Sailing the Baltic Sea with Viking: Our First Ocean Cruise

What it’s like to take an ocean cruise with Viking

Several years ago, I was musing about taking cruises of any kind in articles on this site. I was curious about river cruises, but skeptical of ocean cruises. Since then, if you’ve read about my reflections on river cruising, you know that Mr. TWS and I quickly came to love river cruises having experienced journeys along the Douro, Danube, and Rhine rivers in Europe.

Stockholm, Sweden on a shore excursion with Viking Cruises

Stockholm, Sweden

Recently, as we took a morning tour of Stockholm (shown above), we were excited to be setting sail in the afternoon on our very first ocean cruise. We were ready to cruise the Baltic Sea with Viking, the same line we’d come to love and trust during our three European river cruises. Now we know from personal experience that Viking also excels at providing a first-rate ocean cruise experience.

The Viking Jupiter

Our home away from home for eight nights was the Viking Jupiter, the sixth of the growing Viking ocean fleet which joined its sister ships in July 2019. One of the factors that really enthused me about taking a Viking ocean cruise was the size and design of their ships. They are much smaller than the giant ocean cruisers of other lines. With only 930 guests, the ships are large enough to provide spacious all-veranda staterooms and a wealth of dining, entertainment, and activity options without being overwhelming.

After a day of walking and sightseeing, it was always nice to come back to the Jupiter for dinner and relaxation.

Our home away from home on the Viking Homelands cruise-- the Viking Jupiter

Home away from home — the Viking Jupiter

Our Baltic cruise features and highlights

The art of cruising

From the first steps onto the Viking Jupiter, passengers can see that elements of art are clearly integral to the interior ambiance of the ship. Art is central to the elegant Scandinavian design and decor of the Jupiter (and its sister ships) with paintings, photographs, sculptures, ceramics, and other pieces placed thoughtfully throughout the ship, creating comfortable and appealing spaces for guests.

Art is a central focus on the Viking Jupiter and other Viking ocean ships

Art appreciation on the Viking Jupiter

The projection of a painting installed on the Viking Star, “Et Lite Epletre” by Jakob Weidemann (shown above) was one of several images displayed during the cruise on the large screen in the ship’s atrium. I was actually visualizing how cool it would be to have this on my living room wall!

I was particularly impressed with the Viking Art Guide app that can be downloaded to give you a self-guided tour of the art on the ship.

Using the Viking art app to admire and learn about the on-board art displays

Using the Viking Art Guide app to admire and learn about the on-board art displays

There are also special artistic presentations, such as the one during our cruise that displayed works by Edvard Munch on the atrium screen while traditional Norwegian music was performed by a classical duo below.

Destination-focused itinerary

Viking ocean itineraries are destination-intensive. I learned that on average Viking’s cruises offer more culturally focused destination itineraries in each port per day for its Northern European itineraries than other cruise line. As we did on our river cruises, Mr. TWS and I took advantage of as many of the shore excursions as we could — included walking and panoramic tours each day and several optional excursions in St. Petersburg, Russia. Optional excursions provide a deeper look at local life, traditions, and culture as well as privileged access for many attractions. The transfers are well-organized and the local guides knowledgeable, entertaining, and friendly.

The Viking Jupiter at port beyond the rooftops and spires of Tallinn, Estonia

Viking Jupiter in the distance in Tallinn, Estonia

Because of the smaller size of the Viking ships, it’s possible to dock in prime locations close to the city centers in many cases. In Stockholm and Tallinn, we were able to walk to the city’s old towns from the ship. In other ports, we were easily transported by coach. From a vista point in the old city of Tallinn, we got a great view of the medieval towers and our own Viking Jupiter just beyond (shown on the photo above). Our docking point was convenient for taking a walk into town or for catching the regularly scheduled shuttle back and forth.

On a walking tour of Gdansk, Poland during a Viking Homelands ocean cruise on the Baltic Sea

Mr. TWS on a walking tour of Gdansk, Poland

After most included tours, there is time available to get out and about in the destination on your own, such as in Gdansk where Mr. TWS and I spent some free time further exploring the pretty city, enjoying blueberry buns in a cafe, and shopping for amber earrings.

Drinking vodka in a Russian cafe in St Petersburg, Russia during a Viking Homelands cruise onthe Baltic Sea

Sampling vodka in a Russian cafe in St. Petersburg

A big plus about taking organized tours with Viking guides in St. Petersburg, Russia is that we didn’t need to get our own Russian Visas, a process that can be time-consuming and expensive. Viking provides a group Visa for its passengers as long as they stay with the tour group at all times and return to the ship with the group. We thought that the organized tours we took there gave us a wonderful introduction to the city’s main attractions, history, and culture.

We’ll have future posts about our destination highlights.

