On board..and happy to be here!

On board..and happy to be here!

I’m smiling.

I know, you can’t tell, but I am.

Mom and I are on board the Star and I can tell you the long flight getting here was definitely worth it.

Not that the sea is sparkling (it’s not, it’s been raining since 10 am and skies are leaden), not that it’s warm (the wind is up and I have on my heaviest jacket) and not that I’m over the jet lag yet (I can tell you what Stockholm looks like at 4 am peeking outside our window at the Hilton). But none of that matters!

Swedish scavenger hunt

We walked from the Hilton this morning on a quest to find a grocery store, variously called “Coop” or “Co-Op” depending upon whom was giving me directions. On my list were as many of the items I could find that I’d left at home; I figured this was my best chance to get them since it was a) a big city, and b) we’d be here long enough to go searching.

Think of a Swedish retail scavenger hunt–and you don’t speak or read a word of Swedish. That’s what it was like to find a pair of tweezers, clothespins, a toothbrush and fingernail trimmers (I was assured I’d discover exactly what I needed at the grocery store. It was only, the receptionist at the Hilton told me, “four blocks away”). Additionally, “go right at the next street, then left” and I’d be certain to find it.

Ha, ha. Funny tourist joke.

First, how in heaven’s name, do they determine what a street is in this country? Does the little quick turn at the bottom of the drive leading to the Hilton count as a “full” street? Hmmm…when to start “counting” turns? As a result, Mom and I discovered the residential part of Slussen and its neighborhood shopping in a “feet on the ground” manner. Literally.

We never did find the “Coop” market we were searching for–but it’s evidently a chain so we simply found another one! It was my first visit to a two-story grocery store: frozen foods and toothbrushes were downstairs, other stuff upstairs. I snagged the clothespins, too. But no fingernail trimmers anywhere. Or tweezers.

Next we searched out an Apotek (or whatever the name is for those here in Sweden). The nice lady behind the counter (they’re all some sort of mini-physician/pharmacist combination, I think) was very interested in helping me but didn’t seem to speak or understand much English (Side note: That’s totally fine–I get it. My only Swedish word is “hey” for “hi;” and she knew the English greeting equivalent.) We “hey”ed and “hello”d a few times through then got to work: “Tweezers,” I smiled my question (Mom always told me a smile can really help in almost any situation). “Do you have tweezers?” Apotek Lady puzzled over the request. “Chweeher?” she asked. “Hmmmm…”

Now imagine my energetic pantomime of tweezers. And, yes, sigh, I admit to I pantomiming plucking hairs off of my chin (I’m of that age, you know). She got it immediately. “Ahhhh…” and lead me happily to a display with said tweezers hanging on a rack. She nodded. I nodded. We’d conquered the language barrier with chin hairs. After that, getting her help to find fingernail trimmers was a snap.

By this time, the day’s rain had arrived in earnest. We dodged puddles as we found our way back to the Hilton. Hmmm… We’d planned on exploring Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town, that afternoon but, even though we had rain gear, fighting soddenness (is that a word?) didn’t feel like the way to start a vacation. Getting on board the Star, dropping off our bags and wandering around the ship until our 2 pm did, however, seem like just the thing. So that’s what we did.

[Advice: If you’re staying the Slussen Hilton, you can easily walk to where the Star is docked if it’s listed as Statdsgarden. You can even pretty easily do it towing luggage. We passed, however, on walking the distance and pulling the luggage in the rain. The cab was about $10.]

Boarding…

As I wrote last, the Star is bigger than we imagined. From the outside, the river cruise boats are long (hence the name of longboats, huh?) but the height is not at all unexpected. Not so the Star. I’ve never done an ocean cruise but standing on the dock (berth?) with the Star looming waaaay above is a little overwhelming. But we didn’t have time to be overwhelmed for long because it was (trumpets, please): boarding time.

While two young men unloaded our suitcases from the cab (don’t forget to put on the luggage tags Viking sent you), a pair of hyper-efficient Viking employees armed with hand-held scanning devices greeted us at a red, pull-up awning sporting the Viking logo.  They quickly scanned our passports, took our photos (with wet hair and a travel-day sleep hangover, I don’t ever want to see mine; and, thinking about it, why has no one who’s let me back on the ship not questioned who that bedraggled lady is on the photo associated with my boarding card? Don’t tell me it resembles me…).

Since our room wouldn’t be ready for us for a while, we opted to keep our carry-on bags with us. These were promptly scanned in a machine like the airport uses.

There were a handful of us boarding at the same time and each of us was treated as if we were the very first passengers ever seen at the red awning. Smiles. Greetings. Smiles. Glasses of champagne to welcome us. Smiles. Escorting through the labyrinth of the boarding area and on to the elevator. Smiles. A person to tow/ tote each piece of carry-on we brought on board. Smiles.

