What it’s like to go on a Northern Europe Viking Vacation
In this article and video, I share what it was like to take a Northern Europe Viking vacation on Jupiter, Viking’s newest ocean cruise ship, coupled with extended embarkment and disembarkment visits to Berlin, Leipzig and Bergen.
As a professional travel blogger, I rarely get to take a vacation since I travel for a living. While I have no shortage of amazing annual travel experiences, I work most of the time during those trips—either capturing photos, video footage, taking notes, interviewing people or offloading content to hard drives. There is a great deal of work that goes on behind the scenes to create content to be published on MikesRoadTrip.com. I don’t often think of taking a vacation since I get so much gratification from my job, but everyone needs a break now and again to unwind and recharge.
Talking with Mihaela (Miha) Popa of World Travel Bug (fellow travel blogger and partner), we decided it was time for some R&R. We thought a cruise might be the best vacation option since we could stay put (so to speak) and not have to pack up and move every few days. Miha had never been on a cruise before, and I had only been on one. My previous cruising experience was with Costa, where we sailed from Greece up the Adriatic Sea to Venice. It was a nice experience, but it did not leave me yearning to do another cruise anytime soon.
Miha and I worked with Viking Cruises to plan a northern European vacation of Scandinavia, which would start by getting on the ship in northern Germany. We decided to plan a couple of extended side excursions at the beginning and end of our cruise in order to maximize the vacation.
Miha and I met up in Berlin, a city that is both modern and historic—it’s a place with dramatic contrasts that beckon people from around the globe for its hip and vibrant art, architecture, food scene, exciting night life, and, tours through its illustrious past.
Our home-base while in Berlin was the luxurious and uncompromising Hotel de Rome, which is located at the far end of Bebelplatz–a large public square flanked by opera and university buildings, and a memorial to the Nazi book burning. It’s a fantastic location within walking distance of many of the top attractions in the city. Here are some we visited:
- Museum Island – a truly outstanding ensemble of five world-renowned museums.
- Neptunbrunnen – Berlin’s oldest and most beautiful fountains.
- East Side Gallery – Consists of a series of murals painted directly on a long remnant of the Berlin Wall.
- Brandenburg Gate – An 18th-century neoclassical monument that has become an iconic landmark in Berlin.
- Gendarmenmarkt – Public Square lined with impressive architecture, hosting an annual Christmas market & ice rink and other events.
- Favorite Restaurants – Ngon Restaurant, Cyclo, Shan’s Bistro, Orania and Skykitchen.
Hotel de Rome is a Rocco Forte Hotels property and is the second of their hotels I’ve stayed, which has now become one of my favorite boutique brands. Hotel de Rome is also on my list of best hotels in Germany list, click the link to learn more about this remarkable hotel.
After Berlin we took a train south to Leipzig, which is a place known as the city of music due to its rich history of classical composers from the area, such as Bach, Wagner and Schumann to name a few. One evening we went to the St. Tomas Church to listen to a boy’s choir perform some Bach arrangements, which is also where the famous composer used to perform, and where he was laid to rest. This was a surreal experience that only set us back 2.5 Euro each.
Leipzig is an enchanting city with a delightful mix of historic and modern architecture. It’s fast becoming one of Germany’s most dynamic and welcoming destinations due to a new generation of artists, entertainers and cultural ring-leaders.
While in Leipzig here are a few things we did:
- Guided Tour – We hired a private tour guide to give us a lay of the land and learn some of the history of the city. I’ve hired many private tour guides in Germany and all have been exceptional.
- Bayerischer Bahnhof is the oldest preserved train station in the world (dates back to 1842), it’s now home to a lively brewery, beer garden and restaurant. This is not only a wonderful venue, but a great place to hang out with locals.
- Stadthafen Leipzig (city harbor) – Here you can rent a kayak or canoe and explore the more than 200km of waterways spread across the city. It’s an amazing escape from the city, especially on a nice day.
- Spinnerei – An art venue and wonderful way to re-purpose an old industrial site.
- Gewandhaus zu Leipzig – Stupendous venue to see the Symphony. Surprisingly, it was built by the Communists.