Dining options

There are eight dining options on board, all included in the cruise fare, to fit your mood, tastes, and time. We only missed one of them during the cruise and I look back with a longing to have tried the waffles at Mamsen’s (named for the mother of Viking’s founder and chairman, Torstein Hagen). Well, you can’t do everything! It was a real treat to watch a sunrise from our stateroom while enjoying room service a couple of mornings before we headed off on our daily excursions. And yes, room service is included, too.

Sunrise room service and breakfast in the restaurant on the Viking Jupiter during a cruise on the Baltic Sea

Sunrise room service and breakfast in the restaurant

The specialty restaurants, Manfredi’s and Chef’s Table, provided our fondest dining memories. Manfredi’s has a nice selection of delectable Italian courses. We liked it so much that we dined there twice. Don’t hold back on the fresh breads served — they are totally delicious, especially my favorite — the rosebud-shaped garlic rolls..

Manfredi's on the Viking Jupiter -- Veal Scallopini, Chicken Parmigiana

Manfredi’s on the Viking Jupiter — Veal Scallopini, Chicken Parmigiana, Profiteroles

The Chef’s Table offers a beautifully served multi-course themed dining and wine-pairing experience of various global regions. We enjoyed inspired Mexican dishes the night we dined at the Chef’s Table. Sorry, I just didn’t think about photos as I devoured a delicious chicken tamale in green sauce and short rib in mole sauce.

Although we didn’t opt for the extensive weekend brunch served in the main pool area on the Jupiter, we took a look around and decided to put it on our wish list for next time. The sumptuous sushi bar shown below was just one of many selections.

Sushi bar at Pool deck brunch on the Viking Jupiter during a Viking Homelands cruise on the Baltic

Sushi bar at the main pool at brunch

During our day at sea between Tallinn, Estonia and Gdansk, Poland, we enjoyed a brisk walk outside around the promenade followed by a snack and beverage at a table with a view in the Pool Grill. What a pleasant way to spend some time on board.

Afternoon at the Pool Grill on the Viking Jupiter during a Viking Homelands cruise on the Baltic Sea

Afternoon at the Pool Grill

Relaxation and entertainment

After a day of sightseeing in port cities or just wanting to relax during a cruise day, we found the Explorers’ Lounge to be a great place to go. On our full day of cruising the Baltic, we had a glass of wine while gazing out at the vast expanse of sea ahead of us. On several evenings, after dinner, we also kicked back at the bar of the lounge to have a night cap and share excursion stories with other passengers. Bartender C.J.’s impeccable service and engaging personality added to our enjoyment.

Catherine Sweeney and Mr. TWS in the Explorer Lounge on the Viking Jupiter

Relaxing in the Explorer Lounge on the Viking Jupiter

Viking’s resident guitarist, pianist, and other performers were key to the entertainment on board in the Explorers’ Lounge, Torshavn (a vibrant venue for music and dancing), and the main deck Living Room.

Entertainment by guitarist Matthew in Torshavn on the Viking Jupiter during a Viking Homelands cruise on the Baltic

Entertainment in Torshavn provided by resident guitarist Matthew

Fun and games

We often saw guests playing cards and other games in the atrium sitting areas. The ship also has a nice collection of books in the main deck library or other common areas for guests to read while sailing. On the upper deck of the ship, there is a sports deck on the ninth level for recreation like bocce ball, golf putting, shuffleboard, and ping-pong. Although the weather wasn’t ideal for sports activities, Mr. TWS and I ignored the wind gusts and putted a few balls on the green.

Pools, sports deck, and Scrabble game on board the Viking Jupiter

Pools and other recreation on the Viking Jupiter

Spa and Fitness

I tend to save up my visits to a spa for special places and circumstances. Some spa pampering in the LivNordic Spa during our full day at sea on the Baltic was the perfect opportunity. I chose the 50 minute Nordic massage, followed by a 50 minute Nordic facial. 100 minutes never passed so quickly! There are many spa options on the menu and the facilities include sauna and refreshing ice grotto in a perfectly peaceful environment.

The ship also has a large and well-equipped fitness center and a 360° wraparound promenade for walking and jogging to help keep you fit during the cruise. We also tend to walk so much in the destination cities that we’re able to maintain a balance between indulging and exercising.

On-board cultural enrichment

Each day, there are ample opportunities for cultural enrichment — lectures related to the history and culture of destinations by experts, cultural performances, documentary films, art, books, and even a Viking Heritage Museum with educational information and replicas of artifacts.

The Explorers’ Dome on the upper level of the Explorers’ Lounge seats 26 people to experience special documentary films projected on the domed ceiling. We saw an amazing 1/2 hour documentary film with spectacular captures of the Aurora Borealis.

Mr. TWS on the promenade

Mr. TWS on the promenade

Cruise tips

Planning tip: Every evening, the Viking Daily newsletter will arrive in your stateroom. It will have up-to-date information about the on-board events and activities, shore excursions, and other available cruise features, so be sure to read it to plan your day.

