My wife and I went on the July 12 voyage henceforth known as the “Oops I left the rope in the water cruise” where a crew member forgot to pull in the docking rope into the boat, causing it to wrap around the propellers, causing the boat to be immobile for all but a couple of hours on the last couple days of the cruise. That said, in the tradition of the Skipper and Gilligan, if not for the courage to the mighty program director, the last couple days of the vacation would have been lost.
What the lassoing of the engine did was cause us to be bused to Cadillac instead of sailing to Cadillac. To make up for the rope screw up what they did is took us to lunch at a local restaurant while we were enjoying that day’s activities. We had a wonderful Sauternes tasting after the tour of Cadillac. They split us up into 4 groups and our group went in a restaurant in a bed and breakfast in a small town the name of which I don’t remember near Cadillac that was once a post office. We had a tasty salad, some delicious duck, and some nice wine. With all due respect to the chef on the ship, it was my favorite lunch of the week and the setting could not have been nicer. Because we only had this lunch because some guy forgot to pull the rope out of the water I asked the program director if I could leave the guy a tip because I enjoyed the lunch so much. She shot me dirty look so I decided not to pursue it.
They are now modifying the cruise itinerary to fit the tide pattern for the week to minimize issues. Good move
We had a French balcony and that is the most your really need on this trip. It spends so much time in Bordeaux and the regular balcony’s face the dock, and you spend very little time at sea I see no reason to have one.
Because of the holiday they brought us back to Bordeaux to watch the Bastille day fireworks from the roof of the ship. The fireworks going off over Bordeaux at night was a great experience. Nice touch and much appreciated.
They offer two walking tours as well as a bus tour of Bordeaux. They are a bit repetitive and you can skip at least one of them.
What follows are how I would rate different aspects of the voyage from no stars to 5 stars.
The rope incident. There is a revolutionary invention called a checklist. They should have one when leaving a dock. One of the items should be “put rope in boat”. Enough said.
The breakfast in the lounge area. Went to try it once but not very imaginative. Could use a couple more items.
The travel arrangements through Viking. We booked our travel through Viking. Had trouble on the front end and the back end. When I got my flight arrangements they only booked us to Paris. It seemed strange to me but I thought maybe they put you on a bus to Bordeaux. About 10 days before the trip I got a cell phone call from Viking changing all of my flight information correcting their error and flying us to Bordeaux. They also changed our return flight. We had also signed up for the Paris extension. They never communicated the change in our return flight to the staff in Paris. About 8:00 the night before we left we realized that they had us on a shuttle that left one hour before our flight, in plenty of time for our old return flight but not our new one. We got up early and asked the Viking person in Paris to get on an earlier shuttle and after some grumbling, reminding me that there was too much luggage on the shuttle now, she was able to accommodate me. Lesson here is don’t assume Viking has it right, double check what Viking sends you. What got it up to two stars was the amazing staff that greeted us at the airport and the guide that took us to the Bordeaux train station to go to Paris. They could have not been more helpful.
The Bordeaux Market Tour. We had signed up for the optional market tour with the chef which would have probably been more personal and interesting but because the ship was immobilized and they had to improvise they had a market tour for the entire ship. We love going to these type of markets but there was so many of us, we were herded around like sheep, and were rushed from station to station. It was not very pleasant. Did enjoy the cheese tasting however and we appreciated the efforts by the staff to put this together at the last minute.
The Wine Program. The standard wine they served at lunch and dinner was good not great. That is what I expected. I did not sign up for the drink upgrade program so I can’t comment on how much of an improvement that would have been. They were also not squeamish about the quantity of wine the poured at dinner. This was a bit of a booze cruise for the senior set. I observed a couple of folks that got the upgraded drink package and you could tell from the look in their eyes and the way they walked they were taking full advantage of it. I don’t know how you could physically drink any more than I did for free so I see no need for the all you can drink upgrade. I wish they would have had some variety in the wine they served especially the whites. There is only so much acidy citrusy white Bordeaux you can drink. They should throw in French Riesling, or a white burgundy every once in a while even if they did not fit the theme of the cruise to give white wine drinkers a choice. I also expected a wine expert on board. The person that was in charge of wine stayed in the background. They conducted a couple of wine classes”. One was a wine tasting class conducted by the program director. They served some wines and gave everyone some basic instruction. It was nice but the Program Director is not a wine expert. They also had a wine/food pairing class that did not feature food or wine. That one is a bit of a head scratcher. So overall the variety and the instruction were less than I expected, the quality was what I expected, and the quantity was more than I expected.
