Viking River was started by a consortium of Dutch and Swiss financiers, coordinated by a former Norwegian who was instrumental in starting Royal Viking Line cruise ships. In fact, for those who remember Royal Viking ships the resemblance in the decor is unmistakable. With that kind of pedigree, excellence is to be expected, and it is delivered.
Viking River is for travelers who want to see Europe without dealing with taxis, buses and unpacking in a different hotel every night. The prices are all-inclusive, including shore excursions and wine with dinner. The line is also for cruisers who have been to the Mediterranean and Baltic already, but want to see more of Europe.
The European shallow draft, low-profile river boats are designed specifically for European waterways and offer panoramic windows inside and side-to-side sun decks top-side to admire the scenery in style and comfort. The pleasant public rooms, including a main bar, a tiny library, and single-seating restaurant, are laid out bow to stern along the single public deck, with the accommodations decks below.
The upper deck cabins feature outside views through large picture windows that slide open for fresh air. In Western Europe, staterooms include televisions with CNN International and local stations, but not so in Russia. Telephone service is possible via cell-phones, so some of the boats don't even have them. All cabins have a private bathroom, hotel-style beds and individually controlled air conditioning.
The Russian River boats are a different breed, older and built in Russia in Soviet times, they have been mostly modernized, but still have a rustic Russian flavor, especially in the "cheap seats," the cabins on the lowest deck. There are two public decks with a large, single seating dining room and public lounges upstairs next to long, open deck space. There are three full decks of passenger cabins. The best bets are the topmost doubles or suites, which are far more commodious than the lowest level cabins, and not that much more expensive. The lower decks used to have tiny rooms with cots for beds, but they were upgraded in 2008 and brought up to the standards of the rest of the European fleet.
The onboard enrichment programs in Russia are excellent. Since all of the tours are included in the price of the cruise, the tour guides travel with you and are available for questions and insight the entire cruise. In addition, an expert in Russian history, politics and economics also travels the entire voyage giving lectures daily. See the related CruiseMates articles in the box on the right.
In China, cruisetours, which combine land and river components, feature visits to places such as Beijing, the Terra Cotta Warriors, and Shanghai. The Yangtze River sailings travel to the Three Gorges, Lesser Gorges, and Three Gorges Dam. All cruisetours are fully escorted from airport arrival to departure by English-speaking guides. Onboard Chinese meals are designed by Martin Yan and alternate with Western menus.
In 2011 Viking River announced the addition of an astounding 14 brand new "Longships" to be added to the fleet in 2012 and 2013. These river boats offer large suites with "French balconies" which open up to fresh air with floor to ceiling glass windows. These boats offer a large variety of suites for some of the largest staterooms on the rivers of Europe on average. Other aspects of the Longboats include:
Two Explorer Suites, the largest river cruise suites in Europe at 445 square feet, each featuring a separate living room, bedroom and private wraparound veranda, offering 270-degree views.
Seven two-room Veranda Suites with a full-size veranda in the living room and a French balcony in the bedroom.
Thirty-nine Veranda Staterooms with full-size verandas.
Twenty-two French Balcony Staterooms.
A new all-weather indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace with retractable floor-to-ceiling glass doors allowing guests to enjoy the scenery and dine al fresco.
New premium in-cabin amenities that include heated bathroom floors and mirrors, Sony HD TV's and premium bath products.
Sustainability upgrades, such as solar panels, an onboard organic herb garden and energy-efficient hybrid engines that reduce vibrations for a remarkably smooth ride.
Accommodating 190 passengers, the ships are scheduled to sail four of Viking's most popular European itineraries, including the 10-day Tulips & Windmills, 8-day Romantic Danube, 15-day Grand European Tour and 8-day Danube Waltz. The two newest ships, Viking Jarl and Viking Atla, will host guests on the 8-day Rhine Getaway cruise sailing from Amsterdam to Basel. Each of the new Viking Longships will be 443 feet (135 meters) long and will feature 95 staterooms per ship.
In China, as with Russia, all tours and transportation is included from the time you touch down at the airport. In Europe many tours are included (at least per port) but special optional tours come at an added cost.Fellow Passengers
Passengers are mostly well traveled, often comprised of groups from different nationalities; half U.S., half British.Shore Excursions
Shore excursions, included in the fare, are planned every day, sometimes morning and afternoon. Evening programs are also offered as optional at additional charges. In Russia, the Moscow Circus or Kirov Ballet are such options.Special Programs
Special "Dutch Tulip" cruises in April, and Christmas and New Years Holiday cruises are also offered.Tipping
Gratuities are at the passenger's discretion. No guidelines are published.
It's too bad that Viking isn't better prepared to deliver what you purchase when the weather doesn't cooperate. As a river cruise line, they should have back up plans for when ships break down, rivers flood and lock are inoperable. And let's throw in a couple of destination docks that were unavailable necessitating docking in industrial sites. This was a very expensive trip for my husband and I and was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime. We were changed to a different ship (with only one day's prior notice; some passengers received no notice at all). We did not receive the suite we paid for, but a standard stateroom. When we finally changed to the Var, the ship we were booked on, it broke down after one day. We then missed a town, received a shortened tour in two locations due to being bussed from the boat and eventually spent the last two nights in a hotel. When trying to resolve compensation with Viking, they ignore phone calls and emails. Unless you have a crystal ball and can guarantee that the weather will be good, plan on NOTgetting what you paid for. Their ads are what got us hooked on doing this in the first place, but their signature clip showing the ship entering Budapest didn't happen for us. We entered the city on a bus.
This was our third cruise with Viking and our last. When we arrived in Budapest we found out that the boat was moved out of Budapest due to high water. That should have been our first clue to cancel this fiasco of a cruise. We were held in a hotel for 6 hours and then bused over an hour to the boat. that was the first of many bus rides since the river was too high for the boat to move.
I have cruised with Viking before and had no problems. What an eye opener when we had problems. We were offered a paltry voucher to use on our next cruise. I tried to talk with Viking customer services but they were more interested in telling how much overtime they had to work due to the high water situation. I wanted to voice my frustration at this compensation but received stonewalling and "I'm sorry but there is nothing I can do". I paid a premium to sail with Viking but they are acting like the Dollar Store of Cruise Lines. I have waited more than 2 weeks for areply and so far none is coming. Cruisers beware of Viking.
We were told misinformation, told things were going to get better, and given no option to being stranded on a floating hotel. Then as the water lapped over the banks of the Danube we were told we will be taken to Munich (a 12 hour bus ride). We can home exhausted from the bussing, and frustrated at the customer service of a cruise line that I thought was reputable. Vacationers beware of Viking. If anything goes wrong they will not be there to fix it.
Editor's note: this was two reviews from the same email address, it has been consolidated into one review.