American dishes on the menu, like the chicken parmiagiana (yes, sorry to burst your bubble but you won’t find this dish in Italy). But it was actually this that I loved most about Manfredi’s.
I grew up eating Italian-American with my family that immigrated to the US from Italy. You will find a version of eggplant parmigiana in Sicily, but the cuisine was really based on the ingredients you could whip up in to delicious delicious for little money. When the Italians immigrated to America, the suddenly had newfound wealth and for the bragging rights alone to write back home and say you cooked up veal or chicken parmagiana and served it over pasta – meat and pasta were very expensive and luxurious things back home in the mother land. But since I moved to Europe nearly 10 years ago, I won’t find Italian-American dishes I grew up with unless I whip them up in my own kitchen.
The appetizers include crispy calamari, caprese salad and the incredibly good steamed mussels in a vermouth and saffron cream sauce that I opted for. I also tried one of the soups and the pasta e fagioli was excellent. The main dish that absolutely everyone raves about is the Bistecca Fiorentina, a thick-cut rib-eye that is marinated in aged balsamic and a porcini mushroom powder for 72 hours. I don’t love the rib-eye cut, so I can bet you already know what I chose instead. Of course, it had to be the chicken parmagiana. And if you can’t decide between a meat or pasta course, you can order an appetizer size of any of the pasta dishes from the menu.
Manfredi’s is where you want to wear your stretchy pants, because it was the only time I came away feeling like I was absolutely stuffed. The portions are generous and an “appetizer-sized” side of pasta is about the equivalent portion size you’d receive of a pasta course in Italy. Of course, you also have to try to save room for the desserts like the tiramisu.
The Chef’s Table (Deck 1) is like Viking’s version of a pop-up restaurant and is only open for dinner. The menu is a 5-course set tasting menu and changes every two days, so you could try the various themes up to eight times throughout the cruise. The themes are set to a certain region of the world or type of cuisine such as Chinese, French bistro or Norwegian with premium wine pairings, which are included if you’ve purchased the Silver Spirits Premium Package. Otherwise there’s a small additional fee per person for the premium wine pairings.
I booked my Chef’s Table reservation the moment I had access to the My Viking Journey portal. The only problem with doing that is that you don’t know what the themed menu is for the night you’re making your reservation for. I suggest waiting until you board the ship, viewing the menus in the beta Viking Voyager app, and immediately making your reservation for the themed night you want to try most.
Everyone raved about the Chinese themed menu and that’s the menu I would have chosen of the various themes, but I just didn’t plan my dinner for the Chef’s Table very well. I ended up going on the themed night West Indes. For me, the courses were hit and miss. There was a lot of foam incorporated into the meal and I walked away not very fulfilled. The best courses were the spicy tuna tataki, which is a seared tuna rubbed with Szechuan peppercorns and coriander, and the Chinese five spice beef tenderloin served with purple mashed potatoes.
Mamsen’s (Deck 7) is tucked away in the Explorer’s Lounge and is named for Viking founder Torstein Hagen’s mother. There’e a great story about the dishes and they were created exclusively for Viking based on the dishes that Torstein’s family had when he was young. It serves Norwegian comfort food inspired by Torstein’s mother’s recipes and is open for breakfast, lunch and “late night” snacks. It’s perfect for late risers like me on at sea days, since breakfast is served later than at World Cafe and The Restaurant.
It’s the Norwegian waffles that are the dish you need to try at least once at Mamsen’s, so plan at least one breakfast here. They also have a brown Norwegian cheese called Gjetost cheese, which originated in the Gudbrandsdalen valley of Norway more than 100 years ago. It’s a goat cheese and gets the brown color from the caramelization of the milk’s sugar during the heating process. So it has a sweetness to it, which people often describe as a bit like peanut butter. It’s one of those cheeses with two camps of people: you either love it or you don’t .
I personally love Gjetost and it’s delicious served on top of the waffles with fruit, just as most Norwegians consume it.
Pool Grill (Deck 7) is the best place on the ship to go for lunch and it’s only open for lunch, but serves a little later than The Restaurant and World Cafe. There’s a salad bar that changes daily with fresh fruit, veggies and various salads. Some days the salads were things like three bean salad, green bean salad and quinoa salad. There’s also the fixings for a green salad with various dressings. Then there’s a grill where you can order from various burgers and sandwiches like pulled pork or cheese steak. Chicken wings and hot dogs are also on the menu.
Afternoon Tea at the Wintergarden (Deck 7) is worth skipping lunch for, too. It’s served every afternoon and is an elegant at sea affair with a trio playing classical music. There’s a menu with no shortage of tea selections – 19 different types to be exact – and the masala chai was one of my favorites. Each day the tea tower changes with different finger sandwiches and desserts, and you can see the menu in advance on the Viking Voyager app. One staple is the delicious scones served with clotted cream and jams that are served warm by the staff.
There’s no reservations for afternoon tea and it’s hugely popular, so be sure to arrive early to snag a table.
The Viking Bar (Deck 1) has a variety of food items in a little case sort of like a mini version of Starbucks. In the mornings, they have delicious almond croissants I didn’t find anywhere else on the ship. There’s also sandwiches and cookies at lunch time. You can also get take-away cappuccinos, hot chocolate and tea here if you want to grab something on the go before heading out on an excursion in the morning.
The Viking Bar serves guests seated around the atrium with drinks and snacks all day, which is perfect if you’re involved in a heated Scrabble match.
All Day Room Service is, as implied, available 24/7. The menu varies with breakfast items, a variety of items available 24/7 and certain items like pizzas available only during hours that the kitchen is open like during lunch and dinner services. Best of all, room service is complimentary.