Packing tip: Bring a bathing suit to enjoy getting chilled in the snow grotto, warming up in the sauna, or taking a dip in one of the pools. After spending four months at home in the Arizona desert swimming every day, I didn’t think I’d be interested in water activities, so didn’t pack a suit. But I really wished I’d brought one!

Silver Spirits tip: As we’ve suggested in posts about our river cruises, consider purchasing the Silver Spirits beverage package to enjoy unlimited premium wines and spirits throughout the cruise. House wines and beers are complimentary at lunch and dinner to all passengers.

Specialty restaurants tips: There is no additional charge for meals at Manfredi’s or Chef’s Table, but you do need to make reservations which can be done prior to the cruise or while on board. We made our reservations well in advance.

Aurora Borealis tip: If you’re lucky, you just might be able to catch the Aurora Borealis depending on when and where you are on the Scandinavian and Baltic cruises. We didn’t witness the gorgeous phenomenon ourselves, but another guest had the pleasure one night while up on the top deck.

How do you decide between a Viking river cruise or an ocean cruise?

It depends. Basically, they are different experiences that will fit different requirements such as your vacation objective (on-board options, etc.), desired destinations, and itinerary duration. We’ve got both ocean and river cruises on our wish lists.

What are the similarities of Viking river and ocean cruises?

  • Leave the planning, organization, and transportation  to Viking.
  • Unpack once! This aspect of cruising never ceases to make me smile. It’s a treat to be able to travel great distances and yet unpack only once.
  • The port excursions are well-organized and run by expert local guides. There are both included destination tours in each port as well as optional excursions that offer special experiences and activities.
  • Viking crew and staff are focused on friendly and professional customer service.
  • The staterooms are nicely-appointed and designed to make the best of the space available. Our Deluxe Veranda Stateroom on the Jupiter was larger (270 sq ft and had a king-sized bed) than the Veranda Staterooms of the river ships (185 sq ft on the Douro ship, and 205 sq ft on the Rhine and Danube ships), but we were equally comfortable during all.

What are the differences between Viking river and ocean cruises?

  • On a Viking ocean cruise ship, there’s more of everything. We liked having so many options — a theater showcasing events games, live performances, port talks, expert speakers; spa and pool facilities; several relaxation spaces; art displays and library; lounges like Torshavn and Explorer’s Lounge; dining options, and more. We didn’t have the time or inclination to try everything, but it’s nice to know there are many features, activities, and venues available. There is something for everyone.
  • Meals on the river ships are served at scheduled times in the main dining room where most tables accommodate about six diners, so guests are more likely to interact with each other. This is a feature that we enjoyed thoroughly as we got to meet other cruisers. The ocean ship dining venues have more seating and time options. If you’re big on room service, you’ll really appreciate that on the ocean cruise ships.
  • Prior to this cruise, I wondered if I would be sensitive to movement of the ship at higher speeds and on sea waters. There was only one morning of somewhat inclement weather when I felt the motion a bit, but it was not severe and I quickly adjusted to it. I had packed Dramamine, but never needed to use it.
  • In general, I think the river ships have a more subdued, intimate feel. They are moving more slowly and there is land in sight at all times. The ocean ships offer much to do while on-board and an exciting feeling of travel adventure as you cruise a vast sea.

When we disembarked the Jupiter at the end of the cruise, we wished we had a little more time — as we do with all great travel experiences. We’re grateful to Viking Cruises for hosting our cruise and for the wonderful memories we collected on the Baltic.

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Viking Jupiter at port in Tallinn, Estonia -- night shot

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20 thoughts on “Sailing the Baltic Sea with Viking: Our First Ocean Cruise

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I’m not familiar with Enrichment Voyage. I’ll have to check it out. Iceland is a place that’s still on my wish list.

  1. Sophie

    That sounds like a fun and interesting experience to have. I have never personally thought of traveling via cruise as I am more towards saving time and enjoying the final destination. But this cruise looks like one off experience to have!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Do consider a cruise like this one. It’s a good way to experiencing many different places and finding out where you’d like to return sometime.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I thought I might get seasick on a sea cruise, but didn’t. Not sure how the the Viking ships compare to the huge ships when it comes to that.

  2. Suzanne Fluhr

    The Baltic is one of the areas of the world I’d like to visit with planning left to an experienced cruise line. We have done 2 Azamara small ship (680 passengers) experiences. Your Viking Ocean experience sounds like it was more inclusive. I like the idea of some included land tours with others optional.

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  5. Christy

    What a great recap of what to expect! We will be sailing in a few months so your post was extremely helpful! I’d love to know what you packed for your Baltic cruise in terms of clothing (esp. for the evenings).

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    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      We decided to take several optional excursions in St. Petersburg since we had two days there and had the benefit of Viking’s blanket Visa for passengers as long as they stayed with a guide. The excursions were Catherine’s Palace and Gardens, St. Petersburg by Metro and On Foot, St. Petersburg Canals, St. Isaac’s & Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood, and Russia’s Native Songs and Dances. I recommended them all.

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