- Krystallpalast Varieté Leipzig – A suburb variety show. Click here for information and to get tickets.
- Auerbachs Keller – Most famous restaurant in Leipzig, unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to try it.
- Recommended Restaurants – Our favorite restaurants were: IMPERII and Café Madrid.
While in Leipzig we stayed at Hotel Fürstenhof, a classically elegant property inspired by the many famous classical composers who are from Leipzig. Located directly across from a light rail station, you can go anywhere in town easily and efficiently. The rooms are really well insulated from sound, so there is no sacrificing the convenience of the location. Click the following link to read more on my list of best hotels in Germany.
BACK IN BERLIN
From Leipzig we headed back to Berlin for a day to meet up with some fellow cruisers. This time we stayed at the Radisson Blu, which has the most extraordinary focal point in the center of the lobby…a massive cylinder-shaped aquarium that extends 80’ up the middle of the hotel.
The next day we boarded a bus for a 3-hour journey to a port in Northern Germany. Once aboard the Viking Jupiter ship, we quickly went to our stateroom to drop our things, then went off to explore the ship. Both Miha and I were utterly impressed with Jupiter; the Italian designed ship with Scandinavian décor and quality craftsmanship was evident throughout. It was also spotless at all times and the crew were always so friendly.
Jupiter is the newest in the Viking fleet and is the same size as their six other ocean liners, which hold 930 passengers. It appears Viking is perhaps taking some philosophic cues from Southwest Airlines, who only operates one model of plane. This enables crew members the ability to ‘jump ship’ as it were, to work another route with no learning curve. This level of efficiency can be passed on to the passengers in the form of high quality service and other aspects I presume.
I don’t have much cruising experience to draw from, but I thought the size of the ship was just perfect. It wasn’t too small to get aboard, and, it wasn’t too large to get lost or tired from walking bow to stern.
VIKING VACATION OCEAN CRUISE FEATURES:
- The Jupiter has four reservation restaurants for a more formal dining experience. The restaurant meals are all part of the cruise fare, just be sure you make reservations a day or two in advance.
- World Café, the buffet restaurant, is open 3 times a day and available at the passengers’ leisure. Let me tell you, the food served at the buffet is outstanding as you’ll read below.
- Beer and wine are included with meals, and, believe it or not, you can even bring your own wine/alcohol aboard and enjoy in your room or take it to dinner with you.
- If you want more top-shelf spirits, wine or champagne, you can pay by the drink, or buy a drink package and consume as much as you wish during the cruise. The Silver Spirits package, which we had, is quite affordable at about $28 per day, so if you have 2-3 drinks per day, it’s well worth it.
- There is a lovely spa aboard in which we both had massage treatments after one of our shore excursions.
- There are a couple of pools on the ship; one is an outdoor negative edge at the stern. The other is in the middle of the ship with a retractable roof for warmer climates.
Our first port of call was the Danish capital of Copenhagen. We had an entire day to explore, which we chose to do via a walking tour. Some of the highlights included seeing the brightly colored houses of Nyhavn, the Little Mermaid statute in the harbor, and the Amalienborg Palace, where we admired the royal rococo buildings (and square) and actually got a glimpse of the queen as she was escorted toward the entrance.
After our walking tour we explore a bit on our own, stopping by a cozy coffee shop for a snack and something warm to drink.
Back on board we freshen up in our stateroom and headed to the World Café, the buffet dining option on Jupiter. We were enthusiastically surprised to find large crab legs, prawns and filet mignon just to name a few of our favorites from the evening. Another night they served some of the best sushi Miha and I have ever had.
Our next port of call was Aalborg, Denmark, which has a rich Viking past that dates back more than 1000 years. The city straddles both sides of the Limfjord Sound and blends trendy cafes and shops with its historic past.
We opted once again for the complementary walking tour where we strolled to Nytorv (New Square) to see the Renaissance-style Jens Bang’s House, the baroque-style Town Hall, and the charming 14th-century Budolfi Church.
