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.

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