NORWEGIAN VIVA’S DEBUT CRUISE ON THE MEDITERRANEAN
Take a listen to my Capetalk chat about the cruise here.
If I could swop every Cape winter for summer on the high seas, my life would be complete. Seafaring sojourns are always a good idea and when combined with the radiating heat of the Mediterranean and the ritzy comfort of a state-of-art luxury liner, you’re in for an exhilarating time. Enter Norwegian Viva’s maiden voyage from Rome to Lisbon – five sybaritic, sun-drenched days spent at sea and porting in some of Europe’s most desirable destinations.
BUT FIRST, LET’S ROME!
For those joining the second leg of the debut cruise, the fun starts in Rome the day before departure, from Civitavecchia. NCL graciously offers guests a night at the elegant Hotel Sina Bernini Bristol; a classy gesture and a suitably swish prelude to the trip. The layover in the Eternal city is a short one, but a well-prepped game plan will enable you to maximise your time and tick a string of mighty sights off your bucket list.
As most will know, The Italian capital drips in historical glory, possessing one of the highest concentrations of perfectly preserved monuments in Europe, from fountains and forums to obelisks and domes, it’s a jaw dropping registry of grandeur. Even as the city heaves with tourists in the peak months, the energy is intoxicating. Long, hot days demand gelato on repeat and late nights start with Campari cocktails on a rooftop bar, ending with al fresco dining in the piazza.
Nothing says romance quite like the French Riviera and Cannes, one of the jewels of the Cote d’Azur, has always made people weak at the knees. Made famous by the annual film festival, the town is a pretty blend of sandy beaches, an aqua ocean and a vibrant social scene. There are draw cards aplenty, beginning at the La Croisette promenade on the waterfront to Le Suquet, the dominating old quarter.
Up on the hill presides the 14th century church of Notre-Dame-de-l’Espérance, and a fifteen minute walk through winding cobbled lanes gets you to its medieval ramparts with birds eye views across the city. Back in town don’t miss out on elegant Rue d’Antibes with its upscale boutiques, parfumeries, hotels and art galleries and remember to look up at the handsome 19th century buildings with extraordinary vintage ironwork and the occasional sculpture.
Rue Meynadier, the oldest street in Le Suquet is a trove of bistros, boulangeries and boutiques and Marche Forville is the go-to for fresh produce and fancy French delicacies. Enjoy a bag of plump cherries in the forested Croix des Gardes, a great place to catch your breath after your whirlwind excursion, before heading back to the ship.
Viva ported in Livorno with options to head to Florence or Lucca in Tuscany. Being a religious holiday on the day we arrived, we decided on an organised tour to Lucca about two hours from the harbour by bus. The home of Puccini, this timeless gem in the Tuscan hills is surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Established as a Roman colony in 180BC, Lucca sports all the medieval assets from bastions and bulwarks to ancient fortifications, Roman archways and churches aplenty, close to 100 across the region. Designed on a rectangular grid makes the village very easy to explore. Factor in the oval amphitheatre that encloses the Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro, the best spot to gather over a bottle of local wine. On the topic, Tuscany is Chianti country and part of the tour included a lunch and wine tasting at Il Poggio Farm, a heritage estate managed by the Rossio family since 1963 that produces first rate extra virgin olive oil and fine wine.
By the time Ibiza rolled around, dedicated beach time was calling. Part of the Balearic archipelago on Spain’s Iberian Peninsula, Ibiza is known the world over as the party and festival island, but when time is limited as it was for us that day, there’s nothing better than downtime on Talamanca playa followed by fresh mussels at a seaside café, all a stone’s throw from the ship.
Lisbon was the grand finale. From the deck, the city comes into view like a terracotta tableau. Straddling the Tagus River, Lisbon, believed to be the oldest city in Europe, is made up of many different neighbourhoods, each with unique characteristics, like Alfama (my favourite), Chiado, Rossio, Baixa and Alcantara, all strong on culture (book a Fado dinner), food, history and architecture. Tiles, mosaics and pastries are everywhere. If you love cake, you as well succumb and turn Lisbon into a pastry safari!
LET’S TALK ABOUT THE SHIP
Viva is the second in Norwegian Cruise Line’s swanky new Prima Class fleet with four more ships set to float out between now and 2028. A leader in the luxe cruise sector for close to six decades, the company has taken the overall on-board offering to stellar heights with the launch of their newest kid on the block. From speciality fine dining and an artisanal food hall, to high octane entertainment, an infinity beach, swimming pools, thrill slides, mini golf, a virtual reality zone, dedicated amusement facilities for kids, and a go-kart speedway. The list is endless and impressive. Think of Viva as a five star resort-at-sea, where every interaction is underpinned by superior hopsitality delivered with aplomb by a 1,500 strong crew that doesn’t miss a trick.
