After saving our money and paid time off for over three years, my husband and I were excited for our cruise to Cuba with Viking, who had shown us stellar service on their Paris to Normandy river journey in 2015. We were a little hesitant ... Read More
After saving our money and paid time off for over three years, my husband and I were excited for our cruise to Cuba with Viking, who had shown us stellar service on their Paris to Normandy river journey in 2015. We were a little hesitant at first, seeing that Viking had changed the itinerary on folks that booked in 2017 from Havana to Cienfuegos, but figured the team had it sorted out.
Unfortunately, from the start we had trouble. Our airport pickup wandered away, leaving six of us who had just red eyed into Miami confused - they left the baggage area once the bags started coming, leaving us wandering until we found them quite far down the hall. Despite our stickers and luggage tags, we had to search for our rep, rather than him finding us (in Paris, our rep was there in uniform and took initiative to round up his charges, not the other way around). When we were dropped off at port, we were literally dropped off - no instructions, no guidance. An elderly woman in our group was jostled and fell to the ground. Finally, one of our fellow passengers found the correct entrance and led us in.
The ship is lovely, if starting to show some wear, and the staff was delightful and polite and not too talkative. The hydrotherapy pools were spacious and stunning, especially for a ship of this size.
We sometimes struggled to get drinks refilled at meals, so we started requesting two at a time so we wouldn’t be parched midway through a meal. For a larger ship than their river cruises, there was less variety in food choice - the seated restaurant and the buffet mirror on another, and since the specialty restaurants booked up fast, you essentially had the option of being brought your food or grabbing it yourself without much change in the menu. The river cruises have a small cafe that you can get American fare at, while their restaurants serve local specialties and more upscale dishes.
Our free walking tour in Cienfuegos was one of the worst tours I have been on - the guide wouldn’t let us shop, he made us stand in the street as beggars circled us tighter and tighter (making me more and more nervous) while he talked about the largest travel agency in Havana (it seemed an odd thing to focus on when there was art and cigar shops and historic buildings surrounding us), and was angry people weren’t paying attention to his next long story about the optometry shop as we shifted uncomfortably in the street. At the cigar rolling demonstration, we were hustled out before we could buy anything - which made me incredibly uncomfortable when the shopkeepers had hosted us so kindly. We toured a hotel lobby, which ate into valuable time we could have been at an actual historical building. Being from Nevada, I know hotels. I don’t know 19th century Cuban mansions like Ville Palais, which we had only ten minutes in since we spent a valuable twenty minutes in a generic Hilton-like lobby instead. When we returned to the city center, it was after six and shutting down - stands were closing, shops were shuttered, and it was twilight - tourist time was obviously over. So we returned to the boat.
Our Havana excursion was amazing, and the saving grace of our trip - the tour guide Jenny knowledgeable, focused on education and information and not her personal stories. The Hemingway House was closed (note, it’s always closed on Sundays, so why no one notifies us until the day before was concerning on Viking’s end and likely caused a scramble for the poor guides), so she arranged for a ride around Havana in the old school cars, which thrilled us all. She was honest about life in Cuba, and answered all of our questions on income and housing, and introduced us to multiple vendors and shops, even making sure we got proper change. This was the Viking experience I had been expecting and hoping for.
Since Havana was a whirlwind of colors and sounds, we were excited for a low key day In Cienfuegos the following day - unfortunately, since the tender boats take 20 minutes each way, and everyone had to be back on the boat by noon, we didn’t get up in time to leave the boat on our third half day (our Havana day was over 13 hours with lots of walking). Which was heartbreaking when we found out that our second port stop at Santiago de Cuba was canceled due to wind.
Santiago de Cuba was founded in 1515, and was something I was looking forward to so much. Being from out West in Nevada, we think somethings historic if it’s from the 1950s!
But we were sure Viking would make it up to guests.
We became less sure when they excitedly announced a bean bag toss to keep us occupied as we sailed past Santiago de Cuba. Okay, I thought. They’re getting things together. They need a little time. Surely the top cruise line in the world would not offer a simple bean bag toss as substitute for 50% of the Cuba port sites.
Well, they also offered a trivia competition.
And they also heavily suggested you pay extra fees for wine tastings and spa treatments to keep yourself occupied on a day that Viking had promised to entertain us with a port stop and free tour.
My husband and I are in our 30s, and Viking cruises mean we go less often and pay more ($2,800/each in this instance), but our experience in Paris was so rosy, we pledged to be Viking customers exclusively. Having a major stop cancelled and cornhole substituted seemed laughable, and I again gave Viking the benefit of the doubt.
I emailed our Viking rep, sure that something was in the works - a partial refund or credit towards our next cruise, or even a shipboard credit since they were pushing pricey services for entertainment in lieu of the port stop. Fred told me to email customer relations since he couldn’t do anything once we were on the boat. 24 hours after emailing, and 28 hours after the port cancellation, I have yet to receive an acknowledgment of my email, and my hope for a decent resolution is just about gone.
To have such vastly different customer service experiences has led me to fear our stellar service in Paris was luck of the stars, and not Viking’s usual protocol. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this cruise because you will pay premium price for average service and may not even see 50% of promised ports - and Viking will offer a game of bean bag toss as the only consolation to a lost day in Cuba. Oh, and trivia.
Our 2015 Paris cruise was during the terrorist attacks - Viking stepped up to the plate in 2015 and arranged alternate excursions when we were unable to get back into the locked down city, and a staff person came to speak with us individually about safety and ensure our comfort. I’m surprised they were able to handle a very unexpected, very alarming event on the fly on that cruise, but the only solution they had for inclement weather on this cruise and a cancelled port was a bean bag toss. Oh yeah, and a trivia game.
I would not recommend this cruise until Viking has figured out the Cuba logistics. From reading the other reviews, this isn’t one of Viking’s strong itineraries despite multiple years, and doesn’t appear to have the same level of professionalism and service found in their river cruises. I’m not sure we’ll do a Viking cruise again, considering the high cost and poor customer service our Cuba trip has highlighted. I expected to be a Viking customer for the next 70 years after Paris, but am beginning to realize they’re just like any other cruise line - all about that cash. Read Less