Waterways of the Tzars, Viking Helgi, June 23 - July 5, 2012: Viking Helgi Cruise Review by aaallison

Viking Helgi 3
Member Since 2012

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Waterways of the Tzars, Viking Helgi, June 23 - July 5, 2012

Sail Date: June 2012
Destination: Europe - River Cruise
Embarkation: St. Petersburg
It's unclear whether Viking management exercises too-strict control over operation of the dining room, the Hotel Manager is incompetent, or both. I rather suspect that it's a combination, i.e., that the staff hide behind the operating standards to avoid fixing easily manageable problems: responses to suggestions for improvement were met with "not my responsibility" or "it's not in the standards". Here's an absolutely ridiculous example: there were numerous slide shows in the Sky Bar, and the projector is not optimally aligned. Adjusting the tilt of the projector to move the image to the very top of the screen would make it easier for those at the back to see, but the suggestion that this be done was met with, "That would have to be approved by Viking corporate"! The suggestion that it was inappropriate to serve hot dishes on room-temperature plates at breakfast and lunch, and that there was a simple solution to the problem (caused by Viking's moving the egg and pasta stations to the More end of the buffet lines) was brushed off by the restaurant "manager" with "that would require another waiter" when in fact, as noted below, the waiters are seriously under-employed. Whatever the cause, the result was 2-star food and service at 4-star prices. Baked goods, and much of the other food, were obviously purchased rather than freshly prepared from scratch and the so-called "omelette" offered a breakfast is no such thing: it's a scramble cooked in vegetable oil and dumped onto a room temperature plate.

The waitstaff were extremely friendly and, like their supervisors, utterly incompetent. Their training obviously focuses on the former rather than seeking opportunities to be of service. Typically, when the attention of a waiter was finally obtained to, for example, get a cup of coffee or glass of wine, the waiters provide the requested service and then return to their stations without looking around to see if there are other any cups/glasses on the way that need attention. Note to management: Viking is a US company, and in the US the very first thing which happens upon taking a seat for breakfast is that a waiter appears with a coffee pot (the coffee, incidentally, is better from the instant dispenser outside the dining room). Our last breakfast aboard was typical: one of two table settings missing a fork and an empty milk jug.

The poor service may also have something to do with Viking's tipping policy which, unlike any other vessel I've been aboard, recommends a single tip to be shared among the entire crew (stewards, waiters and crew). Tipping is for personal, not routine, services and the policy does not differentiate between the (exemplary) cabin stewards and (incompetent) restaurant staff.

Another example of an easily remedied issues is the sorry (and unsafe) state of the computers in the Internet Cafe, the two computers provided apparently having never been updated since the were installed (auto-update off, 192 updates available for the obsolete Windows Vista and IE7 operating environment). Despite the fact that there are wired Ethernet cables available at both stations, the computers both utilize the overworked WiFi network aboard ship. Yet another is the fact that although the beds are not reconfigurable, the double beds are two twins with separate sheets. This doesn't work if you sleep together, rather than in the same bed. Switching to a single bottom sheet would help, but "gap fillers" are inexpensive.

There's also an obvious lack of environmental consciousness: the 24-hour coffee dispensers encourage the use of paper cups and provide plastic spoons instead of wooden stirrers.

Adding insult to injury, having charged an additional $200 to schedule our return on a different date from the end of the cruise, Viking dinged us $40 for the transfer to our hotel. Less

Published 07/14/12

Cabin review:

Port and Shore Excursions

Hermitage Museum

This would be a 5-star attraction were it not for the crowds. Take a behind the scenes tour outside of regular opening hours

Peterhof Palace

Our personal favorite, don't miss it. Note that the famous fountains are turned on at 11am in the summer. The turning on ceremony is not worth the crowd scene. All the tours can be done independently, but having a knowledgable guide is a big plus.

Russian Ballet Show

Unexpectedly great performance by young dancers -- notably, the conductor did so without a score.

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