At the airport.

After an uneventful disembarkation -not even a temperature check (so much for enhanced screenings!), we are in the Turkish Airline Lounge at MIA (courtesy of the Priority Pass that is a perk with one of our credit cards. It took about an hour from White 3 being called onboard Viking Sky for us to be at the airport and another 15 minutes to get to the Lounge.

Before joining the others waiting for their luggage color to be called in the Living Room we had our traditional last (and first …and as many times as we can get it) lamb chop breakfast (and a pistachio roll!😂) while looking across the Miami skyline. So much more civilized than the buffet!

After our color was called it was a quick roll off the ship (we are loving our new AWAY spinners), downstairs and onto the bus. It was amazing to see so many ships docked. Many ships are tying up at the pier while others (like ours will be) are anchored offshore nearer to the Bahamas. It is going to be interesting see how the cruise industry recovers.

It will also be interesting to see what happens with the airlines. The Miami airport is not quite a ghost town but certainly isn’t what one normally finds at MIA. It’s more like Raleigh-Durham in the middle of the day.

So we are almost home …that’s weird to say after two years of not having one of our own. Unfortunately, our new home isn’t furnished yet so we are hopeful that we can find a furniture store open tomorrow to buy at least a sofa! Wish us luck.

For now Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone!

Almost back.

We have had several beautiful days on our slow(ish) ride back to Miami. We are scheduled to be aside there at 5:30 am tomorrow morning-March 17 and off the ship and on the way to the airport by 9:30. We will see if those predictions are accurate. To the best of my knowledge no one on board is ill so hopefully we will have an easy disembarkation.

We didn’t purchase our airfare through Viking so we were in the process of figuring out the best way back to Raleigh when we received a letter from Viking saying they would book our return flight. Another great service gesture and completely unexpected! Now if they would just tell us what/how they are compensating us for this cruise!

Initially, most believed (including the onboard sales person apparently) that we qualified for Viking’s extremely generous program for corona-canceled cruises-either a voucher worth 125% of monies paid for a future cruise OR a 100% refund. However, it quickly was changed to “the home office will be in touch shortly after you return home with a unique package”. Hoping that means at least 3/14ths of a refund since that’s what we have lost. I’m not overly concerned that Viking won’t be more than fair, just can’t figure out why so secretive. We are still trying to get Vuling and Airbnb to clarify their refunds and will start on RyanAir, LOT, British Air, American Airlines, Amtrak, ibis Hotels, Eurostar, Stonehenge-Windsor Tour and Wimbleton refunds after we get home.

Despite it all, we have had a nice cruise and the service level has remained top notch which must be difficult since the crew doesn’t know what is next for them after we leave and they turnaround and sail back to Europe. Has to be hard to smile and work so hard when you don’t know if you’ll have a job in under a month. Of course watching the stock market slide has raised similar concerns with us. But I’ll be Scarlett and “worry about that tomorrow!”

The entertainers have done afternoon shows in The Living Room and extra lectures and daily Trivia and Name that Tune have kept us all engaged

And of course we have enjoyed incredible meals. Last night we had our favorite Chef’s Table menu-“Lotus” and it was even better than those we have had before. The Singapore crab and the Thai Lamb chops were as good as ever but this time the amusè bouche wasn’t a dense potato cake on top of over cooked spinach, instead it was a light and fluffy cloud of cheesy air resting on top of saag paneer without the cheese. That was followed by the Chocolate Extravaganza for all aboard.

Then to top it all, during breakfast this morning, the World Cafe Manager stopped by and told us to find Chef Singh at lunch that he had made something special just for us. Early in the cruise, we had specially decided to eat at the buffet as they listed fresh pea soup on the menu. Last fall aboard Orion, we had chilled fresh pea soup as an appetizer that was so good after our main course we asked for another bowl for dessert and then accepted our waiters offer to send some more to our room. We had it the next day for lunch.

Anywho, while eating the pea soup early in the cruise, the manager stopped by and asked if we were enjoying our meal. We said we were but had hoped for the chilled soup. So guess what? Today they made it just for us. We each had two bowls. Talk about personal service! Hopefully my Instagram posting about it will get Chef Singh a special acknowledgement from Viking!

After loosing at Name that Tune, we returned to the room and finished packing-since we don’t have a washer and dryer yet, we tried to wash everything yesterday so we will only have a few dirty clothes to take home. Of course with the social distancing, I suspect we will be wearing gym shorts and tshirts most of the time after we get home.

