We booked this cruise specifically for the Christmas Markets. It started inauspiciously with a notice shortly before sailing that our ship had been changed from the Hlin to the Kara - didn't seem like a big deal since they are identical sister ships - little did we know. We booked Viking Air for the cruise and our arrival in Amsterdam was perfect with representatives to meet us outside baggage claim and off to our ship within 30 minutes of arrival. Our cabin was not ready yet, but they provided a full lunch in the lounge which was good, although not gourmet, and it was appreciated. Interestingly this resulted in the best part of the cruise where we met a couple that we spent most of our time sharing, and who have become lifelong friends. Our cabin - a french balcony on the embarkation deck was nice and well appointed, but very small compared to ocean vessels. (We have cruised more than 70 times and have only had a smaller room once), however the heated floor in the bathroom was a nice touch. Amenities were first class and our cabin attendant was the best we have ever had! They provided a walk around tour of Amsterdam at 2 different times, and we took the earlier one as we were still waiting for our cabin. We had a nice guide but it consisted of a walk to the train station and back and included virtually nothing about the city. Oh well, it was something to do. Our first stop was Dordrecht in the Netherlands and it was a pretty little town with an extraordinary guide who was intimately knowledgeable about the history and architecture of the region. Little did we know that he would be only 1 of 2 guides who contributed to our enjoyment. No markets here, but not expected. Returning to the ship, we prepared for our departure which ended an hour after leaving when we docked alongside a concrete battlement in the middle of nowhere.
Then the disaster started. We were told that there was a propulsion problem and that we would be there a short while until it was remedied. Talking with the Chief Engineer later, we discovered that it was a valve controlling lubrication to the propeller shafts that had been improperly maintained, something that seriously angered him. This resulted in almost 2 days of limping along while they tried to repair the problem. This also resulted in the elimination of 2 of our scheduled ports of call, and alternate docking sites in those we did visit - usually in the middle of nowhere with nothing in walking distance. By this time most of the passengers were a little disgruntled, but still upbeat about the trip. Then the reality of our predicament began to emerge - with 3 horrible guides (and fortunately our best in Dusseldorf) who bored us to tears and managed on 2 occasions to get us to the markets before they opened, leaving us 15 and 30 minutes respectively to visit our primary purpose for taking this cruise. It also meant the elimination of 2 and modification of 3 of our included excursions and the cancellation of all the optional tours for the entire voyage with the exception of the Colmar trip on the 7th day of the cruise. It is also our opinion that Viking just did their regular cruise itinerary for this trip and added the markets as an afterthought. We decided to leave the tours at 3 stops and explore on our own - taking the bus RT since we were docked too far away to make our own way there or back. 2 of the guides were ok with that and showed us where to meet and the time to do so. Our guide in Cologne, however, was upset that we wanted to bypass his tour and walk to the market. After 10 minutes of arguing with him, he finally (regretfully) gave us directions and off we went. Great directions - he sent us under a bridge, through a homeless encampment and then told us to turn the wrong direction once we were done with that lovely bit of scenery. The market and cathedral were amazing and since we had been here previously, we didn't miss the history lesson. Returning, we met up with 2 other tour groups headed back to the bus and were amazed - and horrified - that our experience was not repeated! We walked for half as long, through a well-lit and clean train station then a short jaunt to the buses! Obviously our guide had intended to teach us a lesson - all it did was cost him a gratuity and add another black spot to the trip. The propulsion system was repaired in about a day and 1/2 but by now we were unable to hit our original docks and the alternates were at best rural, and at worst industrial in nature.
I have to give kudos to the staff and officers of the ship. They were professional and attentive to all of our needs, and did their best to make us happy under trying circumstances. Our cruise director, Kioran had a miserable job of trying to rebook our ports, explain to the passengers the reason for the problems and schedule alternative activities and entertainment. I would not have wanted that job for any amount of money!
Response from VikingS, Community Team
We had 332 and were really happy with the French balcony since it was too cold to use a traditional balcony in December. It was a little small, but nicely appointed with a great cabin attendant!