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Portraits of Southern France on Viking Neptune

Portraits of Southern France on Viking Neptune

Postby Dave » 11 Apr 2013 15:16

This was our third Viking river cruise, the first being on the Elbe last Easter while the second was a cruise & stay on the Mekong in the summer. As on the previous two occasions I wrote a blog for the forum using my trusty tablet - made possible by the complimentary wi-fi found on all Viking cruises. So now that we're reasonably familiar with the Viking experience it's inevitable that this review will focus to some extent on comparisons with the other two - and they're a hard act to follow!

While we loved last Easter's river cruise, the weather wasn't kind so we chose Portraits of Southern France this time in the hope of warm, sunny days as we cruised from Chalon-sur-Saône down to Arles and Avignon. It didn't quite turn out that way of course, but I won't blame Viking for the weather! And by the time we reached Provence it was positively, well, mild. Next Easter we might try Portugal's Douro!

This cruise was unlike the others in that we didn't begin and end it in hotels, although pre- and post-cruise stay options were available. Flights were included in the package and we flew with British Airways to Lyon and returned from Marseille, again with BA. Even though these were relatively short flights, very good food and drinks were provided - unlike on our recent much longer Thomson flights where everything but the seats cost extra!

We landed in Lyon at about 11.30am and, with the ship being just over an hour's drive away, the plan was that we'd arrive in time for a late lunch. It seemed a bit odd to arrive at Lyon then drive north to Chalon-sur-Saône only to return to Lyon a couple of days later as we cruised south!

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At the airport we quickly spotted the Viking rep and waited with about fifty others to be taken to the coach... and waited, and waited. Actually, we waited for nearly two-and-a-half hours! This was our first ever experience of a Viking wobble in their usually highly efficient operation. The rep simply wasn't up to the task of getting us on our way. She gave no explanation for the delay but when pressed said we were waiting for two people whose flight was delayed. When they arrived at last we were taken to the coach. Then she apparently thought she'd lost some people and went back to the terminal. She eventually returned (without them) to a rather hostile greeting from one of our fellow guests who demanded an apology for the delay. I don't approve of berating a rep, but he had a point because we'd been kept standing for two hours in the airport when she could have taken us to a far more comfortable waiting area that we only saw as we passed through to the coach. She was clearly not up to the task of meet and greet, and even swore under her breath (in French!) as we drove away.

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It wasn't the best of starts, but we enjoyed the drive and when we saw the very impressive Viking Neptune moored in the heart of the lovely Burgundy town of Chalon-sur-Saône all was right with the world! I loved the ship immediately. It might seem strange to call a river ship big, but after Viking Schumann and RV Tonle she looked huge. Despite our late arrival, a buffet lunch was provided in the lounge and we headed there as soon as we'd checked out the cabin.

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I'll do a proper review of the cabin later so I'll keep it brief here. I was really impressed. It's hard to believe that at 170 sq.ft. the cabin felt big, but it did. I suppose it's due to the very large window which adds a lot of light and which can be opened wide. There's also a window ledge which made a great spot to sit when cruising along the Saône and the Rhône rivers. The quality of the fittings and facilities was excellent and, although we didn't actually use it, there was a tremendous range of channels on the Sony TV. There are no tea-making facilities, but with a brilliant coffee/tea machine just seconds from the cabin it really didn't matter. These Viking cruises are the only ones we've done where the coffee isn't just drinkable, it's really good!

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Viking Neptune is nothing like the ship we had on the Mekong, so I can only really compare her with last year's Viking Schumann. The layout is very similar, but the lounge, the reception area, the dining room, the cabin and the sun-deck were all a lot more spacious. There's also a promenade deck that wraps around the front half of the ship. One thing I did notice though was that, whereas Schumann had a stair lift to the sun-deck, there seemed to be no equivalent facility on Neptune.

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As I think about this review I'm faced with a difficulty when describing the itinerary of a river cruise to those who haven't tried one yet. On an ocean cruise the itinerary can usually be described in terms of days: a sea day or two, a port of call, cruising overnight to the next place, and a day spent somewhere else - arriving in the morning and sailing in the late afternoon. The routine is quite predictable. A river cruise is entirely different and I'll try to show why. You might stay overnight in a city and go ashore after breakfast for a couple of hours. Then you might cruise for a couple of hours to moor in a town where there's an excursion after lunch followed by some free time. This might be followed by a few hours more cruising and an evening guided walk at the third stop of the day where you'll stay overnight. On this cruise, our 'ports of call' lasted anywhere between a few hours and nearly two days.

