My husband and I have taken two Holland American ocean cruises in the past, but this was our first Viking cruise. Even though we enjoyed our HA cruises and would sail with them again, we will always look at Viking first to see if they have an itinerary to meets our desires first. All the positives you have heard are true: the service was excellent and exceeded expectations, everything was very well-organized, the food was superb, and the staff on the ship and the tour guides were helpful and knowledgable. Although Viking is more expensive than HA, we truly felt we received our money’s worth and that the value is greater. Rather than paying for expensive shore excursions and receiving a large bill on the last day, we knew exactly what we were paying ahead of time and, once we boarded the ship, we didn’t spend a penny except on souvenirs (we had pre-paid our gratuities and we didn’t purchase any hard liquor onboard).
Others have written how wonderful Viking is, so here are some things I was curious about/looking for information about before the cruise but had trouble finding answers to. Perhaps others are wondering the same.
Paris vs. Le Pecq: We were on the Paris and Normandy cruise which docked in Le Pecq. I understand Viking now has newer, smaller ships that are going to dock in “downtown” Paris, but I noticed the Le Pecq dockings are less expensive. I love Paris and have been several times. Let me clear: this cruise, regardless of where it docks, is not enough time to see Paris. If you really want to see Paris, you should book a hotel in Paris for several days and sightsee on your own. That is what we did. I would only plan on seeing Paris from a river cruise if that was absolutely the only way I was ever going to see it. You need at least an entire day (from opening to at least 5 pm) at the most popular attractions like the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Versailles, etc. On the first full day of the cruise, there was an all-day included Paris tour. If you preferred, you could take the bus into Paris with the tour group but then get off and spend the day on your own, which is what we did. I believe we were dropped off around 9:30 or 10 and we had to meet back at 3:30. I know from experience that this is not enough time to see any of the major attractions, so we choose to visit two smaller attractions. We also had our Metro pass from our time at the hotel before the cruise. The RER does travel to Le Pecq, and there are two stations about 15 minutes each walk from the ship. I had mapped these locations ahead of time and we bought the Metro pass that included Zone 5 for this reason. However, because of the provided bus, we did not need to use the RER. Yes, the bus was slower than the RER, but we would have to include the 15-minute walk into our travel time so we considered it a wash. Even with the RER, we would not have gained more time in Paris as the bus left right after breakfast and the ship left the dock right after the bus returned. There was also a similar bus into Paris on the last day if you didn’t want to do the included Malmaison excursion, but we did Malmaison. However, I remember hearing the times were about the same. My conclusion: Le Pecq is fine if you are doing Paris on your own before or after the cruise (which I recommend). If a river cruise is the only possible way you will ever visit Paris, then perhaps it might be worth more money to dock “downtown” as that would decrease your travel time into the city proper.
Demographics/pace: This is definitely a cruise geared toward older adults. We are 40 and 44, and we were by far the youngest people on the ship. We anticipated this and weren’t bothered by it because, when we’re not sight-seeing, we like to sit and read and watch the scenery. While on board, we enjoyed the calm and the quiet.
Room: We choose a French balcony room due to cost and we would do so again. Yes, the room is very tight with less floor space than even an interior room on HA but there was more storage. The Veranda rooms appeared to have very small balconies with two small, straight-backed uncomfortable-looking chairs. There was more than enough comfortable seating in the common areas - both indoors and out - that we never had any trouble finding a quiet seat in which to relax.
WiFi: The WiFi was excellent, much better than on an ocean cruise. I had no trouble uploading pictures to Instagram. There was only one evening it was slow.
Shore Excursions: Again, the guides were excellent, the buses were well-maintained, everything was well-planned and organized, and I especially liked the earpieces so that I could walk around and take photos while still hearing the lecture clearly. The best feature is that they were included in the cost of the cruise. I am removing a star, however, for the length of the excursions. Often, the ship would be docked at least half a day in a town and the excursion would only be a couple of hours including travel time. In fact, the only optional excursion we booked was because the included tour was only an hour (and that was the only tour that day), and we wanted to spend more time off the ship. The tours themselves were of a good length, but that left very little free time at the end to explore or shop. Usually, we only had about 15-20 minutes and you also had to walk back to the bus during that time. I’m not sure if this was a function of the older demographic and someone at Viking assumes one can’t or doesn’t want to walk around for another hour. Or perhaps it’s a matter of paying the guides/drivers by the hour. Regardless, there were many towns, shops, gardens, etc. that I would have loved to have visited and didn’t have time. (For the sake of completeness, when the ship is docked in a town, you may get off and explore on your own, which we did. I’m referring to other locations that we were bused to.)
We choose a French balcony room due to cost and we would do so again. Yes, the room is very tight with less floor space than even an interior room on HA but there was more storage. The Veranda rooms appeared to have very small balconies with two small, straight-backed uncomfortable-looking chairs. There was more than enough comfortable seating in the common areas - both indoors and out - that we never had any trouble finding a quiet seat in which to relax.