Our 50th Anniversary Cruise - Underway - Part 4

Viking Cruises aim to educate, inform, and enrich their passengers. Each in-port day includes one or another tour opportunity. On each cruise, one port visit is included. Other opportunities are available, at a cost. Seizing one of the additional opportunities is a matter of desire. For the most part, we took advantage of the included tour. You had to sign up early and often, we found them already filled when we tried. You had to be quick and sometimes we weren't quick enough.

One of the most useful items that are a part of Viking is the MyVikingVoyage app. It is an all-inclusive electronic personal 'cruise-director'. It's available on your smartphone, but also on the flatscreen TV in the stateroom. For now, we'll just call it MyVoyage. It plays a part throughout our cruise.

Once we caught our breath in NYC and explored the ship, we prepared for our 12-day adventure. There were no tours on day 1; that was dedicated to the boarding of all 800-odd passengers. We unpacked and headed to dinner.

We also quickly discovered that we were in the middle of the pack with respect to the clothing we had packed. Remember that we packed for two carry-on bags. Linda brought the bare minimum and I brought less than that. I had no coat, tie, or shiny shoes. Viking has a published rule that 'business casual', e.g., a collared shirt, no jeans, etc. for men is the required dress for dinner in all restaurants. We discovered, on the second day, that the rules were loosely enforced in all venues except The Restaurant and the two specialty dining areas, Manfredi's and the Chef's Table.

Perhaps the most valuable element of MyVoyage was the running personal calendar. By personal, I mean by name. The menu item listed Linda's and my schedules. Most times they were identical. Later in the cruise, they were not. They listed our off-ship excursions, what time to meet, even what bus number. At any time, we could check our schedule. The flip side is that any venue could check your schedule, as well. If we wanted a reservation in one of the dining venues, they would check our stateroom number and determine if our schedule was clear. Yikes!

Monday morning, we had breakfast delivered to the room. On our Alaskan cruise, we enjoyed bagels, creamed cheese, and all the fixins in the room.When our breakfast was delivered, we discovered that the Norwegian version of lox and bagels was just a bit different: tasty, but definitely different.

We grabbed our personal headsets, an electronic way of hearing the tour guide, and headed for our first excursion, 'Manhattan Highlights', a bus tour of Manhattan. Our guide was NOT a NYC native, but his love for his adopted city was evident. Now, Linda and I have both been to Manhattan before. We'd done the big sites. This tour was the street level tour -- literally. We've all heard of SOHO, a fashionable district of Manhattan. Now, we know why it's SOHO: South of Houston. Houston Street is pronounced like House-ton, not Huse-tun. Weird, I know. We did Greenwich Village. We found the Wall Street bull, which is not welcome at the Stock Exchange (hmm). Everywhere, the city was alive with bicycles, cars, cabs, huge trucks blocking narrow streets and people walking at New York warp speed. We were introduced to the real city. It was a cool tour, and the tour guide made it so.  

For me, the highlight of this tour was the stop at the 9/11 Memorial at the foot of the new Tower One. From the park, the soaring 1776-foot tower rises, piercing the blue sky, and towering above the already high skyline of Manhattan. There is something both historic and special about the twin fountains that sit on the sites of the World Trade Center towers. It has the same special American magic as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Vietnam Memorial, or viewing the Declaration of Independence.

The tour stopped for a photo/restroom stop on the Battery to view the Statue of Liberty. We drove past Central Park. We drove past Macy's, the new FAO Schwartz, and the Avenue of the Americas. But we didn't stop. It wasn't that kind of tour. As I said, we'd been to NYC before. After this tour, I think I actually visited Manhattan. I regret that we missed Katz Deli. Maybe I'll make that pilgrimage next time. We had a sailing time, 1:30 PM, to make. 

Back to the ship and a drink in the Atrium Lounge and our first, and only, meal in The Restaurant. Most cruises have assigned seating, and dining times. Not on Viking. With the exception of the two specialty restaurants, you get in line and are seated as tables become available. This evening, a table for four became available and we invited another couple to join us. We would see them many times on the cruise. The Restaurant is an elegant affair. Your waiter tends the multiple courses with skill. Our problem with The Restaurant and the specialty restaurants, was the quantity of food. Yikes!I only brought one size of pants and it was only the first night. And we were underway to our second port-of-call, Boston.

