Cruising: See food at sea - eat it

By Patricia Greig

The see-food-and-eat-it diet is alive and well at sea, discovers Patricia Greig.
Viking Sea, which holds about 940 guests. Photo / Getty Images
Viking Sea, which holds about 940 guests. Photo / Getty Images

Maybe it is because this is a maiden voyage culminating in the Viking Sea's christening ceremony, or maybe it is because I arrive in Barcelona after an all-nighter in Belfast ... but I think I find God in the pasta on board the Viking Sea.

This may seem like an exaggeration and not the way most people begin to describe their cruise experience but it's necessary to understand how relieved I am to finally land in the warm Barcelona spring, drive past the city's stacked cliff cemetery (where I am certain I belong at this stage) and board the Viking Sea, facing 12 days of discovery.

This is Viking Sea's maiden voyage, which I join for a jaunt from Barcelona to London for the ship's christening. This is not a ship with children and canteen food; this is a floating country club. Viking is well known for its European river cruises and it seeks to replicate the quality of the experience on the river at sea - it didn't fail.

My fellow passengers are an inquisitive bunch in the 55-plus age bracket with a shared interest in exploring the culture and history of ports and cities.

Barcelona is the perfect place to begin this mission of discovery.

Hordes spill into cathedrals as the sun moves along the terraced buildings and the day goes on. The city is observed by stone saints and beggars on church steps.

Barcelona has stood since before the Roman Empire and today it seems mysterious and unpredictable. One of the best things about cruising is that the fascination with these contrasts only grows as we travel around the Mediterranean, port by port.

Because the ship holds about 940 guests, life on board is a personal, catered existence and, because of the ship's capacity, space is never at a premium. Viking's cruises aim to spend more time in port than their competitors and the size of the Sea means that it can visit ports larger liners can't, giving guests the opportunity to thoroughly immerse themselves in the cities and towns.

During my 12-day stay, the ship only spends two full days at sea, meaning the majority of the time is spent visiting charming spots in Spain, Portugal and France.

There are many open spaces with more than a touch of glass, shades of blue and light wooden details - part of a design which accentuates the company's Nordic heritage. This makes for pretty, elegant surroundings, but the personal touches - such as photos of Viking chairman Torstein Hagen as a boy - make it feel like you're staying at your favourite Nordic uncle's floating holiday home.

These airs and graces are consistent throughout the ship, particularly in Viking Sea's cabins, no matter the size of your room. All rooms have balconies, ample wardrobe space, bathrooms with heated-tile floors and powerful showers, and a virtually unlimited minibar. Catering to a guest's every wish, I find binoculars, bathrobes and bookmarks right where I need them.

Speaking of catering, the Viking Sea is an enabler of my love affair with snacks.

Christopher Columbus Statue in Barcelona Spain. Photo / Getty Images
Christopher Columbus Statue in Barcelona Spain. Photo / Getty Images

The ship offers many dining choices, including Mamsen's, a breakfast favourite for late-risers such as myself. Mamsen's offers delights from the home kitchen of Hagen's mother into the late hours of the night. I don't know anyone who could turn up their nose at Mamsen's breakfast waffles, which are made fresh to order and come topped with slivers of Norwegian cheese, berries, sour cream and sauce.

The World Cafe serves a mean five-star buffet for all meals and some pretty spectacular sushi from 6pm. The sushi chef trained at Nobu and he happily slaps slices of tuna sashimi on my plate while I chew on a prawn that is almost too big to hold.

In the Restaurant, the ship's main dining venue, regional menus and the chef's recommendations give a taste of local dishes.

Viking Sea has two bookable options: Manfredi's and The Chef's Table. Manfredi's serves the best Tuscan food I have ever eaten and the angel hair pasta straight from actual angels. The Chef's Table is a five-course degustation menu which changes throughout the voyage allowing guests to try several different menus.

The fun doesn't stop at dinner so loosen that zip a bit and show that food coma who's boss. Torshavn, the ship's bar, plays host to cabaret shows and live music (some of my fellow guests are real corkers when it comes to line dancing) long into the night and a spectacular range of specialty liquors to have a dignified hoon on. The Sea's theatre hosts lectures and shows; there are movies under the stars by the main pool and a spectacular pianist, who is dreamy to listen to.

And then there's the spa. With the angel hair pasta leaving me particularly buoyant and as close to God as I will ever be, Nordic bathing rituals answer my stuffed prayers. The Sea's spa complex offers a cold plunge pool, a snow grotto, an ice bucket and a steam room. The process of going between these detoxifies both mentally and physically, and Lord knows I need it.

Who would have thought sailing with a Viking would be such a good hangover cure?

Cruise crew

Given the fact that a cruise ship quickly becomes its own social ecosystem, half of the on-board experience is getting to know the crew. Viking Sea boasts some especially talented individuals and these ones come with my highest recommendations:

Vlado, Morgan Johnston, Miklos, Garrison (centre) Patricia Greig and Will Crouch.
Vlado, Morgan Johnston, Miklos, Garrison (centre) Patricia Greig and Will Crouch.


The world's most sarcastic bartender with a big heart, Vlado believes Jagermeister cures almost anything.


A clever pianist with a fascinating world view. He's so good with his hands guests wish they could listen to Miklos all day.


Hailing from the States, this talented singer is the absolute star of any cabaret and has a pet snake (not on board).



Viking Sun will set sail in December 2017 on a 141-day itinerary from Miami to London. Along the way, the ship berths in Auckland for an overnight stay, marking the first time the Nordic cruise line has ventured to New Zealand shores. Viking Sun will also be visiting Sydney, Australia, and Havana, Cuba, for the first time.

- NZ Herald

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