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Norwegian Viva Mediterranean Cruise Blog – Day 2 – Santorini

Last Updated on July 1, 2024

Day 2 of our cruise started early, at 6 AM. Did I have an alarm set? No, not at all. I was awoken by the room shaking and periodic thuds above me. While you couldn’t tell it by the deck plans, my cabin was directly under the free weights section of the Pulse Fitness Center. Each morning, I’d hear the pounding of weights as people slammed them, starting the minute the gym opened at 6 AM. It was incredibly frustrating, and unfortunately, there was nothing they could do about it. Our neighbors also complained about it, so I expect it impacts several cabins. Norwegian has to add additional padding to this section of the gym. It put a damper on an otherwise beautiful cabin. It’s the first time I’ve regretted my room location in all my cruises.

Tip: Look above and below your cabin before booking. Do not book this room (cabin 15704) unless you get up at 6 AM every day. Although I couldn’t tell on the deck plans, it was directly below the free weights section of the gym, and people would work out and drop weights and causing the room to shake.

Norwegian Viva Mediterranean Cruise Day 2 Overview

Norwegian Viva Freestyle Daily – Day 2

Breakfast in Indulge Food Hall

We headed to Deck 8 to have breakfast at the Indulge Food Hall where they offered grab-and-go options throughout the space. Each stand has a different breakfast component, but It’s a bit of a challenge to figure out what food is where because all the signage is set up for lunch and dinner. For example, if you want toast, you go to the Seaside Rotisserie stand; if you want fruit, you go to the Latin Quarter truck. By the end of the cruise, you got a feel for what was where.

I would 100% recommend the Indulge Food Hall for breakfast over the crazy buffet. Most guests didn’t realize it was an option, so there were plenty of tables inside and out. It was so quiet and peaceful having breakfast while overlooking the caldera. Most basic breakfast options were available here: cereal, toast, fruit, pancakes, bacon, sausage, and egg bites.

Tip: For the best food experience on a cruise, always look at the schedule for alternate dining venues. The buffet is often the most chaotic and frustrating experience on a cruise, and most modern ships offer alternatives that people don’t seek out. In this case, it was Indulge Food Hall; on Royal Caribbean’s newer ships, it’s the Solarium Bistro; on Carnival’s newest ships, it’s Guy’s Pig and Anchor. Seek these spaces out for a more relaxing experience.

First Stop: Santorini

Santorini is a small island in the Aegean Sea. It was the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, which destroyed most of the island and left a large caldera. Because of this, it’s speculated that Santorini inspired Plato’s story of Atlantis.

I visited Santorini on a previous cruise in 2008, and the stunning blues and bright whitewashed buildings in the volcanic caldera were still etched into my memory. Times have changed, though, and Santorini went from a gorgeous Mediterranean paradise to a logistical nightmare. The port can’t accommodate the number of ships and guests that visit the island now. This day, three other ships were also at Santorini, each having to tender all guests to the pier (Santorini can’t accommodate large ships at the dock). The four ships brought close to 9,000 passengers; that’s nothing, though, during the summer, it can be as many as 20,000 guests trying to get ashore.

Santorini has two main places to visit, Fira and Oia. Most cruise tenders will let off at the Skala Pier at the old port of Fira. It’s at the foot of a massive hill, and very little is located at sea level. To get to the town of Fira, guests must either take a cable car or ascend the 580 stairs.

The weather was less than ideal during my visit to Santorini, which probably colored my experience a bit more negatively. The temperature was only around 71 degrees, and it was raining intermittently. The skies were often gray and dreary. For the photos in this post, I kept them as originally shot, rather than tweaking the settings and adding filters to make them more Instagram-worthy. This way, the photos reflect our real experience, not Instagram perfection.

Tendering to Santorini

As mentioned earlier, to get to Santorini, you must take a small boat, or tender, from your cruise ship to the port. While the ride itself takes about 10 minutes, the queue can take hours to get everyone off the ship. Rather than have guests line up and wait for hours, Norwegian has guests pick a tender group, and that’s when they’re called down to board. You don’t choose when you want to leave, but select the order you want to get off. Those in the Haven or who have booked an excursion through Norwegian do not need to worry about getting a tender number.

