October 2014 - Viking Tor to Europe
My wife and I decided to splurge and celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary cruising down the Rhine. We followed the good advice of this website and many others and did our homework before putting our money down. My wife has a diagnosed medical condition aggravated by 2nd hand smoke, so we went with Viking because of their advertised smoking policy (sun deck only) and 100% service guarantee . Viking states on its website that they are the only river cruise line that operates their own ships and can manage every aspect of our travel. Great! Viking not only states their smoking policy but they also 100% guarantee that they can manage the ship accordingly. We booked our cruise based on this research and with the Viking travel agent double checking the policy. The agent was most understanding of my wife's health condition to the point were he noted on the ship's passenger log that smoking be further limited to the aft section of the sun deck in consideration of her needs. We also asked for the policy in writing -- just in case; that came in the form of our ticket contract ( a binding document I thought). The contract stated smoking is allowed on parts of the sun deck and nowhere else.
With contract in hand we boarded the Viking river ship, TOR, on the 25th of October, 2014. Great expectations dashed immediately. Each of the four public verandas, below the sun deck, had large metal ashtrays positioned on them inviting people to smoke there,.and smoke they did! Customers and crew hands smoked there and why not - they were invited to. I reported this situation to the appropriate ship management. I showed them my contract, I explained my wife's medical condition and I invoked the 100% service guarantee. The ship's acting captain stated that every Viking ship he was on identified those areas as designated for smoking and he wasn't about to change that for any reason.
I next contacted Viking Customer Relations in Woodland Hills California by phone. The agent totally agreed with me and said she would direct the ship to be compliant. Still no change. I called the agent again in the presence of the concierge. Again I was told to be patient and a second communication would be sent to the ship - this time the Company Vice President was involved and this time it worked. On the sixth day the ship came into compliance. Great, my wife could now enjoy all of the ship's services including the computer room, library, concierge desk and hotel desk (these areas are just feet from the public verandas and are only separated by an automatic door that opens when anyone passes).
Our euphoria was short lived. On the morning of the 7th day the ash trays were back and the smoke was back The ship's regular captain was now aboard. I reviewed all that had happened. He simply declared that my contract was wrong, the Vice President was wrong and that international law governed his ship and international law guaranteed smokers the right to smoke on those public verandas. For the last time I called Customer Relations and was told they were still working on the problem. They told me to relax and have a drink on Viking. We left the ship on the next and final day of the cruise thoroughly annoyed. Viking had jeopardized my wife's health, and the health of other passengers, and they had violated our contract.
After returning from the cruise we were told that Viking is still working on the policy. A Customer Relations agent went so far as to suggest that we should have left the cruise and "abandoned the ship" as soon as we saw the ashtrays -- I guess he has no faith in the company's integrity as well. Most recently Viking responded to an inquiry from the AAA by stating that the smoking policy varies from ship to ship according to the captain's discretion. This is not what was guaranteed to us in our contract and this is not what Viking travel agents tell potential customers. Buyer beware! Viking needs to either enforce the policy they advertise or be honest with the public that they can't enforce the policy. The cruise was excellent in every other way and we would have given it 5 stars, but Viking was dishonest and deceitful as far as I'm concerned and they neglected my wife's health and safety. I cannot recommend Viking Cruises.