On August 12, 2021, I received the following email:
Hi Ralph and Britton,
I’m excited to reach out with an offer to join a sailing with Viking this summer! We have media availability on Viking’s Bermuda Escape itinerary. I’ve included more information in the email below, but please let me know your thoughts and if I can answer any questions.
I felt as if I needed to wipe my glasses and reread the message. After almost a year and a half without stepping foot on a ship, I was being invited on an ocean cruise. I emphasize ocean because I have had the privilege of taking four cruises, both river and ocean, within the span of just over two months. The first cruise that I took this year was a river cruise. The return to river cruising did not seem nearly as daunting as the return to ocean cruising did. When I got the invite from a river cruise company I automatically said yes, but when it came to ocean cruises I was a bit more hesitant. My main concern? My safety.
Being on a boat with 100 people is one thing, but being on a boat with 1,000 was another. Though Viking’s ocean ships may be considered small to some cruisers, the thought of sailing with that many people was scary – until I did my research.
As usual, I am being a bit dramatic when I say that many people. Like most cruise lines, Viking was sailing at a reduced capacity. So, though the passenger capacity of Viking Orion is 930 passengers, there were only around 500 people onboard. Sailing at nearly half capacity created space for distancing throughout the ship. There were always corners to sit in without people around. In fact, sometimes you could walk into a completely empty room. Special events like teatime at the Wintergarden and shows in Torshaven were still lively and full, but space could always be found elsewhere for those who wanted it. Even events like dome shows in the Explorers Lounge felt safe, with seats blocked off to create room for distancing.
Off the ship, there were no other cruise lines sailing in Bermuda at the time so we had the ports almost completely to ourselves. This was not only ideal for forming a bubble, but also ideal in that it cut down wait times and crowd sizes ashore.
Viking requires masks for passengers and crew on its sailings. I have done both masked and unmasked sailings and, while it feels nice to take the mask off for a week and not have to worry about it, it does feel significantly less safe to me than it does to wear a mask throughout the ship. In fact, because of masking and other protocols Viking has in place, this sailing was the only sailing I’ve done that I didn’t think: Oh god, what if I test positive for COVID before I leave and can’t get home?
I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way. The most frequently asked question we receive recently is, “what happens if I test positive before I go home?” The good news is that even if you do test positive for COVID on a Viking sailing they’ve got you covered. The first question I asked our cruise manager Tom was whether or not he has had positive cases on any sailings and what they do in that situation. I was shocked to learn that if a guest tested positive, Viking sent the guest to a hotel (and paid for the accommodations), paid for ground transportation and assisted them in rescheduling their flights.
Tom also took it a step further to say that he called and messaged the guests daily to make sure they were okay. He also sent items such as packets of vitamins and water to assist the guests with a speedy recovery.
Let’s talk about testing. On Viking, there is another reason you hardly have to worry about testing positive the day you are supposed to leave for your flight home. You are tested daily on board.
Each night after turndown, we were left two vials with our names printed on them. These tubes were used to collect saliva samples to conduct daily COVID tests. The tests needed to be taken every morning before 9 a.m. and 30 minutes after eating, drinking, brushing teeth, etc. The vials were then placed back into a clear plastic bag and left in the stateroom for collection in the morning.
This seamless process allowed everyone on board to feel safer. We also wore contact tracing devices. These devices monitored our close contacts. Even if someone were to test positive, they were taken to an isolation cabin and escorted off the ship as soon as possible. With daily testing, a vaccine requirement, contact tracing and masking in place, I truly felt safer on board the ship than I have anywhere during the pandemic except for my own house.
So, is Viking Orion the safest ship at sea? No, because she has five sister ships who are equally as safe as she is and with the same protocols
But is the Viking fleet the safest fleet of ships at sea? I think so. In fact, Viking’s fleet might just be one of the safest places you’ll vacation during the pandemic.