With greetings in many accents–and a few more smiles–we were whisked into the World Cafe (but we didn’t know it as that, yet), we washed our hands, chairs were pulled out and we realized we were in a room outfitted in Scandinavian warmth–and the delicious smells of lunch.

So we ate. The World Cafe is a buffet; some of it is self-serve but most of it is served by Viking staff members from behind the counters. Food was varied and plentiful–as was the wine. Yep, this is definitely similar to Viking River.

Small talk with other newly-arrived passengers was the order of the day: the usual, “Where are you from? What other Viking trips have you taken?” type of stuff. It was all very pleasant, but what we were really excited about was getting into our room, unpacking and exploring around the ship. Two o’clock came quickly and we took the elevator to Deck 5 (we figured our room number 5053 was a great clue to figuring out our location).

We moved slowly down the hallway, looking for the number to clue us in. Milos, (whom we later found out is from Serbia) eased us out of our looking: We told him our room number and he announced he was our room steward for this trip and escorted us directly to our room (Deluxe Verhandah 2, for those who care). It’s mid-ship and in a great location: not too far from stairways and elevators. Our room key/boarding cards were on the bed–ready for our first excursion.

[Newbie Ocean Cruiser Advice: This card isn’t very pretty at all but guard it as if it were your granny’s dentures; it gets you not only in your room but off the ship and back on. And, on the Star, you need to have one of these in the slot just inside the front door to get any electricity to stay on in your room.]

First impressions of the room: It’s smaller than the Verandah room we had on the Viking river cruise; mostly smaller in the width of the room. This is definitely not a layout in which two can pass the foot of the beds in a side-by-side, do-si-do position; it’s strictly a “my turn/your turn” process, with a nice step aside turnout between the wall and the bed. The bathroom has a much better layout than the Viking river product; a pair of shelves bookend the mirror and the shower has a narrow ledge whch looks perfect for holding a few bath items–or for shaving your legs. Drawer space in this level of cabin is definitely a challenge.

I’ll write in detail about the room (cabin?) in a later post. Suffice to say, Mom and I are happy campers. While the Star is spending its first night in port, we’re excited to be on board and see what this ocean cruising thing is all about.

16 Responses to On board..and happy to be here!

  1. Ellen says:

    So glad you arrived unscathed. Is rain typical for this time of year.
    Your room looks pretty traditional for most cruise ships. Are there 2 beds in the room?
    Were you allowed to upgrade because you had cruised with VikinG?
    Happy cruising and good times.

    • ukalady says:

      There are two beds, Ellen, but they are combine-able (‘like that word?) into one large bed as well. Our room was initially made up as a “one” but the room steward switched ’em to two while we were at dinner.

      No upgrade for us as previous Viking customers, but we did get a $100 discount per passenger. If you’ve never cruised with Viking, you, too, can get a $100 discount if you share a previous Viking cruise passenger’s referral number (and they get a credit, too); I have one and would be glad to share (and get a credit for a future cruise ’cause I’m definitely coming back to do this again!). Just email me privately (ukalady(at)gmail(dot)com).

  2. Carolyn says:

    Its so much fun to follow along on your posts. I hope you and your Mom have a wonderful time. Enjoy every moment (I really don’t need to tell you that – I know you two and you can’t help but do that) and thanks so much for taking the time to share it all with the rest of us. I’m looking forward to reading your descriptions & impressions of this adventure. Have fun!

  3. Patricia says:

    Great post: worth the wait. Aren’t you going to show us your room card? Mine always look like an escaped convict with a bad hair day. Can you beat that?

    Thanks for the super commentary and photos! A treat to come along with you and your Mom!

    • ukalady says:

      Ha, ha! No photos on these from the Star–so no need to feel like an escaped prisoner. They did take our pictures when we first boarded but I believe they’re just on the computer system to act as a confirmation of ID when they scan our room keys when we come and go from the ship.

      Whew–my hair was wet and bedraggled; I have no curiosity to see it!

  4. Catherine Mullins says:

    Enjoying your posts. I’m traveling with my husband and two other couples in July on the same trip. Looking for to your experiences to prepare for our adventure.

  5. Ruth says:

    You’re the second person to mention no space for 2 people to cross in front of the bed. I’m so used to it I’ve never thought about it, although my husband and I DO tend to unpack our bags at different times, which helps.

    The room looks wonderful, and yes, drawer space on an ocean liner can be a little sparse. If I have extra stuff, I just use the bedside table for pjs, underwear, and stuff I’ll need often. There’s usually a lot of space there that most people don’t use.

    I love that view of Stockholm from your room. Don’t expect that in all ports. (Ha ha.) We’ve been to Stockholm but only saw Stockholm on the drive from the airport to one of the docking locations way across town (not where you are).

    Bon voyage and enjoy. My time is coming this fall..

