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Early season Douro cruising

Early season Douro cruising

Postby tony cruz » 24 Jun 2014 15:02

The Viking River Cruise of the Douro that my wife and I took at the end of March this year did not call at the series of ports according to the planned “cruise”, and the only day of movement on the ship that we all experienced was the last day when it was able to take advantage of the downstream current and cover over 100km in just over half a day.
As happened last year, there was a high water problem on the Douro River. Our new ship, the Viking Hemming, overnighted in Porto, and on Monday there was a tour of the town (in the rain), and after lunch an optional excursion. This joined the ship again (it was a little late) at the deserted mooring of Bitetos. There is nothing in Bitetos except a car park and a cafe. We expected to set sail the next morning, but it was delayed a couple of hours and then “later that day”, and then indefinitely. The boat remained moored in Bitetos for three days. Regrettably Viking, who were aware that this might happen, did not come clean, and kept promising that we would be moving soon, but that we were at the hands of the Port Authorities (not sure if they meant the river or the drink!). We were eventually offered excursions from Bitetos, but these were a diluted form of what we were expecting, and because of the location and the nature of the roads, necessitated long coach journeys. At this stage it might have been a good idea to cut everyone’s losses and go back to Porto, but this was never offered for our consideration. As passengers we were kept pretty much in the dark, being reassured that Viking was doing everything it could to assist passenger needs, but the one thing that was not happening was cruising. We spent 3 days with a great view of the mooring wall from our “state room”.
It needs to be noted that the river destinations on the Douro are not the ‘inspiring’ ones promised by Viking literature. Some of the destinations, confirmed by the guidebooks, might only have one attraction, so a two hour journey to Pinhão on a coach was only to see the wonderful railway station with its decorated tile panels. One thing that Viking did was to get in visits to a series of vineyards such as the Quinta do Seixo where Sandeman comes from: this trip was not short of port-tasting opportunities. These helped provide some 'glowing' memories of the cruise, dulling some of the anger and disappointment.
Eventually the ship moved (apparently at such short notice that one set of people who were passing the time walking the country roads were abandoned and were brought along subsequently by taxi) whilst most were on another coach trip, to the town of Regua. This is a main transport interchange, but the only thing really worth seeing is the Museum of the Douro. At last we could look out of our stateroom window, but that only lasted 6 hours, as another cruise boat of identical proportions, running the blockade, tied up alongside, and we were plunged into darkness.
By this time it was clear that the cruise would never reach its final destination before coming back, and we were given poor choices for excursions on coaches. The choice we did not make was a four hour trip to Salamanca for a four hour stop (of which 1.5hrs was a lunch). Only 4 of 83 passengers chose to do that.
So the good points were that the Viking Hemming is a brand new boat ( the maiden voyage, so it could not be cancelled) which is well kitted out with televisions and wifi, which eventually worked, in every room. The food was mostly good, being heavily influenced by local cuisine, and there was plenty of wine. In principle this could be a very interesting tour if it happened.
The down side was that there was completely inadequate contingency planning, given the warnings issued by the River Authority prior to the trip, and the information given to passengers was of such poor quality that it resulted in excessive speculation and became the dominant topic of conversation. People started to compare disaster stories rather than enjoy the events. It was a gamble by Viking to continue with the trip in order to avoid bad publicity after the “christening” of the ship in Porto just before we boarded. This time of year has notoriously high river levels, and it seems that some of the crew knew that ships simply would not be moving that month.
Towards the end of the trip all passengers received a standard letter indicating that there would be compensation from Viking. Even the Captain (who did not have a great command of English or public speaking) admitted that we had only had half a cruise. Tempers started to fray and a briefing meeting was impressed by some passengers who insisted, in strident tones, that we should have a 100% refund. Other passengers talked of failed river cruises where they had been given 75% off their next cruise.
Before we had even completed our return to Porto, where the cruise had started, a letter had been sent out from Viking offices to our homes with a derisory offer of 25% of what we had paid (i.e. not the book price but the final negotiated price) against another cruise taken before the end of 2015. I hope this will be improved upon, as the company has done significant damage to its reputation, and came across as an organisation which we would have difficulty in trusting in future. At the moment, subject to my further negotiation with Viking, it is difficult for me to feel that the company want to compensate me for this sad and depressing experience, after which I needed a holiday!
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Early season Douro cruising

Postby tomvet » 24 Jun 2014 15:07

[quote="tony cruz] downstream current and cover over 100km in just over half a day.
[/quote]

Crikey Tony - that's not cruising, that's white water rafting! :D

I suppose all River cruising is at the mercy of water levels and some times these cruises do end up as land based holidays and the cruiselines have themselves well covered in the terms and conditions!