We got back on board a bit early since we had treatments booked at the spa. After our relaxing massages we saw this quiet and cozy spot to sit and gaze out the floor to ceiling windows of the Wintergarden. This would become one of our favorite areas of the ship. It’s an airy spot with Nordic-style wooden “trees” throughout.
Unbeknownst to us, this is where afternoon tea is served daily at 4 p.m., and it was about 3:45pm. As 4 rolled around, the area started to fill up with people—since we were early, we had one of the more secluded spots. We had warm scones served with clotted cream and jam, a tower of nibbles, and of course some lovely tea. All the while some live classical music was being performed. Both Miha and I could not help but smile; it had been an extraordinary day and our Viking vacation was off to an incredible start.
The next day we left the waters of Denmark and embarked upon Stavanger, Norway, just as the sun was starting to rise. We had an early morning shore excursion scheduled…a scenic cruise down Lysefjord, past the famed Pulpit Rock where one of the Tom Cruise Mission Impossible movies was filmed.
Just a short walk from Jupiter was a sightseeing vessel waiting for us to board. We soon left the Stavanger Harbor, and not long after we were witnessing one of Norway’s most stunning fjords. Along the way we saw many vacation homes on small islets. As we cruised through Lysefjord we gaze up the nearly 2,000 foot rock walls. The cruise even took us underneath some towering waterfalls where we some some mountain goats drinking. After some sightseeing, but before returning to Stavanger, we disembark at an idyllic beach at Helleren to go ashore for waffles served with cream and sweet jams. It was a really nice way to end our tour.
We got back to port with a bit of time to stroll around Stavanger’s Old Town, which has Europe’s highest concentration of wooden buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries.
That evening we had dinner reservations at The Chef’s Table, one of Viking Jupiter’s two specialty restaurants. The Chef’s Table offers themed five-course tasting menus that changes every few days. The menu is developed with ingredients and flavors from around the world. For an extra $25, you can have wines paired with your meal; however since we had the Silver Spirits package we got this automatically.
After dinner we headed to The Theater for an Elvis impersonator concert, followed by cocktails in the Explorers’ Lounge. We both loved this part of the ship as well—in one area is a cozy faux fireplace, in another is an intimate library. The space is at the bow of the ship with a huge wrap-around series of windows to see the night sky.
A pre-dawn arrival found us slowly ascending into a narrow fjord toward the village of Eidfjord, which is nestled in the heart of one of Norway’s most scenic regions. We had another early morning shore excursion scheduled. The ship was not docked ashore, but rather anchored in the middle of the fjord. To get ashore we boarded a tender, which had us at the dock in just a matter of minutes. The entire process was incredibly efficient. As a matter of fact, we never waited to get on/off the ship, it was always super easy.
Once ashore we boarded a tour bus and began winding our way inland, up a mountain range. The first half hour of our tour the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. Unfortunately, we never stopped to take it in, let alone take photos. We drove for 2-3 hours before reaching Voss where we had lunch at Fleischer’s Hotel.
When we arrived it appeared there were a couple of other tours that had gotten there just before us. It was a little difficult navigating through the sea of people. Plus, our lunch was a bit disappointing, especially after experiencing such amazing cuisine on the ship. We were all excited for the next part of our adventure…the Flåm Railway, which was located right behind the hotel, so that was convenient.
As we boarded the train, I was a bit perplexed and said to Miha, “This does not appear to be a scenic train, but rather a typical commuter train.” It was a train to get from point A to point B. If we did happen to see anything scenic, it lasted all but a second or two because we would quickly go through a tunnel. As a matter of fact, it became a running joke! As soon as we would see something cool, we’d put our phone up to the window to take a picture or record some video, and just then, it would turn black…another tunnel. After the 3rd time in a row, we both started cracking up.
After 2-3 hours on the train, we got off to get back on our bus that had been waiting for us. We made two stops along the way. One was at a boring dam. The second was a really nice waterfall and gorge, but it was cold and windy and we were not dressed properly.
