"It is harder to seek pardon afterwards than to be cautious beforehand", from "The Vikings' Guide to Good Business", offered for sale in the Viking Aegir gift shop. Perhaps the executives at Viking River Cruises should make themselves familiar with this centuries-old book and the advice it contains.
As a former executive manager, I always found that making the right decision at the right time was what set you apart from those who just drew a salary. In those cases where problems arose, maintaining a commitment to corporate integrity, ethics, and the simple acts of being open and truthful went a long way to meliorating the situation. Again, lessons that don't seem to be part of the Viking approach to business.
The flooding on the Danube was an act of God. The decision that put us on this flooded river was an act of corporate ineptitude.
Our planned 11 day river cruise, a celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary, turned into 6 days of confinement on a veritable prison barge with a mounting number of hours on poorly air-conditioned buses used to visit marginally interesting sites to take our minds off our situation. Our contracted "river view stateroom"Â offered us only the blackened curtains of another ship, tethered inches away from us. The only escape from the claustrophobic room/balcony was a choice between the outside deck (in 95 degree temperatures) or the lounge with a high-school level talent playing incessantly on the piano with Zombie-like patrons sitting around him staring off into space or asleep in the chairs.
We were subjected to an orchestrated program of lies, half-truths, and deceptions designed (IMO) to keep the passengers from open revolt and, not coincidentally, to keep Viking within their contract obligations to avoid litigation. When the majority of on-board customers did threaten action, Viking first offered a 50% discount for a future cruise (followed by the tour director being booed off his perch). On the next day, Viking then offered a "full" refund for the trip, but was careful not to define what "full" meant.
Upon our return home, we were provided with two emails -- the first giving us an exact dollar amount for the future discount; the second, another unspecified "full" refund. Upon a call to the Customer Retention office, and a two day wait for a return call, we were informed that "full" really meant we were still out of pocket for over $2,500.
The Viking web site, prior to the trip, announced that the cruise would proceed as scheduled. Upon arrival in Budapest, we learned that the prior week's cruises had been canceled. We were then told that our second day in Budapest would be eliminated so that we could be bused for 6 hours to Novi Sad, where we would commence the trip. Once in Novi Sad (bypassing planned stops in Kalocsa, Hungary, and Osijek, Croatia), we were told that we could not sail until the water level dropped enough to transit a railroad bridge. When asked how fast the water was dropping, we were told by the cruise director that the water was still rising.
Each day thereafter, there was the constant promise of departure as soon as the water levels dropped -- a promise which was ridiculed by the crew members of the tethered ships whose companies had canceled their own cruises. These other crews proved to be absolutely correct on when a sailing level would be reached, a piece of river knowledge which seems to have escaped Viking. Although we did reach Belgrade (by bus ride rather than by water), no other item on the itinerary list was achieved, unless you count the abbreviated cruise to some remote station in Romania that lasted about 24 hours and a so-called lunch in Bucharest which was served to us at 4:00 in the afternoon after another 6 hour bus ride. This lunch ended at 5:00, just prior to checking into the hotel for a quick dinner and an early to-bed evening preceding a 3:00 AM wake-up call for the airport.
While in our six day confinement in Novi Sad (with bus trips with a daily itinerary of a fort and a church as a Groundhog Day kind of treatment), the mantra of "when the water drops below the bridge" became a point of hope for everyone. We all were highly amused, of course, when the final announcement came that the water was now low enough for transit.....but that the river authority had closed the waterway to traffic (maybe that's why we had seen nothing at all moving on the water in the 6 days we were there?).
We had also been promised that despite missing out on all the scenic views up-river, that we would be dazzled by the beauty of the Iron Gate and the majesty of the carved face of the Dacian king, Decebalus -- and surely we would have been if we had not sailed past these points at 11 PM.
As to the other things expected for a cruise experience, stateroom, food, service -- fail, fail, and fail. We were amazed that a room where so much attention was given to noise reduction (doors, drawers, and toilet lids that can't slam), could be so noisy. We were awakened every morning NLT 6:00 AM (some days, 5:45) by the noise coming from the exercise deck above us. The shower constantly clogged and flooded.
The food had two levels of seasoning, none and horribly salty. We were served meat that was bloody rare or tough as shoe leather. We were made to feel as if we were in the way with staff spraying cleanser on the tables while the later diners were still at their meals; we watched staff putting silverware on seats just vacated by passenger butts and then returning that silverware to the table. Portions were small and everything, whether expected to be hot or cold, was served close to room temperature. I ordered eggs Benedict one morning and was served egg Benedict -- one lonely egg sitting on a huge plate with nary a hint of sauce and a soggy piece of bread under it. The only positive of the trip was the ability to order eggs to order (never Benedict again, however). This was negated by the state of the fruit trays with sadly mushy watermelon setting the tone for the other surprisingly over-age offerings put out for consumption.
The staff ranged all over the place in level of service. Some did all that we expect from a cruise staff. Many others were surly and inattentive. We found it impossible to make a blanket tip for this type of experience and made individual tips to those who had earned it. On a related note, we were left wondering why we were constantly told of the very high unemployment rates of the places we visited and then found that a sizable number of staff on board were from the Philippines -- perhaps just another area of corporate ethics in which Viking is lacking.