Our last big trip had been in December of 2019, a river cruise with Viking on the Douro in Portugal just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Due to missed sailing caused by flooding, we received a voucher from Viking that we had to use to book another cruise in 2020. Because of COVID, at the time we didn’t know when Viking would resume sailing or when we would feel safe traveling, so in April 2020 we booked a Christmas cruise (our favorite time to sail with Viking) on the Elbe in December 2022 – nearly three years away. Having grown used to annual cruises, this seemed like it would be an eternity.
After a year of working from home but with our vaccinations complete, we were antsy to travel again by the spring of 2021 when Viking announced its “Welcome back to the world” cruises from Bermuda, Malta, and a new itinerary that circumnavigated Iceland. We had been on seven Viking river cruises before, but had never gone on an ocean cruise with Viking or on any other line. Beyond reading multiple murder mysteries set in Iceland, our only experience with the country was when we changed planes there on our way to Paris for our first cruise on the Seine. We had often talked about returning to explore the area around Reykjavik on our own, but the chance to also visit sites all around the island lead us to booking our escape for the end of August 2021.
Arriving in Iceland
We flew to Iceland on Delta Airlines from Boston. It took just five hours to traverse the four time zones separating Iceland from the East Coast, which is relatively short compared to flying to Europe. (It takes almost as long to fly from Boston to Salt Lake City as it does to fly to Iceland!) Even so, the flight is overnight and it does not make for a good night’s sleep.
On arrival at the airport in Keflavik, the signage made it clear we were in a different country – how’s your Icelandic?
After clearing immigration and picking up our luggage, we were promptly met by Viking representatives who had us board a bus to take us to our ship. On the way from the airport in Keflavik to Reykjavik, in the distance we were able to see the plume from the eruption at Fagradalsfjall that had been drawing fans of volcanos to Iceland since March 2021:
We didn’t travel directly to the ship from the airport. We had arrived early in the morning and the crew was still dealing with departing passengers from the previous week’s cruise. Instead, we went to Harpa, the waterfront Icelandic opera house where we had some breakfast (and met some fellow passengers), and picked up our cabin keys and COVID-19 contact tracing devices before eventually traveling to the nearby Viking Sky. On the way, we passed the modest building that was the site of the historic 1987 Reykjavik Summit between Ronald Reagan and Michael Gorbachev:
The impact of the pandemic was part of what lead us to pick this cruise and, of course, COVID affected some aspects of our cruise.
First, we had to take a test at our local pharmacy within a day of our departure and share the results with our airline (which in turn shared it with Icelandic immigration; we couldn’t board the airplane without a negative test) and with Viking. During our flights, we had to keep masks on the entire time, except to eat or drink. During the cruise, we had to wear our masks whenever we were out of our rooms, including on the buses for excursions and we had to wear contact tracing devices that recorded any extended proximity with other passengers. First thing each morning we had to collect a spit sample for testing. It’s amazing how hard it is to generate that much spit so early in the day.
Other than that, Viking’s protocols really didn’t affect our trip. Others weren’t so lucky. Even though all passengers had to be fully vaccinated in order to travel, a few passengers still came down with the disease. They were quarantined in their rooms for the remainder of the trip. Unfortunately for some, the contact tracing devices ended up sweeping up other passengers that they’d spent time with (e.g., on an excursion bus) and they were also quarantined.
First Impressions of the Viking Sky
Viking’s ocean ships carry nearly five times more passengers than the river longship counterparts that we’ve become accustomed to. Our ship only had between 500 and 600 passengers so it never seemed crowded as you can see from the pictures below. The Scandinavian decor felt familiar after all our trips on Viking’s longships and it took no time at all to feel right at home in our cabin.
With the large ocean-going ships, there is much more variety for food and drink than on the river longships. There are multiple seatings for meals with more venues. We usually had breakfast and lunch at the World Cafe, the Pool Grill, or on the Aquavit Terrace, with dinner at The Restaurant. We did enjoy the tasting menus at the Chef’s Table twice, but never made it to Manfredi’s, Viking’s Italian restaurant, or to Mamsen’s, the Scandinavian deli. We usually headed up to the forward-facing two-level Explorer’s Lounge for drinks. Here are some examples of the food and drink that we enjoyed:
On a river longship, entertainment is usually limited to a piano player/singer in the lounge, except when local performers are brought on-board. We went to one or two performances in the theater, with song-and-dance style shows that weren’t really our thing. We did enjoy the live band in the Torshavn bar once, but we repeatedly went back to the Explorer’s Lounge to hear Paulo, our ship’s resident singer/guitarist.
What we missed…
As you can see from Viking’s map of this cruise’s itinerary below, the only planned overnight stays in port on this trip was in Reykjavik. Most cruising was done overnight. Frequent ocean cruise travelers know that there’s always a chance that ports can be missed, usually due to weather conditions. Some ports are more susceptible to this happening than others. Most of the port stops for us were deep inside fjords, well-protected from wind and waves. Unfortunately, the final planned stop at Heimaey was not and, due to heavy seas, for at least the second week in a row the Viking Sky did not venture into this port and we missed out. Instead, we had a long sea day as we pushed ahead to Reykjavik where we docked about a half day earlier than originally planned.
With the extra night in port near Reykjavik, you might be surprised to learn that we never actually set foot in the city, or even had a bus tour. We had three chances and went zero for three. First, when we were at the opera house upon arrival we were set to take a guided walk from there into the city but the skies just opened up and poured. We had rain gear with us, but it was packed in our suitcases that were already on their way to the ship. We then missed an announcement later that day that buses were going into the city. (The port where the ship was docked is more than convenient walking distance from the city center.) Finally, we thought we were all set with a reservation we had to go into the city on our last evening but, alas, we lingered way too long over our dinner that evening and missed the bus. We have to be one of the few week-long visitors to Iceland who never actually went into Reykjavik. That’s okay, though, because the rest of our visit was great.
We weren’t the only passengers who enjoyed this itinerary. On our first evening during the event for Viking’s Explorer’s Society (i.e., any passenger who had previously cruised with Viking), our cruise director introduced a fellow passenger who had booked his first cruise on Viking Sky two weeks previously. When that cruise ended, he decided to stay on for another trip around Iceland. And we met him on what was his third go-round. But he wasn’t done – he had already booked the ship’s next trip, a repositioning cruise from Iceland to Barcelona. Who knows – maybe he stayed on to see more of the Mediterranean, too!