As I stare down at my immobile feet, along with quite a few other couples, Kensley comes up with a new teaching tactic. “Ocean foot to the left, bar foot to the right” she instructs, and it pays off as we start to move more or less simultaneously in the correct direction and roughly in time to the music.
Elegant Kensley and her partner Abran had made it look effortless as they spun around on the dance floor at the front of the Explorer’s Lounge on Viking Sky. So much so, I signed up for the waltz lesson, which is now proving to be pretty entertaining for the audience of passengers watching our first efforts shuffling around the floor.
But the couple’s patience pays off, and half an hour later we’ve more or less mastered the basic box step forming the foundation of the famous Viennese dance. We even get a polite – possibly sympathetic – round of applause. It’s among many memorable moments on board Viking’s newest ocean vessel.
The on board programme provides an enjoyable mix of entertainment and culture which complement the shore excursion programme at our various ports of call between Rome and Athens. Anyone who has been on a Viking river cruise will feel instantly at home on the line’s third ocean ship, which launched in February and, like its two identical sister ships Star and Sea, echoes the same sleek Scandinavian design and enriching itineraries of its Longships sailing on inland waterways. Those who haven’t, including people who might be averse to cruising, will quickly find their sea legs.
Shunning the trend for increasingly larger ships packed to the gunwales with white-knuckle slides, theme park rides, West End shows and all manner of attractions, Viking founder Torstein Hagen has stuck to his river-based ethos of providing destination-rich itineraries on a grown-up vessel carrying 930 passengers (a small ship in ocean cruise parlance). What Viking Sky might lack in terms of robotic bar tenders and other headline-grabbing razzmatazz it more than makes up for in sophisticated low key entertainment and a host of inclusions and attention to detail.
For a start, no passengers are buried in gloomy inside cabins. All staterooms are sea-facing with walkout balconies. A complimentary shore excursion is offered in every port of call, with a plethora of other paid-for options, you don’t have to pay extra to eat at the speciality restaurants, drinks with lunch and dinner are included along with things such as tipping and WiFi; all of which you have to pay for on the majority of cruises. And if you have the urge to do a few domestic chores, you don’t even have to fork out for washing powder in the guest laundry.
I joined Sky on its maiden season in the Mediterranean, where ports of call on the 14-night Cities of Antiquity & the Holy Land cruise included Rome, Naples, Crete, Jerusalem, Haifa, Limassol, Mykonos and Athens. It was a culture vultures dream, and the Viking philosophy to spend more time in port, often late into the evening and overnight, allowed plenty of time to take an excursion as well as explore under my own steam.
Highlights included a trip exploring the archaeological highlights of Limassol, legendary birthplace of goddess Aphrodite, and the accessible UNESCO-listed medieval city of Rhodes, shaped by the wealth of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem. Another high point, in every sense, was climbing the 150 or so steps to the top of Acropolis Hill to marvel at the Parthenon,the huge temple dedicated to the goddess, Athena,and other examples of classical Grecian architecture. Afterwards there was plenty of time to stroll around the bustling Plaka district at the foot of the hill and reward myself with a coffee and sticky baklava, the sweet Greek treat soaked in honey.
Back on board one of my favourite moments was sitting on my balcony, or standing on the wraparound promenade deck, as Sky slipped silently out of port. Unlike other lines there are no noisy sail away parties and it was lovely to reflect quietly on the day’s events.
That said, you’ll never be short of things to do on sea days or other times when you’re aboard. The packed daily programme includes insightful talks, film screenings, bridge and galley tours, live classical music at various points around the ship and an evening show. The line has recently introduced Viking Resident Historians; expert onboard lecturers who host round table discussions, themed dinners and are available for one-to-one chats with interested passengers. If you really want to chill out head to the Nordic-themed spa, complete with a snow grotto and cold pail of water to pour over yourself after a sauna (if you dare!).
For me, an unmissable daily event was the proper afternoon tea, complete with cake stands and 19 different types of blends, served in the lovely wintergarden. It was an indulgence as there’s never any danger of going hungry in between the early risers’ breakfast at 6.30am and late-night snacks from 10pm to midnight. In between, regular breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at a variety of venues.
On warm days I always had lunch on the Aquavit Terrace, overlooking the gorgeous infinity pool at the back of the ship. Dinner in the Italian restaurant Manfredi’s, one of the two speciality venues, was so good I went there twice. And most nights ended in Torshavn, a tucked away bar and night spot boasting of bottles Armagnac dating from 1935 to 1965. It can be a fun way for brandy aficionados to celebrate a birthday or special occasion, although if the date falls in 1948 it might be hard to swallow as that’s the most expensive vintage costing nearly $300 a shot.
Whatever you decide to do, Viking’s ocean ships offer a real voyage of discovery. I might not have got into the swing of the Viennese waltz, but the cruise was a whirl of wonderful sights and experiences.
Viking sails on a variety of itineraries in the Norwegian fjords, Baltic, Mediterranean, Caribbean and North America – including its first-ever world cruise in December 2017 – with seven-night cruises from £1,790 per person. Fares include all onboard meals, wine beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, an included excursion at each port of call, gratuities, flights and transfers.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Viking Cruises