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Sail Date: April 2018
We chose this one because we wanted to visit two of the places on the itinerary. We were not disappointed. Unfortunately we had not read the brochure properly and had not realised that the first two and last two nights would be in ... Read More
We chose this one because we wanted to visit two of the places on the itinerary. We were not disappointed. Unfortunately we had not read the brochure properly and had not realised that the first two and last two nights would be in hotels, in Berlin and Prague respectively. However, that was our fault, not Viking's! In the event, we found the experience in Berlin rather dry, but Prague is a lovely city which we will be visiting again. Also unfortunately, our holiday got off to a very poor start due to a strike of air france staff. We finally go to Berlin eight hours late, after being routed round via Zurich. However, we had informed the London office of our difficulties and we were met by a charming Viking courier and driven to the ship. As always, the staterooms are spotlessly clean and blissfully comfortable. The selection of entertainment on the wide screen TV is chosen to suit all tastes. All of the staff are courteous, friendly and helpful. Meals, especially the local specialities, are always delicious and there is always a good choice. The excursions to Meissen, where we were given a demonstration of porcelain making (Meissen is one of my favourite makes!) and Wittenberg, where we had what can only be called a lecture-tour about Martin Luther, were very well thought out and interesting. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2014
Despite a glich at the airport, everything after that was wonderful!!! Unfortunately as I had expressly requested a wheelchair to collect me at the plane, the man at that door who had a wheelchair, had no identification as being from ... Read More
Despite a glich at the airport, everything after that was wonderful!!! Unfortunately as I had expressly requested a wheelchair to collect me at the plane, the man at that door who had a wheelchair, had no identification as being from Viking (was in blue cover alls) and made no acknowledgement of my Viking name tag hanging around my neck. It was for me, dragging my overhead bag behind me to try and locate the baggage claim area. Again, unfortunately, I was directed to the wrong set of baggage conveyor belt areas. I had to throw myself at the mercy of a KLM woman who made phone calls to find the correct area AND got me a wheelchair. Finally I joined with the Red-Jacketed Viking rep., my traveling companion and my luggage. We rushed over to the boat, however not in time for more than coffee and dessert....an entire day wasted. However, after all of that, the rest of the cruise was a pleasure. The meals, the service, the engine we never heard while cruising, the stateroom was very impressive. Although the weather was not always the best, the staff made the best of it and kept the good humor going. Special groups aimed for the somewhat slower were enormously helpful, as at the age of 71yrs. with bad knees and bad back, it was at times hard to keep up with the younger and healthier. We loved the entire (barring the airport fiasco) adventure and plan to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in May 2015 with you again. Read Less
11 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2014
The Viking River Cruise of the Douro that my wife and I took at the end of March did not call at a series of ports according to the planned “cruise”, and the only day of movement on the ship that we all experienced was the last day ... Read More
The Viking River Cruise of the Douro that my wife and I took at the end of March did not call at a series of ports according to the planned “cruise”, and the only day of movement on the ship that we all experienced was the last day when it was able to take advantage of the downstream current and cover over 100km in just over half a day. As happened last year, there was a high water problem on the Douro River. Our new ship, the Viking Hemming, overnighted in Porto, and on Monday there was a tour of the town (in the rain), and after lunch an optional excursion. This joined the ship again (it was a little late) at the deserted mooring of Bitetos. There is nothing in Bitetos except a car park and a cafe. We expected to set sail the next morning, but it was delayed a couple of hours and then later that day, and then indefinitely. The boat remained moored in Bitetos for three days. Regrettably Viking, who may or may not have known that this would happen, did not come clean, and kept promising that we would be moving soon, but that we were at the hands of the Port Authorities (not sure if they meant the river or the drink!). We were eventually offered excursions from Bitetos, but these were a diluted form of what we were expecting, and because of the location and the nature of the roads, necessitated long coach journeys. Whether or not it might have been a good idea to cut everyone’s losses and go back to Porto was never considered or offered. As passengers we were kept pretty much in