We’ve recently returned from a trip to Scandinavia that included the 22 night Majestic Fjords and Vibrant Russia cruise. We started the trip in Finland and southern Sweden before joining the cruise in Stockholm. We also extended the ... Read More
We’ve recently returned from a trip to Scandinavia that included the 22 night Majestic Fjords and Vibrant Russia cruise. We started the trip in Finland and southern Sweden before joining the cruise in Stockholm. We also extended the cruise with the Bergen to Oslo rail trip plus extra time in Oslo.
There are things about the cruise that were very good. The boat is small, only about 900 passengers, and the decor is neutral (somewhere between modern Scandi and neutral high end nursing home). The gym and jogging deck were great and we made good use of them. The service is fantastic. Daisy and Ronal, who looked after our room, provided a higher standard of cleaning and organisation than any 5 star hotel I’ve stayed in (and I’ve stayed in a lot of 5 star hotels on five continents). There were a couple of experts who provided lectures and held post lecture discussions. Some of these were excellent. And travelling by ship gave us some spectacular views.
There were things that fell short of our expectations. The food fell way short of my expectations. There are a number of dining options including the World Cafe, which is essentially a cafeteria, Mamsen’s, a cafe open at breakfast and lunch with a number of Nordic inspired options, The Restaurant, which is open for breakfast and dinner and is described as the premium dining option, Manfredi’s, an Italian themed restaurant, and The Chef’s table which offers a degustation experience. We had our first two meals, and indeed most of our meals during the cruise, in the World Cafe. I was quite shocked to see that the offerings included pasta and pizza kept warm under lights (probably reflecting my inexperience with cruises). The Cafe has plenty of options, some of which change from day to day, but generally the options were a bit ordinary and the steamed vegetables were invariably cold and soggy (I like to eat a lot of vegetables). We had one breakfast in The Restaurant and the food was okay but the service was chaotic. This was on our first morning on the cruise and my partner declared he wouldn’t have another breakfast there (a point he was willing to concede after two weeks of breakfasts in the Cafe). We also had a few dinners in the Restaurant and on each occasion some part of the meal would be okay to good but invariably other parts of the meal were substandard. Overall we felt it wasn’t worth changing out of jeans to dine in the restaurant. While we were offered two dates to dine in The Chef’s table, we only dined there once. Two of the courses were excellent, one okay and one unpleasant. The Mexican theme seemed a bit at odds with both the Baltic location and summer season. We cancelled our second dining option. We had a few breakfasts and perhaps five lunches at Mamsen’s but became bored with the food. We also had about seven meals in an additional dining option, The Pool Grill, but hot dogs and hamburgers weren’t really my idea of summer holiday dining and I pulled the plug on further meals at the Grill. We did have two meals at Manfredi’s and some of the courses were good but others not (my partner described them as cafeteria food delivered by a waiter). I should add that the coffee and tea on board are abysmal. A good point about the dining options was that there was seldom a wait. I can’t believe we paid $2,000/day for a cruise with such disappointing food. On top of the food, after booking the cruise that was inclusive of wine with lunch/dinner, we received an offer to upgrade our alcohol options at a cost of about $60/day for the two of us. I was so angry at the suggestion we pay extra just to have decent wine that I refused to consider it. All of the wine we had was drinkable but few wines were good.
The logistics for the excursions were stunningly poor. A number of excursions required guests to meet in the theatre. On several occasions the wait in line and subsequent wait in the theatre, before disembarking, were more than 45 minutes. The line to get into the theatre went past lifts which mean people leaving the lifts were joining middle of the line, often to the audible concern of people further back in line who were afraid they would miss their excursion. The information for meeting onshore for excursions was often vague or downright wrong. This is frustrating, because it wastes precious time, and was actually quite stressful for excursions in Russia where the trip through immigration is quite intimidating. I’d add that on one occasion, early in our cruise, I asked a question of one of the more senior, public facing, staff about the meeting place for an excursion. Instead of answering me her reply was ‘didn’t you have an excursion yesterday?’. I’ve only fired a couple of people in my career but I’ve had fired her on the spot for that. I really resented, and on occasion was infuriated, every moment I spent waiting or following poor instructions. Viking needs to bring in design thinking and behaviour economic experts to work through these processes.
I was also very aggravated that Viking didn’t contact us after the Sky’s incident off Stavanger earlier in the year and only replied to my queries when pressed and then with a really insulting response. Had we not paid for our cruise, I’d have cancelled, even though I’d have lost the deposit, because of the way Viking handled this.
I can’t comment much on the entertainment because we weren’t interested in attending performances. Several times we encountered the pianist or the guitarist. Both were very talented but the easy easy listening selection they played held no appeal.
I have a list of quibbles but my overall feeling is that Viking isn’t a luxury experience. It is aimed at middle America (and while I live in Australia, I grew up in middle America). I couldn’t recommend the cruise to anyone among our Australian family or friends without a lot of qualification (i.e. I don’t know anyone who I think would be happy with the cruise). It appears to me that Viking is trying to appeal to customers from a wider range of countries. I think they have a lot of work to do for that to be a success. I also don’t understand how they have been rated so highly as a luxury cruise. I suspect this is largely driven by the large middle American client base which biases feedback. For us, we have two or three holidays each year but I can’t imagine that we’d look at Viking again. Read Less