The port-excursions are first-come, first-served and we were unable to sign up for one on our first day in Boston. But we had an available shuttle that would take us to a central point, from which we could walk to Faneuil Hall. I strolled up to the World Café and brought back OJ for Linda as we prepared for an easy day. This morning, we dined in the World Café, the popular buffet style restaurant. While we would sample every dining venue on the Viking Star, the World Café, would become our go-to restaurant. We could select what we wanted, the amount we wanted, and the order in which we wanted to eat it. My kind of restaurant.

We took the shuttle to the Faneuil Hall drop off and walked the three blocks. John Adams would not recognize the place. Faneuil Hall and the surrounding four buildings have become The Quincy Market. While the Market is a five-building complex, but only two of them constitute the tourist area. The others are shops, offices, and apartments. The historic hall renamed Quincy Market is one long food court serving everything from falafel to frozen yogurt, from waffles to barbecue. I don't think I saw Boston Baked Beans. I must have missed that stall. There were a number of stalls selling Clam Chowder, though. We weren't impressed with the insult to a historic structure.

On day 2 in Boston, and admittedly out of order, we took our Panoramic Boston tour. Remember that really great tour guide in New York. Well, you can't win them all. This particular tour was disjointed, the bus too big, the streets too narrow, the traffic too heavy, and the guide a bit confused at times. Any time we neared a possible historic photo op, we were beyond it before we could focus our smart phones. For some reason, we saw John Hancock's gravesite three times, from three different sides. One brief stop was at Copley Square, home of Trinity Church, a beautiful gothic building. The square is also home to the sculpture of The Tortoise and Hare, from Aesop's fable. Then, we were dropped at Quincy Market for an hour on our own. Even though we knew that was going to happen, it was a waste. You can't win them all. Fortunately, Linda, the kids, and I did Boston in July of 1988 when my ship was a part of Boston's Fleet Week. That was when we did the Freedom Trail and toured Old Ironsides.

Back on board, we looked forward to the Port Tour of Halifax, our next port and one we were really looking forward to. That's when we got the surprise. Remember that storm I told you about when we left. Fiona had taken a liking to us and was following us up the East Coast. Halifax is a port open to the sea and the captain feared that our port visit might put us in the path of the storm. Anyway, officials closed the port of Halifax and we had no choice but to move on.

Soooooo, Halifax was cancelled. Plan B was to sail to the port of Sydney, up the coast of Nova Scotia, clear customs and immigration to Canada and then dodge the storm. Now, Halifax was to be the first port in which we had paid to take an off-ship excursion. That money was now in limbo. More importantly, we had lost one of two ports in Nova Scotia, one prime reason for taking this cruise.

We had made two dining reservations, to be used on nights at sea. Once we sailed from Boston, we had reservations at Manfredis' the Italian specialty restaurant. The food was good, the service outstanding, the presentation memorable, and the portions gargantuan! This was a multiple course Italian meal, but unlike a true Italian meal, with small amounts, this one was full portions at each course. I ordered Saltimbocca, which should have been two small strips of this Italian specialty. I received two 6" squares of meat! Linda's serving of lamb chops was equally over-the-top. That was the downside. For the first and only time on the cruise, we overate. Both of us paid for it the next day. Lesson learned.

We would spend the next four days at sea, barring the brief, and I mean brief, stop in Sidney. Fiona was roaring northward, dead set on making landfall in Halifax. Our captain had no desire to be anywhere near her path, and for that I congratulate him. We spent the next day at sea, bypassing Halifax and heading toward Sydney. The only thing Sydney had going for it, besides history, was the largest violin in the Western Hemisphere.

We pulled into Sydney at 8 AM. By the time Linda and I had had a very light breakfast and were ready to leave the ship to find the 40-foot-high violin, we discovered that, not only were we not going to be allowed off the ship, but that we were already underway! A fellow passenger provided us with a photo of the giant instrument, some 40 feet tall.

And that heralded our next few days at sea. See you next week.

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Friday, 23 February 2024