When we saw the ad on PBS touting the elegant experience we should expect aboard a Viking cruise, we believed the hype and signed up for their cruise to the Caribbean and Amazon. The itinerary certainly sounded interesting and we were excited.
Having now had it, I can say that this Viking experience was barely average, especially when compared with other cruise lines in the same price point. Oh where to begin... first off, they made the flight arrangements for us instead of doing it ourselves as we typically do. Wouldn’t you know it, they booked us onto a flight at 1:00 AM and selected for us the seats right in front of the bathrooms so the seats couldn’t recline. I chalked it up to their lousy airline travel booking skills or us drawing the short straw, so we took our thump and moved on to looking forward to our trip. We were told we should check in at a certain time, which we did, but the cabins weren’t yet ready at the appointed time, so we asked to wait... only there were just a few chairs in the waiting area, so after a sleepless night, now we had to stand around while waiting in the hot terminal. Maybe a small logistical hiccup, no problem.
Once aboard, we were pleased to see that our cabin was nice. Even though it was our first cruise with them, they had upgraded us to a more spacious unit where free pressing was included. Based on their behavior on board, I did not believe this to be a generous or good-will gesture. I speculated that since we had bought early and paid full price, they upped our category so they could fill unsold cabins at bargain prices. What lead to this speculation is that they say they offered wine at dinner ... which they did, supposedly included .. but the instant I opted for a riesling with my dinner rather than their selected red or white, I was asked to produce my cabin number for an up- charge. So much for free wine with dinner.
This ship went to the Amazon and Caribbean. Several of the stops had included tours. These were all awful. I've come to realize that you get what you pay for with these "free" tours. They drive you around a lot like bus-prisoners and avoid the things first time visitors want to see, and definitely avoid any beach stops when visiting islands. Instead they include places where they sell alcohol or tourist junk and leave you there to roam for 40-50 minutes. I have no idea who thinks up these tours but they’re all crap, with the sole exception of the included tour of Santarém and folkloric show at Parintins. The paid tours were somewhat better, but don’t get me started on those.... they’re happy to take your money for paid tours but make now reparations when they schedule stops where THEY KNOW well in advance that the things you’ve paid plenty to see will be closed and the experience will be a total bust. Along the way the Viking Sea made a stop at a very shabby town at the entrance to the Amazon called Belém, where we spent an entire day. Believe me when I tell you that the best thing to see there was scores of vultures picking through garbage on the street and on the shore. To add to that insult, the scheduled departure was for 6 PM, which meant that we did not arrive at our next stop until 1:00 PM the following day. The next stop was Tobago, which was probably the prettiest stop on our itinerary... but their docking and departure time allowed us only about 4 hours there, meaning that our highly-paid-for excursion was rushed. I don’t know who is in charge of planning their itinerary but, heads up, it is not guest-centric.
And talking about not being guest-centric, the dining experience further underscored this point. They didn’t open the dining room for breakfast until 8:00 am, so if you had an early shore excursion, you had to go to the buffet style cafe on the top floor. Try finding a seat when 900 people are trying to eat at the same time...impossible. On other days they didn’t bother to open the dining room for breakfast or lunch. They, not you, decide if your onboard dining experience will be quiet and elegant, or rushed cafeteria style where you had to catch the eye of the roaming service staff to get a drink, then frequently wait 15 minutes before they passed by again and realized they had forgotten to bring you the beverage you ordered.
This cruise included 8 sea days... so I thought I’d get in some pool time... but no! Guests would get up early, drop an iPad or a robe on a pool lounger, and "claim it" for the day. The ship's staff did nothing to police this selfish hogging of deck chairs, even when those chairs remained claimed but empty pretty much all day long. If you did manage to snag a chair, good luck getting a server to walk by and take a beverage order... Nope!
Regarding entertainment, they showed one movie a day, although that movie was also available on the movie channel in the state room TV. This channel saved me from jumping overboard to escape, as I could at least watch a movie or two a day. On the daily agenda they scheduled different types of events and talks, but these were aimed a a decidedly older, passive audience... like broadway show trivia and music from the 60s ... and some irrelevant lectures and marginally interesting destination talks. I was bored out of my mind, as no activities were actual activities... no art classes, no "learn to do something new" activities whatsoever. I was praying for it to end.
Once we got back into US territory, we had to go through an onboard immigration exercise where we had to go down to a dining room to collect our passports and have them inspected. This was by far the most disorganized experience. 900 people descended as instructed and chaos ensued. Viking was in charge of this exercise and could have assigned tickets for when to come down, but they didn't and it was a mess.
Now, the cruise wasn’t all bad. Thankfully, the disembarkation process was well organized and the transfer to the airport went smoothly. Whilst on board I found the wait staff and cabin attendants all to be lovely, but, I can get that on any cruise line, so... guess what... it's unlikely that I'll ever cruise on Viking again.Their adverts overpromised and their cruise experience under-delivered. If I’m going to drop that kind of cash on a cruise, I expect them to plan for my enjoyment. Viking, sadly, fell far short.
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