My wife and I have never been on a river cruise before, even though we have taken a number of ocean cruises. Going to Giverny and seeing Monet’s garden has always been on my wife's bucket list, and after much discussion, we booked trips on a Viking cruise entitled “Paris and the heart of Normandy”. We flew Icelandic air and arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, where we were promptly, efficiently and courteously picked up by a Viking representative and brought to the ship, which was anchored close to the Eiffel Tower. We arrived in Paris a little later than anticipated, so we thought we would be taken directly to the ship. Instead we were taking the Novotel hotel, where we were offered pastries and tea. We didn’t know anything about normal Viking procedures and so did not think that this was out of the ordinary. It was only later that we learned that the reason for the delay in allowing us to board the ship was that there had been an outbreak of Norovirus related gastrointestinal disease during the previous cruise.
Things seemed to be going very well the first day. The next day, the hotel manager told us that she was the bearer of bad news and that a few passengers had come down with gastrointestinal illness. During the remainder of the trip, as we continued to enjoy the trip, more and more passengers and crew members began to fall ill, at the rate of about 10 every day. The ship begin do resemble a hospital ward rather than a carefree vacation environment!
On Wednesday, we began to hear alarming rumors - that a passenger had died and that another had been taken to the hospital after having had a fall. We received very little information from Viking, other than that the outbreak was not contained and more passengers were falling ill. Over the next few days, we learned that both rumors were true. One of the passengers, a spritely, vivacious 70-year-old, who had been perfectly fit had fallen ill on Tuesday and died later. The rumor about the hospitalization was also true, except that it understated the problem rather than exaggerating it. As far as we know, at least 4 passengers had needed urgent care. One of them had become so dehydrated that he fell in the bathroom and had to be rushed to the hospital. Parenthetically, and to our surprise, at least two of the passengers were charged $1240 a piece for that urgent care.
While the land arrangements were overall extremely well done (the trips were well thought out and the guides were uniformly informative and well trained), it is also fair to say that a pall hung over the entire ship. We were all constantly wondering when the boom was going to lower on us and when we too would fall sick. By our estimate, of the 180 people on board (about 140 passengers and 40 crew members), about 100-120 people fell ill through the 8 day voyage.
What surprises us about this is that there have been Norovirus outbreaks on Viking Pride at least since September 2015 (see the review posted on 9/15 by “Happy Traveler Duo”). Despite this, Viking has continued to use the ship on cruises without a break and without a serious attempt at decontamination. News of the passenger’s death was not made public and we only heard about it through friends of the dead passenger’s roommate.
Overall, the trip could have been an outstanding experience. The cabin was adequate, the food outstanding. Both my wife and I are vegetarians, and had been concerned that our dietary needs might not be met within a small ship. On the contrary, the chef and the maître d’ went out of their way to make sure that we were adequately fed, with excellent and creative vegetarian alternatives. The land trips were well organized, well thought out and expertly guided. The visits to Giverny and Monet’s garden were totally enjoyable, as were the visits to the Normandy beaches. Despite all of this, we have to rate the overall experience poorly due to the serious health problems and the emotional toll on those of us who survived through it without falling sick (at least till now!) We know of at least one passenger who has fallen ill after reaching the States. I suspect the experience was even worse for those who did fall ill. We cannot recommend a trip on the Viking pride to anyone who is contemplating one.