Tonight we are having our final dinner in Manfredi’s and hopefully will have an uneventful travel day tomorrow. I’ll post again once we are home….or if 🤞they suddenly decide we can stay aboard and ride to Europe with them!

Taste of Britain

We had a relaxing day today, slept almost through breakfast so had brunch! After breakfast I searched out and found the General Manager and discussed with him my disappointment that we had not yet been informed of what compensation we would be receiving for our shortened cruise. He repeated what the ladies at guest services had told us, “the home office will be in touch shortly”. I told him that I had spoken with one couple shoe I understood to say they had already used a voucher worth 125% of what they paid for this cruise (this would be inline with what Viking announced for cruises canceled due to Corona between today and May 1st) to book a future cruise. The manager seemed genuinely surprised and immediately got in touch with the future cruise salesman aboard and based on one side of the conversation it appeared that we would all he offered the same compensation. More than what we expected but certainly welcome. I heard him ask for “it in writing from L.A.” and said he would be in touch. Later on the afternoon I got a call from the sales person who said that “the home office would be in touch shortly with a special package”. When I asked about the others who had used vouchers to book future cruises, he said, “ I promise you, no one has used a voucher to book a future cruise “. However later in the afternoon I spoke with another guest who said he had already discussed doing so and had an appointment tomorrow to finalize using their voucher for a future cruise. Hmm, hope I don’t have to start a mutiny! It is so disappointing after such transparency and generosity from Viking (remember the unexpected On Board credit in China due to the inconveniences of the National Holiday?) for them to drop the ball on something such as this. I intend to followup with both of the guests and see if they indeed are booked. If that’s the case, I will give the onboard folks one last chance before I hit Twitter with my complaint.

Orherwise today, we lost badly at Trivia, did a little better at Name That Tune and then went to Afternoon Tea. As usual the scones (Devon style for me, Cornish for Mike) were the highlight, but it is such a civilized way to wile away an hour!

After tea we returns to the room and finalized cancelations of our Airbnbs and sent more emails to the airlines requesting refunds for flights we now can’t make.

We continued our Taste of Britain with gin & tonics in the room whilst (see how I did that) dresses for our late dinner reservation at the Chef’s Table. This is one of Viking’s alternative ( complimentary) restaurants. The menu here rotates every three days and we had selected the relatively new menu by a British version of Ina Garten names Karen Burns-Booth. This menu debuted on the first few nights of this year’s World Cruise which started in London. Chef Burns-Booth was even aboard to oversee its introduction.

Our first course was a Scotch egg but rather than the usual pub fare of a hard boiled egg in breakfast sausage, this was a just beyond soft boiled quail egg in Italian sausage. A very tasty Amuse Bouche

Next up was Fish and Chips which is pictures at the top of this post. It was delicious though neither of us could taste the promised malt vinegar salt.

Our next course was the palate cleanser Gin and Tonic granite. Very nice-very lemony with a nice kick of quinine.

The main course was a wonderful version of an English Sunday dinner. Tender brisket, boiled potatoes and vegetables with a chive butter, a (not at all mini) Yorkshire Pudding with onions (popover to all my southern readers!) all serves with the most amazing gravy-very beefy with a hint of red wine. It would have made the napkin taste good! Just so yummy!

Dessert was Whim Wham which our Scottish friend Lady McGrath presumed was a made up name and dish-but she quickly emailed me that was incorrect as it is apparently from the Regency period. It was wonderful. Silky smooth whipped cream topped with raspberries and orange over sponge cakes soaked in sherry, orange juice and (scotch) whiskey. So so delicious! We hope we can recreate this dish in Raleigh when we entertain the Lord and Lady McGrath during their US visit this fall.

We enjoyed our dinner at the Chef’s Table and are looking forward to returning on Sunday night for the “Lotus” menu. I won’t plan on blogging about it, as I have done so previously. Suffice it to say, it’s are favorite menu at the Chef’s Table-the spicy soft shell crab appetizer is delicious and the Thai lamb chops incredible!

Enjoying our pre-dinner G&Ts in The Living Room

Day 6

It’s “Taste of the Caribbean” at lunch today aboard Sky including free delicious Pina Coladas for all-guess we will be having pineapple sorbet tomorrow!

In addition to the cocktails, there was freshly grilled shrimp and jerk chicken on the pool deck along with beautiful tropical fruit. Inside there was Bbq, black beans, plantain rice, pork and lots of fish. Everybody seemed to be enjoying it.

