Welcome to Vol II of our 2020 World Cruise (WC) summary. The review of our 2015 WC discussed positives in Vol II and areas for improvement in Vol III. However, with the exception of completing the itinerary, the 2020 WC is all positive. Therefore, I will align the 2020 summaries, with same headings as 2015, but both posts discuss positives.
This post, will cover the following areas:
- Officers and Crew
While I refer to our recent cruise as a “World Cruise”, technically it was only a “Grand Voyage” as we embarked in Los Angeles and were due to disembark in London, after 119 days. The Viking Sun was scheduled for an entire World Cruise, departing London on August 31st 2019, taking an unbelievable 245-days to circumnavigate the globe.
Our 2015 WC was Sydney to Sydney and only took 104-days. So how can Princess circumnavigate the entire world in 104 days, when Viking only do 1/2 the world in 119 days. Hint – it’s all in the itinerary and is part of the reason we selected Viking.
When researching the itinerary, it is more than just the actual ports of call, as we also consider:
- Ratio of sea days/ports
- Hours in port
- Number of 2-day stays (overnights)
- Number of 3-day stays (2-overnights)
Since we missed most of the ports due to COVID-19, I will base the summary on the planned itinerary:
Topic 2020 Viking 2015 Princess
- Cruise Length 119 Days 104 Days
- # Ports 53 38
- Percentage of ports 53.8% 40.4%
- # Overnights 7 4
- # 2-Overnights 2 0
- Ave hrs per port 13.52 12.01
While many of the ports were the same, the stats above highlight some of the key differences in how Princess can go right around in 104 days, but Viking take 119 days for 1/2 the world. My comments on the itinerary:
- Port/Sea-day ratio – spending more than 1/2 the days in port, with Viking you get to see more of the world, rather than simply sailing around it. While Judi and I have no problem with sea days, even long stretches of them, I recall on the 2015 WC, some pax were having challenges with multiple long stretches of sea days, for the first 3 weeks.
- # Ports – not only do Viking provide more ports, they also provide more exposure to the countries visited. The 2015 WC had a single stop in New Zealand, with 1 day in Auckland. This provided minimal exposure to the many varied and excellent sights around NZ. Our 2020 Viking cruise spent 2-days in Auckland, plus 6 other ports and scenic cruising in the fjords, so we visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Rotorua, Christchurch, Dunedin and the capital city Wellington.
- Time in port – with high fuel prices, slow steaming is now the norm. Back in my day, we routinely sailed at 20 – 25 kts and at times over 30 kts. At those speeds you can cover lots of miles between ports quickly. During our recent cruise, I believe our highest speed was 18.5 kts and we mostly sailed at 12 to 15 kts. This impacts the time in port. However, on average our Viking cruise spent and additional 1.5 hrs in each port, as compared to the 2015 cruise.
- Overnights – rarely experienced on short cruises, but they are an brilliant feature of World Cruises/Grand Voyages. When overnight, on day 1 you have zero concerns of missing the ship, so can relax and travel freely, possibly getting further from the port. In addition to the 7 overnights on the itinerary, we gained additional overnights in Sydney (3 days), Cairns, Noumea, Darwin and Bali. The 3 days we spent in Sydney were brilliant, permitting us to complete the Back-Stage Tour at the Opera House and head out to the Hunter Valley. The original itinerary also had 3 day stops in Hong Kong and Saigon, both amazing ports for an extended stop.
To review the itineraries of the cruises, please select the appropriate link:
On departure L/A we set off across the Pacific Ocean, spending 8 relaxing sea days, before arriving in Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas Islands. This was a new port for us and although they have no infrastructure for tourists, we enjoyed the walk around the bay. Due to a Tropical Revolving Storm (TRS) we missed the Cook Islands, but gained an overnight in Tonga. After a quick visit in Fiji, we headed South to New Zealand.
The relaxing schedule across the Pacific changed drastically on arrival Bay of Islands, our first New Zealand port. We then had 6 more ports in 7 days, which included an overnight in Auckland. Although we missed Napier due to high winds, we saw some amazing sights throughout NZ – private tour to Rotorua, Albatross Colony in Dunedin, punting on the Avon, etc.
After Dunedin, the itinerary had scenic cruising in Doubtful Sound, but the Captain increased speed, planning to visit 3 of the magnificent and scenic NZ fjords. We arrived in Dusky Sound shortly after breakfast, then headed up to Doubtful Sound, with the Captain planning to also visit Milford Sound. However, due to heavy rain they had experienced a large slide, so the Harbourmaster closed Milford to cruise ships. On clearing Doubtful Sound we set course for Hobart, pounding our way across a rather lumpy Tasman Sea.
