April 8, 2022. 78°F/26°C, cruising the Suez Canal.
As we traverse the Suez Canal, the hot weather should begin to give way to slightly more familiar springlike temperatures, back into the 20’s C / 70’s to 80’s F.
As always, there was lots happening on the ship, and lots to see as we went back through the Suez Canal, but today’s post is all about how Viking made our day unforgettable.
It was our 44th wedding anniversary today, and we celebrated by renewing our vows witnessed by new friends and valued shipboard acquaintances.
Ted refers to the Viking Star world cruise as more of a love boat than TV’s “The Love Boat” ever was, because it is filled with so very many couples in our age range (“old”) who are clearly still very much in love with each other. It’s not just their willingness to spend almost 5 months in close quarters; it’s the hand-holding, the dancing, the solicitousness of each other at dinner, the coordinating wardrobes, the silent toasts with drinks, the carrying of each other’s purchases on long hot excursions, the cozying up during shows, the fond smiles and outright loving looks that make this such a positive environment and made us want to do our renewals here.
The staff aboard the Viking Star, led by Cruise Director Damian Solesse, took our request for a modest social gathering and turned it into a truly wonderful evening that we will always remember. Honestly, this was better than our first wedding.
There are so many special people that we will think of fondly forever after this trip, Damian definitely being one of them. He is not only incredibly talented vocally, but his organization skills are second to none, as befits a role that involves not only stellar people skills but also arranging and booking all the onboard events from games to lectures to guest entertainment to the ship’s own in-house performances.
Damian not only led our renewal ceremony, but graced us with two of our favourite songs: an absolutely show-stopping version of Love Changes Everything from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Aspects of Love, and a romantic rendition of John Legend’s All of Me.
He pulled out all the stops and had Assistant Cruise Director Sarah-Leanne Howe sing Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years just as we arrived to the WinterGarden and got our first sight of the officers lining our entryway and the assembled group waiting for us. I was in tears from the moment I saw how many people had accepted our invitation.
Damian also worked with Restaurant Manager Casper to have the bar staff create a signature lemon cocktail for us, and the kitchen under the direction of Executive Chef Thomas Noack create delicious Mediterranean-themed canapés, and was the one responsible for arranging for Viking staff who have become special to us to attend the party: Evidence Chiduku, Yoyo Hadianto, and the amazing Ana-Lyn Orquin, and Jeffrey Capalad.
I think there was even a Viking staffer videoing the event.
In addition to Damian, we’ll always remember King Feraro, the self-proclaimed “sexiest (and only) balladeer on the Viking Star”, whose guitar and vocal stylings have given us countless hours of pleasure. Our one regret this trip is that we missed our chance to have a private dinner with King during our time on board, since he leaves the ship tomorrow for a vacation back home in the Philippines, during which time he will be marrying the love of his life.
Fortunately, we’re not yet losing Enrico Agudo, the ridiculously talented keyboard player for the Viking Band. Enrico accompanied all of the vocalists on the Wintergarden’s baby grand piano, and then he and King joined forces to perform Ed Sheeren’s Perfect.
I personally will especially forever and ever remember Mara Buga, the Star’s Guest Services Manager, who was my emotional support from the moment we were given the okay to hold this party. It was Mara who worked with me to correctly identify those guests where I only remembered one of a couple’s names, who made sure invitations were sent out and tasked her staff to collect RSVPs, who offered to go “wedding dress” shopping with me (too late – I’d already bought this white dress in Greece for 20 Euros before we knew for certain our event could happen).
Mara was also the one who arrived at our cabin, with champagne and a bridal bouquet, to accompany us to the Wintergarden. How on earth Viking found white roses, mums, lilies and baby’s breath in Egypt is beyond the scope of my imagination.
It was also Mara who shocked me with the question of what flavour wedding cake Chef Mathur Harmende should make! It seemed as if everyone on the crew had taken an interest in making our day special. (Answer, once I got over the shock of there being a wedding cake: vanilla and lemon with white chocolate icing.)
We’re also grateful to departed General Manager Johann van der Merwe, and our brand-new General Manager Wendy Gouws, who joined the ship after all this was already in the works and joined in the celebration with us.
After our vow renewal was sealed by The Captain, Damian surprised us by having the entire entertainment cast (below) serenade us with our wedding song, Can’t Help Falling In Love.
We were absolutely honoured by how many of the people we invited to join us actually did. Speaking to one of them this morning, the apt comparison of this world cruise to a neighbourhood community was made. Although we’re all acquaintances simply because we all chose to continue on this journey despite changes and covid protocols, we’ve made FRIENDS. Hopefully the magic of email and Facebook will keep us connected beyond this cruise.
One of the best parts of this experience was the opportunity to hug each other. It’s been so long due to Covid since we’ve been able to get close to other people, but with all of Viking’s protocols and daily testing, we were all able to feel safe making physical contact, and it was absolutely soul-enriching.
We’re especially grateful to Garry Kolb, fellow passenger, travel blogger at Kolbs On The Road, and wonderful photographer, for graciously offering to take photos using Ted’s camera (he and Ted carry the same Sony RX10). We have no photos from our first wedding (long story), so were especially pleased to be able to commemorate our vow renewal. The photos in this post, unless credited otherwise, are all his.
Everyone joined us for dinner, conversation, and cake in the main restaurant.
We returned to our room to find the flowers from the Wintergarden event decoration, and swans courtesy of our room stewards Julie and Charina, on our bed. Just wow.
I really do love this man.