Tip: On the Viva, you select your tender time using the touch screens in the elevator lobbies. Availability opened a day or two earlier than the port you wanted to tender at.

They started the tender process at 7:45 AM, and by 8:20, they were up to group 6. After that, it slowed down considerably because the excursions also began getting off the ship. The last group I heard get called was group 9 at 10:00 AM, but I know they had at least 20 tenders that could be booked, so they were still going for awhile after I left.

Volcano Hike and Hot Springs Excursion

I chose to book the “Volcano Hiking” excursion through Norwegian Cruise Line. This 2.5-hour excursion included a hike on an “active” volcano, then a trip to oceanic hot springs for a dip. The cost was $85 per person, with $50 off the first guest, thanks to the Free at Sea promotion.

The night before the cruise, we received our excursion ticket in our cabin. It indicated we should meet in the Commodore Room dining room at 9 AM. The morning of, we tried to get to the Commodore Room, but the line was winding through Deck 6 of the ship through the casino. Most excursions met in this room, which was not big enough to accommodate everyone. People were getting very antsy and frustrated, one of many times where the Viva struggled due to a lack of available meeting spaces.

We started by boarding a wooden ship and headed to the volcanic peak in the middle of the water. It was a short 15-minute ride to the island. The boat had three bathrooms, and they told us that none were available on the island so to go before we left.

Norwegian describes the excursion as “challenging,” so I wasn’t sure how much of a workout it’d be. Overall, if you can’t take the stairs on the cruise ship for more than a couple of flights, you shouldn’t attempt this excursion. The rough gravel pathway was steep at parts, and it was about a 3/4 mile hike taking us about 30 minutes. The guides let people stop when needed and people could head back to the boat if they couldn’t make it any further up.

The drizzle would come and go, causing me to overheat in my waterproof jacket. At some points, we could see vents with steam escaping from beneath us, but overall, it felt much more like a regular mountain hike than a volcano hike. On a beautiful day, I could see this being an impressive view, but today, it was underwhelming.

After we hiked back down, the boat took us to the “hot springs” so we could go swimming in them. They were located near a cliff of volcanic rock about 20 minutes away. Those guests who didn’t wear their bathing suits were able to change in the bathroom on the boat.

My original intent was to swim in the hot springs, but ultimately I decided not to. It was only 71 degrees out, and the ocean water was 65 degrees. The hot springs were far under usual hot tub temperatures, only 85 degrees that day. They were located quite a swim away, so I’d have to jump into the cold water, swim about 50 yards to the “hot” springs, and then swim into the cold water to return to the boat. Because we had a whole afternoon planned, I decided not to bother, as I was afraid I would be freezing the rest of the day.

Only about 1/3 of the people on our boat opted to swim to the springs. The area had no place to dock, so the ship dropped anchor and people could jump or climb in. They provided noodles for people who wanted them, and we watched as people swam away and disappeared behind some rocks where the springs were. The shock on people’s faces as they hit the cold water confirmed that I was right to skip this part. I could see it being a lot of fun if it was a hot day, but this just wasn’t a good day for Santorini.

Santorini Cable Car

We finished our tour at 1 PM but still had a full day ahead of us; the last tender didn’t leave until 9 PM. Our original plan was to pay $30 per person to get a speedboat to Oia, avoiding the stairs and cable car altogether. Then, it’d provide a private bus back to Fira, where we’d have to get down ourselves. Several vendors offer this service right at the old dock, but in all my research, no one mentioned that they stop at a certain point in the day. At 1 PM, the last speedboat left, so we had to wait in line for the cable car.

The Santorini cable car is $6 per person each way, so it’s relatively modest, but the line can get long. People have reported waiting as long as 2 to 3 hours during peak summer sailings. For us, there was a 40-minute wait to get onto the cable car to go up and 30 minutes to get back down. The ride itself is quick, taking only four minutes, but these trams can only hold 36 guests at once, and the staff doesn’t ensure that all the cabs are filled. We witnessed a time when the cars were sent up, and one cabin only had one person in it, rather than the maximum capacity of six.

Getting from Fira to Oia

Once we got up to Fira, the small, narrow, and winding streets that I found charming on my last trip were jam-packed with wall-to-wall people. Navigating was nearly impossible, and people bounced off each other as they stumbled between shops selling the same touristy goods.

