Outdoors-y Cruising is the New Glamping
A travel-savvy friend recently took a cruise on one of Viking’s new ocean ships from New York to Puerto Rico, raving about it enough to convince me to pen a Spas at Sea story for RobbReport based on her trip. It also inspired me to try to find a healthy, sea-bound holiday for myself. With the generous help of the Viking Ocean Cruise PR team, I booked a fourteen night sailing through the Norwegian fjords, from London to Bergen, to health and millennial-hack the AARP set’s favorite way to vacay.
True to expectations, my fiance and I were the youngest couple on-board. Which translated into a surprisingly blissful setup: complete lack of iPhones at meals throughout every dining room, zero laptops in public spaces and no rude conference calls in random places getting in the way of my seafaring zen.
But what about the food? And surviving for 14 at sea with just my fiance and our 900 silver-haired new friends? And what did we do all day? Read on!
Meals were leisurely and a nice way to meet some of the crew - many of whom were in our peer set. The kitchen teams consistently went above and beyond to accommodate my dietary restrictions at all restaurants onboard. While the standard buffet items at the Star’s World Cafe were upgraded versions of continental fare, the kitchen team customized all meals for us making it a bit like private dining - especially because we were one of the very few couples to hit the dining rooms 'late night' - after 8pm.
My fiance and I easily found ways to age-down the scheduled activities in port stops or DIYd where they weren’t active enough for us, and filled our sea days with gym, reading and spa. A lack of city access while cruising the North Sea wiped out any of my normal weeknight FOMO at home, making it easy to turn in early for another day of exploring (the midnight sun, on the other hand, I never fully adjusted to…). Small fjord town ports were light on fjord-chic shops or temptingly scene-y happy hours, which made it even easier to get ourselves out into nature via hike, kayak or ATV to soak in the fjords from above, below, in and around. Unpacking once and waking up to new wonders of nature almost every morning never grew old.
But what did we do when we got off of the ship?
Day 3: Edinburgh - Highlights included turmeric lattes at Burr & Co, the most filling veggie lunch in town at Henderson’s Vegan and the National Gallery. Accidentally happened upon a whiskey flight at Scran and Scallie, which turned out to be the best part of the afternoon.
Day 4: Sea Day - After sleeping in and reading through Scottish author Jenni Fagan’s Panopticon, I hit the gym using audio workout app Aaptiv followed by the steam/sauna and snow grotto in the LivNordic Spa. The bartending team at the onboard World Cafe made me my first of many custom smoothies using my BYO Sun Warrior protein powder. A leisurely lunch, hot tub time with almost 360 degree sea views, an even more leisurely dinner and after-dinner scrabble matches topped off the first sea day.
Day 5: Orkney - Not really knowing what the differences between the included tours and ‘optional’ (read: $$) ones were, we signed up for the included tour not realizing it was one long scenic drive. Fine for those who aren't super mobile, less so for those with endless ants in their pants. Three hours total in the back of a coach with limited legroom is not my idea of an adventure, no matter how knowledgeable or charming the tour guide (ours was both). We saw just one of the sites we wanted to see (Stones of Stenness, older than Stonehenge!) and should have rented a car to explore on our own. Lesson learned.
Day 6 + 7: Two sea days, one was a surprise after a visit to the Shetland Islands was canceled due to a combination of wind and a slowing of one of the engines. While relatively rare, this is part of cruising. More time for steam/sauna/cold plunge!
Day 8: Lofoten: I was unsure of which excursion to book, and a planned hike was sold out by the time I tried signing up, so I DIY-d a six-mile hike in Tromso. After fretting over a car rental and the cost of taxis in Norway (insane at the current conversion rate) a local guide pointed us in the direction of an amazing hike, 10 minutes from where we docked. It was free, beautiful, there was nobody else in sight and I met a family of adorable sheep.
Day 9: North Cape: I opted to sign my fiance and me up for an ATV tour of the North Cape area, the northernmost point in Europe and the coldest place I've ever visited in summer. The tour itself was a rainy and scenic ride through town and up the mountain to ridiculous viewpoints of the fjords below and moon-like terrain surrounding us, but some issues that happened with the ship at the dock cut our excursion time in half. Despite the hiccup, the visit itself was a blast and the only way I would want to do the North Cape.
Day 10: Tromso: After hiking and ATV-ing, we felt ready to take on a Husky trek on the outskirts of Tromso. An orientation introduced us to the working dogs, as well as puppies and teenage dogs who were going through a sort of finishing school for sled dogs, and prepared us for the logistics of strapping ourselves to these super strong animals trained to pull-pull-pull. The trek itself was the most adorable resistance training-meets-cardio I've experienced.
Day 11: Geiranger: I am not the best at maps, and probably should fine tune those skills before renting a kayak and trying to DIY my own fjord-by-kayak excursion of the Geirangerfjord and its De syv søstrene (Seven Sisters). The trip was magnificent and it was surreal to look up at massive waterfalls from the inside of a tiny kayak, but the 6 km ride that turned into 14km due to a faulty navigator made for some sore shoulders the next day.
Day 12: Sea Day: Snow grotto all day! And a facial, with a side of Scrabble and tea. Spa and Scrabble day in the middle of the Arctic Circle is now my preferred way to unplug.
Day 13: The Troll Church hike instantly sold out to the tour group, so we hopped on another hike to a local waterfall which was lovely but could so easily have been DIY’d and saved tons of time with slow bus ride and a funny, too-long lunch stop at a roadside dining hall for tourists. Lesson? Research in advance what they most popular excursions are and book them as soon as they open up.
Day 14: Bergen: So happy we added a few extra nights here! Ate lunch and a couple of dinners at delightful and sweet Dwell vegan restaurant - which has amazing food and healthy drinks list. The museums are huge and beautiful and wonderfully organized - we devoted a whole day to exploring the buildings of the glorious Kunsthall. Another day was devoted to following Ingrid Williams’ NY Times 36 Hours In story that was hugely helpful and totally walkable. It’s also how we found the gorgeous apparel shop T-Michael, where T Michael himself helped book us a dinner table at Bare Vestland’s upstairs dining room, an eatery with some seriously glam ambience. Pre-dinner, we spent 30 minutes in the attached bar, it wasn’t nearly enough to soak it all in.
All in all, I'm a cruise convert. Viking's ocean cruises visit some ridiculous destinations, and I would argue that visiting them by ship is the only way to do it. I was Googling 'Viking Cruises 2018' as soon as we got to the airport in Bergen waiting for our plane home. I cannot recommend the whole experience enough, and can't wait to do it again.