Viking Helvetia Cruise Review by Frieslander: Viking Helvetia - Overpriced, overrated and overblown
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Viking Helvetia - Overpriced, overrated and overblown
We wanted to take my elderly mother on a river cruise as this was something she really wanted to do, so we booked with Viking for a jaunt down the Rhine. At the time of booking we specifically requested assistance at airports and received confirmation that we would have suitable help (my mother needs a wheelchair where is a lot of walking involved). It wasn’t until the very end of the booking process that we discovered there was no lift in the ship. Luckily, my mother is able to cope with walking short distances.
We were also very specific about my dietary requirements which are not hard to manage and require only a modicum of forethought to ensure my comfort and wellbeing.
On arriving at Heathrow, we received no assistance and had to make our own way through with the wheelchair and hand baggage as best we could, which was very frustrating and made the journey more challenging. The same happened when we reached Basel - no assistance at all. We had to make our More way through the airport with all of our luggage and my mother in her wheelchair!
We were greeted with great enthusiasm by various Viking representatives, however it was only then that we were told we would have to be on a coach for another hour and a half as the water level was too high for the ship to actually reach Basel. They will have known this in advance and it would have been nice to have been told that there was a problem – email is quick and efficient and seems to work when they require payment!
The ship was clean and the greeting was efficient and friendly. We were shown our rooms and settled in. We booked cabins on the lower deck, not realising the issues that we would face. We had assumed (based on the blurb) that we wouldn’t be in the cabins much and so didn’t really need a large window or balcony – how wrong we were. The ship travels mainly at night, and the engine noise was deafening, meaning that on many of the nights we had very little sleep and what we did have was disturbed and uncomfortable. This really put a downer on the trip as we had to manage ourselves and ensure my mother was OK. She struggled with all the steps, but seemed fine with negotiating the ship itself. The majority of the staff were very helpful and took tremendously good care of my mother. Especially when she got lost!
Unfortunately, some of the plumbing was faulty and by the second day on board we had issues with the shower not draining and the bathroom floor being covered with water. The problem was “fixed”, but happened again the following day – this time there was so much water (some of it coming up from the drain) that it poured into the main room, soaking an area of carpet. Luckily for us there was a spare cabin across the corridor and we were able to move to a dry room. This matter was handled reasonably well, but was not very pleasant and gave cause for concern as we heard that other cabins had had similar problems, although not as severe as ours. In addition, after we moved to the other cabin, we found that our bed was not being made and the room wasn’t being cleaned. We raised this on several occasions over two-three days before the issue was properly dealt with.
The food was generally good, the service was reasonable and the chef was a delightful man who kept coming out with freshly prepared goodies for everyone to try. However, no account was taken of my specific food allergy, and I had to keep mentioning it and asking about the ingredients in each dish. Some evenings I had very few options indeed. While on board we met some lovely people, one of whom is vegetarian. She had even more problems than I, as the majority of the meals were meat based, so she had to eat either pasta or salad at most of the evening meals. For the price we paid, this is simply unacceptable, yet no matter what we said, nothing was done to address these issues. My allergies were generally accommodated by simply omitting elements of meals, but I did have to regularly send meals back to be changed, which was annoying and unnecessary.
Seating at all meals was haphazard as it was completely open, so sometimes we struggled to find three seats together, or even to be seated at the same table. Breakfast was very early and quite short. If the included excursion had an early departure (which many of them did) it was a bit of a bunfight to get to breakfast and get away in time. Again, the staff did their best to be helpful and friendly and they worked hard to get things done and keep people happy, so it was difficult to have to keep asking for things and not get them. One morning we asked for some tea, but it never arrived, and the staff all vanished into the mist. No idea what happened there.
When we had to stay on the ship, on the days the ship was moving and during the evenings, apart from eating there was very little to do. We do not drink and although there was a (very capable) pianist in the bar area, it rapidly became monotonous spending time gazing out of the window with no other activity available. On one evening there was a bizarre dance competition, but other than that, not much.
Most of the included excursions were quite short and involved a bit of a coach ride and it rapidly became clear that the included excursions were scheduled early to make room for the “optional” trips, which were clearly geared to getting more money out of the passengers.