I took advantage of the complimentary room service most often for breakfast on nearly every day I was going on an excursion. When it comes to the choice between sleeping an extra 30 minutes or going to breakfast, I will always choose sleep over food. But with a breakfast room service menu placed in my room nightly, I could order for a set time in the morning and eat while I got dressed for the day.
For breakfast, a variety of items are available including cook-to-order eggs, fresh fruit plates, bread baskets, pastries, bagels, juices and smoothies. The rest of the day items include a variety of hot and cold dishes with various sides. As mentioned, pizzas are available but only during the kitchen’s lunch and dinner service hours.
Viking is quite inclusive and unlike many other cruise lines where there is a surcharge to use the spa facilities, that isn’t so on Viking. The snow grotto, sauna, steam room and pool are open to all guests even if you aren’t booking a treatment.
Of course, there’s a wide rang of treatments available too. I booked a Swedish relaxation massage as soon as the spa reservations became available in the My Viking Journey portal to snag one of the coveted reservations on at sea days. My masseuse, I’m certain for the first time ever in all my spa experiences, was actually from Sweden and the 90-minute massage was one of the best I’ve ever had.
Special spa offers were often listed in the Viking Daily, the sort of newspaper you receive each evening that gives information about the next day’s port, excursions, dining menus and more. I booked a relaxing legs massage and pedicure at a discounted special rate, which was perfect after several days of hiking. So keep an eye out for those spa specials that are typically only available on excursion days and call immediately for the best appointment openings.
There are actually two pools on board the Viking Sea. The main pool and hot tub is at the center of the ship on Deck 7 and it’s under a retractable roof. Cruising as far north as 71° meant we had everything from hot, summer weather to frigid days with the wind gusting. When the weather was nice enough, the roof would be open and you could swim under the sunshine. Other days, the roof was closed but you could still enjoy the pool very comfortably.
There’s a second infinity pool with a hot tub located on Deck 7 on the back of the ship. It gives the illusion that you’re swimming in the sea as the ship cruises. My one complaint about this pool is that it’s located on the Aquavit Terrace, which is where alfresco dining is offered for the World Cafe. You had to time going to this pool between lunch and dinner services, otherwise it just felt a bit awkward to be swimming while people are dining at the tables situated around the pool.
On Board Entertainment
Perhaps one of the biggest differences between Viking and other luxury cruise lines is that there is no casino on the ship. For some, that might be a turn off. But for me, especially as I worked my way through college at UNLV working in Caesar’s Palace and still hear the incessant dinging of slot machines paying out, no casino on board is a huge enticement.
As I already mentioned, Viking does cater to the 55+ crowd and the entertainment reflects that. Even so, you better believe I was right there in the crowd unabashedly singing along to the songs of the Beatles and Mamma Mia in the Star Theater.
Aside from a variety of shows to keep you entertained in the Star Theater, there’s also port talks offered by the resident historians to help enrich your experience once you go on shore. These are offered the day before to prepare you for the upcoming port, and it’s an excellent chance to get any questions answered and plan your day out to get the most of your time on shore.
Movies under the stars aren’t anything new in the cruise world, but it’s a nice touch on board. Small bags of popcorn are passed out to guests to enjoy during the movie. The only issue is that on an Into the Midnight Sun cruise, there are no actual stars and it’s always a bit too bright for the screen. But that’s only an issue on this particular cruise itinerary, which is only offered for a brief period in summer.
The atrium also has a variety of board games, puzzles, books for guests to borrow while on board and card games. Honestly, a fun Friday night for me these days is spent battling Tim at Scrabble while sipping a cocktail and binge watching one of our favorite tv shows. So you can bet that I found some fellow Scrabble lovers to play against, and it was the perfect way to while away a few hours on at sea days.
Viking Cruises Vocabulary
There’s a few words and phrases that are unique to Viking, and definitely worth knowing exactly what they mean.
My Viking Journey portal: the website with all of your cruise information. You can reach descriptions of all of the available shore excursions, spa treatments and dining venues. You can book your shore excursions, spa appointments and dinner reservations with just a few clicks. View your online agenda for each day during your cruise. You get access to My Viking Journey as soon as your cruise is booked, but bookings and reservations only open a certain number of days before your departure depending on the cabin type you booked.
Panoramic tour: the included panoramic tours are essentially a tour mainly spent on the bus getting an overview of the port of call with a couple of photo stops throughout.
Optional tour: a variety of additional tours offered through Viking for a fee.
Silver Spirits Premium Package: house wine is included and complimentary during meals, but the Silver Seas Spirits package gives you premium wine, beer and spirits for a nominal fee depending on the length of your cruise. You can have any drink aboard the ship at any of the venues that costs up to $15, which was almost all of the wines by the glass and cocktails aboard the Viking. Sea. The Chef’s Table premium wine pairings are also part of the package. And you get 15% off premium beverages, Armagnacs and bottles of wine priced over $50. Just do the math if you plan to drink onboard to determine if the price is worth it for you. For my 15-day cruise, the price of the Silver Spirits Premium Package was the equivalent of the cost of purchasing one drink aboard the ship for each day of the cruise.
Viking Voyager app: Viking’s app that allows you to see a digital version of the Viking Daily, browse the menus for the various restaurants, make reservations at the speciality restaurants, book shore excurions and make spa appointments. The app is currently a BETA app offered by Viking. It only works during your cruise and some features of the app only work when connected to the ships’ wifi. I highly recommend downloading it because it has a wealth of information all right on your phone or tablet.
My Into the Midnight Sun cruise was in partnership with Viking Cruises in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.