Food and Service aboard Royal Viking Line

Writing these memoirs some 40 years later about our Crown Jewels of Travel experiences (around the world voyages), there is still too much hunger and misery on this tiny speck of planet Ocean Earth.  Children and infants die each day from malnutrition.  Even here in affluent Canada, there exist third-world conditions.  Four decades ago, although famines happened in many places, these vital issues of the Human Family were not the headlines they are now. Already mentioned that those two ships, “Royal Viking Sky” and “Royal Viking Sea” were elegant, five-star vessels.With this comes sterling quality of food and beverage service.Table settings were all silver cutlery, crystal glasses, porcelain tableware, Egyptian linen tablecloths and serviettes for lunch and dinner.  That says it all.

 Example of Luncheon Menu COVER

Breakfast was served, not buffet-style.  Bouillon mid-morning served on the teakwood decks; luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner. Also delectable midnight snacks.  We were seldom present at those however. Plus 24-hour cabin service by the friendly stewards.We were not only surrounded by tropical blue waters, but by food. The following is what 250 passengers consumed each week aboard the “Royal Viking Sky”:
Going back along memory lane, 40 years later
Prime rib, 600 lbs.  Filet of beef, 500 lbs.  Rack of Lamb, 150 lbs.  Chicken/Fowl, 750 lbs.  Lobster tails, 200 lbs.  Prawns, 200 lbs.  Fish, 600 lbs.  Russian Caviar, 25 lbs.  Total vegetables and salads, 3,500 lbs. Potatoes, 2,500 lbs.  Fresh fruit, 2,500 lbs.  Cheeses, 350 lbs.  Milk, 500 gallons.  Eggs, 7,000.  Ice cream, 100 gallons.  Danish pastry, 4,000.  Croissants 1,500.  Luncheon and dinner rolls, 3.500.  Bread, 500 loaves.  Bar & Spirits, 450 bottles.  Wine, 600 bottles.  Beer, 2,000 bottles.  Mineral water, 3,000 bottles.  All this for one week! See what we mean?   
Example of Dinner Menu Cover
featuring extinct White Tailed Sea Eagle LOGO, adapted from Vikings of long ago
Today’s cruise ships are no different.  We are the consumers!  Bon app├ętit. Both ships had their own desalination equipment to produce fresh water from sea water. They were amongst the first to have this equipment. Also the vessels were the first to have modern bow-thrusters (could dock on a dime), and had state-of-the-art stabilizers.

 Captain's Farewell Dinner menu, signed by officers and stewards

Selection of Royal Viking Line menus on our dinner table

Above are some sample menu covers and menus.  The cover designs were works of art, some referred to Norwegian heritage, others were more contemporary. We kept many of them, together with the daily program, “Skald”.  That’s where I got the statistics about food consumption. All the servers were European, mostly Scandinavian.  Officers were Norwegian.  Next:  our Art classes held aboard the “moving platform”.


Enrichment, Art Class and Talks on Ports-of-Call culture

Already in the 1940’s when I was a first-class dining room steward aboard Holland America Line vessels, I had been initiated into the daily activities of ship life and its few available recreation or entertainment options.   

 Here is the dining room of the  "Nieuw Amsterdam" where I worked as a first class steward, late 1940's
There was bridge of course, and shuffleboardClay pigeon or trap shooting, horse races, turtle races, a show by the crew, and by passengers on Talent Night. Oh yes, the bars opened at 10am, and never closed, it seemed! And there was 24-hours food available. Few lectures, if any. We had done our homework prior to the voyage, and knew the ports of call.  I had an eclectic collection of slides from many cultures, and added some more.

Thus, while putting our proposed project together for the world cruise, I included lectures on the culture of several ports-of-call.   We gave our Art classes every day while at sea, for one hour.  No art class was held when lectures were scheduled, normally two days before arriving at port. Lecturing was not new to me.  Already in the 1960’s I had done the circuit at various cities in Ontario, but on contemporary art. The screen, projector and slide equipment aboard ship were like everything else, state-of-the-art. Here follows the itinerary of “Royal Viking Sky”, the 1974 eastbound world cruise:

Fort Lauderdale, Bermuda, Barbados, Haiti, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Durban, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Mombasa (African Masks, Zulu Bead Symbolism), 
 Zulu Dancers, Durban
Seychelles, Bombay/Mumbai, (Mogul Miniatures and Hindu Art), where authentic classic dance and musical performers came aboard the ship, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Osaka, Nagasaki, Honolulu (Hula and dance symbolism), San Francisco, Los Angeles, Panama (San Blas indigenous textile art/Molas).

