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  1. We were on the Royal earlier this month and was able to purchase a 7 day wine package so they may be offering it on the one week cruises now. We were on the Crown last summer and were able to do the 14 bottle package on that cruise as well.
  2. We were worried about that as well but noise from the Lido deck with the balcony doors closed was not an issue. The music and crowd noise were an issue when you were sitting on the balcony or had your balcony door open. All in all although we would have preferred not having the noise it was not that big a deal for us.
  3. Our last 3 Princess cruises have been on the Crown, Ruby, and Emerald which as I understand it are basically the same ship. We had a great time on each of those but the Ruby is much nicer. Things we liked: There seemed to be more seating in the public areas. The buffet was set up in such a way to minimize the chaos found on most other ships. The way the ship was decorated seemed much more elegant and less gaudy. The spa recreation area had a therapeutic whirlpool and a waterbed in addition to the heated stone beds, rain forest showers, steam rooms, and saunas. The adults-only swimming area was larger and had more seating. The Sanctuary area is more secluded. One thing we liked less on the Royal was the elevators, they did not seem to have enough as they seemed slower to arrive and were always more crowded than I recall on the other ships. Another thing we found disappointing was that unlike the other ships, you can not promenade outside on the Promenade deck. Instead of an outdoor deck that circles the ship on the Royal, you only have a couple of porches. You are unable to do laps around the ship as you can do on the others. On the other ships we preferred the Promenade deck to the jogging track. We found the food and other amenities to be equivalent to the other ships. We thought it was good and has not gone downhill as others have posted. This was our first cruise as "Platinum" members and enjoyed the discounted internet, and early boarding (we did the medallion check-in and for some reason, they did not know we were platinum and assign us to early boarding until we mentioned it) We went to the nightly Platinum/Elite reception a couple of of the nights and it was nice. A helpful tip for those leaving LA is to leave LA before purchasing some of your prepaid items. We enjoy wine so we bought the gold wine card where we prepay for 7 bottles of wine at a discounted rate. In reviewing our bill in addition to the card and gratuities which we expected we were charged $20 something in LA taxes. When I asked about it at the front desk they said it was the law and if I had waited until leaving LA to purchase the card I would not have had to pay the tax. We had not planned on going on this trip but we got an email offering us an outstanding price on Mini-Suite. The room they assigned on the 15th floor was advertised as having an oversized balcony. What they did not tell us that we were in full view of anyone on the glass bottom/glass-walled bridge that extended over the water one floor up on the Lido deck. As you can tell from the picture below shot from our balcony not only did we have a nice view of the people on the bridge but they had a nice view of us as well. You will have some version of this view if you book odd-numbered cabins M411 through M425. Next time I will avoid these rooms but the mini-suite was outstanding. We saw the The theater was packed and always filled up about 10 minutes before the shows. We saw comedian AJ Jamal on two evenings (different shows historically funny), Brent and Sarah's Comedy Magic Show on two evenings (very entertaining) and one of the production shows (my wife loves them me not so much but they were enthusiastic). Prior to the cruise we did the stay and park at the Crown Plaza. Great hotel, great service would do it again. All that said we had a great time on a great ship and would highly recommend it to anyone. Let me know if you have any questions.
  4. Yes they are in the Thermal Spa. We found them extremely comfortable.
  5. why did you pick that hotel Because the base hotel was not well located and we liked the Kensigton Garden Location Breakfast was included were you picked up and dropped off at your hotel for your 1 day city tour or did you have to make your own way to Victoria No we took a cab to the bus station did you get out at the different sights or stay on the coach and just drive by? We got off to see the changing of the guard, the tower of London/crown jewels, the outside of Westminster Cathedral and a few other places. We also went on a river cruise. your transportation to Southampton was it in a small van or a big Coach - did you take transportation with tickets for Stonehenge - what happen to the people that did take the Stonehenge tickets - they wait around and visit the gift shop A van picked us up from our hotel and took us to a larger bus that had passengers from all 3 hotels that they use. We took that bus to Stonehenge on our way to Southampton. We took the Stonehenge bus from the gift shop to Stonehenge and back. We then made our way to the bus for the trip to Southampton. Hope this helps.
  6. Other than the TV's having problems I heard of no other issues with the ship. Our plumbing worked and we heard no one else complaining. We had great weather and there were no issues getting on or off the ship. When all the excursions came back there was a long line to get back on but that was all that I know of.