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I think that the extremely flexible way in which stops are treated is one of the great advantages of river cruising. By cruising during parts of the day, the best of the scenery can be fully appreciated while less attractive areas can be passed during the night. And the high proportion of over-night stops meant that we could stroll before sailing or go into town in the evenings because the centres are always only ever a few minutes' away.
Last edited by Dave on 11 Apr 2013 16:24, edited 8 times in total.
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Portraits of Southern France on Viking Neptune (2)

Postby Dave » 11 Apr 2013 15:17

I covered the various stops along the way in my blog so I won't go into much detail here, and the South of France is probably familiar to many anyway. Everywhere we visited had much to commend it but for me the highlights were Lyon, which surprised me because I wasn't expecting such a picturesque and ancient city, an evening guided tour of Viviers with its narrow winding streets and fascinating fortress-like cathedral, and of course Avignon. The arrival at Avignon proved one of our cruising highlights of all time. Our ship nudged the famous bridge before mooring by the beautifully lit city walls with the Palace of the Popes dominating the view. And the weather was good too!

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Excursions were included in the price of the cruise but, unlike on our previous river cruises, there were at least five additional optional tours available. Included excursions are optional in the sense that you can take them or leave them (as we did a couple of times) but here 'optional' means paying extra. We only did one such excursion - to the Pont du Gard - and it cost us 49 Euros each. The trip wasn't one we wanted to miss, but it seemed very expensive for a 35 minute each-way coach ride to a place with free entry. Overall, we thought the guides varied from excellent to very poor and when we had a poor one we simply left the group, switched off our radio receivers, and did our own thing - easy when language isn't an issue.

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For many people, food is an important part of cruising. It's not especially important to us though and, as vegetarians, we're quite used to getting a raw deal! But we didn't expect the lack of consideration for vegetarians that we encountered on this cruise, and this was our only real complaint about the holiday. If you're not a vegetarian you can probably skip what follows because, rest assured, meat-eaters are extremely well provided for! Lunches and dinners always had a vegetarian option, which was always based on pasta, so while others tucked into their lavish (and expensive) meals we had the rather boring (and cheap) alternative. We like to take lunch in the lounge but I'll relate what happened on one occasion as being typical: The soup contained chicken; and the main courses were based on steak, pork and chicken. Salads would often contain seafood or meat.

It might be pointed out that guests can make special requests, and it's true that the Maitre 'D tried to be accommodating - when meat-burgers were on the menu he brought us a dozen slabs of tofu on a plate, and we had cheese on toast another time - but I just don't believe that vegetarians ought be seen as a special case. We're quite normal really, and we expect the same care and attention to be paid to our requirements as for those of meat-eaters. I think the menu for the special six-course Captain's Dinner makes my point. You can probably guess that we started our dinner some time after everyone else started theirs!

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So, if you're not a vegetarian you'll eat extremely well. If you don't eat meat, and you get bored with pasta, then you can do what we did a couple of times and eat ashore. Otherwise, dinners were a great occasion. The restaurant had tables for between four and eight people and with open seating we met different lovely and interesting people each time. Service was quite slow though and dinner could last nearly two hours.

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For us, the cuisine warranted a moan, but there were some slight niggles as well. I wanted to go online regularly to write my blog, but the wi-fi system was temperamental - it was far better in remote parts of the Mekong last summer! Mooring alongside other ships allowed me to have a really close look at other cruise lines' offerings (and some were amazingly plush) but our great big cabin window spent a couple of days or more up against other ships' great big windows! And, as I mentioned above, we thought the optional tours were expensive while the included tours were, on the whole, less impressive than previously. Oh, and I mustn't forget the poor service at Lyon airport.

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But I can't end with niggles and a moan (deserved as it is!). I loved Viking Neptune. She's a beautiful and well-designed ship. She glided almost silently and incredibly smoothly through fantastic countryside and I thoroughly enjoyed spending hours on the sundeck (often alone) watching the scenery unfold. River cruising is a wonderfully peaceful and relaxing experience.
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Booked cruise: Marella Explorer - Caribbean, Christmas 2018
Booked walking holidays: Easter: Cotswolds; Summer: Kintyre & Islay
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Portraits of Southern France on Viking Neptune

Postby bobbyoscar » 11 Apr 2013 16:51

Pleased to hear that the cruise overall was good and you enjoyed it.

