Knego’s eight night Empires of the Mediterranean cruise aboard Viking Ocean Cruises’ brand new MV VIKING SEA wraps up with calls at the Greek ports of Corfu, Katakalon and Santorini before disembarking at Piraeus.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2016 unless otherwise noted.
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been to Corfu in the past decade and a half. My first visit to the lush Ionian Greek island was aboard Louis Cruise Line’s glorious, since-scrapped AUSONIA on a late summer day. I recall being enchanted by Corfu’s fortreses, brilliant bougainvillea and the sculptures at the Achilleon, the former palace of Austrian Empress “Sissy”.
Viking’s included city tour would provide complimentary access to Corfu town, which is a moderately long walk from the cruise terminal. After a stop near the airport to view the little island of Pontikonisi, the coach delivered us to the town center. Our guide took us to a pair of cathedrals, then let us explore for an hour on our own.
As it was the first somewhat chilly day of the cruise, my only goal was to warm up with a hot cappuccino in the main city square. My, how a small dose of tasty caffeine can change the mood!
Back aboard the ship, I was granted a bridge visit. Even the VIKING SEA’s wheelhouse is appealing for its pronounced curvature and cool blue Scandinavian color scheme.
Times have certainly changed from the old brass telegraphs and wooden wheels of yore. I kind of pine for the manual days but am pretty confident that digital navigation has the edge.
Directly across were the AIDABELLA and COSTA MEDITERRANEA.
And below us, the Ionian Sea.
Out on the fo’c’sle, I took one of my favorite shots. Unlike the blank or angular faces of many of today’s monolithic mega ships, the VIKING SEA brims with pleasing structural features.
We decided to have lunch at the Pool Grill, which, along with its starboard counterpart, the identical Pool Bar, is located at the aft end of the midships pool area.
The pool grill has a self-service salad bar and a counter where guests can order from a short menu of freshly made burgers and sandwiches.
My veggie burger was as tasty as it was massive. Probably the best I’ve had on any ship, actually.
And then, mere steps away in the Wintergarden, there was tea. Completely unnecessary after such a huge lunch but irresistible.
After dinner, we paused to hear the strings in the Atrium before heading off to Torshavn for the third Rat Pack show of the week. Viking holds the popular show in an intimate venue. so admission is controlled by issuing (free, of course) tickets on a first come, first served basis at the front desk.
The boys in the cast, whose parents were probably not even born when the Rat Pack was in its prime, gave it their all, skillfully crooning some of the more familiar nuggets by Martin, Davis and Sinatra.
Thursday, November 3, 2016
When we awoke, VIKING SEA was berthing at Katakolon, a small Peleponnese coastal town of only 500 people that is popular for its proximity to the ancient site of Olympia. The gorgeous little harbor tug ALFIOS, which was built way back in 1962, was circling us and assisting our maneuvers, as needed.
Mike headed off on the included tour of Olympia, which I have already done, so I chose to linger on the ship with a cappuccino and watch as the CELEBRITY SILHOUETTE berthed across from us before going for a run.
I ran through the town and then cut towards the long beachfront, returning via Katakolon’s charming waterfront cafes.
When I got back to the VIKING SEA, hotel and entertainment staff were lined up at the gangway to greet us with festive music and a drink, much to the curiosity and bemusement of the CELEBRITY SILHOUETTE guests across the way.
Run fulfilled, I checked in at the spa for a deep tissue massage. It was so nice to have a spa treatment without the ordeal of being pitched for product, which is what happens on the majority of today’s cruise lines that contract with Steiners spas. Viking has a much more sophisticated and friendly concession.
With this part of the voyage being less itinerary-focused for me, it was nice to take a little extra time to enjoy the magnificent spa area with its hydrotherapy pool, the sauna and even the snow room. Another wonderful “included” feature Viking offers its guests free of charge.
On the snow room, I was surprised at how refreshing it was following the steamy sauna but I recommend taking advantage of the “croc” type shoes provided in the changing area as the icy floor is incredibly slippery.
Later, on deck, I watched as the clouds absorbed the hues of a setting sun.
Ultimately, there was no better place to watch the sun fizzle out than in the shelter of Explorer’s Lounge with its vapor flame fireplace.
We enjoyed dinner in the Chef’s Table, the wine pairing restaurant on Deck 1. Dining here is included in the fare but reservations are required.
Courses in The Chef’s Table have a mostly surf and turf slant, each accompanied with a paired wine and, prior to the main course, there is a delicious, icy sorbet palate cleanser.
Friday, November 4, 2016
With Mike off on the included morning excursion, I had another leisurely day planned aboard VIKING SEA as she lay at anchor in the caldera of Santorini. Rain was forecast, but when I got to the Explorer’s Lounge for my morning cappuccino, the blue skies were punctuated by a procession of fluffy clouds. Nudged on by the caffeine and with only the tiny CRYSTAL ESPIRIT’s passenger complement to further populate the often congested port, I decided it would be crazy not to go up into Santorini’s Thira Town.
Unlike many ships that call at Santorini, Viking offered a continuous tender service, so guests could come and go as they pleased and not have to commit to a full day ashore waiting for tender service to resume. There was no line for the cable car, so I was wandering the cobblestone paths of Thira Town within a twenty minutes of leaving the Explorer’s Lounge.
Despite being “over touristed”, Santorini is one of the most spectacular places on earth.
Its violent volcanic history makes the combination of sapphire blue waters ,striated cliffs and white stucco all the more fascinating and mystic.
At the far eastern flank of Thira Town, I obtained the shot of VIKING SEA that I was looking for before heading back down for lunch.
My midday feast was capped off with a scoop of green tea gelato (my favorite!) in the World Cafe.
And in the Explorer’s Lounge, I joined the repatriated Mike for a pair of hot afternoon cappuccini with that timeless view of the cliffs and caldera.
All week long, our cabin stewards Jessie and Heribertus quietly turned and cleaned our stateroom with uncanny timing. And, somehow, despite having dozens of guests to cater to, they would greet us by name whenever we would spot them in the passageway. Throughout the cruise our expectations were always exceeded by the VIKING SEA’s dedicated and professional staff.
We capped off the night with a heaping, delightful dose of ABBA in the Viking Theater. Augmented by the digital backdrop, the range of songs included some lesser known nuggets and B-sides, although for this ABBA fan, some of the spoken “history” was a little off.
Saturday, November 5, 2016
Our final day on the VIKING SEA was spent in Piraeus, where we opted out of any tours to Athens merely because we have gone there countless times over the past three decades. Normally, Piraeus is filled with interesting ships but on this sunny, shoulder season day, it was just us, the now familiar CRYSTAL ESPIRIT and a handful of ferries, great and small.
One ferry of particular interest that was once a familiar sight in the harbors of Mykonos, Tinos and Syros, the PANAGIA TINOU, had fallen on hard times. She mysteriously sank at her Piraeus berth earlier this year and now there is a lot of squabbling over who will remove the wreck.
Before going back to the ship, we headed over to Marina Zea, the ancient port of Piraeus, now home to yachts of all shapes and size.
No trip to Greece would be complete without a proper Greek salad and a chicken gyro at Drosopita. It made the chore of saying goodbye to the gorgeous VIKING SEA and packing for the long flights home a bit less melancholy.
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."