Caribbean & South American shores with Viking – Part 1

San Juan, Bridgetown, Îles Du Salut and the Amazon River

What’s this? A last-minute communication from Viking. Complimentary upgrade to a Penthouse Veranda, don’t mind if we do. Thanks, Viking (for that and a touch of onboard credit), you made our day, and we hadn’t even set foot onboard yet.

Viking Sun Viking Sun had a very familiar feel to it (having been on Viking Orion last year). It’s the same blend of Scandinavian chic, excellent customer service and already felt like a home away from home by the time we’d got to our well-appointed and spacious stateroom. As with the rest of the ship, the clean lines of light wood and chrome are tastefully broken up with quality fabric and leather combinations. A comfy king-sized bed beckoned us after the long flight, as did the decent sized shower (with an impressive strong flow of water) but the welcome bottle of champagne was calling to us from the fridge. Ahh decisions, decisions. 

San Juan was our port of embarkation and the venue of our first excursion (the cruise price included one in almost every port). It took us to many of the “must sees” of the capital of Puerto Rico and our guide engaged us with interesting facts using the latest Quietvox system which Viking use on excursions (so the guides could whisper into their microphone and I could listen whilst roaming about to get the best angle for my photographs).

Castillo San Cristobal is probably the most impressive sight in the old town, with 150ft walls on a 27 acre plot, built to defend Spain’s colonisation effort which started in the 1500s. Fortunately the O’Rielly that built it for the Spanish wasn’t the one out of Fawlty Towers, and it still stands proudly overlooking the town. Wandering amongst the gaily painted houses and visiting the cathedral (built in 1540) we enjoyed the colonial architecture of the old town. Blue cobblestones England was not forgotten though as underfoot the blue hued cobblestones had been manufactured and exported from Liverpool, where inclusion of iron and aluminium in the mix produced the unusual colour. There are some interesting characters in San Juan’s history, none less than Dona Felisa Rincon De Gautier (San Juan’s first female Mayor) who once transported snow in by plane, so the local children could experience it at Christmas! Our day finished dining al fresco in the World Cafe, sipping chilled wine and savouring the mouth watering food as we watched the capital’s lights fade away.

There was a sea day to enjoy next and an opportunity to really explore the ships many facilities. A spell in the well-equipped gym (earn my lunch), a spot of reading in one of the many comfy and quiet places, attend a lecture in the Star Theatre, listen to the piano player in the beautiful atrium, watch a film, lunch beside the pool – there are simply not enough hours in the day!

“Woah, we’re going to Barbados”, remember the Typically Tropical No.1 song from 1975 (you won’t be able to get it out of your head all day now), and Bridgetown was our next stop. Barbados is the easternmost of the Caribbean Islands and it’s hard to know if cricket or rum is strongest in Bajans’ bloodstream. Penthouse Veranda Stateroom Docked alongside her sister ship Viking Sea, there was the option to just chill on the pristine beaches, sipping a fruit punch containing a liberal shot of Mount Gay (the most famous rum here) or pay homage to possibly the greatest all-rounder Sir Garfield Sobers (whose statue stands outside the Kensington Oval). We chose to do the panoramic tour which included a drive by of the neo-gothic parliament buildings built in 1872, plus stops at the Sudbury Plantation (for just a little rum punch, rude not to) and St John’s parish church. The church was first used for worship in 1645 (the year, not a quarter to five) and sits on a cliff giving great views of the east coast.

Devils’ Island (Ile Royal) is one of the three Îles du Salut (Islands of Salvation) and part of French Guiana. It found fame because of the Papillon book and subsequent films, telling the tale of this much feared French penal colony and the escape of Henri Charriere. We toured the numerous, if not somewhat dilapidated, buildings of Ile Royal and enjoyed some close encounters with the resident capuchin monkeys.

Long before we entered the Amazon River we saw the effect of the legendary waterway pouring 300 million litres (at its fullest) of fresh alluvial laden water into the Atlantic Ocean. Miles out to see the azure coloured water changed to a creamy brown as we headed for the mouth of the world’s biggest river (by volume, arguably the Nile is the longest). 20% of all water that flows off the surface of the planet ends up in the Amazon, fed by more than 1,000 tributaries. Capuchin monkey The largest and densest rainforest in the world not only produces a sizeable proportion of the earth’s oxygen but is the home to a phenomenal array of animals and plant life. Over the following few days we began to explore just a fraction of the Amazon Basin, which in total covers an area of over seven million square kilometres.

The first few days confirmed our previous impression that Viking had taken the very best of their river operation and scaled it up to small ship (930 passengers) ocean cruising. They have added more facilities (more on those in parts 2 and 3), sprinkled on some sparkle, added some magic and produced a brilliant base for exploring the world. It was also good to see passengers with mobility issues in wheelchairs  moving comfortably around the ship.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Viking Ocean Cruises.

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Steve Aldridge

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