We took the Paris to the Swiss Alps cruise in reverse from December 11-22, 2019 starting in Zurich. Viking has partnered with Marriott Hotels for accommodation pre- and post-cruise. The Hotel Renaissance is in the Technopark of low-rise buildings, but Tram #4 (blue) one block over runs to the old town. A day pass costs 8 Euro per person. Viking offered an orientation walk of the hotel area at 5:30 PM which is fine in summer but in December darkness comes early and lighting is poor. Some passengers purchased the day-long Highlights of the Swiss Alps optional excursion at $400, but it turned back due to heavy snow in the Alps. Instead of giving passengers a refund, Viking tried to offer an on-board ship credit. There is little to buy and how much can you drink? Just refund the money. Its basic public relations.
After a bus ride to Basel and a convoluted walking tour around town pointedly trying to avoid the Christmas Market, we boarded Viking Alsvin at the St Johann Dock by walking down a long set of concrete stairs to the gangway. Note there is a lot of walking on this cruise so get yourself into condition before arriving.
Alsvin is one of the newer additions to the Viking fleet all of which follow the same design template. That said, engine noise was louder than on the other six Viking river ships on which we have sailed and Alsvin would ‘shudder’ occasionally while underway. Our cabin 332 was filled with a king bed so we had to walk sideways around it. The bathroom was tiny but had all the necessities plus a heated floor. Twice the toilet wouldn’t flush but a maintenance guy cam promptly to fix it. Channel 9 on the TV is the bow cam for a view of where we were going should it be too to stand cold outside.
Food service in the restaurant was okay but it took longer to get meals out of the galley and there were fewer serving staff on the floor than on previous Viking cruises. The first morning there was nobody at the omelette station and a slab of smoked salmon had not been sliced. Staff showed up later. Near the end of the cruise in Trier, they ran out of Coke and peanut butter and had to scramble to get some locally.
Between Basel and Strasbourg, Viking Alsvin bumped into side walls of some locks and the jerky movement could be felt on board. No explanation from Captain Adam Buczkowski why this kept happening. Before Trier, the ship hit the wall of a lock with a loud ‘bang’ and enough force to jolt the ship and rattle glasses in the restaurant. Again, no explanation. I have never had this happen on any of my previous six Viking river cruises nor on any cruises with Avalon or Uniworld.
Stops at Speyer and Mainz filled in sites I had wanted to see but while the Gutenberg Museum was closed on Monday, it was open to Viking passengers. Problem weas, their gift shop was not open. They could have made a tidy profit even after paying a salary and utilities but, so be it. Viewing the protected manuscripts is difficult in a crowd of people so go online to the Museum’s website where some exhibits are displayed.
With the exception of transiting the Wachau Valley, there was very little commentary about the passing scenery on this cruise. Not even a separate TV channel with info. We cruised under an immense bridge then we drove on it to Luxembourg, but it was never identified by Viking staff. I found it is called the Hochmoselbrücke, literally the High Moselle Bridge, but it would be handy if Viking could identify local landmarks for passengers. Also, daily Port Talk briefings by Program Director Bojan Bozic lacked any details about walking from the ship to buses, for example, the multiple series of steps at Kehl for the Strasbourg tour and an alternative incline pathway. Finding our guides for excursions was often chaotic especially with other boats in port. Perhaps because this was the holiday season and some guides were not ‘regulars’ English language skills were challenging.
When leaving Alsvin for excursions we had to pick up and return a guide number/letter card plus a little piece of paper stating our name, cabin and excursion so a manual tally could be made to determine if everyone was back on board. Why, for heaven’s sake, could we not tap our cabin card on exit and re-entry as is done on other ships? Technology works, Viking people.
Also, Viking needs to acknowledge that on a cruise during the pre-Christmas season many passengers come to visit the little Christmas Markets along the Rhine and Moselle. Yet there was barely any Christmas music, classical or commercial, played on board. When I asked Reception why not, the woman behind the counter said, “it is not on our playlist”. I recommended the playlist be revised. The next day, I heard “Here Comes Santa Claus”. Once!
