A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about discovering (or rediscovering) the Caribbean after it was battered by hurricanes Irma and Maria, and promised to tell you more about our ship, the beautiful Viking Sea. So what’s it like to sail on Viking Sea around the Caribbean? Well, it’s a relatively small ship carrying just over 900 passengers, and on board, you won’t find a casino, on board photographers, gaudy kids’ clubs (in fact, any kids) or drum and bass by the pool. The emphasis is on relaxation, and – cliché alert – connecting with the sea, so what you will find are wide ocean vistas, calming colours, friendly staff and breathtakingly beautiful design details. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a ship as much. Everywhere you look there’s another gorgeous, mid century chair in a perfect little corner inviting you to sit and read, or sip a cocktail.
The Explorers’ Lounge, right at the front of the ship, is one of my favourite areas. I could literally lift every cosy corner, complete with perfectly squishy sofa, textured throw and elegant table lamp and drop the whole lot straight into my lounge at home. Bookcases are packed with seemingly well loved books, fascinating framed pictures adorn the walls, and every interesting artifact is just begging to be picked up and touched. And if you can imagine yourself, perched on your perfect, Scandi chair in the light, spacious Wintergarden, nibbling a scone and sipping afternoon tea while listening to a classical trio (and let’s face it, who wouldn’t?) you’d be right at home here too.
Having arrived on board very late at night, my first morning waking up in my balcony room (officially a ‘penthouse veranda’) was a glorious surprise: with the sun streaming in the window, I opened my eyes to a palette of soft, dusty blue and sand with lots of blonde wood and natural textures. The furniture is elegant, but minimalist (and all classically, never-trying-too-hard Scandinavian) which gives the room a spacious feel without being sparse, and there are buckets of modern additions like bedside USB ports and reading lights built flush into the headboard, along with thoughtful touches like a dressing table with a mirror that pops up out of the sideboard and a mini bar (free and refilled daily) with spirit miniatures, soft drinks and snacks. I tumbled out of bed to properly check out the bathroom and found more clean lines and elegant touches, along with a very welcome heated floor.
Discovering San Juan
We decided to meet for breakfast at the World Café, sitting out in the sunshine on the Aquavit Terrace by the infinity pool, with a beautiful view over old San Juan. I’d heard great things about the Bircher muesli and wasn’t disappointed, feeling virtuous nibbling my healthy breakfast and sipping a frothy coffee before heading down to join the included excursion (there’s one included in every port, plus a decent choice of other excursions that you have to pay for): a walking tour of historic San Juan.
The streets of San Juan are lined with brightly coloured colonial properties and paved with unusual blue stone cobbles called Adoquin (originally used to ballast the Spanish galleons that transported the settlers). Balconies spill over with lush, green foliage and the pretty houses run the whole paintbox from pale apricot to bright turquoise and vibrant pink. We wandered the hilly streets, visited the Cathedral and climbed up to the top of the Castillo San Cristobal, built by the invading Spaniards to safeguard their valuable new acquisition. Everywhere we went, the local people gave us a wave and a smile. I loved San Juan and definitely want to return and explore properly.
Life on deck
Back on board the ship, we were welcomed with cool towels and water and decided to visit the pool grill for their great range of delicious burgers, hot dogs and salads. The pool deck has a huge glass roof that can be retracted in sunny weather, and an enormous screen used to play movies under the stars (blankets, drinks and popcorn are of course provided).
The main pool, decorated in some pretty lustworthy black and white patterned tiles, is surrounded by cream leather cushions for lounging, sleek metal sunbeds with clever footrests that extend out but can be tucked neatly away, and more hipster potted succulents than a Shoreditch windowsill. Staff are wonderfully attentive, bringing drinks (I recommend the coconut lavender lemonade) and cool towels and there’s always a sunbed available, even on sea days – how do they do that? It feels so sophisticated, I feel I should hide my Grazia and read some sort of Scandi noir novel instead.
Next up in part two: St Croix, St Kitts and St Lucia, on board dining, the spa and more.
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.