  7. I realized I had forgotten the links and when I went to put them in it said it was too late to edit. Here it is: https://www.internationalfriends.co.uk/pre-cruise-london.html?fbclid=IwAR2wofxDBPTOKzefNKmKLQyxyQ9_6gS-8LIb5xDSDXJKxQX4VFoCR_uXGQA
  8. For those of you that don’t want the details we had a great time, enjoyed the heck out of the trip and are very glad we did it. What follows is a summary of the things we thought exceed expectations along with some things we thought could use some improvement. We will also give you a run-down of what we did in every port and who we did it with. We do not Bingo, Casino, Art, Photo, Gym, Trivia or spend a lot of time in the bars so will not have much feedback in those area. We will start out with some main areas and general comments: Room/Ship: We had a standard Balcony on the Aloha deck. Our room was impeccably maintained by our friendly and caring room steward. And we could not have been more pleased. The room was bigger than our hotel room we had in London prior to the cruise (more on that later). Bed was beyond comfortable and we used the balcony more than we thought we would (because the cruise is port intensive we had considered getting an inside cabin, were are glad we didn’t). Our TV had some issues but other than that we were beyond satisfied. We sailed on the Sapphire Princess to Hawaii a few years ago and one thing we liked about that ship was that on one of the pool deck areas that had a clear cover. That was nice because you could find a quiet place to read, enjoy the sunshine, but not freeze because of the cool sea temperatures. I assumed that this cruise, because of the cool rainy weather would have that as well. It did not. As a result, the pool areas were for the most part unused and if wanted to get away from the sensory overload from the public areas of the ship your only choice was your room. Food/Drinking/Dining Dinner: As a perk our travel agent (AAA) provided a complementary dinner in each of the two specialty restaurants. We all of our other dinners in the DaVinci dining room. The service in the specialty restaurants was amazing as was the food in Sabatinis. The Veal Chop I had was to die for. The Crown Grill was a disappointment. When you walk in they show you examples of the different cuts of meat. While I understand when you cook it shrinks a but the cut of meat I had was about half the width of the example. It did not seem to be seasoned and was not very flavorful. I love good coffee and was disappointed to learn that the main dining rooms and specialty restaurants do not serve fresh ground coffee but the same awful coffee they serve up in the buffet. The deserts at both the specialty restaurants were amazing. We enjoyed our meals in DiVinci a great deal. The food was good enough, the service was also outstanding. The three folks that greeted and seated you were three of the most customer focused staffers I have ever met and the wait staff was not far behind. We shared a table every night at dinner and feel sorry for those folks that don’t. We met some interesting folks including a former member of the New Mexico Supreme Court, a nun, and a former Mayor of a small town in England. In addition to that we met several Aussies that are taking some amazingly long what for them is winter vacations, and several folks for other parts of the US and Canada. Had some great conversations and enjoyed all the different perspectives. Some ladies from the UK got my wife hooked on mint tea that you make with just fresh mint leaves. Must have gotten popular because a couple of days later they said they ran out of fresh mint leaves. Lunch: They only have lunch in the dining room on sea days and we enjoyed lunch there on both of those. We had lunch in the Buffet one day which was fine. The other days we had lunch off the ship or skipped it all together. Breakfast: We had four breakfasts in the Dining Room and the rest up in the Buffet. You actually get a better breakfast in the Buffet but we enjoy the atmosphere in the dining room more. We had some old coffee cards that were supposed to never expire but are now not going to be valid after the end of August. Because the coffee in the buffet and dining rooms is so bad we would go and get a cup of fresh brewed coffee in the lobby to use up the remaining punches on the coffee card and take that coffee for breakfast. Reminds me of a few years ago when we went to Disney. We had purchased some four day passes for Disney world several years earlier but we had only use 3 of the days. They said they would never expire. 