It was just as well that hunger got the better of us, and we decided to eat the rich Portuguese egg tarts before setting off on the tram tour of Lisbon. Originally we’d planned to eat the country’s trademark snack on board, but as the tram jolted off on a teeth-rattling journey it would clearly have been a rather tricky and messy experience.
The tram system, dating back to 1873, is the most atmospheric way to get around and also takes the slog out of walking up and down the seven hills on which Lisbon is built. One of the few European capitals with a river and a coastline, the maritime voyages of discovery in the 16th and 17th century turned Portugal’s largest city into the centre of an empire stretching from Brazil in the west to India in the east. The towering Monument of Discoveries on the edge of the Tagus River pays homage to the country’s greatest explorers.
Winding its way through the narrow streets of the old town, our tram stops at Miradouro de Santa Luzia. From the panoramic viewpoint we look down at the harbour and catch a glimpse of Viking Star, our floating home for the week. It seems fitting that I boarded this brand-new vessel for a section of its maiden voyage in a city celebrated for maritime history, as modern day adventurers will quickly discover that Viking Star isn’t your average cruise ship. The first ocean vessel launched by the company that’s best-known for river cruising is now making waves in a market that’s increasingly dominated by mega-cruise ships resembling floating theme parks with up to 5,000 passengers.
For a start it carries just 930 passengers and every cabin has a balcony, so no gloomy inside rooms buried in ‘steerage’. And the list of things Viking Star doesn’t feature are positives rather than negatives for anyone who yearns for traditional destination-based cruising. There’s no constant ‘ding dong’ of intrusive announcements summoning you here and there like Pavlov’s dogs, no raucous sail away parties, no casino, no reception desk with a snaking queue (staff site at individual tables), no extra charges to dine in the smaller, alternative restaurants, no photographer capturing your every move and selling the resulting images for an amount akin to modern day piracy and no children. It’s a very grown-up ship in every sense of the word.
Another distinguishing feature is that Viking Cruises has transferred the plus points of river cruising to the high seas. Complimentary free-flowing wine, beer and soft drinks are served with lunch and dinner, there’s an included walking excursion at every port of call – with the option to pay for others – and free WiFi. Itineraries have been designed for maximum time in port, often including late evenings and overnight stops, providing plenty of time to venture beyond the inevitable tourist traps near the harbour.
I joined a section of the western European cruise and while some passengers set off to Paris for the day from Rouen, I travelled along the coast to the charming town of Honfleur where the cobbled streets and half-timbered houses have been immortalised by artists such as Claude Monet. A small boat took us out on the Seine to marvel at the sheer scale of the Normandy Bridge, formerly the world’s largest cable-stay bridges until it was pipped to the post in 1999 by in Japan’s Tatara Bridge.
Back on board, time slipped by at a leisurely pace and half the fun was discovering different areas of the ship. Even on sea days it never seemed crowded, probably due to the fact that everyone has balconies and there’s a huge choice of public areas, with hidden nooks and crannies to read the wealth of books stored around the vessel and have fun with interactive tables ‘filled’ with information and pictures. I was even tempted to unleash the inner Scrabble and Monopoly player when I saw the gorgeous wooden boxes containing the board games.
Food was excellent throughout the ship, and for breakfast and lunch I generally headed to the World Cafe buffet, an airy poolside bar or Mamsen’s, a lovely Norwegian-themed cafe. The main Restaurant, which includes plenty of tables for two, is the main waiter-service dining spot throughout the day, and the standout alternative restaurant is the Italian Manfredi’s.
One day we booked a fun and informative cookery class in the Chef’s Kitchen. Under the watchful eye of Chef Saldana we produced a surprisingly good Italian three-course lunch and after toasting our success with Prosecco we polished off the fruits of our labours with a selection of Italian wines paired to each course by Lorena, Manfredi’s charming and informative sommelier.
At night, we usually headed for the cosy surroundings of Torshavn, a bar with a live band, but there’s also a theatre for passengers who prefer entertainment on a grander scale. Elsewhere, there was everything from classical musicians to a ‘pop up’ poet. Each one a class act.
The main pool, with its retractable roof, is a lovely spot for a dip, but a standout feature is the open-air infinity pool at the back of the ship, particularly when you’re at sea. And when you really want to chill out head to the Norwegian-themed spa, complete with a snow grotto and cold pail of water to pour over yourself after a sauna (if you dare). On land on sea, the new Viking Star certainly offers a real voyage of discovery.
Viking Star sails on a variety of itineraries in the Norwegian fjords, Baltic and Mediterranean, with seven night cruises from £1,899 per person. The 14-night Passage Through Western Europe cruise from Bergen to Barcelona is from £3,799, including all onboard meals, wine beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, 10 guided tours, flights and transfers.
More about Jeannine
A former newspaper journalist, Jeannine is now an award-winning travel writer who contributes to a variety of national newspapers, magazines and websites in the UK and US. From paddling along part of the Mississippi in a wooden dug-out canoe, riding across the remote plains of Mongolia and going on a running tour around Budapest, her travels have taken her to both well-known and remote destinations around the globe. A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, she won the award for the Best Regional Newspaper Feature in the 2015 Cruise Line International Association annual media awards and was runner-up in the category for the Best River Cruise Feature.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Viking Ocean Cruises.