We are experienced travellers and what happened to us on this trip has never happened before and the problems we experienced ruined what should have been an enjoyable expereince. Our difficulties started in the air routing selected by Viking River cruises (we had chosen to purchase both the air and cruise portion from Viking something we normally do not do). For some reason they chose to route us from Vancouver (the closest major airport) through Toronto and Frankfurt to St. Petersburg using Lufthansa airlines (codeshare with Air Canada to Frankfurt). A direct flight from Vancouver to Frankfurt was available with Lufthansa and other passengers on our cruise who started in Vancouver were booked on this flight. This meant we had to stay overnight in Vancouver the day before our flight as it left in the morning (the more direct flight did not leave until the afternoon). This in itself was not a major problem until things started to go wrong. This happened about 20 minutes before our More
flight was to leave when Air Canada announced there was some problem with our plane and that it was going to be replaced with another smaller one which would not accommodate all the passengers. For some reason we were told to go to another gate where we would be given further instructions. We were not surprised to find a long line when we got to the new gate. At first we were told to sit down and we would be called to the desk when the agents could help us, a few minute later we were told that those who had connecting flights in Toronto which they would miss should get in line. My wife stood in line while I checked out flight schedules on my laptop. After over an hour wait we eventually got to the front of the line. We asked to be rerouted to St. Petersburg and the agent refused to do this saying she only had time to get reroute us to Toronto. By past experience we knew this would just mean more time in a line in Toronto and we insisted that our complete rerouting should be handled now. Eventually another agent agreed to do this. When we talked to this agent we first requested the direct Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt as there was space on it. Instead we were routed via Calgary on Air Canada flights. The agent did contact the baggage handlers and told them the new routing for us. We sent an e-mail to Viking telling them our new arrival time and flights. Viking did reply to us and told us there would someone to meet us when we arrived. Unfortunately when we did arrive in St. Petersburg (6 hours after originally scheduled time) our luggage did not arrive with us. We went to lost luggage where we were given a raft of paperwork to complete. There was another couple who were taking the cruise filling out the forms too. The agent told us our luggage was in Toronto. After about an hour of doing this we eventually got to meet with the Viking rep. She had sent on the other passengers already but had a van for us (this was really well handled as I am sure the others were happy to get to the ship right away and not have to wait for us). When we got to the ship we gave our luggage paper work to reception and asked for copies. We were told we could have our clothes cleaned overnight and they would be available before breakfast. We decided to do this.
The next morning when breakfast was announced our clothes had not come back because there was no one in housekeeping yet. The clothes did arrive 15 minutes later and we were able to get a quick breakfast before our first excursion. When we got back to the ship at lunch we were told our bags had not come with those that were delivered. Now we were going to have to get some toiletries and clothes so we asked the cruise director if there was anywhere nearby where we could do this. He told us of some places in the centre of St. Petersburg where we could go but said there was nothing local. We asked if we could be dropped off there on our way back to the ship and were told to talk to our tour guide about this. When we did this she was concerned that we would we would not have time to shop, have dinner and catch the ballet performance that evening. So we had to got in our travelling clothes while many of shipmates wore jackets and dresses as we had planned to do. That night we sent our clothes to the laundry again since our bags still had not come and all we were able to buy on the ship was shaving cream and deodorant they did not even have any t-shirts in our size. We now felt that somehow we would have to go do some shopping the next day and asked to see the cruise director to discuss how we could do this. He had gone home so we asked for him to call us when he arrived in the morning.