15 years later we were in Southern California and had one day to go to Disney Land so we brought our passes thinking that they probably expired. Nope they happily accepted them and let us keep the old paper pass as a souvenir. Part of good customer service is not changing the rules after the fact. Disney know that, Princess does not. Other: Wine is a hobby of mine and I am in the business. One thing we like about princess is that on longer cruises like this one they sell a wine card where if you agree to buy so many bottles you get them at a reduced rate. We bought the 12-bottle package that lets you buy any bottle of wine up the $45 for $29. If you buy a bottle of wine over $45 the reduce the price by $45. When you did this, especially with the non-California wine it brought the price down to close to what you would pay at a wine retail store. Thermal Spa This was our 5th princess cruise and all the previous ones we purchased the thermal spa pass. The Thermal Spa is an area below the massage area that has steam rooms, saunas, special showers, and heated stone beds. A great place to relax. On this cruise because there were only two sea days we were only going to get day passes. On this cruise they were only selling cruse long packages so we purchased those and because the spa was open until 11 we were able to use it on about 60% of the days. Internet Our cruise had the new improved “Medallion Net” service. We paid $99 to connect one device for the duration of the cruise (you can use multiple devices but only one at a time). They advertise it as being as fast as your home network. Although it is much, much, better than the prior service which was unusable, it is slower than you home network, and occasionally does not work at all. That said it is usable and I would do it again. “Medallion Class” When we first got on the ship, we were only issued a normal cruise card but on the second day we got our medallion. We were helping them debug the system so we had to use both the medallion and the cruise card when getting on and off the ship. Other than unlocking your door just by being near it I am not certain what the big deal for the customers is. I can understand why it benefits Princess because they can now track your every movement on the ship (which I find kind of creepy). Princess must be really proud of this because they are making it out to be a big big deal. I wish they had put the money into better dining room coffee. On the Prominade deck, near the photo area, they even erected a shrine to the medallion during our time on board. They even came out with a line of medallion-wear that you insert your medallion into. I found that kind of funny because in the shrine area there is a picture of a man putting a medallion wear neckless on the neck of his wife and by the expression on her face you would think she had just received the hope diamond. Entertainment The singers and comedians on the ship were all very good and because of that we attended more of those shows than we normally do. Enjoyed them a great deal. Wish they would allow them to perform for more than 45 minutes. Ports: Pre-Cruise: We contracted for the 4 day London pre cruise package from a company called Interational Friends. The package included airport pick up, 3 nights at the Royal Garden Hotel overlooking Kensington Gardens and Palace, a full day tour of London, hotel pickup and a tour of Stonehedge prior to going to the ship. Among other things the tour included the Tower of London, the Changing of the Guard, a boat ride on the Thames. Among the things we did on our own was Churchill's War rooms, the National Gallery, the National Ballet at Albert Hall, toured Kensington Gardens, and visited 3 pubs. Enjoyed the experience a great deal. The Hotel was nice and well located but the rooms were very small for what we thought was an upgrade. Guernsey: We did Annette Henry’s walking tour of Guernsey. She brings a wealth of personal knowledge and some dramatic flair which made this a highly insightful and memorable experience. Highly recommended. Cork: Did the ships tour of Kinsale and Charles Fort. Major disappointment. Tour consisted of 1 hour bus ride, 45 minutes in Kinsale (it looks to be a very cute little town) a half hour at the Fort (would have been an interesting place if we would have been able to see all of it) and then another hour back to the ship. Dublin Day 1: Booked a 5 hour “Nearly all of Dublin” walking tour with Dublin Tour Guide including the Book of Kells and the Trinity College Library. Learned a lot. Book of Kells was a zoo, Trinity Library was way cool. We were going to stick around after the tour but we were so tired after the long day of walking we went to a pub had a pint of Guinness and a pint of Murphy's to see which one was better (it was Guiness) and went back to the ship. Dublin Day 2: Did the ships Guiness tour. It was touristy, crowded but we enjoyed the heck out of it. We would have been better off on our own. We could have done the whole thing, cab fare included, for the equivalent of $90. Instead it cost us $158. Glasgow: Another couple we met on line told us about a private tour they had arranged to see the Sterling Castle followed by a sheep dog sheep herding demonstration. The castle was wonderful and worth seeing. In my mind's eye I had pictured the sheep herding demonstration to be in a picturesque countryside setting where sheepdogs would move a large number of sheep. Boy was I wrong. We went to something called The Scottish Wool Centre (basically your standard tourist stuff with a small restaurant). It had a fenced in area next to it that had a half dozen or so sheep all of a different breed. When it came time for the sheepherding the sheep went back in their pens and we saw a single sheep dog follow 3 ducks around an obstacle course. Besides me in the mirror after agreeing to go to this, this was the stupidest thing I had ever witnessed. If were driving along and happened upon this it might have been cute, but after driving over an hour to specifically see this, I learned to ask more questions and do more research before agreeing to do things. Belfast: Outstanding Tour. We set up a tour with