Water was high in the Moselle and Viking’s large ship could not pass under some bridges even with its retractable wheelhouse fully lowered. Other smaller boats could make it. So, we double docked alongside Viking Eir and spent an extra day in Koblenz waiting for water levels to drop. A two-days-in-one combination bus tour of Cochem and Trier was set up.
At 8:15 AM some Alsvin passengers boarded buses in Koblenz to Cohem and Trier completely bypassing Bernkastel located between these two towns. There was no commentary on the bus about the passing Moselle Valley. We arrived in Cochem for a flash tour of downtown and the reconstructed Reichsburg Castle. We were told, “you will have a little time in the square on your own.” No, we did not. Rush back on the bus for the hour plus ride to Trier. Certainly, no time to find a store selling the mustard which Bojan said was an authentic Cochem souvenir.
Also lacking was a drive around Trier to see the Roman Amphitheatre and Roman Baths. We got off at the old town and marched directly to a restaurant near the Cathedral where we were scheduled to blow two hours at a three-course, sit-down lunch. I left, got a map and did my own tour. Come on. Most of us have sufficient reserves to get by on a snack of water and a granola bar when time is tight. And there is lots of food at the Christmas Market. We left at dusk and drove back to the ship in the dark. The next day we did sail up the Moselle to Bernkastel where we docked for a few hours before sailing to Trier for disembarkation.
At 8:30 AM four buses took all Viking Alsvin passengers from Trier to Paris. This being the last cruise of the season, most crew left too and Alsvin would be taken to Cologne for off-season maintenance.
While you can tip individuals for exceptional service, Viking Cruises reduces their wage costs by automatically billing 15 Euro per person per day in gratuities to be settled before disembarkation and divvyed up among crew doing the work for which they were hired. That’s about $200 per cabin per cruise. A nice chunk of change. This practice artificially lowers the advertised price of Viking cruises because other cruise lines take an honest approach and include basic onboard tips in their listed prices. Caveat Emptor.
But before Paris there was a stop at the American Cemetery and Memorial at Haram and a walking excursion around old Luxembourg City then the long bus ride to our Paris hotel. On the bus, tour director Bojan finally decided to provide some not useful commentary by telling us about things off the motorway which we could not see such as Reims Cathedral (hidden by roadside berms and hi-voltage transmission towers), champagne vineyards (somewhere off in the distance, maybe), and Euro Disney (out of sight on the right) as we finally approached Paris. At 4:00 PM he got a call from the Marriott Opera Hotel asking where we were. After nine plus hours enroute, we finally arrived at 6:00 PM. The location of this hotel on Boulevard Haussmann is great within walking distance of many attractions.
This Paris to the Swiss Alps Viking river cruise was not up to the quality of previous ones. I prefer river cruises to ocean cruises because distances are shorter, docks are close to sites and shore scenery is interesting. However, in 2017 we tried an ocean cruise from Barcelona to Rome on Viking Star with Captain Rune Lokling. The ship and amenities were excellent but along the way our cautious Captain Lokling decided he could not dock at Marseille, a natural harbor since medieval times, so no excursions. Instead he went further east to Toulon, home port of the French Navy Mediterranean fleet. We sailed in under sunny skies with calm water. I took photos. Then the white pilot boat departed, and we sailed out again. No excursions. Two hours later our captain finally announced bad weather prevented docking. No Way! So, we bobbed around at sea for a day with nothing to do. Next, the tender returning from St. Tropez hit the hull with enough force to break a window and toilets on board Viking Star did not flush for two hours one afternoon. I complained to Viking customer service in California. They denied any problems, but Viking Star now has a different captain. Maybe Viking Alsvin should too.
Our cabin 332 was filled with a king bed so we had to walk sideways around it. The bathroom was tiny but had all the necessities plus a heated floor. Twice the toilet wouldn’t flush but a maintenance guy cam promptly to fix it. Channel 9 on the TV is the bow cam for a view of where we were going should it be too to stand cold outside.