My Viking Journey: Two Weeks Out


Sailing with Viking Cruises aboard new Viking Sea, we know the drill.  Viking helps us every step of the way with a website rich in resources, advance information sent about a month in advance of sailing that details our air travel plans, itinerary, shipboard life and more.  Like any other international travel, there are certain aspects we need to keep an eye on and some critical times to do just that.  Two weeks out from our Viking Sea sailing, we begin a detailed account of the voyage as time grows near for our Empires of the Mediterranean sailing.

Interestingly, the Empires of the Mediterranean sailing Whitney and I are doing is the same exact itinerary Lisa and I did last year on Viking Star, only in reverse. I’m looking forward to sharing this experience with Whitney along to focus on destinations while I pay special attention to shipboard life…or so goes the plan at this point.  Like any other travel, we’re flexible and direct resources to where we think they can do readers the most good as travel unfolds.  Like a good road trip, we’ll stop along the way when something catches our attention, turns our heads or looks like a better way to go.  Still, we have a map and a plan which makes for a good place to start.

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Confirm, Confirm and Reconfirm Air

A funny thing happened on the way to flying off on trip one time; the airline ‘lost’ our reservation.  Showing up at the airport to board flights to Las Vegas, tickets in hand because it was so long ago that airlines had them, we found our reservation had been cancelled/lost/misplaced.  Seats were available so it was easy enough to fix but the near miss caused reason for caution ever since and brought a lesson I will never forget:  never assume all is well with travel reservations.  In perhaps an over-abundance of caution, I check and double-check such things and consider doing so a critical part of the process even today, although for different reasons.  Frankly, there are two different worlds aboard the passengers aircraft of today.

Business/First Class is a lovely world of happiness and pleasure.  Seats are comfortable, flight attendants are pleasant, luggage is handled with care and dining options are comparatively glorious.  Book air in Business or First Class and worries are few.  Still, it’s a good idea to check those reservations also, especially if traveling with others whom you would like to be seated next to.  Odds are in the travelers favor that all will be well here but double checking is still a good idea.

Then there are all the other seats on the plane.

Economy/Coach seats require an entirely different commando-style strategy to be positioned in the best place for a long international flight.  The more picky one is, the more work that will take. These reservations we check daily, if not multiple times a day to position our seat selection as favorably as possible.  We prefer as much space and legroom as possible and often find that with two aisle seats across the same row from each other.  On flights that may seem to have a large inventory of seats from which to choose, seats all the way at the back might yield a jackpot payoff if that aircraft ends up taking off with empty seats.  Still, it’s all a bit of a gamble for a number of reasons.

Airlines, like cruise lines, often hold back inventory in certain parts of the aircraft to encourage picking seats they want picked.  That might mean closing those seats all the way at the back.  To we consumers choosing seats, we go to the airline website and it looks like they are sold.  A logical reason for this clever option would be that the plane loads faster if passengers are bunched together. The reality might be that the airline wants us to pay a bit more for a better seat, which may or may not be a good idea.

In our case, all of this was taken care of us by Viking’s exceptional air and sea department which coordinates our cruise reservation, air plans and transfers all the way around.  For the most part, all we really have to do is get to our home airport and get on the first flight.  If a connection is needed to make it to the embarkation city, we’ll need to pay attention there and be at the next gate at the right time too.  But once at the final destination, the place where the cruise starts, we’ll claim our luggage and confidently walk exit the baggage claim area, looking for someone holding a hard-to-miss Viking sign.  From that point on, no worries.

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Items Of Particular Importance To Travelers

  1. Be Realistic About Time- Before accepting air reservations, when connecting flights are needed, be sure there is enough time between flights to physically make that connection.  Between 2 and 3 hours should do it and will most often deliver you to the gate for the next flight early…but you need to be there early if that flight is the one that takes you ‘over the pond’ to Europe.  Those start boarding about an hour in advance of the scheduled departure time.
  2. Until The Hand-Holding Begins– Know/print/save airport terminal plans at the connecting airport.  Know the layout of the next airport and have an idea of where your flight will depart from in advance.  Odds are your flight is a regularly scheduled one. Checking a few runs of the same flight on days leading up to yours should develop a pattern of where your flight will depart from at the connecting airport as well.  A good way to do that is with a travel plan tracking app like TripIt where all travel reservations and arrangements can be stored.  Tripit will update travel plans as the airline does, often quicker than the airline app itself.
  3. Keep Important Stuff With You- Prescription medications, electronic devices, reading material, passports, credit cards, cash and travel documents should go in the small personal item we are allowed to bring on board and be within easy reach.  Consider that your ‘travel bag’ that has those items plus anything needed during flight.  An easily manageable carry-on bag should include must-have clothing articles that are easy to pack.
  4. Check Extras– Even in economy/coach each passenger is usually allowed at least one piece of luggage that will be checked and not seen until we reach our final destination on the way to the cruise.  Bulky items that are difficult to pack like shoes, coats, extra clothing, large bottles of liquids and common packing items of that sort go in that bag.  This is the stuff that if lost, the world will not end.  The world may be less convenient but not turned totally upside down. Losing extra shoes and large bottles of liquids, for example, are easy enough to replace/do without at the destination, especially if we buy ourselves time for the airline to locate the misplaced bag, often delivered to us at the first or second port of call.
  5. Keep Your Eyes Open- That we have a nice flight schedule with plenty of time between flights, nice seats selected and all of the above has been considered does not mean we should not remain alert during travel to the ship.  We need to do that as well.  For example, our Empires of the Mediterranean sailing begins in Istanbul, Turkey.  To get there we will fly from our hometown airport in Orlando via New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport. Once there, we will have three hours to make it to the next flight that flys overnight to Istanbul.  I know that under normal circumstances this is not a problem at all but will go directly to the next gate first, upon arrival at JFK.  That way, we know where it is and can kill time shopping/dining/relaxing close to the gate…which might change before our flight departs.
  6. Check With The Airline- Reminded via the online Viking My Trip cruise planner (see below) we were advised to contact the airline directly to confirm or change seat assignments, request special meals and reconfirm your flights, check-in procedures and carry-on limitations. Please keep in mind that if changes are made, change fees may apply.

