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When we decided that we were going to spend a year or so figuring out where we to live after we retir…ahem, stop working ….and since healthcare costs here in the good old USA are such a drain on our budget, we knew that Europe was one of the places we wanted to consider- at least until we are old enough for Medicare. Ecuador and Mexico are also on the list and will be visited in 2018 but since we had to be in Santorini in May for my big birthday, it makes sense to head to Europe first.

I have wanted to take a transatlantic voyage on a ship for as long as I can remember…even before we started cruising. I remember Elise (my Dad’s cousin but she lived with his family after her father died when she was 14 or 15 so she was more like Dad’s older sister) and her husband Jim talking about sailing the Queen Elizabeth to and from New York and when QE was going to be retired and replaced they took one last trip on her and then on the “new” QE2 also I think. The idea of endless (almost) days at sea with time to read and chat with new friends is very appealing to me. And of course the generally cheap price compared to flying from the US to Europe is very appealing also as is the significantly increased comfort.

I have watched prices on inside cabins over the years go as low as $399 per person for a 12 or 13 day crossing….which when compared to even Norwegian or WOW airlines is a good price and you get three meals a day…not the ability to buy a cold sandwich in a box for eight or ten dollars. Plus, ever since our return flight from Chile after the ‘round the horn cruise in Air Canada Economy (when I wasn’t able to find award seats in biz) I swore if I had to ride long haul n the back of the bus, then I just wouldn’t be going. At my height and overall size, it is just too miserable for more than an hour or two.

So we initially budgeted $500 a piece for the cruise to Europe and I started looking. Well, it turns out you can’t get prices that cheap until after final payment when the cruise lines start lowering prices to fill up the ship. Since we didn’t think we wanted to wait until January 2018 to know how and when we were going to be getting to Europe I had to revise our budget and set aside $1000 per person instead. I started researching possible ships and looking at the cabin options.

At about this time our good friends, Robert and Scott from Durham, NC surprised everyone and got married (after being together for 25 or more years) and headed to the Baltics for a honeymoon cruise. We got a text from the Air France lounge and presumed they were flying business class…..but no, they had splurged on La Premiere, Air France’s really fabulous first class. Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 6.01.24 PM

We were very envious…I mean look at how much room they each had! Mike started doing some research and discovered that the price difference on a few flights between business and La Premiere was only an additional $500…on others it can be many, many thousands more. This got us talking about the difference in our attitude about plane and cruise costs. I don’t even pay attention to economy fares on most mainstream airlines (Jetblue and Southwest are the exceptions since they still have reasonable legroom). For United, Delta, AA, etc, I compare prices using their comfort+, or whatever they call their rows of seats that offer additional legroom and that is what we end up buying…. and eight times out of ten, the cost to go from that to First is only $50 or so and therefore we end up in first. Using the same logic, we both agreed that if we were already paying $2,000 or $2,500 for biz class, we would certainly pay another $500 to be in La Premiere for 8-10 hours….so we wondered, why were we so opposed to paying similar prices on a ship for 12-14 days? We realized that it was all about the misery index and we weren’t miserable in an inside cabin….but boy were we in an economy seat!

Anyway, that conversation made me look at suites on the Norwegian Cruise Line ships we were considering. Generally speaking it was going to cost at least $3900 per person. We were hemming and hawing about going over budget that much, when Mike said, wonder how much Viking Ocean’s transatlantics are?

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 6.05.16 PM Viking Sky

Viking Oceans is a relatively new venture by the Viking River Cruises of Downton Abbey advertising fame. We sailed on their line for our river cruise on the Danube and were impressed with many things about them. Viking Oceans ships are small, very cleanly designed and all about luxurious service….and no kids! Turns out their least expensive cabin was bigger than the “suite” we were considering on Norwegian and while way more than our initial budget, it cost much less than what we were considering paying for the suite.

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After much conversation, we booked Viking Sky sailing from San Juan on March 4th arriving in Barcelona on March 17th. (Yes I know, between Maria and a declaration of independence are the gods trying to tell us something??) We ended up with a guarantee fare which means we don’t yet know what cabin we have but given all of them are pretty great it shouldn’t make any difference (the picture above is of the smallest and what we are “guaranteed” to have at a minimum…and who knows, maybe whoever has the Owner’s Suite booked will cancel and we will just HAVE to make do with it! Our cost ended up being $4999 for both of us. The only real difference there than the cost between our fare on Viking and on Norwegian was that we got a free drink package on Norwegian and on Viking we only got free sodas, beer and wine at meals…but we decided that we could swing whatever a pre dinner cocktail cost and get to try seeing how the other half lives.

But wait, there’s more! Shortly after we booked, a fellow poster on CruiseCritic mentioned that her travel agent offered great on board credits when booking on Viking. After a couple of emails, we moved our booking to Pavlus Travel and we got a $600 on-board credit. This is enough money to buy tViking’s drink package! (since then it looks like we might end up with even more money to spend through their referral program. For details, drop me an email or leave a comment and I will fill you in.)

Viking Sky Wintergarden where they serve tea every afternoonScreen Shot 2017-10-22 at 5.46.07 PM

The spa which is included in our fare…unlike on Norwegian where it is extra

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We are both excited and looking forward to trying out a new cruiseline as well as a small ship (900 passengers) and a more upscale one than we have sailed previously. Here’s to hoping we don’t like it so much we can’t go back since at this point the budget for our return trip is set up for one of those inside cabins I mentioned at the beginning of this post!

ps.  ….and there is even an infinity pool!

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Sorry for the delay in this narrative but Harvey’s visit to Houston and the 9 trillion gallons of rain while not directly impacting us (we feel so lucky) did impact us mentally. It just didn’t feel right to be writing about something as exciting as our cruise and trip when so many were dealing with trying to clean up what was left of their houses.
Mike and I live on the fourth floor of a low rise condo that is located about three blocks from Buffalo Bayou.The picture below was taken on a bridge over the bayou on Sunday during a break in the storm…the real rains came overnight that night. As you can see, the bayou had topped the bridge – also below all that water is a four lane highway with a 15 foot clearance so needless to say LOTS of water!  

While we were worried about not being able to get out for awhile, loosing power, getting hot without AC, etc. we were’t really worried about flooding of our actual unit. It turns out we didn’t need to worry – we only lost internet for an hour or so! Neither of us were able to get to work for almost a week so cabin fever was the worst we suffered!  

Others were not nearly as lucky. In addition to those south of us on the coast who took the brunt of the hurricane, areas near Houston got almost 50” of rain in three or four days. It POURED like a really bad storm but rather than ending after 15 or 20 minutes, it went on for hours and hours and hours. Then the reservoirs west of us reached their capacity and water had to be released, so folks downstream from them who hadn’t flooded during the initial event suddenly had to be evacuated also.  

There are thousands of folks in Texas who had four to six feet of water in their houses – so not only did they lose personal items, they are now dealing with removing mold infested drywall, drying out and rebuilding their houses. I spent some time at my cousin’s in Beaumont (northeast of Houston 2 hours) helping her clean our her house where she had six feet of water. While it was tough, we did find some old water soaked pictures of the family at our grandparents cottage in Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. In addition to the puberty picture of me (apparently I was trying to look like Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s “?) 

we also found a picture of my mother – not sure what was going on with her hair – maybe the girl cousins were playing “Beauty Parlor” – with the laugh I had forgotten she had. The last years of her life she rarely laughed….but being reminded of her laugh by that water soaked and damaged picture, made the time spent fighting Harvey’s impacts worthwhile.

So hope you will forgive the delay….I promise to do a better job of sharing our trip planning… up Viking OMG.