the dark, being reassured that Viking was doing everything it could to assist passenger needs, but the one thing that was not happening was cruising. We spent 3 days with a great view of the mooring wall from our “state room”. It needs to be noted that the river destinations on the Douro are not the ‘inspiring’ ones promised by Viking literature. Some of the destinations, confirmed by the guidebooks, might only have one attraction, so a two hour journey to Pinhão on a coach was only to see the wonderful railway station with its decorated tile panels. One thing that Viking did was to get in visits to a series of vineyards such as the Quinta do Seixo where Sandeman comes from: this trip was not short of port-tasting opportunities. These helped provide some 'glowing' memories of the cruise, dulling some of the anger and disappointment. Eventually the ship moved (apparently at such short notice that one set of people who were passing the time walking the country roads were abandoned and were brought along subsequently by taxi) whilst most were on another coach trip, to the town of Regua. This is a main transport interchange, but the only thing really worth seeing is the Museum of the Douro. At last we could look out of our stateroom window, but that only lasted 6 hours, as another cruise boat of identical proportions, running the blockade, tied up alongside, and we were plunged into darkness. By this time it was clear that the cruise would never reach its final destination before coming back, and we were given poor choices for excursions on coaches. The choice we did not make was a four hour trip to Salamanca for a four hour stop (of which 1.5hrs was a lunch). Only 4 of 83 passengers chose to do that. So the good points were that the Viking Hemming is a brand new boat ( it was the maiden voyage) which is well kitted out with televisions and wifi in every room. The food was mostly good, being heavily influenced by local cuisine, and there was plenty of wine. In principle this could be a very interesting tour if it happened. The down side was that there was seemingly inadequate contingency planning, and the information given to passengers was of such poor quality that it resulted in excessive speculation and became the dominant topic of conversation of the trip. People started to compare disaster stories rather than enjoy the events. Whether or not Viking knew before departure that the trip would not be completed is debatable, but from hearsay, it seems that some of the crew knew that ships simply would not be moving that month. Towards the end of the trip all passengers received a standard letter indicating that there would be compensation from Viking. Even the Captain (who did not have a great command of English or public speaking) admitted that we had only had half a cruise. Tempers started to fray and a briefing meeting was impressed by some passengers who insisted, in strident tones, that we should have a 100% refund. Other passengers talked of failed river cruises where they had been given 75% off their next cruise. Before we had even completed our return to Porto, where the cruise had started, a letter had been sent out from Viking offices to our homes with a derisory offer of 25% of what we had paid (i.e. not the book price but the final negotiated price(+) against another cruise taken before the end of 2015. I hope this will be improved upon, as the company has done significant damage to its reputation, and came across as an organisation which we felt we might have difficulty in trusting. Whilst the ground part of the holiday worked fine in Lisbon, and we had a floating hotel, board and drink, and some of the excursions, this was not the holiday we signed up for. At the moment, subject to my further negotiation with Viking, it is difficult for me to feel that the company want to make me feel any better about this sad experience. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2011
My wife and I are both retired and have taken up cruising again after several years of raising a family. We booked the Viking Prestige in order to be on its maiden voyage in June, 2011. We did a two day pre cruise stay in Amsterdam at the ... Read More
My wife and I are both retired and have taken up cruising again after several years of raising a family. We booked the Viking Prestige in order to be on its maiden voyage in June, 2011. We did a two day pre cruise stay in Amsterdam at the Radisson which was fun. The embarkation went smoothly. Unfortunately, Viking has problems that need to be corrected. First, the bathrooms flood due to hair traps being located at floor level. The beds are extremely hard. The satellite was iffy at best. Don't try to watch TV...and don't try to use a computer. Our view was blocked 10 of the 15 days due to other ships tied up next to ours. Conversations from adjoining suites are recognizable due to no insulation in the ceilings. The lounge is not big enough for all of the passengers to view a presentation. The touted Sun Deck was closed 8 days due to height restrictions. On the plus side, the food was excellent as was the free wine every night, but soft drinks were an added expense...The many excursions are well run and informative, with Viking using local guides who are informative, especially in Wurzburg and Melk. The disembarkation went smoothly with passengers going to the airport in Budapest on buses at a scheduled time. Don't expect to see any negative comments on Vikings Facebook page as they will censor it. Trust me, I know...They did offer me $500 per passenger for a future cruise, but why would I want to get burned twice? Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