However, as veggies like yourselves, I would not have been happy with the alternative you were offered; particularly as they would have been aware of your dietary requirements and should have made more of an effort.

Reminds me of the time about 15 years ago when we went to stay with f.i.l. down in Portsmouth; every night when we went out to eat the only choice was veggie lasagne :( - not even an omelette offered.
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September 2019 - P & O Azura - Malaga -Messina - Mykonos - Piraeus - Santorini - Katakolon - Gibraltar
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Portraits of Southern France on Viking Neptune

Postby Dave » 12 Apr 2013 09:19

I took most of the photos of this cruise with my wi-fi camera so that I could use them for the blog from my tablet, but I also used the tablet itself and my bigger camera, and a few were taken with a phone. The problem is that the clocks on all these devices aren't always properly synchronised so although most of the photos are in the correct order, some aren't.

Here's the complete slideshow:

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Re: Portraits of Southern France on Viking Neptune

Postby Peka » 12 Apr 2013 10:15

Looks like a good trip, certainly opened my eyes to river cruising :)

Agree with the food. Although I'm not strictly vegetarian, for the purposes of eating out I am. I don't really like meat at all and never how it is prepared out! I will always choose the veggie option...and that was clearly lacking! Especially if you don't like mushrooms or cheese :?

Mind you the meat eaters in my family would have struggled to eat that menu too!
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Portraits of Southern France on Viking Neptune

Postby grannyM » 12 Apr 2013 16:03

Thanks for that good and honest review of your cruise on Viking Neptune Dave. It looks a lovely ship/boat with nice furnishings. Pity about the food. Just not good enough when so many people nowadays are vegetarian.:(
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Re: Portraits of Southern France on Viking Neptune

Postby sevenseascoaster » 12 Apr 2013 16:46

Enjoyed that review and pictures Dave, so interesting to read the differences in Ocean and River cruising. I keep showing all the pictures to P trying to get him interested, as I'm sure it would suit him very well :) Shame they didn't cater for your food preferences, though it seemed a one off as you were perfectly catered for on your other trips, so proved it can be done.

Just amazing how much space there was bewteeen the river boat and the locks and bridges, quite a feat to steer through?

Will you be advising Viking about the inaptitude of the Rep? :roll:
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Re: Portraits of Southern France on Viking Neptune

Postby Dave » 12 Apr 2013 17:31

sevenseascoaster wrote:Enjoyed that review and pictures Dave, so interesting to read the differences in Ocean and River cruising. I keep showing all the pictures to P trying to get him interested, as I'm sure it would suit him very well :) Shame they didn't cater for your food preferences, though it seemed a one off as you were perfectly catered for on your other trips, so proved it can be done.

Just amazing how much space there was bewteeen the river boat and the locks and bridges, quite a feat to steer through?

Will you be advising Viking about the inaptitude of the Rep? :roll:

Already done! ;)

At one bridge, I was sitting down - and I still had to duck!:

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It's quite amazing how everything can be lowered. The 'bridge' and roof can drop to the level of the rear (higher) part of the sun-deck, and the railings and even the funnels can fold down. At very low bridges the ship can be controlled from a side panel - the photo shows the Captain driving us under the same bridge:

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Re: Portraits of Southern France on Viking Neptune

Postby MikeBR » 15 Apr 2013 22:42

Dave enjoyed your very good and honest report and I feel that we [please correct me if I'm wrong] are both of the opinion that Viking quality is starting to slip some what. I agree that the veggy options which we found on the Danube in 2010 were not available on the Douro in 2013 and even though the carnivore menu was OK it was not as good and very much poorer than our Rhine experience with Saga last spring [The Rhine ship had been chartered by Saga and I'm sure the chef was chasing a Michelin Star] Again there were more 'Optional Extra' tours available and those that were available were far shorter than before.
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Re: Portraits of Southern France on Viking Neptune

Postby pisces55 » 16 Apr 2013 19:21

Loved the slideshow fab photos and great review Dave :D
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