In the morning reception told us the cruise director was stuck in traffic and could not meet with us. We asked if someone else could help and were passed to the hotel manager who agreed to come to our cabin and talk to us. He was very empathetic and helpful and told us there was a large mall 10 min. away by taxi and said he would arrange for us to go there when we got back at lunch. As our bags were still missing when we returned a taxi and boxed lunch were waiting for us. However we were charged 60 euros for the cab. The next morning we were told our luggage had been found in Moscow and should arrive in the afternoon. At lunchtime we were told we would have to forego our afternoon excursion and go to the airport to get our bag and that we would have to pay another 60 euros for a taxi. At this point we were quite frustrated and calmly suggested that Viking should pay for the cab. A man in a suit interjected without introducing himself and said this was not Viking's fault and we would have to pay for the cab and claim from Lufthansa. I asked who he was and was told he was Viking's Manager of Russian Operations. I reviewed the facts with him but he was still adamant that this was not Viking's fault and they had no responsibility. while this was happening the hotel manager had arranged for us to go to the airport and back with the Viking reps who were going to meet passengers coming in to join another Viking Cruise. When the time came to leave for the airport we were told our bags had not arrived. Half an hour later we were told that one bag had arrived and did we want a taxi to go to the airport (yes it would cost us 60 euros). Although it was tempting to tell them to keep the bag I decided to go to the airport and get the bag while my wife went back to the mall to buy some more things since no one knew where her bag was. I finally got my bag and my wife had enough clothes to get her through until we arrived 6 days later in Moscow. All our spare time during this 6 days was spent talking about, writing letters and e-mails about the lost bag. This meant we always had anger and frustration boiling under the surface and left us very little time to enjoy the passing scenery or take in the lectures and lessons offered. When we arrived in Moscow we were told a)the bag was there b)we would have to go to the airport to get it at our expense and c)that trip could take up to 3 hours each way. We gave instructions for the bag to be returned to Canada. This did not happen and after more effort on our part showed up 4 days after we got home. Now for the actual cruise.
Ship and Cabin The ship was pleasantly finished and comfortable but offers little in the way of amenities. There was a bar and a small library equipped with 2 computers and the dining room. The free Internet came in handy and the speed and access were quite good unlike the slow speed and expensive service on ocean cruise liners.
There was a small and poorly stocked store that offered little other than souvenirs you found everywhere you went in Russia. Our cabin was small but comfortable except for the pillar between the bed and the desk which made it hard to get by if someone was sitting at the desk (a common occurrence for us due to the above).
Dining Room: The food was okay not outstanding and definitely below the standard of the ocean lines we have been on. Breakfast consisted of a buffet set up on both sides of the dining room. It had a good variety of cereals, fruits, breads, cold meats and egg dishes and other than the pancakes (hard and doughy) was fairly good. The service was quite good and the staff very pleasant and helpful.
Entertainment: Practically non-existent, there was a piano player in the bar but we never heard him play but then we were rarely in there.
Excursions: This is where Viking does deliver on its promises. All the guides we went with were excellent. They knew their Russian history and added in their opinions on Russian politics past and current. All excursions were interesting and we found St. Petersburg to be one of the best European cities we have ever seen for architecture. The palaces are incredible especially since they were so badly damaged during WW II. We went to the optional Cossack show which was fun but overpriced (mind you that seemed to be the case in most of Russia). We also did the optional home visit in Uglich. This was worth it as it was our our only chance to meet an ordinary Russian and see how they lived.
Overall: The wors trip we have taken thanks mostly to Lufthansa. We think Viking could have done a better job in support i.e. paid for taxis and phone calls to insurance providers, offered t-shirts and toiletries when luggage delayed so long and some compensation for tours we had to miss since we paid for these as part of the package. Without the luggage problem I would have to rate them at 2 stars on a 4 star system when I would rate Holland America/Princess at 3 and Oceania 3.25.
Service: Most of the staff were very good especially the Hotel manager. However the chief receptionist was one of the worst people I have every dealt with on a cruise ship. She even told my wife to wait until she got home to deal with her lost bag. The cruiseship director was not really that he even said all he was responsible for were the excursions and refused to help with anything not related directly to that. Less
Cabin 218 has a steel pillar between the foot of the bed and the desk which makes the room more cramped than others in its class. However the ship was called the Surkov when we were on it and may have changed but the pillar is probably still there as I think it was part of the ship's structure.