I travelled 11-19 Dec 2010 on Viking Legend's Christmas Market Cruise on the Danube. I wish I'd read previous reviews...particularly the one which spoke of the ship breaking down. We experienced the same. On the first day of ... Read More
I travelled 11-19 Dec 2010 on Viking Legend's Christmas Market Cruise on the Danube. I wish I'd read previous reviews...particularly the one which spoke of the ship breaking down. We experienced the same. On the first day of sailing the extraction pumps failed and flooded all the bathrooms, then within an hour, the power went out and the boat stopped. As we were doing the Vienna to Nuremburg "up river" cruise...we started floating back down the river. The rest of the "cruise" was bus trips...some 4 hours long to reach our ports. The service staff was very accommodating and I'm sure the company was out quite a bit of money (extra bus expenses, providing lunches in local restaurants rather than on board, an overnight in a Nuremburg hotel the final night), however, we were out the experience promised. The company offered a 30% discount on a future cruise (apparently worth approx. $550), if used within a year, as compensation for us. My travelling companions were on a once in lifetime trip...there will be no compensation for them. As for me, I may do another river cruise, but not within a year. I did not think the food was very good. Particularly the dinners. The service, again, though was very good. The rooms were adequate. The excursions were nice, though shortened. Apparently there are issues with the "green" engines. I would not risk this boat again! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2010
We went on the December 19-27 cruise from Nuremberg to Vienna on the Viking Legend. This also coincided with one of the worst winter storm in years and many people failed to get their connecting flights and many more had baggage lost. ... Read More
We went on the December 19-27 cruise from Nuremberg to Vienna on the Viking Legend. This also coincided with one of the worst winter storm in years and many people failed to get their connecting flights and many more had baggage lost. Happily, we did not have those problems. But, upon our arrival in Nuremberg, we were told the ship wasn't there due to ice, which was a lie. It was instead in Regensburg suffering from mechanical difficulties. So, instead of a cruise down the Danube, we got a bussed to various locations while sleeping on the ship. From Regensburg the ship limped to Straubing, not even making it to Passau. We were told every bus trip was "just an hour", also a lie. Finally the Legend made it to Passau but they bussed us to Linz. We seldom were free to have a whole day in port with all the bussing. We were told a team of mechanics flew in to repair the boat in Passau. The next morning we were in Melk and back on schedule, but then the electricity went out during breakfast. In Durnstein we were told the captain was no longer willing to risk our safety with this boat. On Christmas day they offered to bus people into Bratislawa, but many people, weary on the incessant bussing, opted just to stay in Durnstein and chill out. The last two days there was no cruise, but rather we were put up in the Hilton in Vienna while the people working for Viking scrambled to cancel the cruise immediately after our own. The service was good although the meals were nothing special. Our cabin was always impeccable cleaned. The Viking people tried being helpful. What we most resented was that is was glaringly obvious were not being told the whole story. I had to go on this site to see the same ship had problems on the cruise before ours. If they had only been up front it would have been better. But instead they infantilized us and tried herding us endlessly onto busses. We paid for a cruise, not a bus tour. Also, the wireless internet does not work. The Viking people kept saying the satellite was "down", as though we were idiots. If the satellite was "down" (whatever that means, as no satellite had come crashing down to earth), then why did the TV, also running off of satellite, work just fine. The router was horribly configured and no one knew how to fix it and kept talking to IT guys in Basel. I'm not asking for a refund as they did take us to all the ports described, but I will never, ever consider Viking River Cruises again. EVER. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: March 2010
I do not always write reviews for cruises, rather do so only when my evaluation and experience seem to differ from prevailing comments and evaluations by other travelers. I booked "Tulips and Windmills" on Viking Legend before ... Read More