Belfast Cab Tours of Belfast murals and politics, the rope bridge, Giants Causeway, some Game of Thrones filming locations and Bushmills distillery. Charly our tour guide was outstanding. He took my wife and I around in a London Cab was very knowledgeable and accommodating. A very memorable day. Invergorden: Another outstanding tour. We contracted with Invergordon Tours for an amazing day. My wife and I were escorted by our driver Willie in a Mercedes Sedan. We went on a hike to a waterfall, a boat ride on Loch Ness, St. Andrews Cathedral, Urguhart Castle, Cowder Castle, and the Glen Ord Distillery. Edinburgh: Yet another outstanding tour. We along with two other couples (including the couple that set up the duck herding) contracted with Edinburgh cab tours to take a tour of Edinburgh and then go to St. Andrews. We saw the outside of Edinburgh Castle from several angles, the outside of Holyrood Palace (the queen was in residence), walked through a couple of historic and scenic neighborhoods, went to a historic cemetery where among other things there is a stature of Abraham Lincoln honoring Scottish solders that died in the civil war, and toured Calton Hill before driving out to St. Andrews. In St. Andrews we had lunch, did some shopping, and walked around the old course before heading back to the ship. Normandy: Yet, Yet another outstanding tour. We did the ships tour to Omaha Beach, the US cemetery, had a nice lunch at a local hotel and toured the Debarquement Museum. Very interesting and moving experience. No wonder they are called the greatest generation. Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.
  9. We did not consider touring on our own so I don't have anything to add.
  10. We did not try to arrange things on our own but they did mention the fact that some folks were touring the ports independently. so my guess is you can. A couple of people mentioned that they hired tour guides outside of the tender landing area as well.
  11. The buses are newer, comfortable, and there is a bathroom on board. As a side note, most restrooms in Cuba require you to tip the attendant.
  12. There is an overnight option as well. it was $500pp more expensive than the day trip so we opted for the day trip. One passenger told me the ship was going to dock in Havana next year so you may not need to do the overnight.
  13. We did not go out on our own. Every shop we went to cater to tourists. I suspect if you go off the beaten path you will need to exchange money. The advantage of the tour is you get the perspective of a real live Cuban, the tour guide. I'm sure they are instructed not to say certain things but on our tours at least they answered every question and they seemed to believe what they were saying. All wines by the glass under $15 are in the program. We only looked at the list once on the first day and did not see anything we were excited about. My advice would be to look at the wine list on your first day and make your own mind. We purchased a couple of $45 wines that we enjoyed very much. The drink package also included the wine upgrade at the Chefs Table ($25 PP) which is a nice thing. We were on the fence and did not do it for fear that we (me really) would take a little bit too much advantage of it.
  14. We had a wonderful time. For the most part, the ship suited us, the staff was friendly and accommodating, and the Interary gave us what we wanted out of the trip. If you are accustomed to visiting European cities with well- maintained attractions or Caribbean islands with you have fist class bars, restaurants, and beaches you will be in for a bit of a shock. If you (like we were) want to visit a unique place where you can see the impact of 60 years of socialism/communism on what was once a tourist hotspot, and how people function under that system, then you should consider this cruise. The ship was just the right size. The decor was subdued, elegant and modern. The room (Deluxe Veranda) was clean, roomy, comfortable with the best cruise ship shower we have ever had. We had been on 3 Viking River cruises and several ocean cruises with more mass market cruise lines mostly Princess. We were curious how this experience would compare to those. We had some frustration with Viking Air but I will detail that in a separate post. I will give you a day to day rundown on what we did along with some general observations. I am also going to compare the Viking Ocean experience with their River Cruises and with the mass market Ocean Cruises I had been on. Day One (Thursday, November 😎 On-Boarding/Depart Port: This was by far the easiest and most relaxing on-boarding experience we have ever had on any Ocean cruise. We could not get a decent enough flight from Phoenix to fly in that morning (Part of the Viking Air frustration to be detailed in a different note) so we flew in the day before and took a Lyft to the ship. Got here about 10:30 dropped off our luggage, checked in, and got our room keys inside the cruise terminal and were on board at 11:00. Were greeted with a glass of Champaign and because the rooms would not be ready until 2:00 had a seat in the lobby and enjoyed a cup of coffee. At noon we went up to the World Café buffet (more on the buffet later). You make your dinner reservations for the two specialty restaurants at the entrance. We only received two reservations (one to each of the restaurants) with