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Safe travels: Viking Orion in Bermuda

BERMUDA for NotableTravels.com

We were headed for Bermuda’s capital, Hamilton, and the Viking Cruises’ Orion. It was our first trip since the pandemic began and we had chosen carefully.

While searching for the best way to celebrate a special anniversary we came across this special sailing to Bermuda, where we spent our honeymoon. We have traveled with Viking Cruises before, read about all the measures they have taken to fight the spread of the pandemic, and chose this voyage as a safe and responsible choice.

We were pleased to have a window seat for our flight. The view of the turquoise water and secluded coves was a preview of what we were about to enjoy on this this fishhook-shaped string of islands. The little white dots are limestone rooftops, painted white and designed to collect rainwater, a vital source of fresh water that is stored in tanks below. Water in the basement is a good thing here!

Unlike larger ships, the Viking Orion is able to dock in Hamilton, right along Front Street’s waterfront promenade. The colorful colonial buildings on this lively main thoroughfare now house restaurants, pubs and shops. Banks and offices are also found here in this international business hub.

Safety first

Both Viking Cruises and Bermuda were diligent about ensuring our safety and that of others. Bermuda had a CDC rating of Level 1 and required verification of our vaccination certificate as well as COVID PCR testing prior to departure and upon arrival.

Viking Cruises not only tops Travel & Leisure’s World’s Best Cruise Line list year after year but also leads in the best researched and most comprehensive COVID-19 prevention and mitigation program in the industry. They have created a controlled environment that provides its passengers and crew with the safest possible experience. We heard many say they felt safer on this cruise than at home. We agreed. Read more about that here.

Everything taken care of

Before our departure, Viking Cruises provided detailed lists to ensure we were prepared for our trip. Staff members called us to see whether we needed help with the forms or anything else. Their representatives in Bermuda were at the airport to transport us to the ship and see to it that everything was taken care of. After a quick registration and security scan we boarded the ship. As you can see, there were no lines.

Once onboard, we were escorted to a private safety review at our muster station in the Star Theater in lieu of the typical tedious lifeboat drill. We also liked that Viking takes care of distributing the life jackets at the muster station rather than store them in the staterooms.

Our room steward, Del, for Rodelio, appeared as soon as we had arrived at our stateroom to make sure we had everything we needed and to go over the simple safety protocols. He told us that each morning he would collect the tube we were to fill with about 2 milliliters of our saliva first thing each day.

Disposable masks and hand sanitizer were provided. Temperatures were tested outside the restaurants each morning using tablets with face-recognition technology.

One thing that was evident immediately was how happy the staff was to be back at their jobs with Viking. We were certainly glad to be back, as well.

By then it was time for a leisurely lunch by one of the pools. It felt great to enjoy the outdoors this way on such a beautiful day. We discovered that there is more al fresco dining on Viking ships than on any other ships at sea.

Steak sandwiches and big juicy burgers are top-notch at the Pool Grill. Waiters came by with refreshing welcoming drinks, fruity rum concoctions, complimentary, of course. This was Viking, after all.

As we looked over the daily newsletter we agreed this was the ultimate carefree getaway we had been longing for — one with a full range of dining options, comfortable, well appointed accommodations with a veranda, enticing adventures, engaging enrichment activities, and most attentive service.

A carefree vacation

Viking Cruises’ all-inclusive pricing adds to the carefree nature of this kind of vacation. Cruises include a shore excursion in every port, WiFi, access to the thermal spa, wine and beer with lunch and dinner, fee-free reservations at the two alternative dining restaurants, specialty coffees and teas, 24 hour room service, use of laundry machines and detergent and port taxes and fees.

Ground transfers are included when airfare is purchased through the cruise line. Snacks and beverages in the stateroom’s easy-access pull-out minibars are complementary.

Should you want more, a premium beverage package and an array of specialized shore excursions like jungle walks or a shipwreck snorkel are available at added cost. Once you have made your selections, which we recommend doing in advance, there is nothing to think about but enjoying it all.

Less is more

Although so much is included, many choose this cruise line for what it is not. The emphasis is on quality, not opulence, on natural elements, not glitz.