We didn’t do so well at Trivia this morning-I mean did you know that Diana Ross misses a penalty kick at the opening ceremonies of the 1994 World Cup or that Denmark’s flag is the oldest in continuous use? Oh well, it’s only a game they keep telling us.

I’m headed up to the infinity pool as it’s a beautiful albeit windy and therefore rocky day. But the temperatures are going down each day a little more. Currently it’s 75° but the high tomorrow is predicted to be 72° as we head further and further north.

Thankfully no reports of any illness aboard (other than sea sickness from some) but starting to hear folks changing their plans after the cruise. Some who had planned on staying on in Barcelona are heading home early as their tours have been canceled.

We are hoping that things level off and that we won’t have any problems during our week in Spain or in entering Hungary at the end of March….only time will tell.

Be sure and wash yo’ hands!

Sint Maarten

We docked in Sint Maarten about noon after another choppy and rainy night at sea.

Despite the rough seas, we had a great dinner in Manfredi’s private room last evening. Manfredi’s is the complimentary Italian alternative restaurant. I had invited anyone on our Cruise Critic rollcall to join us and all together we had thirteen folks for a fun, delicious and loud evening.

I had eggplant parmigiana for my appetizer upon the advice (very good advice) of Lady McGrath of Aberdeenshire
And for my main I had osso bucco over saffron rissoto. It was tasty but I think Sister-In-Law Jennifer’s is better!

We awoke this morning to cloudy skies and scattered rain. But thankfully it was nice enough to be able to get a mile in on the promenade deck where I caught site of land and some sea birds.

As you can see from the title picture, by the time we docked the weather had cleared! We are the only ship docked in Sint Maarten today. So strange to see the piers and the shopping area empty. Last time we were here there were two or three mega ships plus some smaller ones. What a difference!

Made a quick trip ashore to visit the dutyfree and buy gin for the room. One of the many great things about Viking is that they treat you like an adult and allow you to bring on your own beverages. So $12 and 15 minutes later, I’m enjoying a G&T on the balcony!

With the daily restocking of the tonic in the fridge drawer we get in our DV stateroom, we are set for our crossing.

We elected to not take the included excursion since it was the same as what we did last spring. If you want to read about that you can look back at last year’s post. Instead I am going to head to the spa and enjoy a steam and some time in the snow grotto….unless of course a nap beckons 😂

Disappointed.

Just back from meeting with the Guest Services Manager. Disappointed that the upgrade offer from Viking was higher than what we declined three or four weeks before sailing. Makes no sense given the ship is at 56% occupancy. Seems like it would have been a good PR move for those of us who aren’t part of the 40% who took the generous cancelation offer last week. And it would have put some positive cash flow into what has to be a money losing cruise.

Oh well, our beautiful room is just fine and all it really means is I’ll be going to dinner in wrinkled shirts (the upgrade came with pressing).That will teach them!😂

We attended Trivia (11 out of 15 correct) and Name that Tune (13 out of a possible 16 points) but didn’t win. Oh well, “it’s just a game”.

The weather has worsened throughout the day so most of the time was spent reading in our cabin. It was so dreary that Mike suggested it would be a good day for tea time. So we went and enjoyed ourselves. But we only had 1.5 sandwiches and 1 scone apiece so hopefully we will still be hungry for dinner.

Our single plate of sandwiches-double decker tuna (Mike),salmon (uneaten), cucumber (split), chicken salad on pumpernickel roll (Clay)
What we left behind. Oh how I wanted that Dulce de leche tart!
Scone with proper clotted cream.
I’ve decided I like my scones the Cornish way!o

Just how empty is the ship?

Viking announced a temporary change to their cancellation policy last week due to Coronavirus concerns which allowed anyone who canceled at least 24 hours before the cruise to apply the full fare to a future cruise within 2 years. Apparently a number of folks on this crossing took advantage. Based on our CruiseCritic rollcall (obviously not a very scientific sample) it appeared about 20% canceled.

However after seeing how few there were at the muster drill, in the World Cafe (buffet) and in the Restaurant (the main dining room) I think it may be a higher percentage. No word on an upgraded cabin yet…we had a voice mail stating we could meet with the guest services manager tomorrow between 5 and 7 pm to discuss any “offers”. Hmmmm, I was hoping for a complimentary one. 😢

I purposefully took the picture of Mike to emphasize how empty the room was, there were actually full tables to his right. But typically the room would have been full or close to it at 6:55 when that picture was taken. During our two hours at dinner (great conversation with our neighbors), no one was ever seated at the banquets along the interior wall to his left.

