We suffered Viking River Cruise's Forseti for the first of this season's week long cruises out of Bordeaux, France. It was our worst cruise ever, by far.
We have cruised over fifty times, over 300 nights with Princess alone, covering all seven continents and including eight river cruises, three with Viking (Rhone and Elbe in 2012, Duro in 2013) which begs the question - what went so badly wrong this time. Answer - plenty.
Forseti is a new and light and airy vessel, one of Viking's new 'longships' which each hold 180 passengers. Transfers from and back to Bordeaux airport were efficient. Front line junior crew (mostly European) were excellent, cheerful, attentive, without exception. Our cabin was a little smaller than we expected but well designed with a comfortable bed, an adequate shower cubicle, and a 'French balcony' with one of the two full length windows sliding. So far, so good.
The lounge was very comfortable with windows on all of three sides, but too small to accommodate all the passengers at daily briefings. Bar staff pestered overmuch.
Entertainment. A pianist/singer in the lounge. On one night, an hour of three opera singers scheduled to sing French music. Included an excellent rendition of Mozart's cat duet. .
Administration was muddled, the cruise director's accent sometimes impenetrable.
Itinery. Actually, there isn't all that much cruising, and the schedule was further reduced because the TGV railway bridge was under repair. The rest of the cruising schedule was substantially altered and then altered again (it was difficult to find out exactly what was happening) because of the times of the tides. This fazed many passengers considerably more than it did us. As compensation, we were all offered a free cruise of Bordeaux's market with the chief cook and a promise that Viking would contact each of us individually on our return home. (A letter from Viking apologised for the schedule disruption and offered 25% of the cost of this cruise as a discount off a future booking. It made no mention of our being tied to the quayside at Bordeaux for three of the seven days of the 'cruise'.)
Excursions. There were many. The shorter ones were free, the longer ones hideously expensive. We found most of the French guides difficult to understand and either lacking or reticent in their knowledge.
Food. Merde !!!! Varied from mediocre through dreadful to inedible. Portions were small. Four examples.
Day two - dinner. Halibut is our favourite fish and we still remember a wonderful dinner in Washington. On Forseti - two tiny tiny portions each of textureless whatever overpoweringly flavoured with I couldnlt make out whether it was very strong barbecue sauce or low quality soy sauce. I returned it and asked for 'always available' chicken on potato instead. The waiter brought something entirely different on polenta which two of my table companions screamed at me not to touch because they had tried it. The eventual chicken breast was mushy at one end, reasonably cooked in the centre, raw at the other end, on low quality mashed potato accompanied by highly seasoned broccoli.
Day three - lunch. Menu said terraine of figs, country ham and gorgonzola. Sounded delicious. What came? A thin half slice of rye bread mostly covered with savagely stewed sliced capsum ('peppers') accompanied by a wire basket of thick undercooked 'french fries' Oh, I nearly forgot, a one-eights slice of a small fig, a postage stamp sized portion of the thinnest sliced ham I have ever met, and two childs' little- finger-nail bits of tasteless gorgonzola. Followed by a banana split, from which the sous chef had omitted to cut the rotten end off the banana so I did it for him. (Earlier, the executive chef told us plated food is never checked as it leaves the kitchen.).
Same day - dinner. Flat and dense 'failed' cheese soufflé. Two tiny portions of almost tasteless sea bass with a small amount of finely chopped capsums (see 'lunch') with two small chunks of tinned grapefruit. One small slice of chocolate tart.
Once a week, on Sunday, there is afternoon tea. Lukewarm water with a teabag on a bit of string to allow you to dunk it without getting your fingers wet. Tiny and highly spiced savoury things. One lady who arrived a few minutes late evoked considerable amusement by asking where had the cakes and sandwiches gone.
One day, we tried the vegetarian option. Cooked endive on toast.
Part way through the cruise I received an e-mail from Viking. "Food glorious food. Decadent deserts, mouth-watering meals and succulent delicacies ....... let us tease your taste buds with regional specialities and flavoursome delights...' I e-mailed Viking's head office immediately, adding that we are dumping them. They have not replied.
Several other passengers voiced their expectation of obtaining repayment of substantial parts of their cruise cost. Some muttered intent to sue.
On previous cruises with Viking their food has been good, apart from meat on the Rhone cruse which was so rare that I felt an urge to cross-match the dripping blood. What went so badly wrong here? I would dearly like to know. Whatever it is, Viking must sort the problems out, fast, for the sake of all the passengers who have booked on Forseti over the rest of this season.
Our overall impression of Viking from the four cruises is they resemble the little girl of which it was written 'when she is good she is very very good but when she is bad she is horrid.' The customer's problem is it is impossible to know in advance which it will be.