Until Hobart, with the exception of missing the Cook Islands and Napier, everything had gone well, but from that point everything went to the proverbial, “Hell in a handbasket”, thanks to COVID-19.
However, before being impacted by COVID-19, we had further weather issues to deal with, which were the after effects of another TRS. The Captain cancelled Melbourne, so on departure Hobart, we set sail for Sydney, where we gained an additional night in one of our favourite ports in the world.
By arrival Sydney, the COVID-19 issue in SE Asia was gathering steam, so Viking made the decision to completely cancel that area, spending more time in Australia and Indonesia. The revised schedule added Townsville and Noumea (overnight) and overnights in Cairns and Darwin. This relaxed schedule was amazing.
On departure Darwin we headed to Komodo Is, where we got ashore wearing masks, which were required by the local authorities. When somebody posted on FB that we had the virus (erroneously), we were immediately banned from 2 Indonesian ports and delayed by 24 hrs getting into Bali.
With the virus ramping up, Viking made the decision to prevent pax boarding in Bali, to ensure the ship remained healthy. On departure Bali, our next time ashore was when we disembarked in Gibraltar, 2 months later.
While we didn’t visit many ports, Viking stood by their policy of the pax/crew safety is their first consideration, as they made a number of bold decisions in a timely manner, to ensure the ship remained healthy.
Throughout the entire adventure, we were kept well informed, with the Captain, GM and C/Director scheduling numerous meetings.
Comparing the planned itineraries, especially the statistics, provides a clear winner:
- 2020 Viking World Wonders
Each cruise had 2 Masters at various times, and they were all different.
- Princess – had the 2 extremes, with Capt Bill Kent and then one of the Italians. Captain Kent was exceptional, which is no surprise, as he was a P&O Cadet and served on passenger ships since 1978. He actually started as 3rd Officer 1 month after me. His daily announcement, accessibility around the ship, attendance at functions, etc was amazing. When he went on leave, the new Captain was a polar opposite, with very poor English he didn’t make the daily announcements and spent minimal time at functions. At one of the repeat pax functions, he made his brief speech and was leaving, when the Cruise Consultant called him back, reminding him he had to present the most cruised pax.
- Viking – had 2 very personable Captains – Olaf and Lars. We started with Captain Olaf from L/A to Auckland, then he was relieved by Captain Lars. While his English was heavily accented, Captain Olaf made the daily announcement and was always seen around the ship. On one of the special dinners on Aquavit Terrace he had the apron on stir frying prawns. Captain Lars also made the daily announcement and coined the phrases, “It is what it is” and “Wash wash wash”. Along with “Magical Mystery Tour” these quickly became cruise signatures.
He was also very personable, joining our table at the Farewell Luncheon and performed on stage at the Farewell Performance with Beven, playing the guitar. When we missed Melbourne, he came down to the Theatre, making a presentation on the weather information and options available to him.
While Capt Kent was definitely the best Master, both Viking Masters were vastly superior to the Princess relief Master, so I will give this one as a tie.
Officers and Crew
The crew we experienced on our last World Cruise were excellent, so this was always going to be a tough category for Viking to beat Princess. How did they match up to Princess?
An old adage in the marine industry is when the Captain looks after the crew, the crew look after the Captain, which on a cruise ship results in passenger service. Viking’s business model doesn’t follow the industry norms and their crew terms & conditions are no different, as they have vastly superior terms & conditions:
- Hotel staff work 6 months on, 2 months off and normally know their next 2 contracts, which includes ship’s name, joining date and port and disembarkation date & port.
- Maximum hours of work are 10 hrs per day, which includes training, familiarisation, meetings, etc
- Personal development and leadership courses are presented onboard the ships
- When cruising ceased, Viking cut the crew hours of work to 1 day on and 1 day off, with wages at 60%. Once crew departed the ship they receive 50% at home until the end of their contract. Crew members at home start to receive 50% of wages when they reach the start of their next contract. This information was provided to the crew at a meeting in the Theatre and once complete, they left with huge smiles.
