We are deeply disappointed in Viking. This was our first cruise with Viking and definitely our last. The cruise was not at all what we expected. We never felt the luxury they promote in their brochures and TV ads. Instead we paid a premium price of over $14,000 for two people and in exchange received substandard service and an exhausting and frustrating trip.
We have traveled worldwide independently and were looking forward to being pampered in the lap of luxury with all our needs taken care of, no packing and up packing from city to city and upscale companion travelers. Instead we were herded through cities like cattle, kept to an aggressive time table if we wanted to see anything in port, forced to pack and unpack mid trip in order to change boats and accompanied by passengers who were for the most part unsophisticated retirees most of whom had saved up for this once in a life time trip for many years.
Most of the cruising was done at night when you cannot see the beautiful idyllic settings advertised by Viking. We were often docked at unpleasant industrial sites. Luckily we were on a high floor and had our balcony level with asphalt. Those below us looked out on to a cement wall. No reason to sit out on the expensive balcony we splurged on. Instead of apologizing the staff made jokes about the view being modern art. In the daytime instead of being at the old city center, we were often far from the sites, due to so many other Viking boats in dock and were bused or walked long distances to the attractions often up many flights of stairs. Free time in ports was in most cases 1 hour, meaning you see very little and no time to shop.
In many ports, the ships were stacked, boats next to each other next to the shoreline so you are literally looking into another person's cabin. No view from your room and sometimes none from the public spaces.
The stateroom is uncomfortably small and cramped not to mention the unpleasant decor. The public spaces are beautifully designed but the staterooms were ignored, decorating with a prison cell gray color, tiny sinks and white bland tile. No softness anywhere. Stiff chair, horrid bed, backless stool at the desk, everything hard edged which forces you to leave your expensive room as frequently as possible. The art work throughout the boat is very acceptable but in the state room all we got was a stylized Viking framed logo to look at. Our bathroom on the first ship smelled of mildew but that was nothing compared to the many docks where the river smelled foul. I will spare you the details of the unpleasant toilet flush function on the Skadi ship.
More importantly, Viking is not forthcoming with information when it concerns important issues. The ship administrators do not communicate enough with passengers. Their business model seems to be that passengers need not know anything until it is absolutely necessary and that Viking is never wrong, they do not apologize or admit to any wrong doing.
Viking had experienced low river levels all summer, yet there was never a notice sent to us before we left regarding a change of boat or having to take buses. If we had received a notice we would have packed accordingly and been mentally prepared. Instead they told us one the day before, first that we were on a different ship and second that we needed to be bused to another ship mid cruise requiring us to pack and repack our bags. The change of ship required me to contact several local tour guides we had arranged on our own and notify them of the ship change, really annoying as the internet connections were so awful; my husband wasted hours trying to hook up a workable Internet.
Viking attempted to make it up to us by having the crew on the deck with handmade signs saying welcome aboard, a free welcome drink and a free optional tour. None of this even began to make up for losing a quite morning sailing up the river, which is what was planned or spending an evening packing and an afternoon unpacking. We were put on a bus on a highway for over three hours with nothing of interest to see and a stop at a horrid gas station for a restroom break.
Even though my bags were labeled and put out on time for the mid cruise ship change, Viking managed to lose one. When I reported it to three Viking employees, program director, hotel manager and desk manager, none apologized. Instead I was asked condescendingly if I really put it out, did I look in my closet, and then accused of not putting the proper luggage tag on my bag. In other words it was my fault, not Viking’s. Fortunately, as I didn’t trust them from the start, I took a picture of all my bags in the hall that morning, clearly showing all of my bags with the correct luggage tags. Only after seeing the photo did anyone attempt to locate the missing bag, which they ultimately did find.
There were mechanical problems with the first boat. My husband and another passenger are engineers and noticed this almost from the time we boarded. Yet no communications about it. When someone asked the crew for an explanation for all the loud hammering and banging, they were told they weren’t allowed to say.
For one day trip there were several busses and several Viking representatives. Instead of putting a Viking employee on each bus they choose to sit all together on one bus. Our bus was left unaccompanied with a German speaking driver and no one among the passengers who could communicate with him. Had there been an emergency I don’t know what we would have done. As it was, the driver delivered us to the wrong place forcing us to walk a very long distance and left on our own to find our ship, this after an already long day of walking. When we arrived at our ship, the bus with the Viking staff arrived right next to the ship. When I asked why we were dropped off so far away, when there was an obvious parking place closer, the Viking employee just shrugged his shoulders, said he didn’t know and walked away. No apology, no concern, not his problem, although he was the employee responsible for the day tour and the drivers.
