Overwhelmingly most of the cruisers were Viking River alumni. This was my first time on any Viking product so I did not have anything to compare it to (Viking wise). We have several friends that rave about Viking (river) and that along with the itinerary prompted me to book the cruise. As an aside, I did not realize that the cruise I was on was an inaugural cruise until I was on the ship. I had never been on an inaugural cruise previously, but certainly understand that their could be hiccups with any new product. I know people told me that I should have realized that it was an inaugural cruise, but anyone who has tried to utilize the Viking website, you realize quickly it is not very very intuitive.
We have been on many cruises, however lately have been moving more towards the smaller ships (e.g. Azamara, Oceania, etc.) so not the luxury ones, but above the mass market ones. The Viking Ocean was marketed to me as an upscale, five (5) star service. This was articulated both pre-cruise but also on ship by Viking Corporate and ship senior management staff. In my opinion, they have a very long hurdle ahead to become a five start cruise line.
The front line staff certainly were nice, tried unbelievably hard (with quite noticeable shortages of staff) but did not appear to be trained appropriately and management was pretty much non-existent during my 21 days aboard. Once again, I do not think they know what they are (as far as level of cruise) able to do/not do.
This ship was beautiful, meals were all messed up. Service in the restaurant was choppy, they tried to utilize an online ordering system via ipad/ipod type device but aborted it (as it did fixed seating times) quickly. All of our reservations (both restaurants and excursions) were wiped out somehow on the second leg of the cruise. One thing I will say they stayed on top of the wine (which was included) during lunch and dinner but if you wanted anything else (e.g. soda, iced tea) it was sometimes quite a challenge. This wine thing seemed to be quite important to many quests, some even bragging how much they were able to drink during the "free" times and they even "walked out with a glass or two."
The excursions were what you paid for (included). I will say the excursions were we paid additionally for were great. Once again, you get what you paid for. The descriptions were not accurate and there were quite a number of people with ambulation problems who were challenged or abandoned. As an example, when we were in Greece one of the trips was identified as easy walking and wheel chair accessible. My wife utilizes a device that measure her physical activity (a fitbit) and on this easy/wheelchair accessible excursion we walked 4 miles and did 86 steps.
The itinerary (once again one of the main reasons I choose this cruise) was great. We also did the pre (Istanbul) and post (Barcelona/Madrid) trips but they were not worth the time nor money.
The bottom line as my title states, I think Viking is trying to identify itself as a five (5) star line but has a very long way (possibly impossible way) to go. It was interesting that many of the seasoned river cruises stated that they would not repeat an Oceans experience, but would do another Viking River cruise. One wonders that when they have three (3) operational ships, and they have gone through their river loyalists, what will happen. One of the funniest lines I heard was by the gentlemen staying in the owners suite (and a very seasoned traveler) who said he would probably not repeat even if Viking paid him.
But not too worry, the wine and beer flowed freely during lunch and dinner :)