Dinner was tasty as expected-I had the only new dish to us-bacon wrapped plantain on a guava sauce. Very interesting and tasty!

Cathay Pacific

This post is being written in February about our flight from Hong Kong to Seattle last October.

After our naps and showers, we walked back to the airport and relatively quickly found ourselves in the Priority Pass Lounge (courtesy of my Chase Sapphire card). The airport was pretty empty but the lounge was packed. So after eating a small snack we ended up going on to the gate where the chairs were more comfortable than the bar stools in the lounge.

About 11 pm, we joined the queue to board which of course didn’t move until at least 11:15!

As you know, I’m very tall and neither of us is particularly svelte so we try everything we can to not fly long haul in economy. That’s one big reason we try to use repositioning cruises to get to Europe or like in September to Asia. But the almighty budget meant we took Viking up on their offer of “free” airfare. So for the first time since 2010 we would be flying in the back of the bus.

We tried to make it as comfortable as possible by bringing along our thin self inflating seat cushions, purchasing exit row seats ($200) and being mentally prepared to be miserable. A few weeks before we left Portland, Cathay had offered us the opportunity to bid on upgrades to their Premium Economy product. After some research, we bid $1,400 for both of us. This was what a single Premium Economy seat would cost after deducting what we calculated Viking had paid for our economy seats-so we figured half price was a good bid. After Viking offered us the cabin upgrade, we lowered our bid to Cathay to just over $1,000 reflective of the amount we had paid for the ship upgrade.

After we were aboard Orion, I checked on Cathay’s site and there were only a few seats unassigned in Premium Economy. It appeared highly unlikely that our bid would be accepted but if it was, we figured we would end up in middle seats. So we decided that our side by side window seats with infinite legroom were better than being in middle slightly wider seats with less legroom. What a good decision that was! The Premium Economy cabin was completely full and due to its small size felt a little claustrophobic when we walked through on the way to our seats in the half full economy cabin.

The decision to pull the bid was even more confirmed when we sat down in our seats.

Anytime I can fully extend my legs and not reach a wall, I am happy. I got even happier when we realized that the center section of three seats beside us had only one person in the row. Mike moved to the aisle seat. So I ended up with two seats (or one huge one after takeoff when I lifted the armrest) and Mike had one and half for himself! We won the seat lottery!

Our flight was on an almost brand new A350 so we enjoyed flying on a new airline type-especially the tail and belly cameras during takeoff.

Shortly after takeoff, we were served a tasty meal- no really. I had the stir fried beef-my final Chinese meal for awhile.

And anytime I get served ice cream on a plane I think it’s a miracle!

Because we took off at almost midnight and were scheduled to land about 9 pm in Seattle (that damn dateline giving us back the day we lost on the way to Japan), we didn’t want to sleep on the plane. So we had both loaded our iPads with movies. Between them & books on the pad and the inflight entertainment provided by the airline, it wasn’t as awful as we had feared. About two hours in I used the cushion we had brought to augment my seat and an hour or two later moved it to my back. Just changing things seemed to help alot. It wasn’t long until they announced breakfast and an early arrival. Rather than the scheduled 12 hour flight it was “only” 11! Breakfast was fine (that yellow mass is an “omelet”) but since by my watch it was 6pm (I changed it at takeoff to Seattle time in an attempt to jumpstart the time correction), it was a little strange. It’s too bad they don’t offer an either/or selection.

Anyway, we soon were on the ground back in cloudy Seattle after being gone for 43 days. Our friend Andy (who had been garaging our car) picked us up and it was too long til we were at his house where we quickly fell asleep! By my calculations, with the exception of our hotel nap, we had been up for about 32 hours.

Hong Kong

This post is being written in Raleigh in February 2020 about our stay in Hong Kong back in October 2019.

We awoke to our final full day aboard Viking Orion while sailing into Hong Kong. This massive city is very vertical, both architecturally and geographically.

That’s Victoria (as in Queen) that you can see in the background of the picture above. It was our first stop on our included tour here.

To reach the peak, we took a bus to the funicular and then rode up. The ride under the river and to the base took about an hour. Traffic was crazy. Once there we had a short wait to get on the tram. I felt good that they had a line for locals and another (linger!) for us tourists.

After the short but very steep ride to the peak, our guide pointed out the various sights to be seen and we had a few minutes of free time to enjoy the view including that of the new building housing the tram shop, shopping mall, and roof top viewing platform. We elected to not pay the crazy price to use the roof.