The tour guides. Most of the excursions featured a different guide. Most of them were very good or better. A couple of them were barely decipherable. If you are going to do a tour aimed at English speaking people then you should be able to speak clear understandable English. That is one of the reasons we chose Viking. That said the tour guides that were top notch not only were understandable but by being transplants to the area they were able to add a level of context to their presentations that made their tours quite informative and enjoyable.
Our Room. Was what we expected. Small shower, small bathroom, small room. Great Bed. Liked the refrigerator.
Libourne Flee Market/St. Emilion/Chateau Siaurac Day. It was too much. We got up early went to the town market in Libourne. We have been to several town markets and this was OK. We then went to Optional Chateau Siaurc tour/lunch which despite an effort to sell their wines that was more aggressive then I would have wanted was wonderful. Do it it is worth it. Then we went to the St.-Emilion tour. They put a tour of a church in a cave in the middle of our time there that kind of limits your ability to roam. The cave church was only moderately interesting and the tour guide was only moderately understandable. I would have preferred someone showing us the other highlights of the town or using that time to see the town on my own. I feel I missed out on something by following the program.
Blaye/Citadel. Nice walled city. Well preserved. Enjoyed watching the steeplechase completion going on in the moat of the Citadel. Enjoyed watching the local Bastille day ceremony.
Lunch and Dinner in the dining room. Great meals every day. Wait staff could not have been nicer or more accommodating. Whether you eat a little or a lot you will enjoy lunch and dinner. Better than I expected.
The ship. Lounge comfortable. Sun Deck was great. Dining room is great. All the common areas are well done. Nice job.
Margoaux bus tour/Wine Tasting/Chateau Kerwin Day. We drove past 4 of the 5 Premier Grand Cru chateaus so I have 80% of a bucket list item complete. Only thing that detracted from it was too much time on the bus and we repeated several areas. Nice wine tasting at Chateau Lynch Bages. Dinner at the Chateau was fantastic and a top trip highlight. You will enjoy it.
“Sounds of France”. A young opera group they bring on board on the last night. It took some convincing by my wife to get me to go but I’m glad we went. Not only where they talented singers they were great entertainers as well. Don’t miss it.
Chateau d’ Arche Sauternes Tasting. Nice setting. Learned to appreciate Sauternes. Not to be missed.
The way they tried to make the best of a bad situation. They did a great job of recovering from the rope screw up. My hats off to the program staff.
The housekeeping staff. Did an amazing job of making our cabin clean and comfortable. Always friendly and always willing to help. Fantastic.
Breakfast. Way way better than I expected. They should consider making all three meals breakfast at some point.
The people we met. We enjoyed our time getting to know several other couples on the ship and it was an eclectic group. We got to know two couples from Florida living the Bocca Del Vista lifestyle, and a couple from Florida who are still hippies at heart and take medicinal vacations to certain locations where certain medications are legal, two couples from England that are extremely kind and extremely funny (one of them became my first UK Facebook friend), a couple from Chicago that met when they lived in Germany and used to build homemade airplanes in their garage. Time with them was time well spent.
Enjoyed the trip a great deal. Glad we did it. Wish we would have done more by boat and less by bus and wish they would have had a more sophisticated wine program (could they offer an optional wine tour every day?). Loved the Château visits, this ship, the food, the service, the people we met, and the quantity of wine.
If you don’t mind staying in the same general area, and you like wine then you should consider this trip. If you are not into wine or you want to see several areas and spend more time on a river and less time on a bus or in port then you may want to look elsewhere.