Our trip was the first week in July 2014, "Portraits of Southern France" sailing on the Viking River Cruise's longship Heimdal.
Read the Cruise Critic's overview of the Viking Heimdal, it is spot on in its description of the Ship.
I must begin by saying the longship Heimdal is flawless. Beautiful accommodations, public rooms and all sparkling clean. Coffee/tea/hot chocolate and cookies always in the common areas. Truly wonderful.
STAFF...all very pleasant and efficient. rating 5+++
The longship itself, excellent. rating 4.95
Tour guides, fabulous, knowledgeable, witty, pleasant. rating 5
The towns where we docked and toured, rating 5
Very good food. rating 4.25
If you read the Cruise Critic's description of the cabins however, I have to disagree with several items.
The glass showers are not snug...we felt they were roomy and well designed...the shower door does however leave a small puddle on the bathroom floor but it is not in the main walking area...of course your bathroom room is tidied and cleaned at least once a day, more if needed.
Also we thought the toilets had super-power flushes unlike what was described in the cabin description.
The rooms are well sound-proofed with the only noise from the neighbors being if you are in the bathroom and they flush you can hear that a little.
It was fabulous having the normal European 220 volt AND the American 110 volt sockets..and plenty of them.
The WIFI was not as good as the description said if you had an IPad. Many people who brought along Ipads had to sit in public areas to get WIFI while if you had a computer, you could get reception in your room. I was sitting on the sundeck of the Heimdal on the last day in Avignon and I got reception on my Ipad from the Uniworld boat which was two boat lengths away from us but no signal from either of the Viking ships which were tethered together at one dock space, the Heimdal or the Hermod. It would be worth the money for Viking to boost the WIFI for all annoyance it caused.
What was not so good?
1. The Heimdal
Nearly everything about the boat is fabulous. These were the only 3 problems:
-There is not enough seating in the lounge for all of the passengers to be able to attend the daily briefings or presentations.
-The French balcony rooms only have one place to sit in a cabin for 2 people.
-The unpleasant sewage smell in the public areas of the boat when docked in Avignon. (we were told that happens when 2 boats are docked together sometimes...yuck)
2. Last minute embarkation dock/town switch with no explanation.
Our experience was exactly the same as reported in an earlier review written by "Atkinsonguy" whose cruise was in May 2014. We had rented a car and traveled toward Chalon-Sur-Saone where we were to embark when we received a last minute email that we would be embarking in Lyon...no explanation of why...We too, drove back to Lyon to find the Heimdal. Luckily we had wi-fi where we were staying...
3. The planning of our time while in Lyon...
For four days we sat in Lyon. The first night some things were delayed because a group of people would be arriving later than most of us. Apparently that was the Paris pre-trip extension. We were fortunate as our cabin faced the river and we could see the activity on the river as well as the other bank and the hill behind with the ever-changing dramatic sky. We had friends who paid for a full balcony who were on the other side of the boat and all they saw was a concrete wall and the quay...they felt unable to sit on their balcony because of all the people on the quay. She said, "We were the entertainment for the people walking by." They just stopped using the balcony.
We never got to walk around Chalon-Su-Saone or the other towns on the Saone which might have been a good thing to do on Sunday (as nothing is open in Lyon). But the decision was made to take us on the tour of old Lyon on Sunday (the tour was fabulous) but our free time was given when no museums or even shopping was available.
Monday we were bussed to Beaune on a cramped, uncomfortable bus...2 hours up and nearly 3 hours back (terrific traffic jams outside the tunnel going back into Lyon) We were given 1 hour of free time from 12 to 1pm...but of course everything closes between 12 and 2. The lunch served at a nearby restaurant was the worst meal I have had in years. When the plates were collected after the meal, all 8 of the people at our table still had half the food left on their plates as it was inedible. It really surprised me that Atkinsonguy reported the same thing happened in May...and apparently Viking did nothing to improve the food or change the restaurant. Again we had a terrific guide and great tour of the hospital for 45 minutes. The 45 minute wine tasting was not worth going to as the wines were not to most of the group's taste.
We wanted to go to some museums in Lyon and I was told the only time I would have to do that was Tuesday morning but I'd have to be back on the boat by 11:15am as we would be leaving at that time. Had I chosen to go that would have given me about 45 minutes at one museum.
It was explained that the water was too high for the boat to make it under the bridges and that is why we would be missing sailing on the Saone River. I understand that this can happen but choices about how to get us on our tours and to spend time in the cities and villages should be made with the thought of maximizing our opportunities during free time...to have a reasonable amount of free time when we are able to actually see and do things. Also it was sad to lose half our cruising time on the river..
4. The sundeck and walking track.
Once we got underway spirits lifted but then another issue bothered a lot of us...as Atkinsonguy said, "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." The same was true on the July sailing. They closed the sundeck. That put smokers in the side verandahs off the reception area which often put smoke in the hallways and made the common areas midship unavailable to nonsmokers if they wanted a smoke-free environment. We got to go on the sundeck the first full day in Lyon and the last day in Avignon.
Not the cruising experience I imagined while watching all the Viking ads on TV.
Are we glad we took this cruise despite the negatives? leaning toward YES because they have a good product but poor planning in optimizing our time when unable to follow the itinerary impacted the experience.
The decision makers didn't seem to listen to feedback from passengers about the bad lunch in Beaune reported in May yet in July passengers have the same bad experience. We reported uncomfortable busses and were told the next day there were better busses, but the last day they were back to the cramped conditions where anyone a bit taller had their knees poking into the backs of the seats in front of them again. (and therefore into the backs of the people in those seats)
Knowing what we know now about river cruising and what can go wrong, (too high or too low water and the problems that brings which caused us to miss half our cruising time or inability to ride along on the sundeck or use the track) would we take another Viking river cruise? Definitely not. Too much money and not worth the risk that you can miss half of your sailing/cruising experience.
Now you will know some of the questions to ask before you plan your cruise...because the people who take your booking over the phone (and your payment) are extremely helpful in answering all your questions. I found them personable and extremely helpful.