This 7-night "Portraits of Southern France" sailing on the Viking River Cruises longship Heimdal didn't meet all of my expectations given all the glossy literature I had received from Viking and the fancy TV commercials they run on PBS Masterpiece. I made the booking for the May 24, 2014 trip from Chalon-sur-Saone to Avignon a year in advance. The Viking 2-for-1 price for a category B stateroom #219 with a verandah was $8111; I paid $6895 through an Internet travel agency or $493 per night per person. We made our way to Chalon and checked into a hotel the Friday night before the cruise was to leave On Saturday morningI received an "urgent" email from Viking notifying me that the ship would not be leaving from Chalon and we were to make our way to Lyon, about 100 miles south, to board the ship there. No explanation for this change was given. The email did say we could proceed to the docking location in Chalon and bus transportation would be provided. I had a rental car so I drove to the Viking dock at a run down industrial area but no bus or Viking representative was there. I checked with the car rental agency and was told I could return it in Lyon rather than Chalon for no additional charge so we made a decision to drive through the Burgundy countryside to get to Lyon.
We found the ship, were directed to our cabin, and were told we would be staying in Lyon until Tuesday noon. The cabin was intelligently designed except for the very limited space between the end of the bed and the wall unit, which prevented one person from passing if the other person was sitting on the bed to get into the unit's drawers. The food served in the restaurant was very good. At breakfast and lunch one could eat from a self-service buffet, order from the kitchen, or both. Dinner consisted of a choice of three starters, five entrees, and three desserts. Wine, beer, and soft drinks were complementary in the dining room. Coffee and tea were available anytime in the atrium. Off ship tours were ok but in many cases the guides tried to present just too much information. The passenger makeup was mostly American couples over 60 years old. There was a few brits, a large Asian family, a few teens, and no children.
The Saone and Rhone rivers have none of the charm of the Rhine, Main, Elbe, Moselle, and Danube rivers. Most of the stretches of river the ship passed through were lined with industrial factories not picturesque medieval villages.
Nits that I had about Viking were:
1. On Sunday, the ship's tour of Beaune went on via a 4-hour bus ride (2 hours each way) that included a group lunch of mostly inedible food served in a hot, very crowded second floor dining room.
2. The ship's master (captain) did not speak a word of English so the few times he spoke to the passengers in the briefings in the lounge, he spoke in French and his comments had to be translated by the cruise director or hotel manager.
3. Vikings literature states "Weather permitting, the ship‘s sun dec is its most popular area when the ship is sailing." Not true on this cruise. The weather was mostly fair but the sun deck was NEVER opened when the ship was moving.
4. Given that Viking saved fuel and port charges that the passengers' undoubedly paid for, there was no compensation (not even a free drink) offered for the missed stops (Chalon-sur-Saone, Macon) and missed sections of the river.
At the end of the cruise, I left some less than positive comments about the value Viking provided on the guest questionnaire. After we returned home, both my wife & I received emails containing a voucher for $811.11 (a total of 20% of the original retail price of the cruise) off a future cruise within the next year. In what world would a company presume that a customer who had problems with one of their products would return to spend good money after bad on another of their products?