Viking: Missing the World in Comfort

We just completed Viking’s Romantic Danube river cruise. Viking’s tag line is “​E​xploring the ​World in ​Comfort”. Comfort? Absolutely! The ship was spotless, well-appointed, with top quality amenities, delicious food selections and unparalleled service. ​E​xploring the world? Not so much. 

Climate change is making Europe’s rivers impassable. Our two days in Budapest became three hours of bus ride for two hours of a hasty bus tour of the city that included 45 minutes with feet on the ground. This was because the river level was so low the boat had to park 60 miles away, upriver. The same thing happened at the end of the trip, when we had to get bussed for an hour each way to Regensburg, Germany when we were sold the idea that we would be docked in the town. Again, 90 minutes in a town where we were expecting to spend a whole day.

Most sailing between ports happened at night, so we couldn’t watch the scenery. There is a glut of Viking boats on the river, they are docked three deep at every port so instead of seeing the town or the river, we mostly saw another ship two feet away out our stateroom window.

Viking’s success also means that every stop is crowded with Viking passengers, generally ignorant Americans wandering around clueless of the culture or background of the country they are supposedly visiting. The high prices of a Viking cruise weed out the worst of these and we met plenty of nice people who weren’t idiots, but the football American flag wearing military veteran cap crowd were well represented. In the lounge one evening a guy loudly sang the Star Spangled Banner at a Canadian passenger, not sure what that was about, but it was obnoxious.

The local guides who showed us around their cities were uneven. Some were pretty good, entertaining and witty, some were dull and boring, one was an obnoxious drunk. They made us appreciate the uniformly excellent OAT local guides, the ranks of which none of these Viking guides would qualify to join. Each port featured a weak included activity and some slightly less weak, badly overpriced optional activities.

Meals were excellent, the wait staff was outstanding (195 people on board, and they addressed each of us by name). Everything ran like clockwork and they handled the adjustments caused by low water as well as could be expected.

Climate change is affecting Europe quite drastically, which is appropriate given the European expansion around the world in recent centuries ultimately led to the climate situation we find ourselves in. Viking River Cruises will soon be out of business as the rivers become even less reliable. Too bad, but from our perspective, not a big loss.