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VIKING -- THE GOOD AND THE BAD
13 November 2015
Dear Viking People...
We have just returned from our Mediterranean Odyssey, Barcelona to Venice. It was our 5th Viking cruise, but first ocean cruise. I filled out the comment form at the end of the trip, but indicated that I had more to say which I would say when I returned home. These are those comments. I realize that the Viking Star is in its "settling in" phase and perhaps these may provide useful feedback to you.
This was a beautiful experience. The ship was gorgeous, the crewĖevery single man and woman of themĖcould not have been more polite, solicitous, or helpful throughout the entire voyage (well, except for one Explorer rep at the end of the trip). Our stateroom (5017) was more luxurious than any we have had with Viking before and Mohammed took care of us beautifully..
The theater is beautiful and I loved having the recorded travel talks playing on a loop so that if youíre waiting for your excursion to leave, you could get more information about it.
I have good and bad things to say about excursions. First, I am a large person with some limited mobility. I walk with a cane and I walk slower than many others. For that reason, when choosing our excursions at home, I was careful to select only excursions which were labeled "easy." The only "moderate" excursion I chose was Barcelona because I very much wanted to see Gaudi.
Imagine my shock to read the tour descriptions left in our cabin and discover that ALMOST EVERY EASY EXCURSION was now labeled "moderate." A little truth in advertising at the start would have been helpful. Every single excursion for which we had paid now said it was "unsuitable for persons with limited mobility." I went on most of those excursions anyway and some were fine, some were terrible. But more on that later.
When we took the Grand European from Budapest to Amsterdam, every stop offered a "leisure tour," where the group covered the same ground as the regular tour, but at a slower pace. It is time that Viking realize that people who can afford your prices are going to be, a lot of them, older, slower, and with more physical limitations. I saw countless people with canes or wheelchairs on the Viking Star. Iím sure we all had the same complaints. Leisure tours would add significantly to the enjoyment of many passengers on ocean cruises.
The tour descriptions turned out to be "possible suggestions" for the tours. Naples, for example, promised panoramas, and we never went up so much as a driveway into a higher ground. The guide was very nice and I thoroughly enjoyed the tour of Santa Chiara (which was not on the description), but I had looked forward to those promised sweeping panoramas. The trip to Cassis was described as including a visit to "one of the most beautiful a wineries in Cassis." It did not.
Each tour promised "free time" to shop or have a coffee. There were only two places where we had that much free time, Naples and Split. Other times, our "free time" gave us just enough time to get back to the bus. (10 minutes free time in Corfu, when the bus was across a big park and we walked slowly? We hardly made it and didnít so much as LOOK at a shop or sniff a cup of coffee!) Be honest. If youíre on a tight schedule, donít promise free time. If you promise free time, it should be at the very least 20 minutes! The good part of this was that I spent far less money than I might have otherwise spent in the local shops.
I realize that the local tour guides are not Viking employees and you are at the mercy of whichever agency you contract with. We had some absolutely wonderful tour guides. The women in Corfu, Dubrovnik, and Split, for example, could not have been better. Informative, friendly, solicitous, and mindful of the two of us "slow walkers." The guide in Naples had a Viking employee stay behind to make sure I got to where the group was headed.
The guide in Cassis was terrible, as was the gentleman leading our group in Venice. In Cassis, the woman got off the bus first, and when a few others had gotten off the bus, she strode off toward town without so much as a head count. After she had disappeared from sight and two of us and our spouses were still getting off the bus, someone in the group had to let her know that she had left us behind. At no point did she count heads and we could have been lost if we hadnít all been watching out for each other. At first she didnít use the Quiet Vox until someone pointed out that those in the back couldnít hear her. Then, on the tour boat, she talked OVER the boat captain who was also talking, in French (and I know enough French to know she was not translating for him, but giving her own spiel). I had to turn the Vox off because it was giving me a headache trying to listen to two people at once. She also directed people to the bathrooms nearby the boat landing, without letting us know that we would need money to use them. We were also supposed to take a "small road train" from the bus to town, but apparently it stopped running in September and nobody thought to tell us we would be walking. On the way back, I might have missed the bus. The guide didnít have a clue I was not there and the bus driver, seeing me struggling up a hill, drove the bus down to pick me up. We tipped him extra, tipped her less.
The man in Venice said "follow meĖkeep up" and we never saw him again. There are 4 bridges between the Viking Shuttle and Piazza San Marco and he was swallowed by the crowd before we crossed the first bridge.
We chose not to go to Rome, which turned out to be a good decision. I only talked with a few people who enjoyed their Rome excursion. Most told us we were lucky we had stayed on the ship. Our traveling companions (one of whom has limited mobility) were abandoned by their tour guide and never got to the Vatican, saw the Sistine Chapel, or saw the Coliseum other than from the bus. The ones who enjoyed Rome saw the Sistine Chapel, saw the pope, and went to the Coliseum.
The entertainment aboard ship was nicely varied. The singers and dancers are fantastically talented and Paul Fredricks was so good we saw him twice.
However, am a theater critic by profession and though I enjoyed the shows, the "operatic fantasy" had only two opera numbers, one operetta number, and mostly popular songs. It was cute, fun and clever, but it was not operatic. I have written shows like La Perigrina...well, I hope NOT like La Perigrina. When we left the theater, our companion said "I didnít understand the plot." I said "there wasnít one." I felt the whole reason for that show was to show off the projection screen. That said, less is more. Just because you have a projection screen doesnít mean you need to use it all the time. Paul Fredricks was upstaged by some of the fancy projection work, which was a shame because he deserved better. Still, the shows were fun, if not always what I expected.
The food, as always, was wonderful. I will be first in line to buy a Viking Soup Cookbook, should you ever publish one. But I have to point outĖ-and this is a REALLY nit-picky point-Ėthat though the salt grinders were nicely decorative I think during the 12 days I only found 3 of them that actually ground salt. I donít know why, but I like added salt in my food and went without most of the trip. But the nights with all you can eat crab made up for it.
Ahhh...Venice. That death march from the ship to the shuttle. I got to the building, which felt like it was about a mile from the ship, and asked the Viking rep, jokingly, if the tour was over yet. She had no sense of humor. After I returned to the ship at the end of the day, trudging back in tears because I was in such pain and had so far to walk, I called the Explorerís desk to be told that there were shuttles available and didnít I read about it in the Viking daily? It seemed that the fact that it had been printed in the Viking daily should have been enough. The fact that there was not a single shuttle in sight, nor a Viking rep to let the three of us know to wait for one was not even considered worthy of an apology. In fact, the rep treated me as if I were the one at fault. The next day, I noticed that there was as fleet of vans and that EVERYONE got bused to the shuttle. All I could think of was how many thousands of dollars we had spent for this trip, only to be left alone and in pain and having to walk so far when I didnít think I could walk another step.
As I said at the outset, this was our first ocean cruise and it will be our last. The four river cruises were much more to our liking. They didnít have all the bells and whistles of an ocean liner, but there seemed to be more concern for the passengers and we had a chance to get to know other travelers better (people we met in Ukraine were our traveling companions on this trip). But this was a memorable experience, and fortunately, I have many more good memories than not so good.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
One last unpleasant memory!
...and a good one!
love it if you'd leave a comment!
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