As I mentioned in the 2015 cruise summary, aboard ships, leadership starts at the top and sets the standards of onboard service. Here are some examples and comparisons:
- Senior Officer accessibility – The General Manage and Financial Officer, the hotel’s 2 senior officers are readily available, often seen walking throughout the ship. Both their offices are on Deck 1 at the fwd end of the Atrium, with doors that are almost always open. When walking from the Atrium to the gym, you must walk past the GM’s door. The Customer Service Manager also has an open desk and was readily available. With Princess, all senior officers had offices in the back and were not nearly as visible as their Viking equivalents.
- Officer/Rating interaction – Viking allude to the fact their crew is a family and based on our observations, we must agree. Officers are routinely seen pitching in and assisting the crew in meeting passenger service goals. Some examples are:
- Restaurant Manager (Maitre’D) Himanshu is always visible in all dining venues and when they are busy, is routinely seen busing tables, filling water/wine glasses, showing pax to tables, etc. To compare with Princess, we occasionally saw the Maitre’D outside the restaurant at dinner, but rarely ever throughout the day, or in other venues. One evening, when 10 pax were assigned to our fixed seating table of 8, I asked the A/Head Waiter for the Maitre’D to attend our table. He returned with a message from the Maitre’D that if I wished to speak to him, I had to go to him. Note – on one rather busy evening in the MDR, even the GM was assisting seating pax, with other officers busing tables.
- Bar Manager – when service was backing up, he joins the bar staff assisting with clean up or making drinks, as required.
- Executive Housekeeper – when they changed the crew hours of work and the cabin stewards finished before the Viking Daily was printed, she delivered them to the cabins until they changed the printing schedule.
- One morning, when out walking after a big Deck 7 party, with all the furniture stowed, I watched at least 3 managers assisting the deck attendants replacing the loungers, chairs and tables.
- Special meals – numerous officers including at times the Captain, donning aprons and cooking up a storm.
The leadership and terms and conditions of employment resulted in some amazing service:
- With 94% crew retention and all ships being identical, the crew know the ships and are extremely comfortable aboard, which translates into great service.
- Cabin Steward – Willie joined in L/A with us, so was our cabin steward in both cabins. When we changed to the suite, the Executive Housekeeper changed their cabin allocations to ensure we retained the same steward. He was much more relaxed and thorough than our Princess Steward, always having time to stop and chat. He quickly identified our habits, including noticing when Judi’s distilled water required replacement and which pillows each of us used. Every day, when chatting with him he always asked, “Anything else we needed”
- We were surprised at how many crew members learned our names, within a few days.
- In the Theatre, on arrival Von would quickly deliver drinks without having to provide cabin numbers, cards, etc. Then just as the show started, 2 more drinks were delivered without ordering.
- For dinner, we always used tables 151 or 153, so as soon as Andrian saw us arrive, he collected a bottle of wine and a beer, which were delivered shortly after we were seated.
- Many others in the bars, deck attendants and cleaners were simply amazing and are unfortunately too numerous to mention individually.
- Tenders – with Viking, tenders are driven by officers, which is how we used to operate when I worked cruise ships. Regardless of boat handling skills, visually it is more re-assuring to have an officer rather than a rating in charge of a tender holding > 100 pax.
Even with a full compliment of pax, we got to know the crew, but when we were down to only 8 pax, we were welcomed into their family, as “Honorary Crew”, sharing almost the entire ship. We all watched shows in the Theatre, shared the gym and one afternoon, I spent a couple of hours in the pool chatting with a number of the crew.
With Princess, while we received great service, there was still very much a clear pax/crew demarcation, but with Viking, they maintained an amazing level of customer service, but we got to know the crew much better, as they were more relaxed and had time to chat. I guess this is one of the big differences between a ship with 900 pax and one with 2,200 pax.
While the Princess crew was great, the Viking crew were beyond amazing, so surprising me, Viking win this one comfortably.
Shortly after boarding, I completed a post on comparing cabins and then last week completed a post on our suite, so rather than repeating, I suggest selecting the links below.
Since we had no experience with a Princess Suite, the comparison is only with our original DV4, so per the previous post the winner is – Viking
When researching a new cruise line, one of the important factors for us was a variety of entertainment, from theatre performances to resident musicians. This was the reason we discounted the really small ships, as well as mega ships. Viking ships, with 930 passengers were an excellent compromise.
Cruise line entertainment is normally based on 7 to 14 night cruises, with 3 to 5 production shows supplemented by guest entertainers. World cruises present a significant challenge to keep the entertainment fresh, without numerous repeats. Princess failed miserably, but the Viking Cruise Director was amazing, constantly thinking outside the box, while delving into his previous experience. Check out the Princess entertainment offerings here.