I do not always write reviews for cruises, rather do so only when my evaluation and experience seem to differ from prevailing comments and evaluations by other travelers. I booked "Tulips and Windmills" on Viking Legend before the ship was launched because I'd long yearned to explore that part of Europe in more depth (my paternal ancestors immigrated to the U.S. from Holland in the late 1800's), and because my husband dislikes air travel and the Legend has SINGLE staterooms which were favorably priced on Viking's Early Booking Discount offer. Later on I read negative reports and comments about Viking Legend and about Viking River Cruise company, and had some doubts in the months between booking and boarding my plane for Amsterdam on March 25. However, I knew the ship was going where I wanted to go and that the price was within my budget traveling solo, so I was GOING!! My personal experience was absolutely wonderful. Lovely ship, excellent upbeat and efficient crew, fine dining experiences, good itinerary -- nothing to complain about or really even to criticize. I am happy to give Viking Legend very high marks. A substantial majority of the 177 travelers on board the Legend's March 27 sailing were Viking past passengers, so it seems clear that many other travelers are as happy with Viking as I am. One criticism I had read was that other river cruise lines include wine with dinner, but not Viking; well, so did Viking this year. Wine with dinner had been included as part of the Early Booking package, and apparently the company decided to expand it to include all passengers. The passengers were an interesting, well-traveled, and well-educated group of people. As well as those from the United States, we had travelers from the UK, Australia, and Canada, which added to the interest of shared experiences as folks brought different perspectives to what we were seeing. Although I enjoyed every single part of the journey, highlights for me were Kinderdijk, the Delta Project, and Keukenhof. Europe had had a fierce winter so we were too early for the full tulip bloom, but even so there were some fields of brilliant color, and the pavilions were glorious with the beauty of flowers of all kinds. The Keukenhof grounds are lovely, with statuary as well as ponds and fountains and lovely flora. We were lucky on weather. Several times we heard reports that where we were at the moment was the only place in The Netherlands where it was NOT raining; several days we completed our day's activities and just as we headed back on the bus or were back on board the ship, some rain would start to fall. The two times we did experience rainfall were at the Delta Project and on Easter Sunday at Keukenhof; both of those days it was off-and-on, not ongoing. Overriding "themes" for me were the role of bicycles in this country (human population 16 million, bicycle population over 18 million, automobiles 7 million), and the great energy and cleverness of the Dutch people as they have over time continued to manage their lowlands issues. The Delta Project is amazing, and passing through the locks was both interesting and fun. I took two optional excursions and recommend them both highly: Holland north country with the vegetable auction the afternoon of our day in Hoorn, and the Kroller-Muller Museum the afternoon of our day in Arnhem. In addition to the specific interest of the places visited, both excursions got us out into beautiful countryside, reassuring us that even this most densely populated of European countries DOES have lovely open countryside, with hilly areas in the eastern areas. Viking Legend's on-board presentations were fine: a most engaging and entertaining performance by a group of folkloric Dutch dancers; a presentation on the European Union; and an excellent educational talk on the windmills the evening before our day at Kinderdijk, presented by the daughter/granddaughter/great-granddaughter of a windmill keeper who had spent much time in her childhood in the family's windmill home. Although my photo album is not ready yet, when it is it will be added to my travel photo site: [url]http://fredasphotos1.shutterfly.com[/url] It'll probably (hopefully) be posted by the end of April. If you have any specific questions, post a question in the River and Canal Cruising section of the message boards, with the title, "Question on Legend for Xoe". I booked my own air (Delta has the only nonstop Seattle to Amsterdam), took the Hotel Shuttle Bus from Schiphol to my Hotel Bellevue, a budget hotel booked on EasyToBook for 69 Euros. The hotel is very near Centraal Station so I was able to walk from the hotel to the ship for boarding the next day. All these plans worked wonderfully well, and as hoped. My Cabin 337 was one of 5 single cabins on Legend; there are 2 on the top deck, 2 on Deck 2, and 1 on Deck 1. My #337 was adjacent to the library at the stern of Deck 3, and I loved the location. At a moment's notice, I could pop into the library and out a door to see or photograph anything on either starboard or port side of the ship. I'd guess that the other single on Deck 3, #309, is an equally good location and would mean less walking to the lounge or dining etc. The cabin design and layout are good. Bed is a couch that converts to a bed, but this was very comfortable and resulted in more floor space, which I appreciate since I do yoga stretches each morning. I loved having the French balcony for fresh air when I opened the slider; I had it open a bit every night. The climate control in the room worked beautifully, including an "off" position for times I wanted the slider open. There are outlets for both U.S. and European plugs, so charging camera batteries was no problem, nor was there a need for a converter. Great room! (NOTE -- CORRECTION: This form asks how many ports we visited. We had NINE ports; the maximum choice given on the form is 6 so that's what I marked -- but it's wrong, should be 9.) Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
Wow, the maiden voyage.  We were hoping that all the bugs would be worked out before we boarded.  Actually we booked our cruise so that the ship would be sailing for two months before we sailed, but alas no such luck.Amsterdam started ... Read More
Wow, the maiden voyage.  We were hoping that all the bugs would be worked out before we boarded.  Actually we booked our cruise so that the ship would be sailing for two months before we sailed, but alas no such luck.Amsterdam started out with a bang.  We were mooned by a passing boat as we sat down for our first dinner aboard the ship.  It started the cruise off with laughter and goodwill among the passengers who were lucky enough to witness the event.  We had an excellent tour of Amsterdam before we set sail for Budapest.  The first set of locks we went through to reach the Rhine river were quite tame in comparison to the locks that we encountered later on in the cruise. The countryside was peaceful, aromatic and we actually saw some real windmills.  Our first port of call was Cologne.  If you have been before, they offer a short version of the city tour.  I would definitely take this version the next time as I have seen the cathedral enough times now and would rather enjoy its quiet beauty on my own without having to listen to a tour guide wax on about their interpretation of the stained glass windows.  It was the next day when we realized the problems of being on the maiden cruise of a yet untested ship design.  We had heard the tale of Loreley when all of a sudden bang, a huge black cloud was to be seen at the stern of the ship.  The Captain and crew were unaware of the smoke until they suddenly noticed that the passengers on deck were trying to get their attention and looked.  Viking set a new legend.  The first time an anchor had been lowered on a Viking ship and the first time a Viking ship lost its power in the Loreley channel.  We waited for 2 1/2 hours for the tug boats to come and two us to safety where the Cumins engineers arrived to try to repair the engines.  At his point none of them were working.  We never did make it to Rudesheim.  They managed to get two of the three engines up and running about 4 am and we arrived in Mainz late.  We got off the ship and had our city tour, but the ship had to leave right away so that it could make up for lost time.  They put us on a bus where we had to travel a distance down the river to meet the ship.  We arrived before the ship did to the agreed meeting place.  We made it to Wertheim but due to the loss of time due to the ship breakdown ended up waiting forever to be picked up.  The ship was suppose to pick us up at 12:30 , then they said 1:30 and then the ship finally showed up at 2:15.  It was a fascinating town to be stuck in and they had good local bakeries which was a good thing as lunch was more than a little late that day. The next day we made it to Wurzburg and Rothenburg.  The tour this day was great and the Residenz palace is well worth a visit.  The lunch provided in Rothenburg was delicious and the town was fascinating.  Do make sure you visit the Christmas store while here.  We had to get off the ship early and take a bus to Nuremberg as the ship was still behind schedule.  I wish we had arrived in this city on a day other than Sunday as it basically was shut down as there are no stores, etc open on a Sunday.  They had a few ice cream and pizza restaurants open.  Regensburg wsa interesting.  Passau had an incredible local guide and just listening to her made the day very pleasant.  The organ concert was excellent.  I wish we had more time in Melk as it would have been nice not to have to rush to get back to the ship.  Durnstein I could have skipped without regret.  Vienna, what can I say.  I wish we could have more time.  The optional music concert was fabulous even though it was extremely hot in Vienna.  We enjoyed our time in a Vienna coffee house and the tour guide here was excellent.  Bratislava, quite honestly they could cut out the "choo choo train" and everyone would be quite happy.  By the time the tour guide described what you were seeing you were already past the building and could not see it anyhow. The town is interesting but it would have been nice to have a little more free time to explore on your own.  Sailing into Budapest at night was a magical experience.  I would say that this was the highlight of the entire cruise.  