We planned to take the “local bus,” which I had read about in my research, to get to Oia. I used Google Maps on the phone to look for the route, only to come up empty-handed. It turns out the “local bus” isn’t really a public bus, so Google doesn’t have the timetable and stops in the Maps app. We had to walk about 15 minutes to find the bus station “Main Local Bus Station Hub,” where we could board a large motorcoach. The roads here could get confusing and the signage was lacking.

The staff and process here were less than ideal. The cost was 3 euros per person each way, paid directly in cash to the driver. Of course, there were no signs indicating that. Instead, we stood in line at the ticket counter for five minutes just to have the woman working there point and say, “Go there.” The buses lacked signage indicating where they were going or how anything worked, but thankfully, we found it.

The large bus zoomed back and forth through curves and hills, taking us to the tip of Santorini island. We arrived outside a cannabis shop in a parking lot, and they opened the doors. We assumed this was the stop since everyone was getting off, but there was no announcement.

When it was ultimately time to return, we went to the same parking lot, got in line, assumed it was the only bus, and took it back. Thankfully, we were right, but the staff provided no help or information. While the local bus served its purpose in this case, I’d avoid this bus if you’re apprehensive about using public transit on your own.

Charming Oia?

Oia is often described as a quaint little town at the tip of Santorini. It’s filled with whitewashed houses seemingly carved into the cliffside with winding pathways connecting them. It was still hectic here, but much less packaged than Fira. The sun was trying to peek out, but the constant drizzle was wearing on me.

We wandered around for a bit, looking at some shops and enjoying the views. On a sunny day, I could see how this little town would be perfect for enjoying the panoramic views of the Santorini caldera, but it was a dull, grey mess on this day. At one point, we visited a local bar to get a drink, but we left after 15 minutes of the staff completely ignoring us.

After we had enough, we headed back to Fira, where we wandered the streets a bit before taking the cable car back down to get the tender back to Viva.

Alternate excursions: The Fira to Oia Hike

Three people in our group skipped an excursion and instead did the coastal walk from Fira to Oia. It’s a 6.5-mile journey that takes roughly 3 to 5 hours. A helpful website run by Santorini Dave gave them all the information they needed before they left.

Because of the wait for the cable car, they decided to walk up the stairs to get to Fira and start their journey. Overall, they said the climb wasn’t horrible, but the stairs were slippery, and I got to hear the comical retelling of how a donkey pushed by them and then aggressively farted in one of their faces. Overall, they said the scenery was beautiful even with the poor weather, and the hike was worth it, but it wasn’t as flat as Santorini Dave suggested in his blog.

A Surprising About-face for Santorini

It was really shocking to me that one of the highlights of my last Mediterranean cruise became one of my least favorite ports on this one. It’s a sign of tourism gone wrong, with just too much being pushed on too small of an island. If the weather had been nice, it might have made the day more enjoyable and allowed me to appreciate the natural beauty of the island.

Surfside Cafe Buffet on the Viva

Since we were on shore pretty late, we didn’t want to have a formal dinner. Instead, we went to the Seaside Cafe, the Viva’s main buffet.

The buffet on the Viva is very poorly designed. It’s a small venue, grossly undersized for the number of passengers on board (there’s seating for only 238 of the 3,099 guests onboard). Compounding that problem is the main walkway to get from midship to aft goes directly through the buffet right where the food lines are. Also, while other cruise lines have switched to food stations that are islands and located around the buffet to avoid long lines, Norwegian went with a standard linear design making lines a problem. At breakfast and lunch, it’s chaotic. It was an incredibly poor design choice and I don’t know who at Norwegian thought this design was a good idea.

That being said, at dinner the buffet was only a quarter full and the lines for the food stations were non-existent. They had a selection of pasta, roast meats, salads, and desserts. The food was very good, but nothing was outstanding. Carnival does pizza better, and Royal Caribbean’s bread tastes much more fresh. Compared to my sailing on the Prima in October, the food has notably deteriorated, but it was still as good, if not better, than offerings on some other cruise lines.