The vibrations of the ship, the noise of going through the locks and the ship bumping into the sides of the lock keeps you awake at night, not to mention the most uncomfortable bed I have ever slept in, which felt like a cement block. Ideally suited to the prison grey décor.
I would estimate 80% of the passengers on our ship were sick mid-way through the cruise. Several needed to go to the local emergency room for breathing problems. The ship was so cold, even though we were sailing in Sept/Oct with outside temperatures in the 60’s, I asked the staff to turn down the AC in the lounge several times and they said they were unable to do it. The AC in the cabins can only be turned off when the balcony doors are open. Given that we were often stacked against another boat or the noise from the ship or the port was too loud or the smell too awful, we were forced to sleep in AC with no way to turn off the fan which is pointed directly to the head of the bed. We both developed very nasty head colds. The ship has no basic medications or hot water bottles or heating pads for passengers and so we were forced to spend valuable time in port searching for pharmacies to purchase OTC cold and sore throat medications, having to translate ingredients and find pharmacist who spoke English.
The tipping suggestions in the cruise brochure recommended we leave over $400 per couple. We refused to tip that much. It was obvious that Viking pays lower salaries and gets away with it by promising the staff that high tip recommendations would be strongly suggested. We tipped individuals on staff that had provided service above and beyond the call of duty.
We hated the constant staff interference at meals. We always felt rushed, the staff couldn’t wait to clear the table and get on with their other duties especially at lunch. They interrupted conversations and never asked the women for their orders first, just went around the table at their own convenience. When I waived one waitress away with my hand as she was constantly interrupting me during a conversation, offering wine, when I had already refused it, she made a rude gesture with her hand mimicking my brushing her aside. At several meals I asked for a drink multiple times, and waited more than 15 minutes for it to be served and on one occasion received the wrong drink. I asked a waiter for a menu three times the third time loudly thinking he might be deaf, and he shouted at me for raising my voice.
While we had no complaints about the food the options were often limited especially if you wanted a light meal in the lounge. We ate mostly in the main dining room, however there are no tables for two and so you are forced to eat all meals with other passengers. Sometimes we just wanted to be alone and we felt we had nothing in common with the other passengers, many of them in large groups of friends or family, who sang drinking songs during diner. Dinner is scheduled from 7 to 9 but that does not mean you can walk in any time and be served. If you are not in the dining room at one minute before seven the only seats available are in the center of the room, not by a window. You really can only eat in the main dining room starting at 7 and ending at 9. This was too regimented for us. We thought, reading the schedule, we might be able to drop in any time between 7 and 9, not so.
The after dinner entertainment was poor, local community theater groups and the lectures which were juvenile. On several nights they played games like I imagine they do in retirement communities.
Several times the itinerary differed from the actual event. The captain’s dinner was listed for the Thursday evening but occurred on Wed three full days before the cruise ended. A glass blowing studio tour was promised in one port, something I was looking forward to but never materialized. When I mentioned it to the program director he spoke to me as if like I was an idiot and told me the studio was outside of town. Yet it was on the printed itinerary. He obviously had no knowledge of this, yet he was the program director.
When we toured the kitchen we discovered that there were no dishwashers, that dishes were washed by hand. It was clear then why cups arrived at a freshly laid table with old lipstick stains on them and why so many of us were sick.
Reading some of the other reviews I consider ourselves lucky. One ship had GI disorders among the passengers, another had half of their trip cancelled and a third missed Budapest all together, which we felt was a highlight. We were on new boats throughout and I understand the old ones are dreadful.
Members of the Viking staff and local tour guides often commented on how quickly Viking is growing. Obviously they are experiencing growing pains. And if they are sitting fat and happy with all of their boats sold out then they are unlikely to pay careful attention to service and passenger complaints. No need to encourage passengers to be repeat customers when their waiting lists are already so long. I wrote this same review on the feedback form Viking provides passengers at the end of the cruise. I indicated that a senior customer service representative could phone me to discuss my concerns. I am writing this a week after we disembarked and no call yet.