Life on board the Viking Star is a series of highlights, writes Catherine Masters.
Breakfast conversations are a great way to meet the other passengers, the overwhelming majority of whom are American.
Said an older American gentleman, an Iranian immigrant who made good on the American dream hence can afford to go cruising regularly: "It took us 12 hours to get here, we lost a whole day." (There was a level of one-upmanship on board around who had taken the longest to get to Barcelona, where the trip began.)
Me: "You should try it from New Zealand, it took over 30 hours to get here."
Puzzled look from the American: "Where exactly in Europe is New Zealand?"
Bless. Actually, quite a few of the Americans on board had been to New Zealand and raved about it.
The breakfast conversations were fun. As we sat down to enjoy three- or four-course breakfasts each day, every day there was a new couple to enjoy.
And not just at breakfast. A great source of entertainment was at the Torshavn bar of an evening where a hardy few hung out most nights dancing the night away to Filipino cover band Super Six.
The music they usually played suited the older passengers, so there was plenty of Quando Quando and the like, but every now and then they shook it up and one night, when they were singing to an empty bar except for a couple of us from New Zealand and Australia they let rip with some trial covers.
A big shout out to Vince and Jennifer, the singers, who both have great voices, and Jennifer's Adele cover was beautiful.
The art app. If you go on the Viking Star, download the Viking Art Guide app. The ship is packed with real artworks, courtesy of the Norwegian owners and when connected with the ship's Wi-Fi you can get the run down on all the different pieces. If you're not on the ship but planning to be, still download the app for a virtual tour.
Handy things, like USB ports by the bedside table so you can charge your phone and tablets, etc. There are heated bathroom floors and the Wi-Fi is free. There is no casino and no kids, and the rooms have verandas.
The crew members are pretty awesome. They are little bit cheeky but not too cheeky and by the second day they know your room number and name. A kind of learned helplessness takes over quite quickly because the crew do everything for you; nothing is too much trouble.
The port talks, enrichment lectures and guided tours are excellent. You can have a glass of wine in the theatre and take in info on the next day's port stop and hear all about your selection from myriad guided tours. There's an included tour on every stop and these give a great overview of the city, or you can choose one for which you do have to pay extra but which may take you inside the Colosseum in Rome, or on a wine-tasting expedition in France, or a jaunt to Nice while stopped in Monaco. There are plenty on offer so choosing is the hardest part.
The included stuff means there are no nasty surprises at the end with your credit card. Drinks are included with meals and for an upfront fee you can upgrade to a drinks package, which means you can pretty much drink anywhere, anytime and the wines are good quality. Even room service is included. The only other extras really are some of the tours, or if you shop on board or go for a facial. Also included is all the food, including all the fine dining restaurants.
The snow grotto is super cool. It's down in the spa area where there's a hot sauna, heated pool and hot pool. The idea is you get mega hot then dash into the snow grotto, which is kept at a temperature to produce real snow, to cool off. This is said to be great for the immune system.
Waking up in another country is the fun thing about ocean cruising. Other passengers also praised the layout of the ship, which offers living areas where you feel at home or spaces where you can equally dress up for an evening out.
Details: Demand for the Viking Star's Mediterranean Odyssey is heavy but places are available on the Iconic Western Mediterranean, an eight-day ocean cruise from Barcelona to Rome. Prices start from around $4300pp in a Deluxe Veranda room, departing January 11 from Barcelona, save $1088 per couple if booked before June 30.