Where do I begin?...Well to begin with, Viking River Cruises claims to be the "World's Leading Cruise Line...By Far." However, after my trip aboard the Viking Pride during "Paris and the Heart of Normandy," I have since learned otherwise.
I will break-down the experience into sections:
ARRIVAL/Embarkation: Okay, my son (18) and I had been in Paris for a couple days before the cruise was set to embark. We took a taxi from our hotel to the port the ship was docked at. Note: Some taxi drivers do not know how to find the docking area, and taxis just do not line up at the dock afterwards either--you must pre-arrange one (which reception handles).
The overall appearance of the ship's exterior is nice, as the crew cleans the outside areas daily. The inside was pretty clean as well, with some of the furniture (in the dining room mainly) being in need of a cleaning to remove food stains. The receptionists are nice to deal with when you board the ship; however, you have to wait for your room to become available after it is cleaned. So, the top-priced rooms (i.e. the high level) are cleaned more promptly. The passenger clientele is primarily around the 50-70+ range (my son was one of the youngest at 18). It is much more intimate than Ocean Cruises I have been on, with around 140 passengers.
There is a coffee/tea area set up for 24 hours/daily by the lobby. The machine is a powder-based one--so the beverages were of relatively low quality and were disappointing for the price Viking charges at close to ~$1,000 a day. Lunch is served as you board on the first day in the lounge. Drinks (including sodas and wines/beers are "complimentary" at meals only.
STAFF: Our program director was not very impressive by all means. In fact, my son and I found him rather rude--we tried to ask him questions; he said he would address them later. I think the program director (and all staff) is there to SERVE YOU--it is their job. Also, some of the staff members seemed really on edge and apprehensive. This is because at the end of the cruise, Viking asks you to complete several hefty-length review forms and surveys. These are "used" to make improvements and changed in the company's operation, so crew members are also evaluated accordingly and are worried about gratuities and performance standard issues. The captain did not attend the "Captain's Dinner," which I found very unusual--as I have been on several cruises where this is not the case. The 2nd Captain did not speak much English, so he never associated with passengers much. Some of the dining room waiters were much better than others, depending on where you sit, as there are no assigned seats. Also, the tables are arranged in 4, 6, or larger sets--so there are no private tables for two. You end up knowing a lot of the guests, as each night you meet new people which was nice. The service was usually pretty quick.
FOOD/Offerings: In terms of the food, the coffee in the dining room was good. The house wine was just okay. Viking offers a premium "Silver Spirits" package, which allows you to order more wines and cocktails. The food was decent. Every day, I really enjoyed the soups (Pear-Ginger, Tomato-Basil, etc.). Breakfast was standard, with bacon, sausage, eggs, and the other usual American items. *I really expected more traditional French cooking, as we were, indeed, in FRANCE. One afternoon at lunch, they ha hot dogs in the lounge buffet. The dining room had better food. At that price for a cruise--I did not travel there to eat hot dogs; very few passengers ate there. In the room, they offer a bottle of water each day; the water is German, which is not overly impressive since I expected to drink French bottles like Evian (for purchase only), Badoit, Vittel, Volvic. Lastly, my son was disappointed on the last night when the Tuna Tartare he ordered was made with imitation crab! In a region with tons of seafood, fresh crab would be an expectation! At $1,000 per day, I think that would be a reasonable request.
EXCURSIONS/Guides: The ship does not sail on the first day, leaves at dinner (7:00 PM) the next day. The distance traveled is relatively small (around 160km if that) for 6 days--as the 6 locks gone through take lots of time. We docked at Rouen, Giverny, Paris. Some excursions were included (Normandy Beaches, Paris City Walk, Rouen Tour, etc.), while others were "optional" where the program director sells you the package. We did the Versailles one, as we wanted to see it. However, Viking really makes a great profit off of them, as Versailles's half-day tour was ~80 Euros per person. Admission there costs ~22 Euros. The bus ride from the ship there was around an hour. To Normandy, the bus ride was 2 hours and a bit. Some of the tour guides were much better than others. Some did not really care, while others were very knowledgeable and polite. And, they like tips at the end too, so they recount tons of information to impress you. I wish more of the basics were reiterated--less "fluff." Some of the tours require you waking up early--6:00 AM at times. And, some of the tour guides were very slow to guide the groups (they split you up into several groups, usually A, B, and C). They also counted the number of people on the buses several times, and constantly seemed apprehensive about managing the group which I guess was because they want to reduce any liability on their part. They need a fast group for people who would like to be more adventurous--not everyone was 80 on-board or disabled.
ROOM: The cabin was very small--which we anticipated, as we got the last room on the ship due to a cancellation in March--the cruise was June 26. The bathroom was adequate with L'Occitane ammentities. The beds had dismal linens, just a duvet cover. The pillows were not very usable--they were too soft and had no support. There is a desk area with a chair. It is difficult to store suitcases, but we just shoved them under the desk. The heating/cooling vent is behind the curtain by the window--a little unusual. The housekeeper we had was efficient and kind; they fold towels into shapes at night during turn-down while your at dinner. They likewise make-up the room in the morning as you eat breakfast. The sundeck was nice (when open), except for when people chose to smoke and the smoke emanated across the deck. I would also have loved a fitness room to be on the ship somewhere.
Problems: Upon checkout, we forgot our camera battery charger plugged into the desk-area outlet. However, we immediately called the ship to inform them. They were relatively unhelpful, denied the charger being in the room (even though we know if was there), and said they take no responsibility. The hotel manager said they "thoroughly check rooms as they are cleaned." I doubt that! And, several guests had issues with the in-room safes: ours did NOT work at all. I went to the front desk and told them--they did nothing to rectify that. The fact that they were dishonest about the charger is the part that concerns me--I do not care about the charger as much as I do the lack of integrity and respect for guests once they are off the ship and no longer are a potential profit. And, when I called Viking, it is very difficult to deal with any customer service, as there really is not any. They refuse to give you phone numbers of any high official and take no part in helping you. As soon as the cruise ends, the tone towards you is modified--as you are no longer paying them; thus, are not a focus.
SYNOPSIS: The entertainment was a pianist. That was it except for the last night with opera singers on-board. A couple games in the atrium--nothing else. Other passengers agreed that it could be made more upbeat, with more post-dinner activities (even BINGO would have been a change!). At this price, I would not travel with Viking again. Principle goes a long way these days. They are not the best cruise line "by far." Take your money and enjoy a vacation elsewhere, such as with Crystal Cruises, Grand Circle Cruise Lines (based in America), or Croisi Europe (more authentic).