This trip was one of the most expensive cruise vacations we have ever taken and was generally disappointing. Before I begin this review, let me say that we contacted Viking many times prior to leaving on our trip due to reports of severe flooding on the rivers we were to cruise. We constantly went to the Viking website for updates on river flooding conditions and impact on cruises. Many cruises just prior to ours were being changed or cancelled. We were willing to reschedule our trip if we were to have any problems in completing the trip as planned. Viking repeatedly reassured us that we might have to bypass Passau due to severe flooding and start on the Embla before switching to the Skadi, but otherwise our trip would proceed as scheduled from June 16 to June 30, 2013.
When we arrived in Budapest, we were informed we would cruise as planned with just the Passau change to an alternate city. We were not told there would be any delay or change of type of transportation. We talked daily the days before boarding the ship in Budapest to the cruise representative in the pre-cruise hotel and were not give anything in the way of different information.
The actual trip turned out to be quite different. We were supposed to cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam on the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers. Due to flooding damage to locks, the better part of 5 days of our 14 day cruise were interrupted and we were instead put on a bus trip through Austria and Germany. We missed some of the most beautiful parts of the Danube which had led us to want to do this trip in the first place and missed the Main River entirely.
Upon arriving in Vienna (3rd full day on ship), we were informed we would have to leave the Embla, and would be housed for two nights in Bavaria at a resort and 2 nights in Nuremberg….with assurances that both would be 5 star, air conditioned hotels (the weather had been in the high 90’s and even over 100 for days). The first resort in Bavaria was attractive but had no air conditioning of any kind in rooms or dining rooms, making a miserable stay in 100 degree temperatures. The second in Nuremberg was not 5 stars but supposed to be air conditioned but it hardly worked. Luckily the temperatures broke on our second night there and we could open the room windows.
Sites we were to see were abbreviated to short tours in favor of long bus rides (some days we spent four to six hours on buses). During this five day/four night land odessy, we were only told each night before what we would be doing the next day. Relaxing days on shipboard were exchanged for packing, unpacking, long bus rides and “forced” marches through sites on days when we checked out of one place and didn’t check in to the next till evening. No alternatives were available to tours for those who couldn’t walk all day or didn’t want to do an excursion.
We at one point were told to purchase our own lunches while on the bus trip and told we could get up to 25 euro per person reimbursed for this purchase since we had already paid for lunches on the ship and were unable to access those. When the cruise ended the last day, the 25 euro “reimbursement” turned out to be credit toward shipboard purchases and many on the cruise had to use their 25 euro to purchase Viking trinkets/shirts in their onboard “gift shop” as their reimbursement.
I believe we were not given the full picture by Viking prior to our cruise nor were we given any choice in whether we wished to be hauled around on buses. I feel Viking should have informed us of what we were facing and allowed us to choose to continue the land “cruise”, fly or train to the city where we could wait to next board the ship, or leave at the point the cruise as scheduled was no longer possible and have a refund of the price of the remaining days. We were only given enough information to plan from day to day while off the ship and to me, the goal of saying they took us to scheduled sites and completed the cruise contract of delivering us to Amsterdam was their plan…..which according to their contract is what they agree to do in any way they see fit.
There were many other disappointments with this cruise. The food was mediocre; we felt their dining rooms were understaffed and meal service was extremely slow. We often waited 30 minutes between the salad and main courses. ”Wines of the regions” advertised turned out to be one choice of white wine and one choice of red which was served nightly on every night we were on the cruise unless you cared to pay for more choices. Poor communications and confusing instructions from program staff were the norm.
A persistent and very unsatisfactory experience was the lack of air conditioning in our cabin on the 3rd floor. Within 2 hours of check-in to our cabin on the Embla, we reported the air conditioning to not be working. The cabin temperature hovered around 80 degrees. Our traveling companions in the cabin next to ours reported the same problem. We repeatedly asked for the air conditioning to be fixed as the outdoor temperatures were in the 90s and over 100 two days. We had 3 sleepless, hot nights before they were able to “fix” our air conditioning…….they finally got the temperature down to 72 at night and around 75 during the day. Finally the 4th night on the ship the temp went down to about 68….then the last night on the Embla the entire ship’s air conditioning went out and we again had a hot, uncomfortable night until it was repaired.
I will also say that a balcony cabin seemed to be of little use. 50% of the time, when the ship was docked we were side by side facing at touching distance another river ship. Evenings after day time sightseeing was generally when you’d want to be on a balcony…….we would be looking directly into the ship windows next to us and at arm’s length in closeness on many nights, so we did not use it most of the time. Also, if so inclined anyone could hop over the adjoined railings and into your room's open balcony door when docked. I wouldn’t bother paying for this.
So far, our shipmates have received notice of a 50% reduction in a future cruise if booked in the next year. This is not a refund and not a bargain, as 50% off Viking Cruises are routine and we receive tons of brochures with these advertised regularly to the public. Also, it in no way compensates for the travel expenses of airlines, beginning and ending hotel stays, and other expenses associated with taking such a future trip. I talked to several people who had saved and not taken other vacations in previous years to be able to afford this expensive trip. A credit to make up for what happened on this trip will do them no favors as the other costs of taking another Viking Cruise will not be possible for them.
I have friends who in the past had great Viking experiences. I can only surmise that things with this company have changed. The weather is not Viking’s fault, but how they handle their passengers and whether they are truthful about conditions and changes which might be possible demonstrates their company’s values. I for one will not be traveling on Viking River Cruises again and would not recommend it to friends.
Very beautiful city and pre-cruise hotel (Castle Hilton) was beautiful and comfortable.