March 2014 - Viking Atla to Europe
We just returned from a Viking "Tulips and Windmills" cruise (ended April 1) on the recently built Elf. We are unlikely to sail with them again. Many passengers had previously sailed with Viking and loved it.
- Our profile: 70s, fit and energetic, retired educators, self-styled intellectuals. - This was the Lif's maiden voyage. Given space constraints, the company seemed to do an excellent job of designing our small room for maximum efficient use. The whole boat was kept quite clean. - Our cabin had a so-called French window, which gave us plenty of light so long as we weren't alongside a high dock or other boat. - Service and food were generally excellent. - The "visible" crew seemed almost entirely eastern European--not sure why; their English was fine (much better than my efforts in other languages) and their manner almost always affable and helpful though sometimes perhaps obsequious. "Invisible" crew (visible when schlepping luggage, rarely otherwise) seemed to be from Asia. All that made us wonder about Viking employment practices. - Concierge on our particular boat was gregarious and laughed a lot the way people do to avoid unpleasantness but seemed to know little and to pass the buck (or manufacture a not-always-convincing explanation) when he couldn't solve a problem. - Program director worked hard but was not to our taste--too much a cheerleader, extravagantly upbeat about everything; she also made sexist comments that she (and somewhat to our surprise, much of the clientele) thought were cute. But she did know what she was doing and how to get things done. - Pianist was very good, and late evening dancing was often possible, though on a very small floor (we happen to take ballroom dance lessons and so were especially handicapped). - Tour guides were occasionally very good but on the whole spoke to a lowest common denominator with little context or exploration of the significance of what they told us--as in, "on your left is x, on your right is y, there's the 3rd largest widget manufacturer in the county..." Like the boat's program director, many of them displayed antique cultural attitudes, as in, "OK, Ladies, shopping is over there..."; "Gentlemen, please don't ask me technical questions..." (voiced more than once by female guides). - We took a side trip (aka paid-for-separately) together to a tulip farm (fascinating production line, and the guide here--co-owner of the farm--was very good) and windmill setting, and my wife went to Delft. - When pricing your trip, remember that you are expected to tip on all guided tours in addition to major tips at end of cruise for boat staff (totaling hundreds of Euros if you follow recommended guidelines). Some sense was encouraged (I guess by the program director) of handing out little tips for crew folk as the cruise goes along. It was sometimes hard to tell when a waitperson, for example, was being genuinely chummy or sucking up. - As a maiden voyage, the trip was partly a shakeout cruise at the expense of us paying passengers. Wifi was terrible, even where signal was strong--verrrrry slow. In our cabin we almost never had any signal. TV movies tended to stop halfway through and start again. TV programs would go in and out. Router was set up so we couldn't use our VPN connection (which allows us to seem to be in the US and so watch material, like Netflix, only available when home). Late in the trip door keys suddenly didn't work and lots of people had to get replacements. - In an unscientific survey, the dominant demographics seemed to be: retired, politically conservative-to-right-wing, church-going, with narrow, banal conversation topics (by our hoity-toity standards...). All white passengers except for a couple of Asian-looking folk. As Jewish-atheist, politically left intellectuals we always had an undercurrent (I more than my wife, who is more easily sociable) of being marginalized (which you can see reflected in some other comments here), which greatly undermined our ability to relax and enjoy. Obviously, most people seemed to groove on each other. - We are adamant about eating chocolate that is (as clearly as possible) not sourced from West African farms that use child slave labor (see http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/category/chocolates-child-slaves/ for a mainstream account of these appalling practices; fair trade in general and South American chocolate sources are largely ok). The boat had many chocolate dishes, but when we asked about the sourcing, no one among the food preparation crew had heard of this (a sad fact), though the program director had and responded: no, we don't pay attention to this issue--but be sure to put it in our end-of-cruise questionnaires. We had expected better in a country like Holland and a boat that supposedly was planned to include energy efficiency and at least some organic food products. So we missed out on many of what looked like scrumptious desserts.