Viking River Cruises
Make a Reservation: 1-800-706-1483
Request a Brochure or DVD: 1-800-304-9622
Office Hours: Monday - Friday 5:00 AM to 9:00 PM Pacific
Saturday: 6:00 AM to 4:00 PM Pacific
Sunday: 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM Pacific
: Mass market river cruise line with a number of newish ships cruising European rivers (and contract ships in China on the Yangtze and in Egypt on the Nile), averaging perhaps 150 passengers per ship - newer "Norse gods" ships coming on line are larger.
: We've traveled with Pandaw Cruises on the Mekong and Tonle Sap (Vietnam and Cambodia, most highly recommended); Tauck Tours (Swiss Emerald, Black Sea to Budapest, very inclusive and most highly recommended); Akademik Ioffe to Antarctica 21 days; many small to medium boat cruises (perhaps over 50) in much of the world from 12 to 300 (14 on Windstar cruises, etc.)
: The company is a well-known, well-established and large European (they also own "K-D" line), have their "headquarters" office in Woodland Hills, CA - also their primary America sales office, established when they entered the US market strongly - they are targeting primarily an Anglophone market, and thruogh the crew on our boat represented Germany, France and several other East and West European countries, English is the language commonly used aboard.
Naturally enough Viking charges for everything (other than tickets purchased within the USA) in Euros
; this coincidentally makes prices appear lower to those living on the Dollar standard, but be aware the Euro price floats, and a 6 EUR drink actually costs $8.00 today, plus the possible currency foreign exchange fee your credit card charges you. The best way to pay is with a forex-free card such as AMEX Platinum, many of the Capital One products, Citi AAdvantage Executive card, etc.
Our trip and report
: Portraits of Southern France, Chalon-sur-Saône to Avignon and including Alres <link to this trip in 2013). Pricing is phony as most pricing is seemingly always "2 for 1", meaning $3,255 p.p.d.o. in our case for the "Deluxe B" stateroom ($465 per day per person).
The price included:
- Daily Shore Excursions: 6 included guided tours, walking or bus and walking, 3 - 4 hours long
- Accommodations - 7 nights in your river-view stateroom (6.5 days)
- Included: All meals: 7 breakfasts, 6 lunches & 7 dinners
- Port Charges included
- Air Taxes, Fees, Fuel Surcharges & Transfers: Only included with airfare purchased from Viking
- Complimentary Beverages: lower shelfwine, beer & soft drinks with onboard dinner and lunch service
- Internet Access: Free wi-fi, connection speed usually poor, sometimes none
- 75 comfortable outside staterooms (63 deluxe, 12 standard)
- Sun deck with 360-degree views and shaded sitting area
- Observation lounge and bar with panoramic windows
- Restaurant with panoramic views
- Onboard boutique
- Free shipwide wireless internet service (atrociously slow and uneven)
- Walk-around, open air promenade deck
- Laundry service (fees per item)
- Transfers (unless cruise air purchased through Viking)
- Tips to drivers, local guides and all ship's crew - averaging EUR 100 per person
- "Silver" upgrade to mid-shelf drinks and wines (unlimited quantities) EUR 150 per person for 7 days - that's $200 for 6 days, really, and you may do better buying local bottles and paying for drinks other than the included beer and wines.
- Laundry fees
*Non-included extra tours offered (average EUR 49 per person per tour)
: We arranged our own air to Paris and used the excellent TGV high speed rail to Lyon and stayed for a couple of days to enjoy Lyon and get rid of jet lag. (Site
to use to book TGV - do not sign in from USA or Canada as you will be diverted to www.raileurope-world.com
, which mysteriously charges 5 EUR for tickets and is missing most discounts...
From Lyon we used the TER regional rail (book same site but pick up tickets at local kiosk, requiring "Chip and PIN" credit card use, or at local rail sales counter,) to Chalon-sur-Saône (you can use TGV, but costs more). We used a taxi to the quai Gambetta the ship docks, about 15 EUR, but you can walk if you have only wheeled luggage.
Our ship was the M/S Viking Europe
can be anytime after noon, and a lunch is served in the lounge; cabin access is granted after 3 PM, however. We arrived a few minutes before 3 PM and were checked in at the front desk. We received our key cards and were escorted to our cabin a few minutes later.
was #240, aftmost cabin on the second deck and adjacent to the ice machine - it can get a tad noisy. (Lowest deck cabins have portlights and can be quite noisy according to others - from water noises as part of the cabin is below the waterline to occasional loud thumps from floating debris impacting the hull to midnight tieups to piers.)