There are other parts of getting to the ship to watch for and be aware of and we’ll get to those in another, more general post.  We don’t touch on them here because, quite frankly, booking air through Viking along with the cruise booking itself is just so very easy.

See our Airlines and Airfare department for more on the topic.

 

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My Viking Journey: Advance Options Available

Like a number of other cruise lines, Viking Cruises makes planning easy with their version of the online cruise planner.  The My Trip section of the Viking website helps organize plans, a number of ways:

Want to learn more about your cruise? Here is some useful information about your upcoming trip.

 

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My Viking Journey: Step By Step

Viking makes it easy with step by step instructions, some of which may be completed by your travel agent, others by you:

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Of particular interest on this Viking Ocean cruise we are taking, dining options and optional shore excursions.  On a Viking River cruise, dining is pretty simple: everyone dines at the same time, right after the ship’s Program Director reviews what will be happening the next day during a pre-dinner cocktail hour.  On a Viking Ocean cruise, there are two optional dining venues that can be reserved in advance of sailing.  While there is no charge for these dining options, it’s a good idea to consider the overall daily schedule and planned itinerary when making these plans.  Also available in advance, optional shore excursions. We’ll get to those shortly.

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While Viking Ocean cruises, like their river counterparts, include a guided tour at each port of call, there are additional tours available for a fee that cover more ground or address more specific interests.  For example, on a Viking river cruise that stops in Vienna, an optional evening Mozart/Strauss concert is offered. Not everyone enjoys classical music but for those to whom there is nothing better, that can be one of the best parts of the trip.  Included tours are of a more general interest providing an orientation of the place visited as well as touching on history, social and economic issues along with recommendations by local guides who live there for what to do with abundant free time allowed during or after touring.

Where We Are Right Now

Using the Viking step-by-step checklist as a guide, at this point we have:

  • Already created our My Viking Journey account (step 1), that was actually done the first time we sailed with Viking Ocean cruises and carries forward to future voyages as well. Since this is Whitney’s first time with Viking, she too could create her own account using our shared booking number.
  • We made sure our passport was up to date (step 2), knowing it needed to be good for at least 6 months after the planned end date of travel,
  • Completed the guest information form (step 3) which provides Viking with all the information they need to arrange our airfare, book us on the ship and more. This is usually something your travel agent does for you.  After they have collected the information required to do this once, they will not need it again unless something changes.
  • In Step 4 we arranged for the Turkish Visa we need for multiple entries into that country ($20 online, easy to do).  Ultra Important is to check each port on all international itineraries to be sure each traveler has the appropriate documentation to enter that country.  In the case of the Turkish (electronic) visa, travelers are advised to print it and bring it with them and may not be allowed to board the aircraft that takes them there without it. That printed copy is really for the airline’s benefit though as odds are you will never be asked to present it on the ground in Turkey.  I’ve been there five times in the last year and never been asked to produce it as there is an electronic link between my passport and that visa that Turkish authorities can see.  These things change though so it’s always a good idea to have all visas within easy reach and kept in the same secure place as your passport.
  • Skipping over to step 8, we picked our seats for airline flights, and checked on those occasionally after doing so. Starting now, we will check daily for reasons noted above.We don’t have any special needs but if we did, advising the airline of that too would be our responsibility to check, even if our travel agent did that for us.  At the end of the day, it’s we who fly who will have to deal with issues that come up during flight.
  • Step 9 reminds us to check our travel documents carefully.  That happens when our pre-cruise travel documentation comes in the mail, usually about a month in advance of travel.

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Stay Tuned: Up next, we share the choices we have made on our Viking Journey, why we made them and other options available. We’ll also discuss a bit more detail on planning for that long international flight from North America to Europe including what to expect in the way of onboard entertainment, dining and more.

 

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Follow Along:  Following along with us on this voyage is made easy this time.  Just click here to visit this Live event in progress. As more resources are added, you’ll find those there too as well.

Can’t Wait For More?  Check these posts from our last Viking Ocean Cruises sailing

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See our Flickr Photo Albums  (check back often, more photos added as we sail)

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Graphic Images – Viking Cruises