December 24, 2021. 25°C / 77°F
We’re all champing at the bit to set sail, but first there were some logistics to be taken care of. The Westin was hosting around 260 Viking cruisers, some doing the world cruise and others doing just the 18 day Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles leg. Two hundred and sixty hotel guests translates into a LOT of luggage to get to the ship, so bellmen starting visiting rooms at 7:00 a.m. to collect suitcases (in our case, just our carryon bags, since the big ones were shipped and should meet us in our stateroom).
This morning meant time for a communal breakfast in the hotel and a chance to begin meeting fellow cruisers (hello, Hannah & Mike, Barbara & Dennis, Nancy & Art !), followed by some free time to start writing my blog entry. We headed for tour buses at 11:00 – every seat occupied by masked travellers.
Like everything during this pandemic, boarding our ship took longer than usual: a long line at Port Everglades for security screening, health screening, and a nasal swab. Once verified, we were able to get our room keys (with embedded photo) and contact tracing pendants (on a Viking red lanyard), and board.
We’ve never been so happy to set foot on a ship’s deck!!
Our floating home for the next 4 and a half months will be the the Viking Star, sister ship to the Viking Sun on which we sailed for 29 days from Santiago, Chile to Los Angeles in December of 2019.
At full capacity, the ship holds 930 passengers, and carries 480 crew, but only 750 passengers will be on board for the first 18 days as we head for Los Angeles. There, folks who only booked the Panama Canal portion of the trip will leave us, and new world cruisers will board who’ll complete the ensuing 121 day trip ending in London.
We booked a suite identical to the one in which we sailed last time: 270 square feet of well-organized luxury including a king-sized bed; 2 cozy armchairs and a coffee table; a third chair at a desk that doubles as a lit make-up table; drawers, closets and under-bed storage; and a sleek bathroom with a glass shower that is big enough to have a bench in it. Slippers, spa robes, and Freyja toiletries are all provided, eliminating a bit of packing bulk. If we ever want to retire to our room for quiet time, in addition to 24 hour room service we have our own Nespresso machine as well as twice-daily-replenished snacks, and carafes of still and sparkling water (both distilled on board). Gotta resist the Toblerone bars in the mini-fridge, given all the desserts we plan to enjoy, but it’s lovely to have coffee or tea to sip on our balcony, and a Norwegian wool throw to use if the night air is chilly. We decided last time that our suite size was quite comfortable, despite being the smallest option on this ship. Last cruise we spent very little time in our stateroom, since there were so many places on board to sit and read, write, or gaze at the ocean while being plied with hot or cold drinks, and so many activities going on: history lectures, travelogues, films, and various kinds of classes, not to mention fitness activities and pampering in the spa, and nightly live entertainment options.
It’s quite the experience boarding this kind of cruise on Christmas Eve. The entire ship is decorated for the season. In addition to the huge silver and gold baubles, the chefs have created a display of dozens of incredibly beautiful gingerbread houses.
Once we unpacked and settled in, I headed for the Living Room bar and my first gin and tonic of the cruise while Ted reacquainted himself with the ship’s layout.
We pre-booked dinner in the main sit-down restaurant for our first night on board. As part of Viking’s Covid protocols, they’ve asked us to reserve a table when we want to eat here, and specify with whom we’d like to sit, if we want company. We don’t have to choose the same time, or the same people, each evening. The more casual upper deck restaurants are open (no reservation) access, and we’ll head there – or the pool grill, or Mamsen’s deli, or get food at one of the bars, or do room service – for breakfast and lunch most days, or when the day’s activities leave us too tired to go to the effort of changing for dinner. That said, I’m actually looking forward to a slightly more structured table-service dinner in the evenings, whether in the main venue or one of the specialty restaurants.
I’ve decided to keep track of our amazing dinners daily, instead of saving up all the pictures for a separate food blog, so will end each day’s notes with a couple of mouth-watering photos to look back on in the future.
The world cruise includes Viking’s Silver Spirits package, which is an upgrade from the standard, which I’d call “wine and beer with every meal and champagne or cocktails whenever it strikes their fancy to treat the whole ship”, so be forewarned that the food photos just MIGHT include drinks too.
Here’s our Christmas Eve menu:
We finished off a wonderful first day singing along to King playing an acoustic guitar version of American Pie in the Explorer’s Lounge, and dancing under the stars to our wedding song “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You”. King said it’s the first time in two years he’s played to dancing couples. Everyone on this cruise is hoping for a return to normal soon – we may be a bunch of seniors, but we’re full of positive attitude.