We did the next afternoon have the mother of all storms come in the afternoon, and people were quite happy to sit on board the ship and avoid going out in the rain and wind.  I wish the storm had not arrived as I would have liked to have seen more of the city.The local tour guides have been hand picked by Viking and it shows.  They were knowledgeable and entertaining.  With the exception of the tour guide in Cologne waxing on a little too long about the stained glass windows, I would say all of the tour guides did an excellent job.  I did feel gypped in Nuremberg as the ship arrived too late for us to have the city tour included with our WWII optional tour.The ship has some major safety concerns that need to be addressed immediately.  They have a hatch without railings  around it on the front deck that if someone was not watching could take a very nasty tumble down steep metal steps.  These steps lead from the galley to the lounge for the serving of food.  They do not have lighted exit signs on the doors leading to the staircases for emergency purposes.  They need to do something about the spacing in between the steel plates on the first deck.  If someone wasn't watching, they could easily catch a high heel in the hole and give themselves a nasty twist.I felt that the ship should have had better communication with the passengers.  With all the technical glitches, their term not ours, we should have been told what happened to the engine and that the ship was safe.  When the ship was late in arriving at some of the ports for passenger pick up there was no cruise staff to be fund until the time the ship was actually supposed to be there and then they disappeared again until the next supposed arrival time.  Quite a few of the staff members were brand new to Viking and it showed.The dining room staff bent over backwards.  I honestly felt that they could do with 2 more staff members  to speed up the process..  The ratio was 43 staff to 189 passengers.  Simply not enough staff.  They were still bringing equipment on board at the end of the cruise that should have been there before the ship set sail.  I think it would have been beneficial for the Captain and crew to have sailed the entire cruise at least once before they took a load of passengers.  The bumps in the night might not have been as noticeable if they had had a practice run of entering the locks.All said and done, I think we will be looking at another river cruise line the next time we do Europe.  We were disappointed after the service Viking had provided on the Yangtze River in China the year before. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2008
We do not do cruises. Going to sea in a floating hotel has absolutely no appeal, and having to dress for dinner while on vacation is definitely not something we want to do. On the other hand there are some trips that make more sense when ... Read More
We do not do cruises. Going to sea in a floating hotel has absolutely no appeal, and having to dress for dinner while on vacation is definitely not something we want to do. On the other hand there are some trips that make more sense when done by ship than by any other means of transport, and St. Petersburg to Moscow (or the other way around) is one of them. We had previously done only one other river cruise and that was on the Nile (not a trip offered by Viking) where the lack of suitable alternative accommodations made the ship essential, at least for Westerners accustomed to a certain level of comfort, health, and safety. While infrastructure in Russia and Egypt are vastly different the waterways make this a good way to travel in this part of Russia. Although Viking offers to arrange for air transport to the port of embarkation we elected to make our own arrangements, but we did take advantage of Viking's airport to ship transfers. Unless you can read Russian words in Cyrillic text it's probably best to take Viking's transfers both to and from the ship because the airports are a long distance from the docks, none of the road signs are in Roman text, and from what we heard, many taxi drivers have limited or no comprehension of English. One thing to consider when meeting a cruise ship or any other organized tour with a scheduled departure, is allowing sufficient time to get to the starting point. This was made obvious to us when our initial flight from LAX was cancelled when the aircraft was found to be not airworthy (after all passengers were aboard with seat belts fastened). Our original itinerary included a change of planes before leaving the US and we would have missed that connection because of the cancelled flight. A second connecting flight likewise became doubtful when weather at the connecting city delayed flights there. Finally, after almost 12 hours at LAX we departed on a non-stop flight to London. Since we had planned a short stay in London there was never any doubt that we would get to St. Petersburg a few days later in time for the ship's departure but had we planned to arrive just in time for embarking on the cruise we may have "missed the boat." Lesson learned. To call Viking's "Waterways of the Csars" a cruise is