For McCool Travel’s 122nd travel profile, I am happy to introduce you to Mike Ragsdale, the founder of 30A. Have you heard of 30A? 30A celebrates small-town ...
We recently completed a fabulous trip on the new Viking Star, first member of the Viking Ocean Cruises fleet. We’ll be publishing several articles related to the experience in 2016, but in the meantime, these Romantic Mediterranean highlights celebrate the beautiful Viking Star ship, and six exciting ports visited on this Viking Ocean Cruises itinerary.
Viking Ocean Cruises, Viking Star
The Viking Star first sailed in May, 2014, the first ship in the new Viking Ocean Cruises fleet. From the moment we boarded, we were impressed with the sleek Scandinavian design, comfortable spaces, and friendly staff.
Our Deluxe Veranda stateroom featured a comfy king-size bed, roomy closet and bathroom, sitting area and desk, and, like every room on the Viking Star, a private veranda.
Throughout the ship, the decor is elegant but comfortable, offering guests a wide variety of interesting spaces to enjoy. A few highlights from day one included relaxing in the Explorers’ Lounge, fun on the Sports Deck, a soak in the thermal pool, and tea in Wintergarden.
As on the Viking River Cruises line, the ship provides ample opportunities to learn more about the destinations we would visit during our cruise, including music, videos, and talks in the atrium and theater; and books in the onboard library.
In addition, daily tours would help us explore each destination.
Romantic Mediterranean Ports of Call
Viking Ocean Cruises is a destination-focused line, with an emphasis on maximizing time in port. Our Romantic Mediterranean itinerary stopped at 6 ports over 8 days, and every stop allowed us to explore local destinations from morning to night.
Happily, Viking Ocean Cruises offers an included tour at every port, so we always had a great introduction to our destination, plus plenty of time to explore on our own. Optional paid tours were also available, and we enjoyed two of them during our trip.
Our ship remained docked in Barcelona the first night, so guests could explore the city by night and throughout the next day. Since we had arrived early and had already spent two days and nights exploring Barcelona, we chose to remain on board the first night. With all of the beautiful spaces on board, we really weren’t ready to leave the ship.
On day two, we took an optional excursion to Santa Maria de Montserrat, a stunning Benedictine abbey perched more than 4,000 feet above the valley in the Catalonian countryside. We had an excellent tour of the abbey, and learned the story of the “Black Madonna” in the abbey’s basilica.
On our second night, we set sail for Toulon, France and experienced the excitement of waking up to an entirely new view each day.
While large ships have to dock across the bay, the smaller Viking Star is able to dock at the pier in Toulon, within walking distance of the historical center and sights. Toulon is a working port, home to a large naval base and the French Mediterranean Fleet. We skipped the included tour in favor of a day-long trip to Aix-en-Provence.
In Aix we toured the Romanesque and Gothic cathedral, ate a delicious lunch, and strolled the lovely streets.
Before leaving town we visited the studio of Paul Cezanne, which preserves most of the pottery, furniture, and other items you see in his still life paintings. Photos are not allowed in the studio, so we snapped one of the stairway, and imagined Cezanne climbing the stairs to his work each day.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Our next stop in the tiny principality of Monaco, began with one of the most beautiful mornings of our trip. It is an incredible experience to wake in your darkened stateroom, pull back the curtains, and experience a view like this.
We loved our stop in Monaco, and were happy to add another country to our “visited” list. We took the guided tour to the Prince’s Palace where we shopped, watched the changing of the guard, and strolled the lovely streets.
After the tour, we explored the lower part of the city, including a large Christmas Market, then returned to the ship for lunch. Again we benefited from the relatively small size of the Viking Star, which allowed it to dock in Monaco’s small port with the city just steps away.
After lunch on board, we took the Bateau Boat across the harbor for a visit to the famed Monte Carlo Casino. Casinos are really not our thing, but it was fun to get a peek at the lives of the rich and famous, nicely decked out for Christmas.
We were very excited about our first visit to the island of Corsica, and it did not disappoint. Birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte and a territory of France, the island has a wild, independent streak that we loved.
We took the included tour, which included a bus ride along the coast and a walking tour of the city. Once again, Viking Cruises delivered a wonderful introduction to our destination at no extra charge.
Our December visit was helped by warm temperatures that prompted a barefoot walk in the Mediterranean on a beach just steps from the town center.
In fact, temps were so warm that, back on board, the Viking Star had opened the retractable roof over the indoor/outdoor pool.
Florence / Pisa (Livorno), Italy
The port in Livorno offers quick access to both Pisa and Florence. Since we had visited Florence previously, we opted for an afternoon tour of Pisa. We made the most of our morning on board with a leisurely breakfast of delicious Norwegian waffles and a relaxing massage at the spa.
Our included tour of Pisa took us to the Square of Miracles, where we toured the Cathedral and the Baptistery, and snapped photos of the famous Leaning Tower. As we were finishing our visit, a local crowd gathered for the annual opening of the Holy Door to the Cathedral.
Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy
On day seven we reached our final destination, the port town of Civitavecchia, near Rome. The ship would dock here for two days before beginning a return trip to Barcelona, stopping at a new set of ports.
Since we had spent several days in Rome on previous visits, we were looking for something new to see. Fortunately, LivItaly Tours invited us on a guided walk through the heart of Rome, followed by a tour with special access to the Colosseum stage, underground, and third level. The Colosseum tour was fantastic, and it was wonderful to revisit other sites in Rome with a very knowledgeable guide.
Sadly, our cruise was at an end, and it was time to pack and head for home. Happily, we have a wealth of memories, and these Romantic Mediterranean highlights, to help us relive our incredible experience.
My wife and I were extended a free cruise with Viking Ocean Cruises with the expectation that we would share our own findings and opinions with our readers. For more information, follow Viking Cruises on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest.
Article by Julie McCool, whose site FuninFairfaxVA.com helps locals and visitors find fun places to explore, dine, drink, and play in the Virginia, Washington DC, Maryland area. Follow Fun in Fairfax VA on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.