My wife and I booked our honeymoon on Viking Cruise lines in October, a nine day cruise down the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel with daily stops along the way. We had never tried river cruising before but had heard good things about it and were anxiously looking forward to the trip. After much research we were down to choosing Viking River Cruises or Uniworld and in the end decided on Viking because their itinerary included the Black Forest which my wife had always wanted to visit and Heidelberg which I had always wanted to visit. Unfortunately the cruise did not turn out as we had expected; after leaving Amsterdam we cruised for just two days then stopped in Koblenz Germany and were informed that the water levels on the river were too low and we could go no further. Viking then did a one day cruise down the Mosul River to a beautiful little village, unfortunately we had roughly two and a half hours to explore before we had to rush back to the boat and return to Koblenz were we remained tied up for the remainder of the week while they bussed us to various locations were had been scheduled to visit. Because we spent hours on buses we only got to visit two of those locations, missing out on the remaining three. And even at the two we did visit; Heidelberg and Strasbourg, were very brief, we had just a few hours free time in Heidelberg and less than two hours in Strasbourg. We were then buses to our final destination; Basel, a day early and that was that.
Needless to say, I realize that Viking River Cruises has no control over the level of the river and no reasonable person could blame them for that. I do however blame them for the way in which they handled the entire trip;
The company later admitted that they knew before we ever left Amsterdam that we would almost certainly be unable to complete the cruise due to the low water levels, yet they still got us on the ship where they could control us and cruise for at least a day or two, thus being able to state that they had tried their best. And during the cruise itself they lied to us about this, claiming that they had thought the river levels would rise due to rain! It was only after we'd returned and I wrote to the company that they admitted the truth. They never gave us the option of deciding what we would like to do (they cancelled the cruise the following week and gave those passengers the choice of re-scheduling their trip or receiving a refund). I would have gladly taken even a partial refund and left the ship in Koblenz.
We paid a handsome sum of money for an 8 day river cruise and instead received a three day cruise and a series of long bus trips and short visits to only a few of our scheduled stops. For this the company offered us 30% off another cruise but only if we took it within the next year. I might add that this was at a time when they were offering two for one deals and large discounts in airfare to anyone off the street!
The crew paid no mind to what we, the paying passengers, wanted to do. During an on board meeting when they finally admitted that we could not continue on the river the majority of passengers expressed the desire to visit the Black Forest instead of Strasbourg, this was ignored by the crew because Strasbourg was more convenient for them to then bus us to Basel and be rid of us. So Strasbourg it was, for an hour or so anyway!
The crews demeanor throughout the trip was abrupt to the point of being rude, this was so apparent that it became a running joke among the passengers, not a funny one either. Their attitude was; "this is what we are doing so be quiet and like it".
And on a more general note; the food was just fair and the service at meal times left much to be desired, the wait staff was undermanned and did little more than put the food in front of you and run off. If you asked for anything extra you would have thought you had asked them to move the earth for you. The ship was obviously understaffed.
Upon returning home I wrote a long, thoughtful letter to Viking expressing my displeasure and pointing out that basically, my wife and I had paid $9,000 for a short cruise and a series of very long bus trips. And that I did not think their offering 30% off another cruise IF taken within a year was sufficient compensation for that. Several months later I received a form letter explaining how the water levels on the Rhine work and basically saying that they were sorry but it is what it is, get over it and hey, we hope you sail with us again very soon!
Viking sends out DVD's and brochures and letters from their chairman touting their high level of service and how much they care for their passengers. This was a far cry from the Viking that we experienced. I would urge all of you to take their claims of sterling service with a very large grain of salt and, if you should be planning a river cruise then seriously consider Uniworld or Globus and avoid Viking all together. Our experience may or may not have been the norm but, do you want to spend that kind of money to find out?