M/S Viking Europe DeLuxe "A" and "B" cabin
"Standard" 120 sq ft stateroom "E" at waterline
M/S Viking Europe Deck Plan (similar to Viking Neptune)
The 170 sq ft cabin is reasonably sized, bright, modern and well maintained, with an opening sliding window measuring 7.32 ft. x 3.61 ft. offering access to river views. The draping is normal drapery - no added sound proofing or blackout qualities, and those wanting a dark cabin will not be pleased in port docked at nights by busy highways, etc. The river views can be obstructed when the ship ties up to another ship and you wake up with someone else's cabin window - or a corridor window - just outside yours; in those cases you may have to pass though other ships to access shore, or other ships' passengers may walk though your ship.
is fairly good - one does not hear too much from neighbors on the third deck, and sun deck jogging is prohibited until after 8 AM - though crew can be heard soon after 6 AM on some days doing maintenance and setup work on that deck. I always travel with ear plugs and a sleep mask - no problems for me, but if you are one who must have quiet and / or complete darkness, be prepared.
(marked in Fahrenheit iirc) works well, the bed is comfortable and provided with individual duvets (beds can be separated for twins or put together for two twins as a queen - separate bedding and duvets in any case). The duvets sleep hot - one must crank temperatures down to 65F to sue them comfortably.
There is also a desk provided with a chair flanked with chests of drawers, provided with two 220 European electric outlets and one 110 VAC US outlet. There is a small flat screen TV with outside channels we never used, and a rheostat to control the in-room music and P.A. announcements by the Program Director and others. There is a closet - the seeming spaciousness diminished by the intrusion of some structure that denies 1/3 of the closet to a full sized hanger, and some shelves with a small safe. Lighting is adequate, though not so for anyone needing more lighting.
The compact bathroom
has a sink and shower with curtain, W.C. stool, and amenities from L'Occitane en Provence
- the soaps are small, however. Linens and toweling are good, and bathrobes with slippers are available on request. Water is provided by a very good Hans Grohe telephone type shower; the shower is tight, and those over 6'6" will feel very confined.
All the bottled water you want is provided free, both in cabin and smaller 0.5 liter bottles for shore excursions
was generally adequate to good, with some nice meals from a limited menu at dinnertime (one meat, one fish and one pasta were generally offered), with a standard running menu of items offered every night as well - salmon, chicken, etc.
: Light breakfast served in the forward lounge from 6 AM, as well as a 24/7 coffee and tea bar. Full buffet breakfast served in the aft restaurant was pretty lavish, with eggs, menu to order from, local cheeses and fresh breads, sausages, potatoes and vegetables - really impressive, served from 7:00 AM.
: Sit down lunch served in the restaurant as well as carving station with salads, sandwiches and the like in the forward lounge. Mass wines and beers included. Generally good, but they ran out of food items on occasion, and some passengers were told they would have to wait thirty minutes for a hamburger as the galley had only planned on 80 but had experienced demand for 86.
: Usually served at 7 or 7:15 PM, served at table with menu. Some meals were quite good quality and imaginative, some were fair at best; dinner service was painfully slow - plan 1.5 - 2 hours, not because you are dining leisurely but rather because service is slow and very amateurish (with the exception of the bright and always attentive Elena), maitre d'hotel and staff disappearing, sometimes forgetting orders and often requiring intervention to serve wines, etc. Mass market generic wines served with meals, some mid-level wines included in add on package and better wines requiring separate purchase; no corkage if you bring your own
, recommended you do so on these trips through noted wine regions.
Desserts were generally a highlight, planned and prepared by our talented pastry chef, Attila
. At dinner, the extra food was often shopped around on trays for those wishing seconds.
Special events and occasions
: Though several birthdays were celebrated (a sparkler-decorated dessert and waitstaff singing), a 46th and 50th anniversary, though communicated to the front desk, were completely overlooked. Only after the fact and after the front desk dropped the ball were we told we should have spoken to the maitre d'hotel, but they never mentioned that fact when we spoke to the front desk staff, who stated at the time they would absolutely handle it.
: six included tours were offered, walking and bus with walking tours. People were arbitrarily assigned group numbers and handed chits to give locally contracted tour guides, though those with special needs or impairments were allowed to sign up for a "leisurely" to our option with less walking and fewer barriers (but hardly with NO barriers - one passenger with a scooter encountered steps, cobblestoned sections, sidewalks with no cut access, etc. and no help to navigate them, and no advance information about the barriers). Passengers requesting the "leisurely" group were at least on one occasion misplaced into a more active group; the leisurely group was generally well handled and saw much of what the more active group did, minus the occasional local architectural access issues mentioned previously.
: (Also note - the ship itself has no lifts / elevators, and there are stairs that must be navigated to / from public spaces including dining room and lounge, different decks and boarding / disembarking - the person with a scooter had several family members to rely on for assistance; a solo traveler with mobility impairments or one with an elderly companion would not be the ideal traveler for this cruise.)
averaged 3 or 4 hours, and included local sights, one wine tasting, a chocolate factory with free samples, etc. The tour guides ranged from truly excellent to somewhat misinformed*, and English speaking skills ranged from excellent to highly accented and difficult to understand by most. The tours were well planned and took in most local highlights. Passengers were expected to tip local guides 2 EUR per person and local drivers 1 EUR per person; rating cards were available on the front desk, and it did not seem most passengers were using them. Umbrellas were available from the front desk for temporary, local use; maps and information sheets were freely available.
