For years, Joseph had talked about going on a Christmas Market river cruise.
So, around June, we splurged and booked a Christmas Market river cruise with Viking. Viking has a reputation for being a top-of-the-line cruise company. They prioritize culture and customer service, and just ooze sophistication. Their whole schpeal, in fact, includes no casinos, no photography salesperson, no nickel-and-diming, no art auction, no kids, etc. Basically, they’re not the average cruise, and I was here for it.
As we were trying to align this trip with our work schedule and my birthday (on Christmas, wahoo!), we got on the last week that was available on the schedule. The 8 day itinerary ended on December 24th, just as the Christmas Markets were closing for the season.
The Transfer from the Airport
Part of the Viking service is that they book your airfare (and sometimes, if you catch them during a deal, they include the airfare for free) and offer a free transfer from the airport to the cruise ship, and vice versa at the end of the trip.
Our pickup at the Munich airport was pretty seamless. As soon as we claimed our bags, someone from Viking was waiting right on the other side. We had to wait an hour for another passenger from another flight, though, and they ended up either not showing up or getting delayed further, so the wait was all for naught.
This was my first time on a river cruise ship. Instead of fitting a few thousands of people like an ocean cruise ship would, a river cruise ship only has the capacity to fit a few hundred. There are three levels, as well as a sun deck.
Amenities included a small library area, a lounge that’s partially indoors and partially in a sunroom, a sun deck (though it was closed off due to the cold weather), and a dining area.
The decor of the ship has a Scandinavian feel – simple, clean, and elegant – and fit the bill of how a luxury cruise ship should feel.
We booked the French Balcony room for a couple of reasons. First, we were going in winter – we had no intentions of spending any time in the freezing cold by lounging on the outside balcony. Second, we imagined the same levels of happiness could be brought just by opening the curtains and watching the changing landscapes from the comforts of our bed.
It turns out, we almost always traveled at night or when the sun has set, so we barely had a need for a balcony anyway. But there were still perks for getting the French Balcony instead of the Veranda as sometimes we were parked somewhere with an amazing view like in Budapest. There, we kept the curtains open, went to sleep to a view of the lit-up Buda Castle, and woke up to that same view. Wow.
Anyway, enough about the view.
Storage-wise, there were plenty that allowed us to unpack our suitcases full of winter clothes and stuff them under the bed to maximize walkable space. So while the French Balcony rooms might seem small, we never felt claustrophobic or tight on space.
The bathroom also gets no complaints from me. Hot water comes very quickly with great water pressure. They also gave plenty of shelves for us ladies who tend to overpack in the beauty and skincare department. And as an added bonus, they include a two-prong outlet so I was able to use my Dyson hair curler without an issue! To top it off, the floors are heated. What more can you ask for, at that point?
They do include a television in there, but don’t expect much. Aside from a handful of movies and even less channels that only include things like CNN Live, the main thing we used it for was listening to the live programs from the ship, like the ‘Lounge Cam’, where we could listen to the daily check-ins in the comforts of our pajamas.
The one thing that I must say disappointed me was the bed and pillows itself. Considering this is a luxury line, I expected a mattress that is a dream in and of itself. Instead, what I got was a lumpy and saggy mattress, and two pillows that were deflated in a nightmarish way.
How could they get the sleeping situation so wrong?
In terms of a cruise, we all know that the food is really where it matters, am I right? In this case, Viking excelled. Aside from one okay meal, I came out of the dining room full and satisfied.
During breakfast, the menu is always the same. Some might say it became mundane, but I didn’t mind. Give me an Eggs Benedict with fresh orange juice and café au lait, with a side of bacon and mushrooms, and I was set to start the day.
Lunch and dinner, though, was where things got interesting. Lunch had a smaller menu with different dish options each day, and they always had an elegant flair. Dinner was more of an affair. You were able to choose from the ‘Classics’ – steak, burgers, Caesar salad, etc., the ‘Regional Dishes’ that aligns more to where we were staying for the day, and the ‘Chef’s Recommendations’.
The meals also came with either red or white wine, unless you had purchase the upgraded drinks option.
I’m sure I gained a few pounds after the cruise, if that helps as an indicator in terms of how I rated the food.
This is the part of the experience I struggle with. Viking’s reputation seems to be built upon their superior customer service, and that’s what we were expecting. Yet, that’s where we had the most frustration with.
On our first day, there was a ‘Meet the Crew’ event where the main point of contacts – the ship manager, the program director, and the maître d’ – introduced themselves and vehemently said things along this thread: “we’re here to help you so if you need anything, just let us know! Don’t let us know once you’re done with the cruise and we can’t do anything about it, let us know right away!”
I thought, wow! What great service!
Well, they were able to talk the talk, but failed to walk the walk.
While the maître d’ asked us to let her know about any allergies and she would take care of it, there was hardly any follow-through. My husband has an onion allergy, and we had to make the initiation and ask at literally every meal whether or not a dish had onions. So… why bother offering to let her know in the first place? And when we had an issue with one of the steaks, she dealt with it just short of rolling her eyes.
And then, we had an issue with transportation where the bus at one of the pickup locations were not branded in the Viking logo (as per usual) and did not have any sort of description that they were with our cruise ship. So, we were forced to run around the parking lot trying to find our bus, panicking because we couldn’t find it and time was running out, then forced to go up to a random bus, knock on the door, and ask the bus driver, “er, are you with Viking?”
To which they confirmed they were.
To which I asked why they didn’t have any sort of signage indicating they were.
To which they said they were never given one.
Meanwhile, there were two other buses for different Viking ships, both of which were branded in some way, and therefore easy to spot.
Yeah, I’m still salty about that.
To make matters worse, when we told the program director this, she said she had been off on another excursion and gave some sort of excuse. After that, there was no sort of follow-up from either her or the ship manager.
Instead they had the front-desk staff let us know that they put in a report with Viking and Viking would do the follow-up.
So… whatever happened with letting them know in-the-moment to make things right?
And then, of course, there were instances when the housekeeper would enter our room without knocking. Aiya.
So yes, aside from some of their waiters (I say some because it was a hit-and-miss), we felt like the customer service aspect was absolutely lacking. And in so many cases, especially when it comes to the luxury category, customer service is everything.
The Included Excursions
With every new location, Viking includes at least one shore excursion. For each tour, there were anywhere from 10 to 25 people in each group. Initially I was nervous about such a large group, but there actually wasn’t any problems. We were given VoiceBox, an earpiece device that lets us listen to the tour guide clearly within an impressive range.
And for someone that likes to wander away to take pictures, this VoiceBox situation was very ideal.
The excursions were mostly positive. For example, Regensburg, there was a 1 – 1.5 hour walking tour of Old Town that was led by a 19 yr old student, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
But later that night, we had a Christmas Market excursion that ran 20 minutes late because of disorganization, to be frank. While we got to line up for free glutvine and bratwurst, our guide had no time to explain anything else about the market. Thankfully, we had spent some time earlier that day to wander the same market, but had we relied solely on that excursion to explore the market, we would have been screwed.
I’ll be doing individual blog posts about each of the Christmas Market river cruise location, so I’ll go more in-depth with the excursions there.
Overall, our time on the Viking Christmas Market river cruise was not extraordinary, but it was decent. I enjoyed waking up to a new location with minimal effort. I mostly enjoyed the included excursions. I enjoyed the locations. I enjoyed the food. I mostly enjoyed the room.
I think we’re willing to give Viking another try (they do have so many itineraries that look intriguing) and hope that the lack of excellent customer service was a one-off and not their new standard.
Did I miss anything? Have you been on the Viking Christmas Market river cruise? Let me know in the comments!