As purist yacht cruisers, a holiday on a cruise ship wasn’t on this Ed’s bucket list. But reading Allison Foat’s account of her trip aboard the stylish Norwegian Viva for 5 days from Rome to Lisbon, this choice of holiday could well be a future option.
“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”, says Allison.
A five star experience
Viva is the second in Norwegian Cruise Line’s swanky new Prima Class fleet with four more ships set for launch 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 Viva. 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 hospitality delivered by a 1,500 strong crew that don’t miss a trick.
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 circular 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 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 (an extra cost) 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. 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. 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.
A gallery of note
NCL spent US$7 million on 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 by 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, villas 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 step onboard Viva.
Keeping it green
As can be expected, ocean liners face enormous challenges on the sustainability front. NCL prioritises lowering its carbon footprint while providing a top notch holiday experience. 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 maiden voyage was top tier on all fronts. 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.
Cruising the Med
5 sun-drenched days at sea and visits to dreamy destinations on board a luxury liner seems like a fine way to travel. The hop on hop off style of travel is ideal
When in Rome
The second leg of the cruise starts in Roma a day before Viva’s departure from Civitavecchia. NCL offers guests one night at the elegant Sina Bernini Bristol Hotel, a classy gesture, and a suitably swish prelude to the trip. The layover is short but a well prepped game plan will enable you to maximise your time and tick a string of mighty sights off that bucket list. 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, and end with al fresco dining in the piazza.
Nothing says romance quite like the French Riviera and Cannes. As one of the jewels of the Cote d’Azur, Cannes 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 drawcards aplenty here 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. 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, which is a great place to catch your breath after your whirlwind excursion.
A Tuscan tour
Viva ported in Livorno with options to head to Florence or Lucca in Tuscany. It was a religious holiday on the day we arrived so we decided on an organised tour to Lucca, which was about a two hour ride from the harbour by bus. The home of Puccini, this timeless gem in the Tuscan hills is surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Lucca was established as a Roman colony in 180BC and sports all the medieval assets from bastions and bulwarks to ancient fortifications, Roman archways and churches aplenty. There are close to 100 across the region. Lucca is designed on a rectangular grid, which 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. Tuscany is Chianti country and the tour included a lunch and wine tasting at Il Poggio Farm, a heritage estate managed by the Rossio family since 1963. The family produces first rate extra virgin olive oil and fine wine.
Ibiza beach time
By the time Ibiza came around dedicated beach time was calling. Ibiza forms part of the Balearic archipelago on Spain’s Iberian Peninsula, and is known the world over as the party and festival island. There’s nothing better than downtime on Talamanca playa followed by fresh mussels at a seaside café. All a stone’s throw away from the ship.
Lisbon was the grand finale. From the deck, the city comes into view like a terracotta tableau. Lisbon straddles the Tagus River, and is believed to be the oldest city in Europe. The city is made up of many neighbourhoods each with unique characteristics. All are strong on culture (book a Fado dinner), food, history and architecture. Alfama (my favourite), Chiado, Rossio, Baixa and Alcantara are must-see’s. Tiles, mosaics and pastries are just everywhere. If you love cake, you will succumb and turn Lisbon into a pastry safari!
Allison Foat is a freelance travel & lifestyle writer.