Like most of the passengers on this river cruise, I fell for Viking's relentless promotions and advertising. In particular, visiting the Christmas markets sounded like fun. So, off my husband and I went. Embarkation went smoothly. ... Read More
Like most of the passengers on this river cruise, I fell for Viking's relentless promotions and advertising. In particular, visiting the Christmas markets sounded like fun. So, off my husband and I went. Embarkation went smoothly. Lunch was waiting when we arrived, and when our cabin was ready we were escorted there. The cabins on this new ship are quite nice. Smallish compared to today's ocean vessels, but with at most 100 cabins on a small ship one expects the cabins to be small. We managed and did not have complaints about space, the bathroom, etc. They only put duvets/comforters on the beds, European style, so one had to adjust the temperature in the room for that.
In general the public areas were nicely done. The ship itself was fine. However, a Viking river cruise is very different from an ocean cruise in many ways. Even adjusting one's expectations accordingly, it may not be one's cup of tea.
Dining: there are no tables for 2 or, from what I saw on our ship, for 4. That means there WILL be new friends made whether you seek that or not. The food is okay. Not great. At times not even average. The small portions did not bother us, but the lackluster quality of much of it did. The free wine was below par---I could tell and I am not a wine nut. My husband is and he found the red so lacking in any depth he would not drink it. The white was slightly better. It is excusable for Viking to serve such bad wine on a cruise of the Rhine through wine country. They have a drink package you can buy to upgrade---one way they are copying the big cruise lines.
At times there was just oddness to the food. At one lunch we ordered beef off the menu, only to receive gravy with---I am not making this up---some mushroom bits and about 1/2 oz of beef shreds floating in it. Why let that out of the kitchen? Just say you are out of beef!
Service: This was a mixed bag. In the dining room we finally found the best waiter---the only one who came close to providing the service we expect on a cruise. Before him we had a pair that spent more time joking with passengers than serving, and another who could not remember anything. At breakfast one day I waited for 15 minutes before a waiter approached me, and the room was not even half filled. At eveery single dinner I had to ask for sugar with my coffee, and for refills.
Our cabin steward, a young woman, never came to introduce herself so I could not request the extra towels I needed. After I brought my little list to reception, she showed up exuding attitude that I had done that. It was the last we saw her. Some days her making up the cabin was perfunctory. There were stewards who finished in less than two hours, like ours, and others who were working all day scrubbing down their cabins. Try to get one of the latter.
The reception staff on the whole was good, although one man barely controlled his impatience. There is no digital/computerized system for checking that passengers have left, so you have to hand in a little card when you return so they can count noses.
The excursions were a mixed bag. We had two good guides out of the week, a few okay ones, and two horrible ones. Some do not know how to lead a group of 25 through a city. It is necessary to periodically stop so the group can stick together and you don't lose the ones at the end as the group strings out along city sidewalks. Too often that is what happened, with passengers getting annoyed. This told me that these were for the most part not professionally trained guides. At the end of our visit to Strasbourg we were treated to a forced march back to the coaches that lasted a half hour as we hustled nonstop for two miles. I think the coaches could have parked closer---for a price that Viking did not want to pay.
There is one free excursion every day. There were also several "optional" ones during the week, for additional money. One of those went to Kolmar, France, late afternoon. Really, it was nothing more than a bus shuttle to and from a town less than 20 minutes from the dock, plus a walk through the town. Not included was a visit to the church where Matthias Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece could be found. When I suggested to the Cruise Director that it really should be included for those who chose to go ---it was only five minutes from where the walking tour ended---- he commented that most people have never heard of it. Well, true, but isn't travel about learning things you did not already know??? This is an Art History 101 work, meaning it is important enough to get into the most basic textbooks. I went on my own, and most of my table mates that night regretted they had not been informed of its importance.
Our fellow passengers were mostly new to river cruises, but experienced in ocean cruises. Just like us. They were all Americans. Just like us. Most were over 60 and looked it, just like us (although my husband does not look his age, and he appeared young compared to most of the others.) Anyone younger than 50 would think they had made a mistake booking this cruise.
There is no entertainment to speak of. We ended up watching reruns of Downton Abbey most nights in our cabin. There is one gathering place with a bar, and that is it. No amenities. No shows, No gambling. No coffee house. No spa. No fitness room. No pool. No ice cream off hours (actually, no food except cookies between meals, period, and no room service ever.) The "free specialty coffees" available 24/7 come out of a machine, and not a good one. Even the tea bags at that self-serve station are cheap. A number of the less positive reviews comment on the over-ripe fruit on these ships. It appears to be all of them. I watched some plums go from ripe to dead as each day passed. There is wifi, but it is spotty. At one town we docked so that the reception dish was under a bridge. No wifi that night.
Christmas Markets---they are on both the French side and the German side of the river. The German ones are more authentic. The French ones are massive and commercialized to where hordes descend on the weekends. More to the point ---and I should have thought of this!---if you take a Christmas Market cruise, you are cruising during the shortest days of the year. It was dark by 6. So very little of the river was seen, because it was dark when the ship cruised the river. We went through many locks, which would have been interesting, if one could have seen them. We had only one day when the ship cruised during the day, and the Cruise Director gave a multi-hour talk about what we passed. I wish I could say I was impressed, but after a while every small ruined castle on a hill looked like another pile of old stones. I was much more interested when we passed the campuses of major chemical plants. They went on for miles, and at night looked like something in a sci-fi movie.
We are still deciding what we thought about all of this. My husband is not inclined to do another river cruise. We both do not think it represents a good value, or a good way to see these towns. Viking has some rough edges, especially in staff and service levels. Better to take trains and book hotels and go to towns we really want to see, or take an ocean cruise and enjoy better spaces and amenities. Read Less