I always find myself saying, “This ship’s crew is incredible.” For those who know me, I’m a pretty positive person, so it really isn’t a shock that even a slightly above average crew would elicit that level of praise from me. However, until my sailing aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Lif, I now realize I had no concept of a truly incredible crew.
I first saw the Viking Lif from the window of my Uber as the car approached the dock in Amsterdam. I won’t lie, the size of the ship caught my attention and I wondered how the next two weeks would play out on such an intimate ship. The car soon came to a stop and I jumped out, excited to explore my ship. Turning around to grab my bags, I heard someone yell from the ship behind me, “Happy birthday, Mike!” This was the moment I met Leonard Miron, Viking Lif’s Program Director. He ran down the gangway and again wished me a happy birthday, introducing himself, and quickly whisking me up the gangway onboard. I couldn’t help but laugh a little, considering the sheer excitement Leonard was emitting – a level of excitement and energy that carried our ship through two weeks of Europe. From day one, Leonard, who is essentially the life and soul of Viking Lif’s onboard and onshore experience, was spilling over with enthusiasm and charm. Whether he was leading the daily briefing, escorting a tour group ashore, eating lunch with guests, or throwing the best cruise ship party I’ve ever been to (more on that in the future), Leonard’s passion and drive for his guests never wavered. It was obvious he poured all of his time and energy into ensuring each guest was having the best vacation of their lives, making sure everyone had a tour to participate in, or, in my case, checking to make sure I woke up at the correct time for the walking tour. I don’t know how he did it, because I don’t know many, if any, cruise directors that could do what he does every day.
And it didn’t end with Leonard. In my first hour onboard, I met Ivan, Viking Lif’s Barchef in the Viking Lounge. I remember him introducing himself as “Ivan the Terrible,” however he is certainly one of Viking’s best. Over the two weeks, Ivan and I would talk in the bar about our ports of call, the politics of Europe and America, Viking’s new ocean ships, and, of course, his bar. I remember just sitting there one day asking him about the different glass types and different drinks they serve at the bar. Ivan responded with some of the most detailed explanations of why certain glasses are used for certain drinks and why some drinks are more popular on certain itineraries. Some of the answers were way over my head, but even for the answers I didn’t quite understand, I was seriously impressed at his dedication and devotion to his career. For me, when someone shows that kind of passion, that speaks to me. Ivan showed me that this just isn’t a job for him, that serving his guests is his passion. And that is exactly what Viking is doing – recruiting the best people with the most passion.
As we sailed on, I continued to find this passion in each crew member I met and quickly found out this “passion for Lif” starts at the top. Leaders don’t direct, they lead, and Viking Lif’s Hotel Manager, Jerone, or Jerry, is a leader. On many cruise ships, you’ll never see the Hotel Manager, save for maybe an event or two, but Jerry was one of the most visible and engaged Hotel Managers I have met on the seven seas. I would regularly see him checking in on Ivan and Lorenzo at the bar, making sure Alen and Ali we’re all set in the Aquavit Terrace, working with George, our Maitre D’ during dinner to ensure a smooth dining service, and regularly conversing with guests about their day and experience thus far. Jerry’s unique, in the sense that he knows that by truly engaging with guests, he can ensure his ship is meeting and exceeding his guests’ expectations. It’s now obvious to me why Jerry’s office chair was typically empty – he knows he can’t lead from his office.
And it continued everywhere I went aboard the 1,200 ton ship. Captain Alexander, who was more than eager to draw me a map of our canal transits, discussing the intricacies of navigating a ship through the Main Danube Canal. Radostina, our brilliant concierge, who worked tirelessly to ensue even the smallest requests were taken care of, and then switching roles to become a knowledgeable and thoughtful tour guide. Plus, her Greek dancing is phenomenal. Roger, my favorite waiter, who kept our table well fed, entertained with truly challenging card and egg tricks, and more importantly kept us laughing each night. Lorenzo, Ivan’s partner in crime, who wears multiple hats (like a chef’s hat when need be) to ensure his guests are taken care of no matter what the need. George, the night auditor, ensuring our ship was secure and safe as we all slept soundly until our next port of call. Daniele, keeping us dancing till late in the evening with all the classics and of course, Gangnam Style. And who could forget our cooks? Executive Chef Slavi, serving up dishes straight from the tiny European towns we called in. Not only were his cooking skills off the charts, his dedication to his guests was even higher, whipping up mozzarella sticks and breaded mushrooms at midnight for the 15 or so guests up late in the Viking Lounge. Each morning, we were greeted by Chef Ruel’s now iconic “Goooood Morning!” and each night I returned to my stateroom, which had been thoughtfully organized and cleaned by Mirmir, my truly tremendous stateroom steward. I will admit I’m a slightly disorganized person, so my stateroom can’t be too easy to keep in order. However, she never failed to disappoint. And neither did anyone else.
I could go on, writing a detailed paragraph on the impact each of Viking Lif’s 53 crew members had on me, but in the end, the crew all share that one common characteristic: passion. Without passion, a crew like the Viking Lif’s wouldn’t be able to deliver the experience me and my 189 other guests experienced these past two weeks. Thankfully, they had the passion to deliver. Over those two weeks, as me and my fellow guests grew closer to our crew, we felt the love they had for Viking, for Viking Lif, and most importantly, us. It’s a feeling no other crew has left me, but a feeling Viking Lif’s crew will leave with me forever.