  6. Mary Frances says:

    This is great! I will be doing that cruise next May so I’ll be paying attention to the weather and what you are wearing. You said you wore your heaviest jacket…about how heavy (when and if you have time). Have fun and thanks for doing this!!

    • ukalady says:

      Well, I was kinda fibbing–it was my *heaviest* jacket, but I also brought an additional down vest (super lightweight and warm–we backpack and it’s my go-to for lightweight warmth) which I have *not* yet worn. Not that I don’t wish that I had yesterday in Talinn.

      I’m doing the “layering” thing because I’m typically always chilly.

      My heavy coat is my ScottEVest Sterling jacket; it’s a travel jacket with oodles of pockets, but it’s made such that it doesn’t really “show” any of the items in the pockets, yet it’s also a feminine cut. The sleeves zip off to wear on a warmer day or if the day unexpectedly becomes warm. It has a medium-weight material lining and is *relatively* wind-resistant. I’m comfortable in it (with no down vest underneath) to about low 40s and up to low 70s (I told you I’m cold, and that’s unzipped and without the sleeves).

      Yesterday in very windy and chilly Talinn (but skies were clear and deep blue), I wore my lightweight merino wool tank underneath my blouse for an extra layer. If need be, I also have a Patagonia rain jacket to use as a windbreaker (or raincoat!) over the ScottEVest.

      Lightweight, colorful scarves are a really big thing and you seem them on everyone, wrapped around the neck for warmth as well as style.

      Have fun shopping! 😉

      • Mary Frances says:

        Thank you….great information. I also have a ScottEVest jacket but not the one you mentioned. I think I’ll need to bring more than I though. especially after reading your post about evening attire. Have fun!

  7. jderussy says:

    What did you do for tours in St. Petersburg. I’m trying to decide if Alla tours is the best for us? Did you have any experience with them?
    Thanks for the fun blog.
    J & J

    • ukalady says:

      Watch for my review of Anastasia Travel in St. Petersburg. Could *not* have been a better experience–it cost *less* than the other companies’ tours and was completely a private one. Just Mom and me with a tour guide and our full-time driver. We did two days.

      Totally customizable on the spot depending upon what we found we liked or didn’t. Saw the “usual” stuff for first-timers in SPb and had the chance to eat Russian-style fast food, see a “real” Orthodox church service (not in a museum, but a working church) with full explanations of what was happening–plus lots more. The real bonus, though, was the two days’ connection with a Russian who was frank in describing many things about life there.

      Water and a “gift” bag awaited us when they picked us up right at the terminal (all visa costs/arrangements covered) on time and with a smile. Wonderful and we liked the city so much better than we expected we would.

  8. Jean says:

    Enjoying your posts immensely. We take the same cruise in July. I read on CC about the challenges of drawer space in the DV cabins. Many cruisers asked for more hangers but you can’t hang up undies and socks. Your pictures are great. We are in NY and it;s very cold and rainy here this week as well. Looking forwarded to your posts and pics. Thanks.

  9. Mary Ann says:

    Thanks for your posts & insights–enjoying them immensely. We will be boarding the Star when your cruise ends on June 13, doing the same cruise but in reverse order. Am starting to pack as we leave Monday for the Iceland pre-cruise option and, of course, agonizing about what clothes to pack. How are people dressing for dinner? Are women wearing mostly pants, or long skirts, or dresses? If you have clothing or gear recommendations based on weather you’re experiencing and what you’re hearing, please pass them on.
    Thanks so much for sharing. Looking forward to info about the ports and excursions. Hope you and your mom are having a WONDERFUL time 🙂

    • ukalady says:

      Oh, you need to know quickly, Mary Ann, since you’re packing for the next leg (but please don’t remind me that this one is ending, promise?) so I won’t make you wait until the post I’m doing on clothing.

      Dinner dressing on board the ship seems a bit more formal than the river cruise. There are definitely women in dresses and skirts–but I’ve also seen some guys in jeans and t-shirts in the World Cafe; dressing in The Restaurant is the more formal of the two. People do seem to consistently dress up for Manfredis and The Chef’s Table more than for the other two “main” options.

      That said, I’ve worn a skirt with very styled sweater one evening and slacks on the others (with tops, of course! I’m not *that* kind of a cruisin’ newbie!). I plan to wear a dress (well, the skirt “becomes” a dress so it’s kind of cheating, isn’t it?) when we dine at The Chef’s Table; the atmosphere there and at Manfredi’s seems to call for it.

      I’ve seen men in sports coats at a dinner excursion in Stockholm as well as for the ballet evening in St. Petersburg. Women, also, were “dressed” for those two excursions with dresses and heels.

  10. Karen Baker says:

    I love how you describe things….it always gives me my ha ha’s for day 😀 Great picture of your mom!

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