This was our 4th Viking River Cruise. At the end of the previous 3, we have left the ship with vouchers towards our next cruise. Not this time. Unless something dramatic happens to change our minds, there will not a be a 5th.
We chose this cruise because of the location and past great experience with Viking.
At the end of the cruise, we were asked to rate the cruise according to a scale of Below Expectations/Met Expectations/Exceeded Expectations and Far Exceeded Expectations. The crew tried to persuade us to ignore the wording and treat the words as meaning Not Acceptable/OK/Good/Excellent.
I reminded them that Viking Cruises are expensive holidays at the upper end of the market and based on the priced paid and previous Viking Cruises, our expectations were very high. To be honest in most areas, this cruise fell below our expectations.
Other than for full suites, we chose the most expensive cabin type on the ship a category A veranda on the upper deck. This proved to be a WASTE of money. For 4 nights out of 7, and the extended docking period in Porto, we were docked alongside another ship, rendering the room dark and making the balcony virtually unusable. On one night, we were next to a very loud diesel generator which produced fumes that got into our room.
For much of the cruise, the air conditioning in the room was not effective, with temperature usually at around 77F.
The reaction of the customer service staff was that these things were out of their control. This is probably true, but does not make the situation any more acceptable to the customers..
We were advised that the temperature in our cabin would be more acceptable if we kept the blind completely closed. With the blind closed it is not possible to access the balcony.
The stateroom plan on the Viking website shows a chair in veranda staterooms. There was no chair, nor space for a chair.
There were clearly not enough staff to provide a reasonable service for dinner. Sitting for 40 minutes before the order was taken is simply not acceptable. The menu was wrong for the first might. The advertised rack-of-lamb was not available and the replacement chateaubriand was poor and served cold. (I understand that there were some problems with staff illness, particularly at the start of the cruise, but it is unfortunate if that has an impact on customers).
The dining room was quite a depressing place when our ship was docked alongside another ship, and particularly on the last evening when we were docked between two other ships. The “floor to ceiling” windows were not an asset in this situation.
Other than the first night, the food varied from good to excellent.
The ship plan on the Viking website shows two buffet stations on the Sun Deck. There was no evidence of buffet stations on the Sun Deck. Apart from a single occasion near the end of the cruise, there was not even a bar service on the sun deck, and the bar on the lower deck refused to serve drinks other than to people sitting in the bar.
Brochure: “The Observation bar and lounge feature .. glass doors that lead on to the Aquavit Terrace. In fine weather, the doors roll aside for alfresco dining.” The onboard crew told me that there was never alfresco dining on the Aquavit Terrace.
On every previous Viking Cruise, there has been a single Cruise Director who has clearly been the person making decisions and the single point of contact in the event of problems.
On this cruise, there was a team of three. Each bus had its own tour director, who seemed to be little more than the tour guide. Each evening one of the tour directors did the briefing for the following day and the others were nowhere to be seen.
The star of the cruise was undoubtedly the Duoro River, which is spectacular and has some of the most impressive dams and locks to be encountered anywhere. Viking really needs to exploit this a great deal more. The daily schedule of events focussed on bus tours and “enrichment” lectures in the enclosed lounge. The river was hardly mentioned at all. There was no commentary when we were cruising.
Our tour director (guide) promised us that the captain had a special surprise for us at the end of the last day. It turned out that this was cruising to the point where the river meets the ocean. Unfortunately, this was not announced and happened while dinner was being serviced, which meant that very few people were even aware that is happened.
The itinerary was changed with just two weeks notice, with a special dinner at a monastery dropped. The Viking brochure for 2018, published six months earlier did not feature this, so it would appear that Viking knew about this much more than 2 weeks in advance. My wife and I received individual personal e-mails about this addressed as Dear Guest, telling us that we would get £50 compensation for the itinerary change. We understood this to mean £50 each. In fact, the compensation was per cabin.
So, there were lots of aspects of this cruise which were not satisfactory. Individually, the majority of them were relatively trivial, but the cumulative effect was to seriously undermine our views about Viking Cruises.
What went well?
In terms of staff, the performance of two individuals need to be recognised:
• The Maitre’d, who understood that there were issues
• The Chef (Nuno), who spent many hours talking to EVERYONE every night
Embarkation and disembarkation were relatively smooth, although our cases did not make it off the ship at the end of the cruise.
The pre-cruise stay in Lisbon was excellent. Viking does a good job in selecting hotels and the Tivoli Hotel in Lisbon was no exception.
The post-cruise extension to Santiago de Compostela was also excellent, as was the Hotel Palacio del Carmen in Santiago.
The included cruises were well organised, although the Duoro River suffers from a lack of appropriate destinations for tours. The tours did involve a significant time sitting in a motor coach. We were not convinced that some of the destinations were actually worth the effort.
On past Viking cruises we have commented on two aspects of the excursions and the same issues arose this time round.
Guides on coaches do not seem to realise that the majority of passengers on the coach cannot actually see what they can see through the front window.
Viking passengers tend not to be in the full flush of youth and there are always people with mobility problems. The guide never seemed to check that everyone was off the coach and ready to walk before striding off.
This cruise featured a new model of the Quiet-Vox devices used for the guide to communicate. These seemed to be a great improvement and the earpieces seemed much more comfortable than the previous model.
The Silver Spirits drink package represents excellent value and you don't need to drink to excess to get value from it.
Veranda cabins are not good value on a cruise where the majority of time the ship is docked alongside another ship. The veranda is not really usable and the cabin is very dark.
Apart from one small stool there is nowhere to sit other than on the bed. The diagram on the Viking website shows a chair. There was neither a chair nor anywhere to put a chair.
The cabins are well designed with a reasonable amount of storage space.