The cruise that began in Bordeaux April 19 was disappointing in many ways, despite the pleasant and and attentive staff. (The concierge was exceptionally helpful.)
1. It began with a stench from a sewage pump-out that for hours permeated our cabin so strongly that you could taste it.
2. The best cruising on the planned itinerary, from Bordeaux to Cadillac along the Garonne, was cancelled, but not, as we were told on board, because of river conditions. The real reason was that the boat didn't have a permit to turn around in the river at Cadillac, and the dock there required some work to accommodate the new class of longer ships.
Viking customer relations staff have since conceded that we were misled as to the reason for the changed itinerary. Viking could easily have advised us in advance of the change, which had also occurred with previous sailings from Bordeaux this year. Their only advance warning was that the itinerary could change due to the river More
conditions.i That was not the case, and according to authorities in Cadillac, Viking knew full well that the ship could not visit there until well into May.
3. As it was, the boat spent an excessive amount of time docked in Bordeaux, a little of it taking on fuel beside a scrap yard to the accompaniment of a crane dropping heavy metal onto a pile.
4. At least half of the time in port passengers had to clamber up and down long flights of stairs and cross another boat to get to shore. Daunting, to say the least, for many older people.
5. Dining aboard rated no more than a three on the usual scale of one to six for ocean cruises, and was distinctly below some other river cruise fare. It was adequate for older North Americans who like small portions blandly prepared.
6. The included table wine was also adequate. Those who wanted fine wine were able to bring their own bottles to the table without a corkage fee. Knowledgable wine drinkers complained about the quality of wine provided on vineyard excursions.
7. Wine ranged from fair to terrible with a dinner (prepared and served by Viking staff) on an excursion to a mediocre vineyard where the "chateau" displayed for sale only very large bottles of (presumably) table wine.
8. Ship's staff milked the room shamelessly for applause, apparently due for their taking the trouble.
9. French law requires service to be included in the price, top ups -- usually minor -- are entirely at the discretion of patrons. Viking recommends a hefty level of gratuities to be paid before leaving. The manager on board said he had never eaten in a French restaurant and was unaware of the law.
Viking customer relations staff have since said they complied with French law because tipping is voluntary. One can reasonably conclude that Viking (and other lines?) take advantage of patrons who don't know the law.
10. Teething pains on a fairly new ship are forgivable.
We felt entitled, however, to a cash refund, at the least for the portion of the itinerary that Viking knew in advance would not take place for reasons that had nothing to do with river conditions.
Customer relations offered only some discount when and if we book with Viking again.
Given the corporate attitude, that won't happen.
(This writer, formerly an official responsible for consumer assistance programs and enforcement of consumer protection laws, has had very satisfactory experiences on half a dozen river cruises and dozens of ocean cruises.) Less
Viking Forseti Cruises to France