We had taken a Viking cruise from Budapest to Bucharest two years earlier, and thought that two weeks on a ship from Budapest to Amsterdam, passing through some areas that we had not visited before or had seen decades earlier, would be ... Read More
We had taken a Viking cruise from Budapest to Bucharest two years earlier, and thought that two weeks on a ship from Budapest to Amsterdam, passing through some areas that we had not visited before or had seen decades earlier, would be pleasant. Little did we know that Europe would experience five months without rain, that the rivers would be too low for the ships to sail, and that two-thirds of this cruise would be done on buses, including a final six-hour ride from Mainz to Amsterdam on a bus filled with coughing, hacking disgruntled fellow passengers. So much for the view of Budapest's chain bridge at night, or a cruise past Bratislava on the way to Vienna, or any cruising on the Rhine at all. At least we caught a glimpse of the Rhine when we crossed it on bridges.
Viking could not do anything about the weather, so it cannot be faulted for the low river levels. But several other aspects of the cruise did not meet the expectations we had for a river cruise. Viking gives the impression that sailing through the heart of European cities means that you dock in the cities and can disembark and reembark at your leisure. That would have been true in Budapest, had a ship been there, and was true in Vienna, but then things changed. In Passau, where the ship was supposed to spend one night but actually stayed two, the ship stopped in the center so passengers could disembark, but then in the afternoon moved to a docking location out of town to which a person could not walk, but rather had to wait for a bus transfer. The cruise to Regensburg was a bus trip from Passau to Regensburg and then back to Passau, so there was no chance to simply walk off the ship and explore on one's own. The cruise to Nuremberg was a bus trip from Passau right past Regensburg on to Nuremberg. At Nuremberg a ship was waiting, and could sail on the lock-controlled waters of the Main-Danube canal. The next port was Bamberg, but did the ship stop conveniently in the center of town? No, it went beyond town to an industrial port from which people were bused to town. And was the ship there at the end of the day? No, it sailed on, and the passengers took buses to a small port further down the canal. So much for walking on and off the ship and exploring at leisure . The next port was Wuerzburg. As the ship sailed in we saw another Viking ship docked right in the center, with Viking banners and a red carpet, and assumed that we would dock beside it. Instead our ship sailed another five miles down the canal to dock in what appeared to be an oil terminal, from which people were bused back to the city for an abbreviated visit. Meanwhile another Viking ship passed going in the opposite direction and docked in town. The Grand European Tour is supposed to be Viking's premier cruise, yet it had the worst possible docking position. The words to describe that situation come from the barnyard. In Wertheim the ship docked in town, but then departed as soon as the passengers got off, so there was another bus trip to catch up to the ship. If a person tired early, there was no going back to the ship to relax. When the Main river joined the Rhine, the cruise ended. The ship docked in Mainz for two days, and then came the bus trip to Amsterdam. Viking did offer an excursion that included a short river trip to see the Lorelei, and the bus to Amsterdam stopped in Cologne for lunch and a quick tour, but there was no Koblenz, nor a cruise past the Drachenfels through Bonn to Cologne, nor a cruise on down the Rhine, nor any windmills in Holland.
So what has Viking done for the passengers on this cruise? Certainly not a partial cash refund for the missed cruise experience. It has offered a voucher, valid for a year, worth fifty percent of the fare paid to be used toward a future Viking cruise. That is of no benefit to the people for who this was to be their final cruise, perhaps for health reasons or because they have cruised all of Viking's other offerings, or for people who for reasons of logistics or finances cannot make a decision within a year. It is Viking's cold, cruel calculation that most people will not use the voucher, and the company will pocket the money and continue its advertisements showing ships sailing through European cities. Just remember, their may sail through, but they don't necessarily stop there. Adding further insult, when refunding money paid in advance for optional tours that were canceled, Viking converted the dollar amounts paid to euros (the currency used on board the ship), and then reconverted it to dollars to make the refunds. As the exchange rate had changed, the dollar amount refunded was less that the amount originally paid.
Finally, I do not wish to disparage the crews on the ships, nor the people on the ships responsible for the entertainment and the tours. They worked extremely hard under difficult and demoralizing circumstances as passengers became increasingly irritated and depressed, and appeared to have no support from Viking's headquarters, which was just over an hour's train trip up the Rhine from Mainz. Read Less