a bit of a misnomer because the ship is small (106 staterooms) compared to the behemoths usually associated with the word "cruise" and dress is always on the casual side, even at the "Captain's Dinner." Many men and women (there were no children on board) did "dress for dinner" but "business casual" was more the rule; nary a tux wax seen. Viking claims to "operate our ships according to the highest standards of Swiss hotel management" and they live up to that claim. The main purpose of the ship is transportation not entertainment although there was certainly no lack of things to do while underway. More on that later. The Viking Surkov has very recently been "extensively" renovated according to Viking, and it shows. The good news is that the interior of the ship is all new, and very well done at that. Everything that Viking says about the cruise was true - these folks know how to provide an excellent travel experience. The bad news is that the ship was apparently put into service before the renovations were complete. Our cruise was the third sailing since the ship left the yard and according to the staff there had been no shakedown cruise before the first revenue cruise. Two problems persisted for the entire cruise - staterooms were either cold (as was ours, which was consistently less than 20 deg C for all but a few hours) or hot, that is, some were hot and some cold, but we heard no complaints from passengers that any staterooms were alternately cold and hot, and there was an occasional odor of sewage in various locations throughout the ship but fortunately for us not in our stateroom. The sewage smell was the lesser problem for most of us (judging by the scuttlebutt) since it was generally neither severe nor persistent, though we know of one of the single cabins that remained somewhat smelly (and HOT) for the duration. Except for the problems with temperature control the staterooms were quite nice. (See Cabin Guru, below) On board, all expenses not included in the tour package (optional tours, adult beverages, laundry service, internet access, etc.) are billed in "units" which are at parity with Euros but apparently Viking is not permitted to call it that. A few days prior to the end of the cruise a final statement was issued and henceforth all purchases were cash (rubles) or credit card. Viking cannot exchange currencies on board but on most shore excursions there was an opportunity to convert US dollars. UK pounds, or Euros to rubles. In the big cities ATMs are easy to find. We (the two of us) brought the ruble equivalent of about US$500 with us and had rubles left over. We don't spend much on drinks or souvenirs so your mileage may vary. Ah, yes. Drinks. With wine by the glass typically priced at 6 units (almost US$10 at the ship's Euro-dollar exchange rate) if you want wine with most meals it would probably make sense to sign up for the beverage package when you book. I don't recall the details but I think it gets you unlimited drinks for a fixed price. I saw plenty of wine served at meals but got the definite impression from one passenger at least that the wines served were not of the quality we Californians expect to get at home at very modest prices. The ship's crew is all Russian, as is the dining room staff (mostly waitresses and a few waiters) but the on-board management apparently consists only of German nationals. The tour guides for the shore excursions are all Russians with excellent command of English and superior knowledge of their subject. Unlike the tour guides, the dining room staff had limited ability to converse with us in English. There was never any difficulty communicating about menu choices, but questions such as "What is this item on the menu?" never got a satisfactory answer. The menu had a definite international flavor with familiar items from the Continent and some unfamiliar Russian dishes. Even when choosing a menu item with an unfamiliar name and without a description, nothing truly bizarre appeared at the table. Overall we ate quite well on board and all meals were included. With almost the same number of crew as passengers, the overall level of service throughout the cruise was excellent. The passengers were mostly from the US, UK, and the antipodes, including more than thirty Australians travelling as a group. This being a rather pricey boat ride, the passengers were of course rather well off and for the most part were beyond retirement age, some way beyond. Several folks used wheelchairs or canes and even with these required appliances most (but not all) of the shore excursions were well within their capabilities. That is not to say that the shore excursions involved little walking because walk we did. However, the pace was set to accommodate those with less than youthful mobility. For each shore excursion the routine was similar. Prior to leaving the ship all passengers exchange the magnetic card key to the stateroom for a small card that shows the port location (in Russian) so in the unlikely event of getting separated from the group the card can be presented to any taxi driver (presumably they are all literate in Russian) to arrange transport back to the ship. This