: A ship's (basic) library exists (though it is situated so lounge traffic treks through the area), a capable musician handled the keyboards with trad music and more. Exhibitions (music including a European ensemble, a local French accordionist, a silk dying demonstration with sales from the L'Atelier de Soierie in Lyon (really nice and reasonably priced scarves) and presentations on wines, cheeses and more by our dynamic, personable foodie Program Director, Susann
. Television is multi-channel; we never did use it, so no further comment is possible. Music was piped in to the cabins during daytime hours, easily turned up, down or off, with Grench chanson
and calm music - I'd probably liked some more classical, but others would likely disagree.
: Casual for days, casual elegance for evenings. No need for formal, even the welcome and Captain's dinners were fine for collared polos and shirts for men and casual elegant for women. Very few wore jackets, and they were neither necessary on or off board for this cruise. (The Captain's dinner was hosted by the First Officer, not the Captain, and the Program Director).
: The cabin telephone was provided by satellite, so calls are exorbitant to say the least. Laundry was most ably handled by the cabin staff, and out by 8:00 AM usually meant back by 3:00 PM on normal daily rates. Not as high as hotels, but not exactly cheap either - convenient nonetheless.
: The front desk was frankly abysmal - neither front desk staff seemed well informed, they dropped requests down deep holes never to be seen again, and though quite personable, they were only marginally capable. Though I suspect the line would claim issues with the multinational crew, I suspect lower wages directed toward crew from places like Spain and Portugal with high unemployment and other countries with lower wage standards, and as a management person I would also interpret this as a less than capable Hotel Manager (the normal alignment is the Captain is responsible for the transportation and technical aspects, the Hotel Manager for all guest-related components.) I am offering these as educated guesses, not as fact.
: We did not use the concierge, relying more on being informed and having a cellular phone with a local SIM chip to book, etc.
: Available for some Viking logo clothing including windcheaters, caps, bags and fleeces, plus L'Occitane en Provence
and local soap and sachet items, some gewgaws and tiny 4GB thumb drives, but staff sometimes could not find the keys.
: Our cabin housekeeper, Katarina
, was outstanding. Our occasional server, Elena
, was as well. The capable Susann Otto
was an outstanding Program Diector**, constantly coordinating passenger plans, tours, etc. and also being personable, attentive, humorous, amazingly knowledgeable and well informed and just plain a snarlingly brilliant person. Our chef was able, but on occasion, I suspect, challenged.
The deep background - the unseen crew who kept things clean, set up and took down the sun deck for low bridges, were great. The Captain, who AFAIK did not speak English, was obviously well qualified to be a river pilot and commanded the ship through locks, challenging water currents and dockings from his "Captain Kirk" seat up in the bridge, deftly handling this 374 foot long ship with 150 passengers with burps from his various thruster jets. Technical aspects were flawless from the passenger point of view.
The rest of the service was often amateurish and often missing in action; it felt like the hotel management staff led from the rear and were rarely around managing by waling around and providing much needed guidance and training to what was probably a largely green staff.
The other passengers
: ~90% Americans, with a scattering of Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders, most in their 50s to late 70s, some friendly and knowledgeable, a few most resembling Beverly Hillbillies on tour, loud and brash, definitely needing guidance and acting much like agitated sheep. We met some nice people and others we kept our distance from. Not unlike any other cruise where a number of random people are placed in close proximity to each other.
Would I do it again
? Hmmm. Maybe, maybe not. We paid more on Tauck, for example - but no tips were requested at any time for anyone, better quality accommodations, food, drink, service and tours were included; a much more polished and smooth level of operations were in evidence. and never was there a feeling of being "nickled and dimed". Ground staff were much more helpful and informed, and we felt the customer service aspect was much higher with Tauck - we were left pretty much on our own on some questions with Viking, and we do not feel they were committed to making sure it all went well.
OTOH, we had a nice cruise with edible food and some very nice tours - $465 per person per day double occupancy without transfers and air, plus perhaps $1,300 in incidentals, tips, etc. for two; you have to choose your price point and whether it's OK for you or you want a trip with a bit more panache and service. Either way, shop and choose wisely. And remember, attitude is important - don't let the little stuff detract from the good and great stuff; we did not let the many small lapses really affect us, but I did want to include them here for the reader.
* One guide to Chateauneuf du Pape insisted Syrah / Shiraz grape was originally from Iran, but well over a decade ago DNA testing found Syrah to be the offspring of two obscure grapes from southeastern France, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche, as stated by Carol Meredith. As well, we were told roses at the vineyard edges were planted to detect phylloxera - but they are more used to detect powdery mildew, black spot, etc. but the story seems somewhat apocryphal, since the rose seems no more susceptible than grape, and no owner would actually pay more attention to the rose than the actual product his/her commercial success depended on. (Interestingly, the roses seem to be planted primarily at row ends facing onlookers...)
** I am naming Susann because she is a publicly identified employee with the company, in the public eye.