Its a bummer but what can one do!
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Early season Douro cruising

Postby judgegeoff » 24 Jun 2014 15:16

Hi Tony and welcome to the friendly forum, they really are a nice bunch. I'm sorry that your experience with Viking was so bad, and the offered compensation seemed to be woefully inadequate, hopefully they will improve on it soon.

My wife Chris and I have not yet done a river cruise, but we are now aware, following your review, that the river can be badly affected at certain times of the year. We will have to be careful in choosing the time to go.

Hopefully your next review on the forum will be full of much better experiences.
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Re: Early season Douro cruising

Postby JollyJill » 24 Jun 2014 15:23

First of all, welcome to the forum Tony.
Sad to see that your first post was to tell us of your understandable disappointment with your Viking Douro cruise.
I do hope that you get a better compensation deal than they have offered you to date.
No doubt this experience has put you off both river cruising and Viking. :(
It's a great shame because we had a wonderful cruise with them last year when we did 'Waterways of the Tsars' from Moscow to St Petersburg.
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Early season Douro cruising

Postby Dave » 24 Jun 2014 15:46

Hi Tony and welcome to the forum. :wave:

Yours isn't the first we've heard of the problems you had. Here's a post from the topic Rolling on the rivers - the red enlarged font speaks volumes! (I think there's more elsewhere in the River Cruising area too.)

MikeBR wrote:Having just returned from our 'Supposed Douro River Cruise' with Viking I take back everything I have previously written about them :evil: . went onboard on 7th April by 9th April we had a letter from the USA vice president offering a 50% discount on a future cruise [but not including airfares]:cry: . Have just had an hour long telephone call with Mark Padgett their UK customer relations manager. So watch this space for an update at which time I will write my full revue :| .
To give you a very brief outline of our experience we cruised for about 6 hours in the week. River levels had caused problems for previous cruises in the last few weeks which Viking knew about, one of which they had to evacuate all passengers within 20 minutes again which they did not tell us about until one passenger told us they had read about it on the internet, But they did not tell us and that is our main cause for complaint. We can't help the weather, But Viking knew about the weather and river levels and that it was not about to get better but still took us to a ship moored an arduous 1-1.5 hour mountain road bus journey from the main highway. If they had told us the problem, while we were in Lisbon or Porto, and made arrangements to put us up in a hotel there and let us explore either of these cities, we would have been more than happy until the river conditions improved
So Watch this space or if you want a 'Private Rant' drop me a private message.


I'm sure that Viking have the small print on their side but it seems to me that something described as a cruise ought to involve cruising. I would imagine that 25% off a future cruise results in full profits for the non-cruise and reduced profits if you book another. :roll:
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Re: Early season Douro cruising

Postby Meg50 » 24 Jun 2014 15:53

sure is stuff elsewhere in here - We had a similar problem on the Rhone/Saone last year

BUT ours was dealt with brilliantly (Luftner, not Viking)

edited to add:

found it:
http://www.cruisingmates.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=153&t=5438
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Re: Early season Douro cruising

Postby khkate » 24 Jun 2014 16:34

I know when we did a Rhine river cruise, ut was slightly blighted due to exceptionally LOW water levels, which meant some stops had to be changed as they couldn't get to the jetties and we also had to travel even slower than planned, to ensure the engines didn't churn up mud from the bottom.
Future Cruises - Baltics, Canaries Canada, Med, Scandinavia
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Re: Early season Douro cruising

Postby Meg50 » 24 Jun 2014 19:49

thank you for posting about the 'ports' - praps we don't want to do the Douro after all....
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Early season Douro cruising

Postby MikeBR » 26 Jun 2014 23:10

Welcome aboard Tony,
If I hadn't looked at the dates of your cruise I would have sworn you were were on our River of Gold Cruise at the beginning of April 2013.
It would appear Viking have not learnt any lessons from the previous year. It is interesting to note that DouroAzul who owned the ship titled the 'Viking Douro' which we were on and who are the main operators of River Douro cruises in Portugal don't schedule any cruises under their own name until later in the year because of regular problematic river levels in the spring.
Unfortunately I can't disclose what compensation I and some other passengers got because Viking make you sign a 'Gagging ' clause before they pay up :o , all I can say is just keep letting the world know how they treated you in the knowledge that they will loose more business than it would have cost them to give you reasonable compensation for a situation that they could have foreseen would probably happen :lol: , like the previous year.
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