There are no flashing lights or clanging sounds from a casino, no blaring announcements or hype for things like for art auctions or raffles. No smoking. No photographers interrupting dinner. No butlers or fancy formal nights. And no waterslides, rock-climbing walls or children under 18. It is uncrowded, without the lines or waiting found elsewhere.

The passengers

The decor is sleek and streamlined Scandinavian in a palette of soft soothing colors. Viking’s elegant ships typically attract affluent, well-educated and over age 55 passengers who seek a more refined, serene and uncluttered environment.

Viking Cruises are designed to be a thinking person’s cruise. Enrichment activities abound on a variety of topics, with a focus on the destination.

Presentations in Bermuda, for example, ranged from “The Fortifications of Bermuda, 1612-1995” to “How Sugar Changed the World” by the Resident Historian. A guest lecturer spoke about Bermuda’s historic architecture and the four centuries of friendship between the USA.

Some ships, like the Viking Orion and Viking Jupiter, have planetariums and a Resident Astronomer who runs shows, gives lectures and sets up a telescope while at sea. Since seating is limited, reservations are required, but there is no fee for this.

Exploring the ship

Once we have settled in, we like to explore every deck. One of the unique things about Viking’s ships is that they have the largest collection of Norwegian art at sea, over 700 pieces, and there’s an app for a self-guided tour.

Norwegian influences are found throughout the ship. The overlapping planks in the Viking Bar pay tribute to the historic Viking longships’ clinker-built style. Barstools feature the Norwegian folk art known as rosemaling.

Attention is paid to details here. Elevators have a designated gangway button lest anyone forget which deck was being used that day. Sounds of chirping birds create a sense of privacy in the public restrooms. Paper towels are by the restroom doors with a sign reminding all to use them when opening the door.

A variety of cozy nooks feature books selected for their destinations and shipboard themes, like astronomy. And there’s a seemingly endless array of places to simply relax. Our favorite is the Explorers’ Lounge.

Tranquility and mindfulness can be found throughout the ship, notably at the aft’s infinity pool, where the water blends visually into the sea. It’s an ideal spot for watching the sunset.

For sheer relaxation and Nordic wellness, head for the thermal suite of the LivNordic Spa. Try the soothing warmth and exhilarating chill of the Nordic bathing ritual, a tradition that goes back to the Viking Age. This unique experience ranges from the toasty sauna to the frosty snow grotto, making this one of the best spa experiences at sea. There is no additional charge to use the spa, but reservations must be made to ensure that the spa will not be crowded. we had no difficulty making as many reservations as we pleased.

There is a fee for full service hair and nail salon services and spa treatments, but none of the pressure to purchase products found on other cruise lines. My favorite spa treatments are the Swedish Mindful Massage and the invigorating and soothing Viking Restart. The latter begins with an invigorating cranberry body scrub, includes a Swedish deep massage and ends with a soothing Nordic scalp ritual.

Want to stay fit? Personal training is available at the fully equipped fitness center. Or dance the night away with the guitar selections at the nightclub, Torshavn, or in the Explorer’s Lounge. The sports deck features mini-golf, table tennis, lawn bowling, bocce ball, and shuffleboard courts.

Performances in The Theater included two energetic performances, ABBA favorites and “Top of the Pops, with disco, Motown and British Invasion hits. COVID-19 safety measures included blocking off the front rows and social distancing between seats. We felt quite comfortable attending more shows after lingering to watch a team of staff members thoroughly clean and treat all surfaces with sanitizers.

The cuisine

We enjoyed the convenience of room service for breakfast when we had an early shore excursion. Otherwise we headed for the World Café or the main dining room, The Restaurant.

Both venues also offer an array of lunch and dinner choices. Locally sourced ingredients are used to create its menu of regional, international and classic cuisine.

There’s an ever-changing array of international fare at the World Café. King Crab legs are a particular favorite of ours there.

                                                                               

Viking’s Founder and Chairman Torstein Hagen’s Norwegian favorites are available at the gourmet deli, Mamsen’s, named for his mother. Some of her recipes are featured here.