The Viking entertainment team comprised:
- Cruise Director (C/D) – with Viking the C/D is both an administrator and performer – singer, dancer, comedian, etc. With Princess, they were administrators. Our C/D for the entire cruise was Beven, an Australian child star, who owned and operated a production company prior to Viking. These skills and experience were invaluable on the World Cruise. By thinking outside the box, while challenging his staff, Beven planned and produced an incredible variety of made on the “Viking Sun” entertainment. Beven was vastly superior to any of the 3 C/D’s we experienced on our previous World Cruise. In addition to singing, Beven is also an accomplished pianist and grabbed the drum sticks on at least 2 occasions.
- Assistant Cruise Director (A/C/D) – similar to the C/D, the Assistant must have stage performing skills and Manny was an amazing classically trained vocalist.
- Vocalists (4) – With 2 males & 2 females, this group of British singers were amazing. Each of them had an incredible voice and stage presence, and they harmonised perfectly.
- Viking Band and Singers – comprising Pianist, Guitar, Base Guitar and Drums, with a male and female singer. The band routinely performed in the Theatre backing up guest entertainers and various shows. When up on the Pool Deck and Torshavn (nightclub) the band was accompanied by the singers.
- Resident Guitarist – a soloist that plays in the Atrium, Explorer’s Lounge, Torshavn, etc. All resident musicians rotate daily through the various venues. We started with King, who was amazing and ended with Mark who was good.
- Resident Pianist – similar to the guitarist, the pianist rotated through all venues. Andras was with us the entire cruise and was amazing, playing continuously without looking at the keys.
- Resident Classical Duo – we started with a couple that typify my view of classical musicians, as they were very serious, prim and proper and rarely seen throughout the ship. Their music was traditional classical, which didn’t appeal much to us. They were replaced by a couple of young ladies, who had great personalities and played a more upbeat classical music. When we were only 8 pax, we met in the Atrium every evening for a pre-dinner drink, with the ladies playing on many of the nights. We thoroughly enjoyed their music. They were also much more visible around the ship and approachable, as you could sit and chat. One of them even attended one of the Cooking Classes.
The standard Viking production shows – ABBA, Beattles, Decades, Sounds of the 60’s and the Farewell Show were presented each segment.
However, with 4 segments that left many nights, which couldn’t possibly be filled with guest entertainers. This is where our Cruise Director, used his previous experience as a producer to lead his entertainment team in developing additional shows and non-traditional Viking Ocean entertainment. With the assistance of the entire entertainment team, they developed and presented the following additional shows:
- Variety performance, which included Beven, Manny, Tobias, Bethan, Josh, Roxanne, Viking Band and the Classical Duo. This included a variety of songs from numerous musicals
- Meet & Greet with Vocalists – each of the 4 vocalists discussed their career and how they ended up on the WC as a vocalist. They each took a couple of questions from the audience and sang a song accompanied by Beven on the piano.
- Bethan – developed 2 separate shows, with 1 repeated
- Tobias – same as Bethan
- Josh – developed and presented a very high energy show of 50’s, 60’s & 70’s music
- Beven – 2 separate shows
- Manny – 2 separate shows
- Elmer – 1 show before disembarking in Auckland
- Liar’s Club – a new Viking initiative. The first 2 shows featured Himanshu (Restaurant Mgr), Beven & Bethen. A 3rd show featured 3 pax
- Blankety Blank – another new Viking initiative
- Classical Performance film, produced specifically for Viking Cruises
- Atrium Melodies – with Beven on the piano, the vocalists and Manny sang songs in the Atrium during the afternoon, starting at 16:00. I believe we had 3 or 4 of these performances
- Dancing Under the Stars – featured Beven, Manny, Vocalists and the Viking Band and Singers up on the Pool Deck for a high energy night of mostly Rock music. I believe we had 3 evenings on the Pool Deck.
- Tahiti Cultural Performance
- Tonga Cultural Performance
- Maori Cultural Performance
- Aboriginal Cultural Performance
The other evenings were filled by guest entertainers and occasionally a film.
Assigning a winner in this category was easy, as the extreme effort the Entertainment Team expended in creating made aboard Viking Sun shows was amazing. In comparison, the Princess entertainment team produced only the usual Corporate approved material.
Winner – Viking by a country mile