My wife and I are avid cruisers. This cruise was my 15th and it was my wife's 11th cruise. All of our previous cruises had been ocean cruises. We thought we'd try a river cruise because there are parts of Europe we'd like to see that are not easily accessed by an ocean cruise ship.
We started this trip with a pre-cruise stay in Paris. The only things I booked with VRC (Viking River Cruises) was the cruise and a departure transfer. We stayed in a wonderful boutique hotel in the heart of Saint-Germain. Guests on our cruise who used VRC for the pre-cruise arrangements got to stay at the Le Meridian Etoile, which is a huge hotel with a modern decor. I was glad we opted to make our own reservations for a hotel in Paris.
The Viking Spirit is a very comfortable ship. It doesnt take long to figure out where everything is because it is so small. The decor of the ship was consistent with what we paid for the cruise. Not overly fancy, just comfortable. The cruise was memorable, but I have to say that VRC didnt knock my socks off.
VRC did an excellent job organizing the included excursions at each port of call. The tour guides were knowledgeable, friendly and easy to understand. The way their itinerary is arranged for the whole week works very well. They continued to be very organized when it was time for us to leave the ship. We were taken to the airport in plenty of time to catch our flight home and there was a staff member from the ship with us at the airport making sure we found our proper check-in point.
What I found disappointing was the finer points of this cruise. VRC is very good at producing promotional videos. Leading up to my cruise on the Viking Spirit, I watched just about all of the promotional videos that are available on VRCs web site. A primary theme in the videos is the elegant travel that VRC provides. Ive been on a lot of cruises, some with excellent service and some with average service. The service on the Viking Spirit was a little disappointing.
With the exception of the soups, which were excellent, the food was pretty average. We ate at a local restaurant one night when the ship was in Rouen. The meal at the restaurant was outstanding, which is what I would have expected of the food being served on the ship. The food on the ship just didn't seem to match what Id seen in the promotional videos.
Another low point was the service in the lounge and in the dining room. One thing my wife and I enjoy when we are cruising is to have a cocktail in the ships lounge before dinner. At cocktail time, I almost always order the same drink. On cruises where I've been served by the same person on more than one occasion, the server will sometimes make a point to remember me and my preferred drink. Such was not the case on the Viking Spirit. In the lounge, I was served by one of 3 people during the entire cruise and no one remembered what I ordered each evening. What made it worse was that I frequently had to get the attention a server to take our order because no one would ask us if we wanted anything.
This average level of service continued in the dining room. It was apparent that many of the ships staff members had multiple jobs. We would see servers from the lounge also working in the dining room. One evening, a server excused herself before we had finished our meal explaining that she had to start her second job. The same person who took our dinner order would serve the meal and would also bus the table. It became obvious that VRC had a minimum number of staff, which was just enough to get by running the ship. Dinners frequently took over 2 hours for 3 courses. Yes, we were not in a hurry to go anywhere, but it should not take that long to serve dinner to everyone on a ship that size. Little things like leaving the bread plates on the table through dessert and having a server stand on my right side and reach across my face to pick up a plate on my left side diminished the experience.
I do not fault the staff on the Viking Spirit. They worked very hard and their hearts were certainly in the right place. VRC had not equipped them to do an excellent job. They hadn't been trained to serve properly and there was not enough staff to adequately handle the number of guests. After my cruise on the Viking Spirit, it was obvious to me why VRC had the money to christen 10 new ships at the same time earlier this year. They must be making huge profits off these cruises.
My next river cruise may or may not be with VRC. Dont misunderstand me. I had a fabulous trip. But, I had such high expectations for VRC and what was ultimately delivered fell short of those expectations.