Santorini Sunset and Indulge Views

Santorini is known for its spectacular sunsets, with the sky turning near orange as the sun sinks beneath the horizon. Because the ship was facing the sun, many of the balconies and publicly available viewing spaces wouldn’t have a good view of it. Instead, we found a spot up on Deck 19, a small sun deck that’s rarely used on the ship, that provided the best view. A few large clouds obstructed the full view of the sunset, but it was still beautiful.

After the sunset, we all headed down to Indulge Food Hall to catch up and share our separate adventures. We grabbed a round booth in the outdoor area so we could enjoy the gentle sea breeze and the magnificent views. We just wanted some light snacks/bites, so Indulge was perfect for that. Their dinner selection had quite a few options that weren’t available at lunch, and all of the dishes we ordered arrived within 5 minutes.

Icons Show in the Viva Theater

To finish the evening, we decided to check out the Icons show at the Viva Theater. Norwegian described the show as “a concert experience featuring the songs of musical legends (icons) from the last six decades.” It didn’t require reservations, but we arrived around 20 minutes early to get a good seat.

Tip: On the Viva, only “Beetlejuice” and “Press Your Luck” require pre-reservations which open when you check in for your cruise. All other shows are first come, first serve. There wasn’t much of a problem finding a seat for theater shows (Syd Norman’s and the Improv Comedy Club were totally different stories).

The Viva Theater has excellent sight lines for more seating and can hold 627 passengers. The vibrant LED screens and lights allow the space to transform completely; it’s one of the places where the Viva shines.

The Viva Theater is impressive and one of the better implementations of a flexible theater that I’ve seen. It has stadium-style traditional theater seats, but they can fold down completely and pull back to allow different setups. At night, it’d be used as a dance club. For this performance, the seats were about halfway out, and the bottom floor had pub-style seating for a more casual, immersive viewing experience.

Tip: If you want a cocktail for your show, enter the theater on Deck 6 and stop at one of the bars (there’s one on each side). While waiters provided cocktail service in the theater before the show, there weren’t enough going around, and getting your own on the way in was better.

About 10 minutes before the show, the theater was pretty full, with even the floor seats filling up. The lights went down, and the music started. The set list featured songs from icons across all ages like Neil Diamond, Celine Dion, and Lady Gaga. Unlike Royal Caribbean, they didn’t use some unknown, custom musical arrangements and weren’t trying to win awards for the best “message;” they were going hit after hit after hit, and the audience loved it.

Because it jumped between decades, the show had something for everyone. The floor was getting into it, with people dancing and singing along, and the theater was full of energy. The singers were very talented, but you can tell they were instructed to pull back on the high notes to preserve their voices; there were few “money notes” in any of the songs. It’s an odd choice, seeing that these performers weren’t in many productions over the 10-day sailing. In comparison, when I was on the Carnival Celebration, they had one of their singers perform the incredibly difficult “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman, hitting the high notes perfectly and blowing crowds away (follow along on that cruise here).

Unfortunately, the ending was a bit anticlimactic. The last “icon” the show featured was Ricky Martin, which, while famous, wasn’t as big a hit with this crowd. It’s one of the times where you could tell this ship spends six months of the year sailing out of Puerto Rico. Parts of the entertainment program were clearly meant for that market and not tweaked for entering the European market.

After the show, we all decided to turn in for the night. It was a long day in port with lots of walking and we’d have an early start the next morning in Kusadasi.

Follow along on our Mediterranean Adventure

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Pre-cruise – Athens

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 1 – Athens

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 2 – Santorini

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 3 – Kusadasi

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 4 – Istanbul

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 5 – Mykonos

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 6 – Sea Day (coming soon)

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 7 – Messina (coming soon)

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 8 – Naples (coming soon)

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 9 – Florence (coming soon)

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 10 – Nice (coming soon)

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 11 – Rome (coming soon)

5 Hits and Misses on Norwegian Viva (coming soon)

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Randy Young

Randy Young is the founder and editor-in-chief at Cruise Spotlight. He has been in marketing for 19 years and has been cruising for just as long. Over the years, he's worked with products like TVs, copiers, light bulbs, and EV chargers, but cruising has always been his passion. There's nothing Randy likes more than the first couple of hours on a ship, exploring every nook and cranny and seeing how it's different from everything else out there. He's known for providing detailed and analytical coverage of cruising to help cruisers get a comprehensive picture of a ship's offerings.