our class of room, so we made one for Manfredi’s Italian that evening and one for the Chefs Table on Wednesday. At 2:00, as promised, our room was ready. After unpacking we toured the ship, spent about 90 minutes enjoying the spa and then got ready for our outstanding dinner. We almost bought the drink package, at $20/day it is not a bad deal at all, but we decided we would not because we would be tempted to use it more than was probably good for us. Another reason we did not get it was because the wines that were included were not that exciting and not that much better than the house wines they served at lunch and dinner and the bottle discount only applied to bottles of wine priced $60 or more. They had a lot of nice wines in the $40-$60 price range that if the drink package offered a discount on, we probably would have purchased it. After our amazing dinner (in talking to some people they never made it to one of the specialty restaurants which was kind of sad) we sat in the lobby listened to some music and then went up to bed. Day Two (Friday, November 9) Sea Day: After breakfast at the buffet we went and spent a couple hours in the spa, we were amazed at how few people were using it. In the locker room, they feature a sitting area, a sauna and cold-water plunge pool (was never brave enough to take the plunge), and a wonderful rainforest multi-directional shower. The communal area features 4 stone beds, 10 or so padded lounge chares, some padded lounge chairs, a steam room, a snow room, a large medium hot saltwater whirlpool, a standard sized hot tub, a rainforest shower, and cold-water bucket dump area (never was brave enough to use it). Again, I was surprised at how few people there were in the spa (more on that later). Was surprised by how much I enjoyed the snow room, was disappointed that the stone beds were almost only room temperature (I told them about this several times but they claim they were set at the right temperature. On our mass market ocean cruises, we always purchased the spa package, and warm stone beds are the main reason we do). After a wonderful lunch in the sit-down The Restaurant (I wonder how much they paid a marketing consultant to come up with that name). We then decided to sit out by the main pool area. This was a big step for me because I’m not sure what hell is like but I’m convinced it is not that much different from the main pool area on the other ocean cruises we have been on. I was pleasantly surprised. It was calm and relaxing. Was able to find a shady lounge chair. There were no unsupervised children or people with over filled plates of food our buckets of beer bumping into us, there was no blaring reggae music playing, it was dare I say it pleasant. I even did something I never do, I went it the pool. I was wondering why everyone was hanging on to the sides and I found out. The entire pool is 5’8” deep. Unless your nose is 5’9” above the ground, if you are not swimming (the pool not really big enough to swim) or treading water you need to hang on to the side of the pool. This is not a bad thing I just found it odd. That evening we had they had a reception in the lobby for past Viking guests in the atrium. You get a glass of sparkling wine (it is branded Viking and comes for Germany) and if you are on the first floor, they pass around some Hors d’ oeuvres (we were on the second floor). After that, we had a wonderful dinner at The Restaurant. The food is on par with the Viking River cruises, and far superior to the food in the main dining room of the mass market cruises we have been on. After dinner, we went to the captain's reception where we got another glass of Germain sparkling wine and were introduced to the captain and the department heads. Day 3 (Saturday, November 10 Cienfuegos): Cienfuegos is a tender port. The Star by far has the nicest and most comfortable tenders we have ever been on. Each tender holds about 200 people. Because you are moving so many people so quickly it is a bit of a cattle call. If you are on an excursion you meet in the Star Theater at a specific time and then instructed when to board your tender. If you are doing the port independently you tell them and they tell you when you can board. There is a fairly long line to get on the tenders but I don’t see how they could do it any better. For those of you that are not afraid of alienating your fellow passengers if you take the elevator down to level 0 and cut into the tender line there you will avoid most of the line. There is a money exchange once you clear customs and before you get to the tour buses. There is I think an 8% fee for exchanging American money. Your credit card and ATM card will not work in Cuba. We had some euros left over from a previous trip and exchanged those in because there is no extra fee for doing that. Another good option is Canadian money. The lines to exchange money the first day very long and many people were unable to do so because they did not want to miss their tour bus. The truth is that most places that tourists would be interested in will accept American money so you may be able to get away without exchanging any money at all. We went on the “Cienfueguos on Foot” included shore excursion. We took a bus into town and our tour consisted of walking 4-5 blocks to the main square of the town. You can see that in its day this was a pretty magnificent place but it