A pianist adds to the refined ambience at Afternoon Tea in the beautiful glass-enclosed Wintergarden. Tea selections ranging from the rich exotic Bombay Chai to the soothing Jasmine Green accompany the delectable scones with jam and clotted cream, tea sandwiches and sweets.

The menu changes every three days at The Chef’s Table, one of the two specialty restaurants. Each of the five courses is paired with a carefully curated wine. We scheduled our reservations that we could experience all three cuisines, Mexican, Chinese and Californian.   

Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant is the other specialty dining option. This intimate traditional trattoria with rich dark wood and warm colors is said to be one of the best restaurants at sea. We agree. 

It is named for Hagen’s friend, Silversea’s chairman Manfredi Lefebvre D’Ovidio, who collaborated with Hagen in its plans. Meals here begin with a bread basket that could be a meal in itself. But be sure to leave room for more, like the signature Bistecca Fiorentina, marinated for 72 hours and rubbed with herbs.

Viking Orion: continuing a tradition of exploration and discovery

The Viking Orion’s name refers to the constellation and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which, like the ship, was designed to take people on a voyage of discovery, farther than they had gone before. Dr. Anna Fisher, retired NASA astronaut who worked on that project before retiring, is the ship’s godmother.

Viking’s ships also continue the long Norwegian tradition of exploration and discovery. The onboard experience is an introduction to Norway’s beauty, history, culture and love for the sea through features like its extensive Norwegian art collection, special musical performances, and the Nordic-style thermal spa.

At one of the musical performances we were surprised to discover that the Viking Orion’s Cruise Director, Brian Rodriguez, is also a talented classically trained tenor.

The destination: Bermuda

Tempting as it is to simply stay onboard this beautiful ship, Bermuda beckons. This archipelago is awash with color, a palette of brightly painted houses, turquoise waters, crescent-shaped pink sand beaches and secluded coves.  A kaleidoscopic array of flowers like bougainvillea, oleander, and hibiscus flourish here.  

Just outside the ship, Bermuda’s flag, with its Union Jack and coat of arms, flaps in the gentle breeze. Like the red telephone booths they are symbolic of the decidedly British influences.

Although Spanish explorers like Juan de Bermúdez were here first, they were in search of New World gold and silver and put their attention elsewhere.

Bermuda’s coat of arms shows a red British lion holding a shield that references a founding that goes back to the Sea Venture, a British ship headed for Jamestown, Virginia, that was blown off course and shipwrecked here in 1609. The British saw Bermuda as a strategic location as it expanded its empire and built 90 forts here. Bermuda is now a self-governing British overseas territory.

Just a mile wide and about 24 mile long, Bermuda is about 600 miles east of North Carolina. The seven main islands are connected by bridges, and about 170 islets and rocks.

Mark Twain had traveled the world but once he discovered Bermuda he kept going back. He is often quoted as saying “You go to heaven if you want to. I’d rather stay in Bermuda.” It was here that he was inspired to write his travel book, “The Innocents Abroad.” 

With its mild, sub-tropical climate, it continues to attract the rich and famous, many of whom have built magnificent homes here.

More than half a million tourists normally visit each year, mostly from the United States. International financial services and other businesses are also drawn to this politically stabile and financially secure tax haven. As a result, Bermudians enjoy one of the highest per capita incomes in the world.

Bermuda is known for some of the world’s most prestigious sporting events, like the Newport Bermuda Race and the 2017 America’s Cup.

There are more golf courses per capita here than anywhere else and it is known for championship golf like the PGA Bermuda Championship. The lush Port Royal Golf Course has been named among the world’s best public golf courses by Golf Digest.

Bermuda: How did it get this way?

Bermuda’s islands were formed by a now-extinct underwater volcanic mountain range that last erupted millions of years ago. The mountains have been worn down by the sea and covered by a thick layer of limestone. This is topped with a thin layer of clay-rich soil known as “terra rossa” that was blown here over the ages by westerly winds and storms from northern Africa.

Mark Twain was among the first to visit Crystal Caves, which was formed during Bermuda’s Ice Age and discovered accidentally in the early 1900s by two teenagers during a game of cricket. It is now one of Bermuda’s top attractions.