scheme also allows for "taking attendance" prior to the ship's departure thus assuring that no one gets left behind. Something like that could ruin your whole day. The Viking website covers the details of the shore excursions, but this is a review of the cruise so I'll limit my comments about the shore excursions. Viking offered either as part of the package or as options, excursions that covered the key places in Russia that are listed in "1,000 Places to See Before You Die: A Traveler's Life List" by Patricia Schultz (the book, not the barely watchable hokey home video shown on the Travel Channel) and that was one of the reasons we took this cruise. One of the tradeoffs involved in group travel is that word "group." Being part of a group imposes some limits on how to spend time; for example, in museums we got to see a lot of art but which particular art and how long we could view it was not up to the individual. And let there be no doubt, there is a lot of art to see! Our guides did schedule some "free time" at several locations so we sometimes had the opportunity to choose how to spend our time. The Russian guides (as mentioned earlier) were very knowledgeable. We had guides that live on board, and at some locations we had a local guide with the specialized knowledge appropriate to that location or museum. For those of us who were primarily interested in the cultural aspects of the cruise, these are the people that made the trip truly worthwhile. For the first shore excursion we picked a guide and a bus and that guide became "our" guide for the duration of the cruise. We had the good fortune to select the oldest of the group and she turned out to be an exceptional guide with experience as a guide beginning in 1960. The crew and guides sign on for six months of cruising, and as the captain explained during our visit to the bridge, the ship's crew works for six months without a day off. The officers and crew demonstrated excellent seamanship throughout the voyage and the weather cooperated to the extent that no one seemed to get seasick. Even on the larger bodies of water (lakes and reservoirs) the surface was relatively calm so most of the time there was little evidence of motion while underway. The on board activities included vodka tasting, caviar tasting (we skipped both), an amateur night where the passengers presented a modestly produced variety show, and several sessions on Russian history. Near the end of the trip we were offered a question and answer session with the guides. As for the history sessions, this was conducted in the large lounge/bar set up like a meeting room with the guides at the front of the room facing an audience of passengers. With a standing room only crowd the guides bravely fielded questions about all aspects of Russian life, both present and in Soviet times. One of the guides is old enough to have remembered life during the Nazi invasion and the aftermath of what the Russians call The Great Patriotic War (that's WWII to most of us). While all of the questions from passengers were politely phrased and considerate of our hosts, we got into some rather blunt political discussions, for example. It quickly became obvious that Russia is no longer the Evil Empire of Soviet times. Also obvious from what we heard during this Q&A was that the Russian population is a tough bunch of people who have endured some really terrible times. The Romanovs were truly awful rulers, Stalin was even worse, the subsequent Communist rulers were incompetent at best (so far no surprises), and a real surprise (to me at least) was the Russians' opinion of Gorbachev and Putin. Gorby got a mere 1% of the vote the last time he ran for office (it seems that he is universally disliked for causing incredible hardship during the unplanned transition to a free economy), and they finally have a ruler in Putin that has brought them both stability and a functioning economy. Putin may be trying to control his domestic media (and perhaps crown himself emperor) but there is apparently no restriction on what Russians may read or access from beyond the borders of Russia. These people have access to the same sources of news that we have and they clearly take advantage of the opportunity to learn from those sources. All expressed their opinions, apparently without reservation, and not all opinions were flattering to the state. Debarkation was uneventful and as well organized as the other aspects of our journey. It wasn't Viking's fault that our early morning flight from Moscow required a 1:15 am wake up call. I went to Russia expecting to visit a more or less third world country (albeit one with a big army and some nukes) but came home with the realization that Russia has changed a lot in the past ten years or so. St. Petersburg and Moscow are both rapidly becoming truly modern European cities and in both cities the amount of construction and infrastructure restoration activity is impressive. The people living in the small cities and towns we visited don't seem to be any more isolated than folks living in America's heartland (and we know that they are not isolated). Read Less
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