The purpose of this review is to explain why, after our recent cruise in Russia, my husband and I will avoid Viking River Cruises in the future, and why we will advise others to avoid Viking, too.
We are experienced travelers, and we understand that no trip is going to happen exactly as planned. We do, however, expect that as conditions change we will be kept informed. The number of variations between what was sold and what was delivered, coupled with the failure to keep us informed of significant changes in the itinerary (detailed below), were significant enough that the term "bait and switch" kept coming to mind. A certain amount of trust between the travel vendor and the traveler is necessary for a good travel experience. After this Russian cruise, we do not believe we can trust Viking River Cruises. In addition, in spite of three attempts to contact Viking about these issues (twice via e-mail and once by letter), no one at Viking has responded. This leaves me feeling that, once they have your money, they lose interest in you.
First: The condition of the ship was not as described in Viking brochures. When I made the booking with Viking in November 2009, I was advised by the Viking agent that the Pakhomov was an "excellent choice because it has just been renovated," something which figured heavily in my decision to book this cruise. In fact, per Stephan Busch, Hotel Manager, the Pakhomov had been scheduled for renovation in late 2009, but this renovation was not done. Mr. Busch told me on June 13, 2010, that he and others had made Viking Cruise Lines aware of the discrepancies between the ship as it was and the ship as it was described in Viking literature, but that "nothing had been done." In my view, therefore, we were sold something that did not exist.
Second: Viking withheld information from us. In November 2009, I also booked the Helsinki extension, mainly for the "scenic ride though the rolling landscape," described in the Viking literature. Two or three days before that extension was to start we were informed that there would be no trains running between St. Petersburg and Helsinki on the day the extension began, and that we would be flying from St. Petersburg to Helsinki. Since our primary reason for booking the extension was to see more of the countryside, we would have preferred to fly home instead of going to Helsinki, but by the time we were informed only very costly alternatives were available. However, our air tickets for St. Petersburg to Helsinki were purchased by Viking BEFORE WE LEFT THE U.S. TO BEGIN OUR TRIP. In addition we were finally told, again just before the Helsinki extension began, that we would be in Finland during a National holiday, and almost all museums and restaurants in Helsinki would be closed. No optional tours were offered to take advantage of the holiday: we were simply left with a lot of free time in a virtually empty city. We were told in Helsinki that this Holiday had been celebrated for over 50 years - so Viking should have been well aware of it, but they didn't share that information.
Third, there were numerous small things that, individually, would not have been of much concern but added up to irritation: • The "Itinerary & Departure Information" brochure states on page 6 that "Porters will...take your luggage to the transfer buses. Instead, one of the Viking guides pointed to luggage carts saying that we would have "a ways to walk before we got to our bus." When the bus finally came, one of the Pakhomov sailors loaded our luggage into the bus as we brought it to him. When we were in the bus, the Viking guide reminded us to tip the sailor. • The brochure states on page 25 that dinner is "generally" at 7:00 p.m. In fact, dinner was at 7 p.m. only once. Dinner was at 7:30 seven times, 9:30 once, 8:00 once, 7:20 once and 5:00 once. • The brochures states on page 26 that smoking is not permitted indoors on the ship. This apparently does not apply to the crew area. Heavy cigarette odors almost always emanated from the crew's quarters. Happily, this often served to cover-up the smell of raw sewage that wafted through the ship on a regular basis. • Again on page 26, the brochure indicates that staterooms aboard the Viking Pakhomov have safes and telephones. They don't. • From page 27, "staterooms aboard...Viking Pakhomov have televisions featuring channels with some U.S. or English programming." There was a television in the room, but most of the time - even in port - there was "no signal" and nothing on the television except the channel advertising Viking cruises. • Per page 28 of the brochure, "when possible, we will notify you of changes to your itinerary prior to departure; when not possible, your Program Director will advise you of changes. See discussion above about the Helsinki land extension. • The on-line description of the Category A Deluxe stateroom (the kind of room we booked) says that each has, "hotel-style beds (can be separated); large picture windows that open; private bathroom with enclosed shower; air conditioning; space under bed for storing suitcases; roomy wardrobe with wooden hangers; converter in the bathroom outlet." In fact, most hotels would be ashamed of the beds, which were small and furnished with thin mattresses. There is a large picture window, but we were advised never to leave it open because of the mosquitoes. There is a private bathroom in the stateroom, but the only thing that "encloses" the shower is a plastic shower curtain; thus it is nearly impossible to take a shower without getting the rest of the bathroom wet, too. There is an air conditioning unit in the room, but the desired temperature can only be approximated. There is space under the bed for storing small suitcases, but the "roomy wardrobe" isn't very roomy, and we had to sign for extra hangers if we wanted more than the few supplied with the room. There is no converter in the bathroom outlet; in fact, there is no outlet in the bathroom at all.
And one more thing: there are only two public rest rooms on the boat. That was not an issue until the last day when all of us were required to leave our rooms early in the day, but many of us were not taken to the airport until late afternoon.
I do wish to emphasize that the crew of the Pakhomov were friendly, helpful, and well-organized. I do believe that is very unfair to the crew to expect them to deal with a number of customers who have promised something by "the head office" which the crew cannot deliver.