Most excursions were well organised and efficient, but there was such a lot of sitting around on coaches – granted these were comfortable and air-conditioned - that we eventually felt we were on the wrong trip. Although most of these excursions involved some walking, once back on the ship, we often felt very confined.
We also had problems with my mother requiring a wheelchair. Unless my husband, who heroically pushed my mother around on every excursion, specifically asked for guidance (ie, “I can’t get the wheelchair up those steps, is there an alternative route?”) allowance was very seldom made for our specific issues.
Of particular note was the Strasbourg excursion, where we kept being left behind.
There was a photo opportunity which involved climbing up three flights of stairs, which of course we could not do. We found a wheelchair-friendly lift and managed to explain to the (very helpful) attendant (with the assistance of another passenger who spoke very good French) that we wanted to go up to see the view. No Viking personnel were on hand to assist us in any way. Another lady who walked with a stick was also having difficulty and she came with us in the lift. Once at the top, we stayed long enough to take some photos and gaze at the view, then came down again only to find that the party had moved on. At this point, my mother asked to use the nearby restroom, so we helped her into there and waited. The program director, whose prior demeanour had been rather jolly, came thundering in and told us with enormous impatience that we needed to keep up with the group.
On explaining that my mother needed the loo, he became even grumpier and told us we would have to rely on the radios (used by the guides for the ongoing commentary) to find where everybody was, My husband pointed out that the range of the radios was quite short, which nearly resulted in an argument about the quality of the radios, until my husband pointed out he could still see the guide crossing a bridge and the audio commentary was already breaking up quite badly. The program director showed a distinct lack of consideration and from that point on we were acutely aware that his air of jollity was entirely artificial. He did not help us at all. However, in spite of his churlish conduct, we managed to catch up with the group. The guide seemed blissfully unaware that we had been missing. What would have happened if we hadn’t been able to catch up, I wonder?
We paid for only one excursion and it was a nightmare. We were taken to the venue on a “choo-choo” train which was really a tractor. This was not pleasant over cobble stones!! The restaurant was noisy and although the promise was “a meal and a show”, it was clear that the show was just the resident band doing their thing. The meal was a fixed menu (not made clear before we signed up) and consisted mainly of things we could not or did not want to eat. The food was slopped down in front of us and when I pointed out I could not eat the food it was simply taken a way and an alternative provided. I was not asked what I wanted – none of us were. It was awful. The restaurant menu was available but not provided and it became clear later that we could have obtained a better meal from the same restaurant with a short walk into town – and for half the price! We felt utterly ripped off and misled and we were not alone. It was supposed to be a fun night out, but it was anything but fun! Ironically the following night’s meal was also a German food night, which was immeasurably better. If this had been the paid excursion, it would have been good value. Also, if we had known that the on-board German food night would be the following evening, we wouldn’t have wasted our money on the excursion.
The TV commercials that persuaded us to sign up, depict the ships sailing along during the day with glorious views, but we had only one day like that, the rest of the time we travelled either early or late in the day, or at night and were docked during the day, so (as mentioned) sleeping was a problem.
On departure, we again received no help at the airport at either end, although it was clear other (more mobile) passengers whom we had seen on the same ship, were being ferried from one area to another. Bearing in mind that the airport at Amsterdam is enormous, we walked for a long time with everything in tow and were tired and fed up by the time we reached the terminal. Not a great way to end a holiday.
Unfortunately, we had previously booked a Christmas trip with Viking for just my husband and me at the end of this year. However on the strength of our holiday experience, we have cancelled.
It will be of interest to others that Viking do not refund the deposit, even though we cancelled more than seven months out! Clearly they are only interested in making as much money as possible and are not interested in customer satisfaction.
We will never travel with Viking again and, should we book another river cruise (which at this juncture is unlikely) we will go out of our way to ensure we receive the level of service we believed we had paid for with this company. Overall it was a disappointing and frustrating experience.
We raised some of these issues when cancelling our Christmas trip, but Viking clearly do not care, so this review will be posted in as many places as possible as a warning to the unwary. If you have dietary issues, or need any help with your journey to or from the ship, do not travel with Viking as they will not keep their end of the bargain. Less
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