We were so looking forward to the cruise which took us from Chalon in Burgundy down to Avignon through several of the major wine regions in France
However the brochure and the advertising were extremely misleading - they suggested that we would enjoy the best the region had to offer in food & drink as well as sights and all this whilst enjoying the luxury of their boat.
It's diffcult to know where to start but i'll start with before we even got to France - our booking went very smoothly - very helpful person who said he would be our pre-cruise manager but unfortunately when we needed him he was on his honeymoon and no replacement had been specifically assigned - this was an issue as when we were trying to find out where our tickets were (we had been told we would have them 4-6 weeks before we left) we got many different people ALL of whom told us that they had been sent and we would get them by the end of the week - instead we got them Easter Saturday when we were due to leave early on the Tuesday after Easter - not good for pre-holiday nerves!
When we arrived at Lyon airport, we and about 50 other people on the same flight were met by an efficient lady who told us we had to wait for a few more people on another flight - she implied this would be a short wait - the area we were waiting in had few seats (despite the average age being 70+) and nowhere to get a drink or something to eat - our short wait turned out to be several hours waiting for 2 people - then she herded us all upstairs through an area of cafes, shops and restaurants on a long walk to the coach lugging out bags ourselves - no help for the elderly/infirm at all - and then we waited on the coach for another hour for someone else! -- why we couldnt have been requested to wait in the area with shops and cafes was never explained
when we finally arrived at the boat (after nearly 2 hours when we had been told 45 mins) we were quickly shown to our cabins and give a pack of information and told we needed to attend a meeting to have everything explained to us - the meeting told us nothing that wasnt in the pack - and failed to mention that when you leave the boat you had to check out with reception (and back in when you return) - we were treated like naughty schoolchildren for not knowing this.
Our cabin was a good size, neat and clean and our cabin girl was very helpful and friendly - great towel sculptures daily - the main problem with the cabin was that the aircon vents were on the window sill behind the curtains which meant if the curtains were shut the aircon was useless - this may seem trivial but most of the time we were in port we were either against the dock with people looking in or against another ship window to window - same problem!! The bed was fairly hard as the mattress was very thin - didnt help the back at all.
A another problem was the piped music/ships announcements - if you turned the music down or off you didnt get the announcements at all - on previous cruises announcements have come over loud and clear even when the music is switched off.
The food was good - no fixed tables so a bit of a rush to get where you wanted to sit but we met some nice people both fellow passengers and the waiting staff
The problem was the wine - the brochure led us to expect good wine - it suggested local wines - the free house wine was undrinkable (if you are used to good wine - prob no more than £3.99 in a uk supermaket) and the other options (the silver spirits package) were also well below expectations - only one or two that were what we found drinkable and the few wines offered above this level were well overpriced - we ended up shopping in Chalon for some wine - we paid less than £20 a bottle and got incredibly good wine - the bar staff were helpful in providing ice buckets & corkscrews when needed but didnt know how to handle good wine themselves - they opened bottles by sticking the corkscrew in the top and spinning the wine bottle vigourously - brusing the wine and shaking up any sediment in it! Even after my husband explained how to open it gently, they continued to spin the wine so we opened the wine ourselves after that
There were multiple optional chargeable excursions at each port of call and some included ones - all of which required you to use a receiver and earpiece to hear the guide - these receivers were unreliable (i had 4 separate ones in 3 days) and the earpieces very large and uncomfortable - without these you couldnt hear the guides. Most of the guides walked rather quickly and if it hadnt been for the maps handed out by reception we would have been lost in several towns.
One of our main issues was that we spent a lot of time crusiing but during most of that time we were unable to access the sundeck on top of the boat - this was not only the only allowed smoking area (my husband is a smoker) but was 70% of the shared space available on the boat. When the sundeck was closed (75% of time during crusing) everyone was either in their cabin or crammed into a bar which could not hold everyone comfortably and the seats were not only very narrow but right up against each other - no elbow room at all, especially when lunch was served in the bar.
We were expected to attend nightly meeting to be talked through the next day - even though a ships newsletter gave all the information and was delivered to each cabin during dinner - a couple of nights before the end of the trip we were told everyone HAD to attend the evening meeting - this was to run through the leaving arrangements and collect your luggage tags - they spent over an hour waffling through but yet again all the information was in the newsletter and the luggage tags available throughout the evening!
All in all the staff were compentent and helpful but the marketing of the cruise sets high expectations of everything and then the cruise fails miserably to live up to any of them.
We complained to Viking on our return and our booking agent (now back) was concerned and apoligised and said he would forward our concerns to Customer Services - we heard nothing - we contacted them again a month or so later, our booking guy said he would chase - we chased again and finally 3.5 months after we got back we got a letter dismissing all of our points as not their problem.
We spent over £3000 on this trip and without a discount it would have been over £4000 but it was the worst value for money of any holiday we have ever had.