We’ve all seen them - the inspirational Viking Cruise Lines advertisements - mature couples drinking wine on deck with wind blowing gently on their smiling faces amidst beautiful castles going by as they cruise luxuriously down the ... Read More
We’ve all seen them - the inspirational Viking Cruise Lines advertisements - mature couples drinking wine on deck with wind blowing gently on their smiling faces amidst beautiful castles going by as they cruise luxuriously down the exotic river. Enchanting villages where, said couples, are watching and bantering with the village folk while teaching them the secret techniques of their trade. Enrichment lectures onboard and destination performances at port so you can experience the culture live and in color. Irresistible, right? So irresistible, in fact, that we called Viking directly and after talking at length with the “Travel Consultant” about the “Romantic Danube” River Cruise and all that it included, we signed up with eager anticipation.
My husband and I just completed our Viking “Romantic Danube” River cruise and found the reality to be altogether different. It was actually more of a BUS TRIP where we “cruised” down nondescript highways with occasional stops in places not on the itinerary (to make up for the places we didn’t go to that were on the itinerary) to catch a glimpse of our ship docked at some rundown, industrial site that is nowhere near our destination. My personal favorite was the gravel pit with the huge crane where we literally had to walk under the dangling cab to board our ship. This, of course, was one of those stops somewhere between cities we were supposed to visit but had to take a bus to get to. Rumor has it, from a reliable source who works for Viking, that these sites are actually chosen to avoid paying expensive docking fees in ports of call. But I digress…
Unfortunately, our trip did not reflect what was advertised in the commercials, brochures or travel document verbiage. In fact, there was but a vestige of what the itinerary and brochure promised. Yes, the river level was down; and Yes, the itinerary needed to be altered; and Yes, there were buses to be organized and utilized, but the overarching problem with this trip for us was that Viking’s approach to all of this is to NOT FULLY DISCLOSE the information they had. This resulted in constant last minute changes, passenger confusion, misinformation, frustration and an overall feeling that we were having “the wool pulled over our eyes”, which then lead to multiple rumors about how Viking was greedily and knowingly taking advantage of its passengers. To top off this already difficult environment, the Program Director and his staff were arrogant, condescending, aloof and downright rude. When I asked, out of curiosity, why Viking ships were docked in port at Passau and moving down the river, yet we had a very long bus ride bus to get to Passau AND back that afternoon AND another 4.5 hour bus ride the next day to meet a ship to swap with, I was met with a very curt response from one of the managers, followed by the Program Director literally yelling at me and making extremely sarcastic and belittling comments to me within hearing distance of other passengers. Honestly, I was incredulous. This was TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE and UNPROFESSIONAL behavior. He did later apologize and said how stressed out he was, but that is just not what I expect when we’re paying THOUSANDS of dollars to take this trip.
By Day 3 of the cruise, passengers were already talking openly about how upset they were about all of these changes were being handled; the lack of communication, the seeming chaos and poor decisions that were being made. These were not just people whom had not been on a Viking cruise before, this included people who had taken multiple cruises with Viking and were never going to step foot on another Viking ship after this one was done. By the time the trip was completed, that’s all we heard people talking about - how unethical, irresponsible, unconscionable and negligent Viking was to KNOWINGLY take our money and not fully disclose what the true impact on our trip might be. Based on the reviews we read prior to taking the trip, this water level issue had been going on for 4 months! We even called Viking 5 days prior to departure to ask if our trip was going to be impacted and if we could cancel if it was. They, of course, responded with NO, you can’t cancel, NO, they didn’t anticipate a problem as it had just rained and No, No, No, etc. It’s their favorite word, come to find out!
And, if nondisclosure was not enough of an insult, we also encountered vast changes on what they did disclose. When we first booked our trip, we were told that we could upgrade for free if a balcony room became available. We called numerous times to see if there was a cancellation. Once onboard, we asked immediately for an upgrade. NO, it was not free (that word again!) and when first given an upgrade price of $400 (they told us this 3 separate times), when we went to pay just minutes after they quoted us, they charged us $480! Again, NO, we never said $400…our word against theirs. They didn’t even say, “We’re sorry for the misunderstanding” or any kind of courteous response, just NO!
Rather than continue to recount our many disappointing moments, let me state factually the itinerary we experienced:
Nuremburg - On Day 2, we were told that the boat apparently “needed” to start off down the Danube while we were on our tours and we had to be BUSSED to catch up with it - an additional 45 minutes on top of what the bussing time to and from Nuremburg was supposed to be
Regensburg - the only port that we could access by the boat and no busses
* Straubing - Not on the itinerary. A remote docking site to access Passau and other ports by BUS. From Passau to the boat: 3 hours roundtrip, shortening our time in port. For passengers, like my husband, who didn’t want to sit on a bus for 3 hours, he was faced with either sitting on the boat with no activities or easy access to the town of Straubing.
* Ybbs - Not on the itinerary. The day after Passau, we were bussed 4.5 hours to this place to be boarded onto a new ship. No tours - we did cruise down the Wachau Valley starting at 4, which was beautiful, but this was supposed to be earlier in the day and we could have had a tour of Krems that day.
Vienna - a disaster. We had just our morning tour and needed to get back on the boat because the water level was getting lower. Vienna was supposed to be a 2 day experience. Additional tours were cancelled and off we sailed by 2:00 that same day to head for our next port. Another aside: Viking advertises a side excursion to Salzburg for the day. What they DON’T tell you, is that it requires a 6.5 - 7 hour bus trip roundtrip!
* Bratislava - Not on the itinerary. We stopped here for the night with no onshore tours or activities or even information about the port.
* Komarom - Not on the itinerary. This was the closest we could come to Budapest. A 1.5 hour bus trip away. No town in site, just another very unattractive outpost. We had a city tour of Budapest in the morning followed by a lunch, but we were told we needed to get back to the boat as they were trying to figure out bussing for the optional tours and getting people to a hotel that had flights before 8am the next morning.
DEPARTURE: The sad part of leaving was the fact that only a handful of people were put up in a hotel in Budapest to be closer to the airport. The rest of us had to bus back to the boat and wake up very early to catch yet another bus for another 2.5 hour ride into the airport. One of our acquaintances had to get up at 3am to be on the bus by 4:15am. WHY didn’t Viking put us all up in the hotel as a convenience and kind gesture?
For us, our Viking Air arranged flight to Munich was cancelled. As we were standing in line waiting to see if we could even get out that day, another Viking ship had all of their people that were on that flight rebooked and were escorted to the gate they were rebooked to. We asked for help as well, but apparently it’s all ships for themselves!
This was the worst group travel experience we have ever experienced. The Viking Brand does not deserve to have the reputation it does. Marketing can buy impressions, but then you have to live up to it. Viking, most certainly, did not do that.
And for myself and my husband and many others onboard this trip…“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Read Less