had not been kept up. We observed the way the people went about their day to day lives. It is dirty and a bit unkept but none-the-less interesting. In addition to the stores and markets and restaurants on the street, there were several street vendors selling local crafts and jewelry. The tour was supposed to include a tour of a cigar factory but the factory does not operate on Saturdays so they substituted going into a cramped cigar/rum store where there was a lady in the back, rolling cigars. We received a complermetary rum and coke and a tiny cigar. Because of time constraints, they asked us not to buy are cigars and rum here but at another store, we would be near the end of the tour. This tour is offered all three days we are in the port. If you want to see a cigar factory (we did) do not do it on Saturday. We then walked down the town square where they directed us to a cigar/rum store and gave us some time to wander around on our own. The store is not set up for the thong of cruisers that descend upon it. If you want to make a purchase do it quickly. By the time we decided to buy something the line was 20 some people deep and with one cashier we decided to hold off buying anything until a different day because we would have missed the bus ride back to the ship. On our way back to the ship we stopped off at the Palace de Valle for a rum and coke and some music on the roof. The place is beautiful on the outside and in some of the public spaces, but you can tell by going in the restrooms and in peeking in some other rooms it has been neglected. Enjoyed the music and enjoyed the views. Our guide for this tour, like the guides on all our tours, works for a government-owned tour company. They were all passionate about their job and worked hard to make sure we had the best experience possible. I was impressed with their ability to communicate and their candor. No question was off limits. Some of us were wondering if they had to turn in their tips to the government and were told they only share their tips with their families. We then proceed back to the ship where we cleaned up and went to our dinner at the Chefs Table. The theme for the dinner was “La Routes Des Indes” and we paid $25 each for the upgraded wine pairing. The two main courses were Spicy Tuna Tataki and Beef Tenderloin seasoned with four Asian spices. The meal was outstanding and the wine pairings went well with the food being served. I went back and did some research and the 4 wines served each retail for between $10-$15 so the ships markup (if you don’t deduct the cost not drinking the house wine which I suspect is something south of $8 a bottle) is not that extreme. After dinner, we listened to some music in the lobby and went back to our room. Day 4 (Sunday, November 11) Cienfuegos: We did the “A Day in Havana” shore excursion. Long day but worthwhile. After breakfast, the 20 minute or so tender ride, and clearing customs (it was much quicker today), we boarded our busses for 3 1/2 drive to Havana. Before we got there, we stopped a little sea town where there was a bust of Earnest Hemmingway in the town square and had a Mojito at his favorite bar (based on what we were told by our tour guides there are a dozen or so bars that were Hemmingway’s favorite). You can tell by looking around that the town used to be something but it was run down and was now something else. The description of the tour said we were going to visit Hemmingway's house but the house is closed on Sundays. As this is the only day the tour is offered, I was wondering why they said they were going if the place was closed. I was looking forward to going and this made me sad. My frown turned to a smile when I found out that in its place Viking substituted a 30-minute car ride in classic convertibles through the of Havana. We got to ride in a pink ‘53 Chevy. That was pure joy and a great way to see and feel the city. I hope for the sake of future cruises that hey never open the Hemmingway house on Sundays because the car ride was a highlight for everyone that went on the excursion. Prior to the car ride, we had an authentic Cuban lunch of beans, rice, and chicken. You can have beer, wine or soft drinks with lunch and one of our fellow cruisers was a bit off put because she ordered a diet coke and they brought her the Cuban equivalent. It was hard for her to process that Coke is not sold in Cuba. After the car ride we took a fascinating walking tour of old Havana. You can only imagine what the place was in its hay day. On our walking tour, we spotted a MSC cruise ship docked in the harbor. We were told that Viking could not dock there because there were no slots available. That’s a shame because I am not a fan of bus rides (although it was fascinating seeing how the people in the countryside live as I looked out the bus window). I would also feel comfortable wandering around Havana on our own, something I did not feel comfortable doing at the two ports the ship did visit. Someone told me that in the next year Viking will indeed dock in Havana which would be a good thing. Our last stop was a cigar/rum store. We made sure we made our selections quickly because there was a throng of people in the store. We then boarded the bus for the long ride back to the ship. We were told that we would be getting a box dinner on the bus. Turned out to be a boxed snack. They must have gotten some