We were very excited to do our first Viking River Cruise after having done fourteen previous river cruises on other cruise lines. It's fair to say that we have considerable experience with which to rate Viking compared to the competition. We were saddened to find that Vikings high price does not equate to a better cruise experience.
To start with, the problem with Viking does not directly relate to the issues with low water levels. This is weather related and that is out of the control of the line. They actually handled the need to switch ships midway through the two week "Grand European Cruise" pretty well, although that day we spent over three hours on buses being transferred to the next ship, an entire afternoon spent on the freeway rather than the rivers that we paid to be on. We did not miss any port of call although the quality of the visits was poor. However the problems with the port visits began before the low water level area started. Other cruises we have done were highlighted by docking right in the cities, where you could walk right off the ship and into the town center. Very rarely have we ever had to actually bus into town. Yet on this cruise we almost always docked at remote industrial piers filled with scrap metal, logs etc. At times we docked in what can only be called river ship mass parking lots, one of which had over twenty ships lashed together, nose to tail and side to side. Six to ten ships lashed together was common. Convoys of buses took guests to included and extra cost shore excursions. We have been on budget coach tours in Europe and that is what all of this bus time reminded us of. Another thing that destroyed the ambience of river cruising was the fact that they announced early on that at one point the sun deck would be closed for five days! The reason given was that low bridges and locks necessitated this. But we have been on other cruises where they simply opened up the sundeck after passing those areas. We felt that they just didn't want to bother the crew with doing the work. These ships are possibly too big for these itineraries. Time and again they mentioned that they were concerned for the crew, but seemingly less so for the guests. In fact the crew in the dining room, guest services desk and program activities was clearly inexperienced, poorly trained and stressed out. On our other cruises the program directors were assigned 40-50 guests. On this cruise there was ONE program director for the entire ship, which has a maximum capacity of 190 passengers! Staff were dictatorial and often rude, speaking to us as if we were children. Needless to say this did not sit well with many people and there were many negative comments heard from fellow guests. We were told that at one point the ship departed before a ship organized shore excursion had returned, necessitating a return to the pier to retrieve them. This is unheard of because all cruise lines emphasize that a big advantage to taking ship optionals is that if there is a delay they will wait for you. Repeatedly we were told that transfer buses would not wait if you were not right on time and we found that to be true. Unfortunately there was one incident in Vienna where the driver drove erratically, hitting speed bumps at speed rather than slowing down, taking us to the wrong drop off location and coming close to striking a bicyclist. Finally a passenger told him to let us off. Unfortunately we were then lost and had to find our own way. It took 45 minutes to get back to the correct drop off point, leaving us with only about an hour in the city. We were supposed to have had three hours.
It appeared to us that Viking has expanded too much and too fast, and has not been able to maintain a level of quality promised on their relentless advertising, which is specifically directed at an upscale audience, through programs like Downton Abbey on PBS. Sadly many people on this cruise have never visited these places and will never have the opportunity to do so again. They did not receive the river cruise experience that they paid for.
Response from VikingS, Community Team