Bermuda’s sand is pink thanks to the parrotfish, a protected species, named for their beaklike mouths. They scrape off bits of limestone and tiny skeletons of red foraminifera when munching on the reefs’ algae and pass what becomes the sand that gives the beaches their distinctive coloration. Horseshoe Beach, a stop on the Pink Sands and Scenic South Shore Drive tour, is a good example.

The reefs: the good, the bad and the beautiful

The world’s northernmost coral reefs flourish here thanks to the warmth of the Gulf Stream. Sea fans, sea rods, brain and star coral, flowery anemones, red or blue sponges, spiky rock scallops, and colorful fish make this a fascinating underwater world for snorkelers, divers or taking a glass bottomed boat ride.

Although these reefs form a protective barrier from surging waves, they were a hazard for early mariners. With more wrecks per square mile than anywhere else, Bermuda is known as“Shipwreck Island” and “The Shipwreck Capital of the World.”

St. George’s

Lovers of history will want to learn about 17th century life on the St. George’s Discovery tour. Bermuda’s first capital was established in 1612 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Get a sense of that era by exploring the passageways of the restored Fort St. Catherine, built in 1614.

St. Peter’s Church is the oldest Anglican Church in the Western Hemisphere. The slave cemetery is a reminder of this side of Bermuda’s history, something we learned more about at the award-winning National Museum at the old Royal Naval Dockyard.

With more time in the historic district we would have also visited the Rogues & Runners Museum to learn more about the role Bermuda played in the American Civil War. It is in one of Bermuda’s oldest stone buildings and has served as a governor’s residence, a hotel and headquarters for Confederate agents.

King’s Wharf and the Royal Naval Dockyard

After a relaxing day at sea, the Viking Orion arrives at King’s Wharf, Bermuda’s largest port and a hub of shipping, sailing, and boat building. Home to artists and artisans, it is now a cultural and shopping destination and a place to enjoy a tasting tour at a local brewery.

Its historic buildings now house galleries and shops, notably the Bermuda Arts Centre and Bermuda Craft Market. The Clocktower Mall, easily identified by its twin 100’ towers, offers one-stop shopping, with Carole Holding’s Bermuda crafts and artwork, Davison’s clothing and Crisson’s fine jewelry top choices. It was built with its cobblestone floors and wrought iron pillars to serve as a warehouse and for administrative offices for the Royal Navy. 

Shopping, like the pace, is easy in Bermuda. Credit cards and U.S. currency are accepted. The official currency is the Bermudian dollar, which is on par with U. S. dollars. Have smaller denominations for smaller purchases. Change is usually given in the local currency.

The Royal Navy Dockyard and defenses at King’s Wharf were built for the Royal Navy over a forty year period by convicts from England. Gravestones at the Royal Naval Cemetery reveal that many died of yellow fever.

Once the largest British naval base outside the UK, it became a symbol of British military power. Bermuda’s location between English Canada and British West Indies led to it being known as  the “Gibraltar of the West.”

During the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key was inspired to write a poem about seeing the American flag flying after the bombardment of Fort McHenry by a British ship that sailed from the Dockyard. That poem became  America’s national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” 

The ship docks across from the fortifications and the buildings of the National Museum of Bermuda, which houses over 80,000 objects documenting the island’s 500 year history. To get there we walked along the boardwalk from the ship and rode the free trolley from the Visitor Information Center. 

Allow plenty of time to explore the displays in the Commissioner’s House, built in 1820. As the western hemisphere’s first prefabricated cast-iron residential building it was a symbol of British imperial power. The Keep, Bermuda’s largest fort, holds treasures found from shipwrecks by scuba diving archaeologists. 

One of the best ways of getting out into the calm turquoise waters is with the Great Sound Catamaran Rally to a large ocean inlet that is protected on three sides by land and at the entrance by a coral reef. It’s an opportunity to swim, sunbathe and sip the national drink, a rum swizzle. Catamaran trips to secluded waters are included in Hamilton, as well.

By night, take one of the sunset sailings. Wear your most fashionable white attire for the White Night Sail. It’s a grand finale to the time spent in this port.

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For more information contact Viking Cruises.

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