I am very sorry to have to reply here, but…
Don’t expect total honesty or any fragment thereof from Viking. Just returned last night. Had booked 2 cruises back to back Amsterdam-Vienna 9/26-10/8 and Vienna-Black Sea-Vienna 10/8-10/25 on Viking Spirit. We purchased the entire package with 3-night precruise, airfare, transfers, etc. from Viking. We were never told that the boats were not moving much before we left and neither were most others we spoke with on our first cruise. In fact, in response to direct questions regarding such we were universally told that there were no problems. Found out in Amsterdam on the night before we were to board that there was no boat in Amsterdam. Many passengers did not find out until Friday when they arrived at the dock to find no boat and no Viking rep. We would have done the same had we not been on the Viking precruise and had access to the local ground operator. The cruise director even lied to us about it that Friday morning the cruise was to begin. We asked her about it because the local ground operator who we called to confirm our transfers hotel to boat told us, no boat here it is in Frankfort and if we had not been to the Rijksmuseum or done a canal cruise we better get it done that day because they were providing buses to depart Amsterdam Hilton at 8:30am the next morning. Tip: See what you want to see in Amsterdam on your own, don’t count on any time there with Viking!
We were bused. We expected to be bused because we knew that no matter what Viking said to get us to go on over to Europe there was not enough water for cruising. We did not however ever expect to be treated the way we were treated. We have traveled under adverse conditions before and are patient and flexible travelers. We expect that when things go wrong that they will be handled well. Since Viking had dealt with problems river cruising in Europe in Fall of 2002 due to high water and Summer of 2003 due to low water we expected them to have substitutions running smoothly. We did not expect to be treated discourteously or with hostility 24/7 on vacation, lied to directly to our faces, receive budget substitutes, or no substitutes, for features of the trip we purchased, spend time without a guide, etc. (Crew was obviously tense and distressed and under instructions not to answer any questions, we did not get menu choices for meals at hotels or for a good number of meals on the boat and were served lots of “meeting chicken dinners” or nothing, our guide left the bus on the 3rd day of the trip and moved off the boat on the 6th day and our group, bus 2 never got a new guide with no explanation or excuse.) The cruise director told us each time that we lost something from day 1 that we would have to negotiate compensation with our TA. Had we wanted to just make our way through Europe without a guide or winging it hotel to hotel we would not have purchased a deluxe cruise, or a budget bus trip, we would have gone on our own.
We only cruised on the Main-Danube canal. We skipped Amsterdam, bused 2 days to Frankfort with an overnight in Cologne. Spent 2 nights on board Spirit docked in Frankfort with 3 hour roundtrip bus ride to Rudesheim for only 1 ½ hours in Rudesheim so they could have the buses back to the boat for lunch and ditto for Mainz next day with sailing starting at 3pm. We boarded Spirit on the early evening of 9/28 and we were told on 10/3 that it was over after tomorrow. We were disembarked the morning of 10/5. We spent 7 of the 12 nights on Spirit, the rest in 4 hotels. We cruised intermittently, but mostly at night, from 3pm on 9/30 to 7am on 10/5, so about 4 days of cruising and the remainder of the 12 days were bus and hotel.
On 10/3 the captain began an emergency port talk meeting with the announcement that Viking HQ in CA had called him 2 hours earlier and told him to stop in Straubing and he had to follow orders though he would prefer to try to sail through to Vienna if allowed but he can only follow orders. When pressed he confessed that the ship had only sailed Frankfort-Straubing, or reverse, on the previous 2 sailings. The hotel manager took the microphone away from him at that point, but later confirmed that same detail. Like you, our TA told us before we left that Viking HQ only knows what ships’ crews tell them and so if Viking tells her boats are all sailing, no busing etc. that is all they know. Then on the boat, the captain admits that he has only been sailing Spirit on the Main-Danube canal for past 4 weeks and that he knew all along that we would not be cruising. (So why the opening ruse about the emergency phone call with disturbing news only 2 hours before?) Viking crew told us that they could do nothing without HQ authorization, that they have no authority. If they or the passengers want anything, they tell you it is being requested from HQ, or that you can contact your TA, but then answers never come or come too late. The truth is that all decisions are being made at HQ and they have all information and are directing, micromanaging, ship crews. It is a perfect loop of deniability if you structure it so that no one ever has to acknowledge being accountable for anything. In our experience, no one at Viking will tell you the whole truth, so you will need to be very flexible indeed to enjoy your vacation with them.
We were also told several times before and during our cruise that “we really only need one good day of rain.” I should point out that it rained on all but 3 days that we were “cruising”. German authorities have been saying for past couple months that it will probably be spring before the river levels recover. “With little rain expected in October and November, the river is unlikely to return to its usual levels until next spring, when the snow melts in the Alps.” See this article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/internatio...052942,00.html
Sadly, Mallon is correct when stating, “Communication is non-existent with Viking.” Shirley B is also correct when she states that Viking, travel agents and crew are suffering. And, she leaves out everyone else, like agriculture, shipping, river cities and communities, local tourism industries, etc. but frankly no one is coming to this message board to have those discussions about who is suffering what and how badly because this board was designed for cruisers seeking information from past travelers.
I think you know what to expect now. Before our trip, I found scant solid information on any of the river cruise message boards as I am sure you have found. If you can’t put together a true picture from them, you might do what I did and go through all the message boards and email directly anyone who said they were leaving and had returned before I did. Everyone I emailed replied and they all had very similar stories. Similar to each other and similar to Mallon’s and mine here.