Viking Helvetia Cruise Review by Iron_Duke: The Good, the Bad & the really Ugly
The Good, the Bad & the really Ugly
Let's start with the Good: Booking was easy. Went through Viking direct but even though we booked a year ahead there were only a few cabins left on deck three (top deck). Documentation arrived three weeks prior to departure and Viking did a great job providing a small booklet with just about everything you'd need to know about the cruise & shore excursions.
Ship looked good. Had new carpet and the cabin & common areas were in nice condition even though they could have spot cleaned the furniture a bit better. At 171 sq ft the cabin was just big enough with plenty of room under the bed to store all the bags and a nice floor to ceiling sliding glass door for viewing the river. One goofy thing was the drapes. They were not thick/blackout type so when the sun was up I was up. This also contributed to the A/C problem (see below). Cabin was attended to twice a day and the staff was very nice.
Food was good and on occasion very good. The free red wine with More dinner was not to our liking but most of our friends thought the white was OK. Dinner is at a set time and as we were with a group of ten and always sat together there was never a problem being forced to decide where to sit each night. Note that we lucked out in that they had two tables for ten. I guess if you travel with more than ten you'd have to split up.
Shore excursions were Great! Viking did a wonderful job coordinating the bus & tour guide thing and it worked like a Swiss watch. The buses were new and first class and I cannot say enough good things about the tour guides. They were all simply fabulous!
Now for the Bad:
Viking has a problem with communication. Due to the flooding on the Rhine, we had to start our trip on the "Sun", sister ship to the Helvetia. Problem was we were never informed of this fact. If our friends hadn't been monitoring the web site we would not have known! We spoke with other couples that pulled up to the dock looking for the Helvetia!
To get back on schedule we had to change ships mid trip. Understandable but Viking held that info back until the day before the change. If we'd known up front then we wouldn't have unpacked everything! They did a good job with the change over and the crew on both ships worked extra hard that day.
Due to high water they couldn't take us all the way to Basel and had to bus the passengers to Switzerland on the last day. They gave you a choice of airport or train station and of course it was their schedule not yours. Again understandable and not their fault but it would have been nice to know more that a day in advance just in case you had arranged a car to meet you at the dock in Basel or something. We started thinking they were holding info back from the passengers until the last possible moment so they didn't have to deal with disgruntled folks.
Also note that the Rhine is, for the most part, an industrial/commercial water way. Only the middle part is nice & scenic. The rest is like the Houston ship channel!
The Really Ugly:
Our cabin had a strong exhaust fume smell on a number of occasions. One night I woke up coughing and we had to vacate the room for a few hours. We could smell fumes upon engine start-up and also when we slowed down to go through a lock. We could also smell cigarette smoke now & then. I decided there must be an air intake on the back deck that sucked in the fumes when the ship wasn't moving because there is a place for the crew to smoke back there and the engine exhaust vent is also near that area. Seeing us in the lounge with our pillows at 1:00 AM got some attention from the crew and they were shocked.......shocked that there was any problem. The third officer, second officer and then the captain came by to discuss our problem. This was a bit of a joke as the captain didn't speak english and didn't bring an interpreter. He just made some comment that it must be from a passing ship. It was not from a passing ship and he didn't seem interested in hearing about any problems on his ship. The ship was full so we couldn't be moved. A number of folks said they also smelled fumes at night but that it wasn't too bad and went away after an hour or so!
The A/C was either not working right or just not capable of cooling the ship in warm weather. Most of us on the third deck starboard side were hot for the two days it was in the high 80's. The see through curtains in the cabins didn't help the matter and so many folks were upset they flew in some "experts from Viking HQ to solve the problem. It was only solved when a cool front blew in. We couldn't even open our windows because of the rain that night so it was just miserable.
The engine vibration is bad and gets worse the further aft you are so don't get a cabin with a higher number than 325. Our room was bad but if you had the last cabin I imagine your water bottle would vibrate right off the table. I could not even sit in the library (located at the very back) when the ship was moving. Perhaps it is worse going up stream (as we were) but let me just say with everything going wrong we didn't get much rest on this trip. If we hadn't been traveling with friends my wife & I would have got off, rented a car and found a hotel. We seriously looked at doing just that and meeting back up with the ship later........it was that bad.
By the last night we were soooooo happy the ship couldn't make it to Basel because it meant the ship would stay put, the engines would be off and we could get a good nights sleep. Then another ship ties up alongside because no other dock was available. This ship is shorter than ours and their engine room is right outside our window so it sounds like a BIG truck engine is running in our cabin. We start thinking about finding a hotel in the little town the ship is in (Breisach) but first I go ask the concierge if our new neighbor is staying all night. She didn't know but to her credit ran over and asked them. Turns out they were leaving a 6:00PM so we were able to stay on board! Seems like it would have been a better plan to match up ships sterns and not bows. Just a thought Viking.
So..........never again. Viking did offer all passengers a discount on the their next cruise due to the "inconvenience" but for around a thousand a day I think next time I want to see Europe I'll rent a car and stay at the Four Seasons, it works out about the same money but it's ten times nicer. Less
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Cabin review: A331 Deluxe Stateroom with French Balcony
Cabin 331 Viking Helvetia. Don't do it. Too far back so you get more vibration. A/C didn't keep us cool on warm days and the exhaust fumes were really bad on occasion. Our friends on deck two had the same size room further froward and had none of the problems we did. We also had friend on deck one. They couldn't open their window (too close to the water) but they were never hot and were forward so they had no vibrations and no fumes.
Port and Shore Excursions
Didn't have a pre cruise package. Stayed at the Banks Mansion Hotel. It's right in the middle of everything, close to Rembrandt square. Walked everywhere, Anne Frank house + other museums. Great restaurants also close by.
I drove my rent car into town to drop off wife & bags at hotel. DO NOT do this. Driving in old town Amsterdam is crazy. Just drop car at airport and take a cab.
Tour of Marksburg Castle was well done but be warned the walking is over very rough rocks and up some steep hills. If not in decent shape think about doing something else. The castle was in good condition and I especially enjoyed their display of soldiers armor through the ages. They have a small cafe and gift shop at the end of the tour if you need a snack or WC.
After Koblenz they take you to Rudesheim for a walking tour of the little town. I could have skipped this as there is nothing really to see other than some shops in a nice pedestrian only area. As we were bused in there was no choice but to walk around for an hour+. This is the day we had to change ships so we were stuck but I'm thinking on a normal trip you could just stay aboard.
Grand European tour
Very good, but not excellent