Here is the itinerary of the “Royal Viking Sea” voyage, 1975, westbound: New Orleans, Haiti (Voodoo and primitive art), Colombia and Panama (folklore and primitive art), Puerto Vallarta (Mexican contemporary art), Tahiti (Paul Gauguin), Rarotonga, Wellington, Picton (on Maori tattoos and symbolism), Sydney (Aboriginal Dream Time art), Port Moresby, New Guinea (wood carvings and ancestral masks), Singapore, Bangkok, Bali (Balinese batiks, art, masks and dances), Sri Lanka, Seychelles, Bombay/Mumbai, Mombasa, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Caribbean, Jamaica, Ft. Lauderdale, New York.

We were free from 11:30 am onwards to enjoy, mingle and participate in whatever was on offer in the daily program, “Skald”. 
Natasha and the Dance Instructor in "The King and I"
 There were also various musicals Natasha volunteered to perform in.  Next post we’ll talk about a few memorable moments at sea.


Overview of two around-the-world voyages

Received already a few enquiries and follow-ups to my last two posts.  One woman wrote: “With great interest we read your ‘dream come true’ experience, landing two full around the world voyages in the 1970’s on the venerable Royal Viking Line. My parents were on the ‘Royal Viking Sea’ in 1975 world cruise.  They’re both deceased now, but I remember when they talked about the unforgettable journey on a beautiful Norwegian owned ship.  Maybe you could tell us about the adventures, ambience, ports of call, food, entertainment, and your classes aboard those opulent ships, now no longer to be seen on the seven seas?” 

Well, we’ll gladly post some memories of those long-ago days.  We’ll divide them into separate blog posts, otherwise it would be too long in one go to read.  Writing this also helps me re-visit those experiences, opening the doors to the hinterland of memory. Let me make it clear, however, I am not singing the praises of the “1%” here. We’re proud of having been part of it, considering we lived on a shoestring budget ourselves when we stepped on board.  All I am doing now is recording my ‘dream come true’ memoirs. Remember I was still only the guest artist and lecturer, and N was my assistant and volunteered to perform in several musicals. 
The ships, “Royal Viking Sky” and “Royal Viking Sea” had passenger capacity of 536 but for these inaugural world cruises there were only 250 on the first, and 320 on the second, to give passengers more space. This gave us the feeling of being on a yacht/cruise ship. The moment Natasha and I were aboard, I said in awe “This is a floating work of art!”  Large windows, contemporary art on walls and sculptures in wood, metal and glass. Light everywhere, be it daylight or after sundown, romantic subdued lighting in bars and restaurants. There was a theatre for films and musicals and concerts.  Professional singers and dancers, but often passengers volunteered for some of the chorus.  Natasha was in “South Pacific”, “The King and I” and “My Fair Lady”, amongst others. 
King Neptune ceremony while crossing the Equator, for the ‘pollywogs’ initiated by the ‘shellbacks’ and Captain and King Neptune himself.  
Mermaid Natasha assisting at Crossing of Equator ceremony
Captain Alf Morner, right, Master of Ceremonies

There was a pianist who performed on a grand piano. Also a small orchestra who played pre-lunch, cocktail hour pre-dinner.  A professional dance couple who performed and gave dance classes. In most ports of call, entertainment was provided from shore.  Authentic cultural performances, dances, drum sessions and singers. 

here was even a very professional fashion show when we were in Bombay (Mumbai), as well as classic dancers from Kerala. In Bali, a gamelan orchestra performed, with classic Balinese dancers. In South America, Carioca (Rio) and Carneval (Rio).  Bahia gave us their cultural rhythmic dances.  Buenos Aires, lasso gauchos, and tango.  In Honolulu, Hula. In South Africa, drummers, singers and Zulu dancers. You get the idea.  Not manicured, but all original.

American Express handled the shore excursions for "Sky" in 1974;  for "Sea" in 1975 it was Thomas Cook.  Natasha and I volunteered to be guides.  We had to make sure no one got “lost”. These excursions took us to a Voodoo ceremony in Haiti, a visit to the ‘mud people’ of New Guinea. 

In Singapore there was a street where you could see black, wooden grouped coffins, with very elderly people waiting to exit planet Earth.  (Yes, that was part of the shore excursion itinerary, walking among the open coffins!) Everything was organized in a standard of excellence style.  Not only were the two ships floating works of art, but the culinary and stateroom service was 5-star.Next we’ll tackle the cuisine and menus for both luncheon and dinner. We kept dozens of them. The covers are works of art.

Dinner Menu Cover, details of a Norwegian tapestry, circa 1650, Oslow Museum of Applied Art