After another 2 hours or so we finally made it back to the village of Eidfjord. It was almost dark so we wanted to walk around the village a bit, but the very last tender of the day was waiting for us. It was a very disappointing day. We were anchored in a stunning part of the world, but never got to really take it in because we spent the entire day traveling.
This particular shore excursion was really our only disappointment of the entire cruise.
Once back aboard we quickly made our way to the top of the ship as the sun was almost completely gone and we wanted to take in every last moment of the stunning scenery around us.
That evening we had reservations at Jupiter’s second specialty restaurant, Manfredi’s. This Italian restaurant has some delicious specialties, which included not just pasta, but some steak and fish items as well.
After a lovely dinner we headed to The Theater again for what would be an extraordinary performance by famed Mezzo-soprano singer, Heather Clancy, who just happens to be the cruise director! In between songs, Heather would tell a story. While she was talking I whispered to Miha and said, “Her voice sounds so familiar.” It took us a while to realize that Heather was the Cruise Director and that we heard and saw her everyday during her onboard T.V. and intercom reports. Viking sure scored by attracting such an amazing all-around talent in Heather.
There is a lot of top-notch talent providing entertainment throughout the cruise, most of it seemed to be more classical in style, which Miha and I both enjoy immensely.
Our last port of call was the home base of Viking Cruises, Bergen, Norway. We were spending several days in Bergen after the cruise, so we decided not to get off the ship that last day, but rather enjoy all the amenities she had to offer. It was an absolutely beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. We started our day off with a leisurely breakfast outside at the stern of the ship, next to the negative edge pool, which was pointed toward Bergen Harbor providing a great view. We stayed outside for a while playing games on the outdoor deck…from ping pong, shuffle board to the putting green. Since most of the passengers were in town exploring, we had a run of the ship.
The next day we had to disembark fairly early so the ship could be cleaned and readied for the next wave of new passengers. Our departure was a bit sad; we had become friendly with many of the crew-members and loved every single moment of our Viking vacation cruise. We were disappointed that it seemed to be over so quickly, but we certainly have many incredible memories that will last a lifetime.
With our luggage in tow, we walked past the harbor toward our new home for the next few days, the Hotel Norge. It was well before check-in, but since our room was ready, they were gracious enough to let us check in. We made our way to the 10th/top floor of the hotel, where we were more than pleased with our accommodations.
The hotel is sophisticated chic with the lobby and first floor resembling a nightclub, with intimate lighting, chaise chairs, a DJ booth, and terraced seating area that seemed reminiscent of a Mambo Tropicana Club in Cuba during the 1950s. Hotel Norge is perfectly located in the heart of the city center, everything is within walking distance. Even airport transportation is merely a couple hundred yards away.
Bergen is encircled by majestic mountains, fjords and glaciers, a backdrop that set the stage for Viking sagas. The colorful wooden homes along the Bergen wharf is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With our Bergen cards obtained at the Visitor’s Center, we went off the explore the city. Here are some of the things we did and would recommend:
- Fløibanen – This is a funicular railway located in the heart of old town and is one of Norway’s most famous attractions. The views from Mount Fløyen on a clear day are fantastic. There are hiking trails and a playground for the kids, as well as restaurant.
- Fish Market – Since the 1200s, The Fish Market of Bergen has been greeting guests with fresh fish, seafood, local farm food like fruit, berries and vegetables, as well as flowers and plants.
- Fjord Cruise – RODNE Cruises has two tours a day that take passengers 27km up the Osterfjord. The fjord narrows between steep mountains providing dramatic views. During our tour we sail right up to a waterfall to catch a bucket of ice-cold mountain water to taste.
- Museums – There is a large cluster of wonderful museums in the city center. Kunstmuseum had a great exhibition of Edvard Munch, the artist well known for “The Scream,” who by the way is a Norwegian.
- Recommended Restaurants – Altona Vinbar & Kitchen, Red Sun Restaurant & Bar. Oh, and if you stay at Hotel Norge, the breakfast buffet is outstanding.
That’s the story of our Viking vacation via the Jupiter Ocean Cruise ship. If you have any questions about cruising with Viking, or, any of the destinations we visited, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment/question below.