SOLACE & SOLITUDE
Life on board is lively which can be overwhelming for those who prefer to sidestep the action. There are splendid ways to lose the crowd though, beginning with your cabin sanctum where you can choose breakfast in bed over the poolside buffet or take lunch on your private balcony.
Stroll on the encircling Ocean Boulevard for mood-boosting vistas and oft-unoccupied benches, sofas and swing chairs, all well suited to me-time in uninterrupted bliss. Inside, the Observation Lounge on Deck 17 (forward) offers the same respite. This is hands down the most enticing space, awash in soothing amber hues that doubles up as the go-to for coffee and pastries, board games and reading. Day beds deposited in between elegant screens reward soloists with a sense of privacy as do the various nooks set up throughout the open, airy space. The answer to pool time minus children is the Vibe Beach Club (costing extra) that lures with infinity hot tubs and a full service bar, while the adults-only Mandara Spa is synonymous with tranquillity and appropriately hushed voices.
Design agency Studio DADO oversaw most of the ships public spaces – restaurants, suites, pavilions and retail and it’s evident that no expense was spared in the process. The three-storey Penrose Atrium is the showstopper, a functional social hub housing a Starbucks, a convivial, circular whisky bar and different seating configurations that encourage conversation, while the concierge desk, main reception area and boutiques are found on the opposite side. The asymmetrical architecture here is the wow factor with curvilinear shapes, clean lines and high-gloss surfaces the colour of café au lait. Natural light floods into this area during the day and decorative illumination comes into its own after dark. One of the attention-grabbers is the star spangled chandelier, a stunning statement piece created by Czech lighting specialists Lasvit. Wherever you look, visuals are strong and command the gaze.
NCL dropped US$7 million on a stunning pastiche of paintings, murals, antiques, sculptures, furniture, ornaments and multimedia, enough eye candy to satisfy aficionados and fascinate the curious. From Manuel Di Rita’s striking graffiti on the hull to the outdoor sculpture garden with installations by Arik Levy and Sophie Elizabeth Thompson among others, art is integrated across all the neighbourhoods. The pièce de la resistance is in the Metropolitan Bar – a shimmering digital canvas created by British artist Dominic Harris whose deep respect for the natural world inspires profoundly personal interpretations of natural phenomena. Every Wing Has a Silver Lining features 2128 butterflies that break rank and take flight in response to the slightest movement of air caused passers-by or a hand touching the screen. The playful, interactive masterpiece is an enriching extension of the visual stimulation that augments the Viva experience. NCL has expertly harnessed the sensorial in the most unexpected ways and fine art on the high seas has never looked this good.
The accommodation catalogue caters to couples and families while The Haven, NCL’s newer ‘ship within a ship’ concept is the most posh with 107 privately accessed abodes- a penthouse, villa and deluxe suites – situated on decks 10 to 15. To meet the increased global demand from solo travellers, Norwegian will be boosting their existing offering and introducing three new solo stateroom categories for future sailings from January 2024. No matter the choice of chambers, it remains NCL’s objective for all passengers to sink into familiarity through elevated home comforts, a fait accompli from the moment you cross the Viva threshold.
As can be expected, ocean liners face enormous challenges and on the sustainability front, NCL prioritises lowering its carbon footprint while providing a top notch vacation experience that fortifies brand allegiance among conscious travellers. While recycling, onboard water production and the elimination of single use plastics is nothing new, NCL has gone to great lengths to invest in new technologies and innovations that allow for improvement of environmental performance. On the more frivolous front, Viva guests get to enjoy bio-dynamic wines and responsibly crafted zero-waste cocktails at the Metropolitan Bar, delicious concoctions made with surplus ingredients such as pineapple rinds, orange peels and spent coffee grounds.
Viva’s debut float was top tier, on all fronts. A slew of enticing itineraries await for the remainder of 2023 and into the new year, so gear up to embark on the most delightfully uncomplicated way to see the world. Bravo Team Viva and bon voyage Traveller!
- Cruise cost: from US$1790pp fop a 10 DAY/11 port cruise- VIVA between May and July 2024. There are special deals available for those who book early.
- The Dollar is the onboard currency
- Gratuities are tacked onto bar, spa and speciality restaurant purchases. Ask about surcharges in your initial comms with your NCL booking agent
- Visa: needs to be issued by the country in which you intend to stay the longest
- Basic ship Wifi is included but for those who plan to stream there’s an option to upgrade
- Winter cruise options in January 2024- Alaska for 7 nights at $350 and if you’d like to depart from Cape Town, there are 2 cruises on Norwegian Dawn in Feb/March
- ncl.com for all info, or people are welcome to email me firstname.lastname@example.org for specific advice and tips
Allison Foat is a freelance travel & lifestyle writer. @allisonfoat