In part one of my little love letter to the beautiful Viking Sea, I wrote about how much I loved the beautiful design details and wonderful service that make the ship so special. as well as telling you about the first stop on Viking’s West Indies Explorer itinerary, San Juan. From there, we sailed on, following a roughly south easterly track that would eventually take us to our final port, Barbados. Here’s the final part of my onboard diary, in which we discover even more of the Caribbean on board Viking Sea.
Unspoiled St Croix, USVI
On day two, we woke to the raw beauty of St Croix. Again, we opted for the included walking tour of Frederiksted, and once again our guide was fabulous, giving us an interesting history of the island, its various invaders and a lot about the sugar plantations and the uprising of the enslaved local people. The island, the largest of the US Virgin Islands, boasts a naturally deep harbour (dock jumping is a local pastime for high days and holidays when there are no boats in port) and flat lands, making it especially attractive to the plantation owners, and the town is dotted with old buildings, including Fort Frederik, glowing dark ochre against the turquoise sea on the waterfront. Baobab, Tamarind and Kapok trees stand proud around the port, despite losing all but their largest branches in the hurricane. We were all moved, not just from hearing the plight of the people, enslaved and abused by a stream of different invaders over generations, but also listening to our guide talk about the destruction of the island by Hurricane Maria and the resilience of the locals.
Relaxing in the LivNordic Spa
As you would expect, the spa on board is low key and stylish, reflecting the Scandinavian obsession with saunas and steam rooms. The main spa, which is free to use, has a sophisticated pool area, as well as sauna, snow grotto and heated beds. There’s also a salon, gym and shop area selling a range of high end products.
I booked in for a hydrafacial, which uses a method similar to dermabrasion, with a nozzle that applied first a cleansing element, then a glycolic peel, and then an antioxidant. All the products used are organic, where possible (obviously the more high tech elements aren’t) and use berries, citrus and natural scents. An application of the most delicious smelling citrus face mask was followed by a head massage so heavenly that I nodded off. I left feeling relaxed, and more than a little spaced out (and with the most ridiculous hair).
One evening, we booked in for the Nordic Bathing Ritual: lead by Hari, our delightful massage therapist with the most wonderful, gentle sense of humour. Along with a colleague, Hari guided us through a series of steps, starting with some relaxing deep breathing, then into the sauna, following by a startling visit to the snow grotto where we were encouraged to rub ourselves with snow before heading back into the sauna. Along the way, there were snowballs infused with essential oils, a bit of gentle self thrashing with some traditional soaked birch twigs and even a refreshing bucket of cool water, tipped over your head by pulling a rope (it’s not as bad as it sounds). The evening finishes with a face scrub, mask and a relaxing massage. I slept like a baby.
Apparently the view of Viking’s Chairman, Tor Hagen, is that all dining on board should be of equal quality, so Viking avoid the term ‘speciality dining’, preferring to call Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant and The Chef’s Table alternative dining. The main restaurant, situated on the promenade deck so avoiding that sometimes dark and gloomy feel of lower deck restaurants, is bright and welcoming.
There’s no charge to dine at either alternative dining venue, but you do have to book. The friendly staff do a great job of making sure that everyone on board gets to eat there at least once, but you might be able to squeeze in a second visit. The atmosphere in my favourite, Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant, is warm and welcoming and the food (and wine) is spectacularly good. A choice of red or white wine (Italian, certo!) is complimentary, or you can push the boat out and order something else. The delicious bistecca Fiorentina, steak marinated for 72 hours with a special blend of seasonings, has reached legendary status with passengers, but there are also fabulous platters of antipasto, a delicious range of pastas, and fresh seafood too. We left absolutely stuffed after being persuaded to force down some dessert.
The Chef’s Table is an experiential dining option featuring a five course menu paired with selected wines. There are a few different variations, but we tried the ‘Asian Panorama’, starting with an amuse bouche of chilled king crab with a coconut foam and curry sauce, followed by delicious lobster and chicken shu mai, a palate cleansing red chilli and lemongrass granita, followed by Peking duck and then a trilogy of desserts. Each course was beautifully presented and thoughtfully created. I loved the experience.
Exploring St Kitts
St Kitts was largely unaffected by the hurricanes, and we joined our friendly guide, Gene in a small bus for a drive around Basseterre before heading out to Fairview Great House and Botanical Garden. In 2008 the house was completely broken down and work began to painstakingly reconstruct it because of termite damage. The beautiful gardens are bursting with heavenly scented herbs: lemongrass, sage, sweet basil and thyme, plus pomegranate, avocado and orange trees. It’s a wonderful, fragrant place to wander.
Discovering St Lucia
As we docked in St Lucia on a Sunday, we decided not to venture into Castries, and after some fierce negotiation (which we’re not really sure we won), agreed a price for a water taxi from the cruise port to beautiful Marigot Bay. The journey – skipping along the waves around the pretty coastline, watching flying fish catch the sun as they flipped out of the water – was worth it alone. Marigot Bay is a heavenly spot: we swung from a rope swing (some with more grace than others), swam in the warm water and lazed on the beach.
Last stop, Barbados
For our final morning in Barbados, we were determined to explore as much as we possibly could before disembarking at lunchtime for our flight home. We grabbed a taxi to Bridgetown, and spent an hour walking around exploring…
…and then took the short walk to Carlisle Bay, to squeeze the last few hours out of this beautiful place with a final bit of sunbathing and swimming in the clear, warm water.
What an incredible experience. I loved every minute of my time on board, discovering this beautiful part of the Caribbean on board Viking Sea. I flew home feeling that I had truly immersed myself in the destination, from discovering the islands with knowledgeable guides, and chatting to the locals about surviving the hurricanes, to listening to the onboard lecturer, Ian, telling us about the horrors of the West Indian slave trade. It seems that every part of a Viking cruise is designed to enrich your cruise experience as a whole. I’ll definitely be back on board soon.
Viking Ocean Cruises West Indies Explorer departing San Juan for 11 days, and visiting 9 countries, costs from £2490 including on board gratuities (book before 31 March 2018) and return travel from London.
Many thanks to the team at Viking Ocean Cruises and all the fabulous crew on board Viking Sea.