complaints about this before because the kept the buffet open until 11:00 that night which was much appreciated. Day 5 (Monday, November 12) Cienfuegos: We did the Botanical Garden & Laguna Guanaroca shore excursion. We were tired from the previous long day and this trip was about the speed we wanted to go and we enjoyed it very much. We enjoyed it not because we saw anything breathtaking or magnificent but because of its simplicity. It was a relaxing walk where you learned about local plants, birds and insects. Our guides were engaging and interesting. The description for the tour says we would see flamingos but they warned us ahead of time the flamingos were elsewhere and gave us the opportunity to cancel. We were happy we went. We got back to the ship and made our way to The Restaurant for a nice relaxing sit-down lunch. Several of our other cruises had the same idea. Turns out The Restaurant is only open for lunch on 100% sea days and this being 50% sea day it was closed. We then proceed up the buffet where I had flashbacks to Carnival cruises we went on when our kids were young. The place was packed it was next to impossible to find a table. There were long lines to get food. Another night they were promoting a seafood buffet and how wonderful it was for diner. I love seafood but when we went up there the buffet consisted of clams, mussels, and one type of white fish. The Italian buffet consisted of two types of pasta sauce and some meatballs. In both cases, we skipped the buffet and went to The Restaurant. I had mentioned earlier that my least favorite thing on mass-market cruise ships was the main pool deck, for me a close second is the buffet. In my view, Viking solved the pool deck issue but they have some work to do on the buffet. Day 6: (Tuesday, November 13) Santiago de Cuba: We went on the included Panoramic Tour. Did not expect much and were pleasantly surprised. Santiago is bustling with activity and we got a great chance to see how people live their lives. I thought this was going to be mainly a bus tour but we got a chance to walk through one of the main shopping districts, and got to observe people in and around the main town square. The highlight for us was a stop at Basilica of Santiago. People go there to be healed, the church is beautiful, and has wonderful views. Got back to the ship about 1:15 wished The Restaurant had been open but mustered up our courage and faced the throng in the buffet. After lunch, we decided to go to the spa to relax. Since our last visit, the Spa had been discovered. It was wall to wall humanity. There was not a lounge chair to be had or even a hook to hang your towel. People were putting their towels and robes on the still too cold stone beads reserving them while they enjoyed the other spa amenities. I took someone's towel off the stone bed and put it on the table next to the bed. I got a stern look from the towels owner when they got back several minutes' latter. My view is that with only 4 beds for 950 guests they should not allow people to reserve them if they are not using them. Viking should enforce this and not force their guests to be the bed police. As nice as the spa was the first couple of days it was more like the hunger games the last couple of day. The Spa beautiful but it is too small for the size of the ship. This is an area where the mass market ships may have it over Viking. You may have to pay a daily or weekly fee to use the facilities (which are nearly as nice) but this limits the crowd and makes it a more relaxing experience. We were not that hungry and just had some soup for lunch and then had another great dinner at The Restaurant. Day 7: (Wednesday, November 14) Sea Day: Had our first and only breakfast in The Restaurant. It was outstanding, wish we had gone sooner. After breakfast, we went to the Spa for some to try and jam in some relaxation. We were not hungry so we just had a bowl of soup for lunch (the soups on the ship are fantastic) After that we went up to the pool deck and was able to relax and finish the book I brought on board. They have an afternoon tea in the Winter Garden (a beatify designed and relaxing area of the ship). They have one of these just about every day and we were sorry we did not go sooner. We had another outstanding dinner in The Restaurant. Packed and then went to the captain's sendoff farewell show at the Star Theater. Don’t know if this is a requirement to be a cruise director on Viking but the cruise director Aaron Syfert has an amazing singing voice (as does the assistant cruise director) and this was one of many opportunities for him to sing. In reading Syfert’s bio his is musically trained and had a role for 6 years on All My Children and was a regular on a children's show for several years. The ship captain had a wonderful personality and stage presence and during the sendoff. As a reminder to tip well they brought staff members on board from every department to thank us and wish us a great journey home. Following the sendoff, the ships singers performed a show which was typical cruise ship entertainment. Day 8: Miami: Got up, had breakfast, they made getting off the ship as easy as they did getting on the ship. Our Viking transfer got us to the airport got us there in plenty of time to make our flight. Let me know if you have any questions.
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