If our experience is typical, Viking is slipping in quality. We cruised the Rhine with them five years ago and were very impressed. This time we cruised the Danube, on a nearly identical ship, and were sorry to find that the experience was not as good.
The plan looked good: visit several interesting places along the legendary Danube. The lavishly illustrated brochure made it seem this trip would offer the same high level of service as before. The reality was somewhat less than we expected.
For example, the breakfast and lunch buffets were not as extensive as we recalled, and didn't have much variety from day to day. Breakfast included such mistakes as burnt pancakes, watery oatmeal and a flat, tasteless omelette. Lunch one day in the land of great sausages featured plain American hot dogs. While dinner held to the former high standards, the portion size had shrunk. Of course, inactive people on a cruise boat don't need to eat very much, but putting us all on a diet seemed less than generous.
The staff seemed less courteous than we recalled. More than once I was nearly run down in the buffet line by busy waiters hurrying past without waiting for diners to get out of their way. Table service was also rather brusque, we felt. Part of the problem was a language barrier. Most of the crew was from former Eastern Bloc countries such as Slovakia and Hungary, and their limited English made communications difficult. Even with all the goodwill in the world, it's hard to feel connected to someone when you can't speak to each other beyond the simplest of words.
We also experienced a problem with cabin service. Our cabin attendant was always working in our room just before we needed to leave for the day's excursion and wouldn't leave unless we insisted. She seemed to think we should stay away until she was finished. It was awkward, since we needed to get ready to go. I don't recall having any such problem last time. Why can't room cleaning wait until after the passengers have disembarked for the scheduled excursion?
Perhaps the biggest problem we experienced was the loss of a promised night in Vienna the only night we would be there. We were told that the ship could not get through as scheduled due to bridge construction, and so it tied up at the tiny village of Krems, where there were no attractions of interest. I don't know why Viking couldn't work around the problem other ships that had been on the same schedule as ours in the days before were not tied up at Krems. But even assuming there was truly no way to get through, Viking didn't have enough concern for its customers to do the right thing. They had promised us a night in Vienna. They could and should have taken us there by bus if they couldn't do it on the ship. It wasn't that far, and wouldn't have been that expensive. Most of us would have been willing to pay a reasonable amount for the extra cost involved, but it wasn't offered. I think it was this incident that crystallized my feelings about the lack of good customer service on this cruise.
Anyone reading this review is probably aware that Viking has adopted 2-for-1 pricing for the 2009 season. We took advantage of that offer. You might say we shouldn't complain when we were getting such a good deal. But 2-for-1 is only a good deal if you get two of the original quality for the price of one, not when you get two of something less. We were disappointed. If Viking has decided to reposition itself at the low-price end of the cruise business, that's their decision, Perhaps we were just naive to think quality would hold up as prices fell, but if Viking wants to sail down to the lower end of the market, perhaps they could save significant money and also be more forthright with their customers by putting out a cheaper looking brochure.