From Victoria Peak we headed back to sea level on our bus which was waiting for us at the top. Viking (or their hires tour company?) did a great job here of splitting up the routes of the buses so we weren’t all at the same place at the same time. We rode the tram up and bussed down while others had done our stops in reverse and therefore rode the bus up and trammed down.

Our next stop was the harbor to take a “junk” on a quick harbor tour. While not a historic junk, it was a fun ride.

In addition to a number of houseboat “villages” and racks of dragon boats, we passed by China’s (maybe the world’s?) largest floating restaurant-Jumbo! We discussed coming back and having dinner here mostly to see it all lit up, but decided that will have to be on our next trip. The night picture is from my friend Mr. Google.

Once back ashore, we went to the seaside neighborhood of Stanley. This area has a market which covers two blocks or so as well as a nice waterside walkway. We spent our last Chinese money and then headed back to the ship.

In Stanley, I was also able to get a picture of the bamboo scaffolding I had seen throughout China and Japan. Amazing I wonder if they engineer it or just put it together and cross their fingers it doesn’t fall down?!

For our last dinner, we returned to the Chef’s Table and enjoyed the Lotus Menu. We had loved it when it was first introduced on our transatlantic on Sea with Mike’s Mom. It was still tasty but the Thai lamb chops (no picture sorry) weren’t quite as good-maybe different supplier? Anyway, if you have the opportunity to have this Asian fusion menu, be sure and do so. The lamb chops are quite good as is the Singapore Spicy Softshell Crab.

As Vanna is pointing out, Hong Kong’s buildings also light themselves up at night. And at 8 pm, they do a synchronized show to music. Viking made an event is this and served bubbly on the open decks. We attended but frankly while fun, the show was nothing compared to Shanghai!

After the “show” was over, we returned to our cabin and put our remaining clothes in our luggage and set it outside the door for pickup. I always find the picture below the saddest one we take-it means the cruise is over. 😢

You’ll note what appears to be a new bag in the pile. That duffel is our folding bag which we always carry (it takes no room) “just in case”. Because we are flying economy (HORRORS) each bag has a maximum 50 pound limit and the big suitcase was a little overweight. Perhaps even alot since it broke somewhere between Bejing and when it got to our stateroom in Tianjin-luckily Viking without us even asking, called and offered to fix the handles! There is that incredible service again. Anyway, to get below the limit we had to pull out the folding duffel. We have sworn we will never ever travel with this much again- from now on we are back to rollaboards only!

You may remember that one of the big reasons we changed our plans and decided to take this Viking cruise was that they threw in air. Unfortunately, their rules only allowed it to/from a North American gateway so we had to buy our own from Japan to China. This was disappointing since we know it would have been cheaper than the flight from the state but those were their rules. Anywho, they booked us on a nonstop from Hong Kong to Seattle on Cathay Pacific which according to our research was about twice the cost of other nondirect flights. So we can’t complain too much.

Part of the air was transfers to the airport and since our flight wasn’t leaving until close to midnight, Viking booked us a day room at the hotel connected to the airport. Those who had flights before six pm, were provided a meeting room with coffee, tea, water and some packaged snacks & cookies in the hotel’s conference center. While better than sitting at a gate, we were much happier with our room.

After a late breakfast (yes lamb chops!) we joined other late departing folks in the Living Room to wait for our bus to the airport to be called. This happened about 9:30. After some minor confusion we were soon aboard our bus and headed to the airport after one last selfie with Orion-I guess since we are smiling we weren’t in too bad a mood.

The ride to the airport told us over a huge suspension bridge. I was amazed at the size of the supporting columns.

Soon we were at the airport, given our room keys by a Viking representative and in our room by 10:45.

Unfortunately our view was only of a parking garage, I had hoped to watch some planes. 😢

After settling into the room, we walked over to the airport. It was a short 5 minute walk through the air conditioned corridor which connected the parking lot to the airport. We were in Hong Kong during the height of the protests so the airport only had two entrances working. Luckily, this was one of them. After a short delay to show our passport and ticket and to go through a security scanner we were inside the terminal. We had some great Chow Fun (wide Chinese noodles) for lunch) and then went back to the rooms and attempted to nap.

We woke up around eight pm and took a shower and left the hotel about 9 and walked back to the terminal and after security at the door and then again after immigration, we headed to the lounge to await our flight.

I’ll cover that in my next post.