Viking has won recent awards for the best new ocean cruise line. That's easy to understand after having been on two of their ocean cruises (Mediterranean and Baltic). However, I didn't give them a 5-star rating because of four ... Read More
Viking has won recent awards for the best new ocean cruise line. That's easy to understand after having been on two of their ocean cruises (Mediterranean and Baltic). However, I didn't give them a 5-star rating because of four major problems. I'll discuss those in detail at the end of this review, but first let me highlight the positives.
The Viking Star is a magnificent ship. It's beautifully designed and with only 925 passengers, it never felt crowded. Embarkation and disembarkation were very fast and since shore excursions were scheduled at staggered times throughout the day, there were no long lineups to get off the ship. All the facilities in the spa area were available to all passengers; spa treatments alone had an extra cost. I enjoyed the jogging track, with the non-slip flooring, that went all the way around deck 2.
All of the staterooms have balconies. I was quite happy with a standard deck 3 room, since I used it only for sleeping, showering, and changing. Storage is more than adequate. I especially enjoyed the large, glassed-in shower and the heated bathroom floor. The TV system is especially impressive. Besides live news shows, movies and Ted Talks, I could access my personal shore excursion itinerary and my account details.
The food and service were superb in all the dining areas and the menus often included interesting, "luxury" food items such as Russian caviar, sturgeon, and Oysters Rockefeller. I have a garlic allergy and was provided with all dinner menus one day early so my food selections could be specially prepared without garlic.
The included shore excursions were generally interesting and well-organized. Walking tours were far better than bus tours where I had about 5 seconds to look at most of the things that the tour guide pointed out.
And now, here's some information on four Viking policies that detracted from my enjoyment of the Baltic cruise:
1) The shore excursion booking system is unlike that found on any other cruise line. Specifically, instead of being first-come-first-served, passengers are given a time to book based on HOW MUCH THEY PAID FOR THEIR STATEROOM. I have been on many Viking cruises and have always booked the lowest category of stateroom simply because I spend very little time in my room. As a result, when my turn to book came along 2 months before the cruise, I DID NOT GET ONE SINGLE SHORE EXCURSION AT THE TIME I REQUESTED. It was most unfair that a first-time passenger on Viking who paid for an expensive suite was able to book shore excursions a full month before a long-time Viking guest like myself. (NB: Viking has one of the worst loyalty programs in the industry.)
2) All the big musical and comedy shows were a repeat of what we experienced the year before on the Viking Star Mediterranean cruise. According to the Cruise Director, the performers get 2 year contracts, so the lesson here is: If evening entertainment is important to you, don't book different cruises on the same Viking ship within any 24 month period.
3) Port talks in the theatre are scheduled in the middle of the dinner time (perhaps to decrease the number of guests in the main dining room at any one time). These talks are very interesting and contain important information about the next day's tours. Each talk is available on the stateroom TV by the following morning. However, if your are scheduled on an early morning shore excursion and wish to eat breakfast, you miss the port talk entirely.
4) Viking has installed an inadequate satellite WiFi system. It's free but is almost useless. No matter what the ship's location is or what time of day it is, the WiFi system is the slowest in the world (no exaggeration) and the small computer area is the most hated room on the ship. It usually took 5 minutes to boot up any computer to reach its desktop screen; then another 10 minutes to reach my email box, and then another 10 minutes to reach any webpage after a mouse click. I was never able to check my emails and reply to them in less than 30 minutes. Every day I saw passengers giving up, cursing, and leaving the computer area in disgust, without reaching the email box or website they wanted.
In summary, Viking may be rated as being well ahead of the competition. However, once you've spent a few weeks on their ocean cruises, you realize they've still got some major problems to solve. Read Less