Not one of Viking's better efforts. They need to improve their travel arrangements. We requested travel from Birmingham. Not possible, we were told. I then realised that if we took the Vienna extension it was indeed possible. Viking expected me to pay for the cancelled flights. We ended up having to incur 2 nights' hotel stays and parking to travel from Heathrow via Warsaw with the not-so-lovely and frequently late Lot Air. It rankled when some people who booked after us told us that they had direct flights from Odessa with BA and hadn't paid any extra.
The cruise itself was not the best itinerary. You got the impression that the places we visited were simply time-fillers rather than being anywhere of real interest. Far too much time was spent hanging around listening to the very knowledgeable guides speaking in great detail and at great length in not very good English. Not all of the coaches had seat belts. On one occasion the air conditioning broke down. Fortunately they found us another bus. If this had been our first river cruise it might have been our last.
4 out of 5
It was pretty straightforward, although we had to travel from Heathrow via Warsaw. Viking could have suggested an add-on in Vienna which would have meant we could have travelled from Birmingham as I had requested. When I suggested they change it when they finally admitted it was possible, they wanted to charge me for cancelling the flights to and from Heathrow. Actually getting on the ship was pretty easy although there were lots of steps and no way of avoiding them for those who don't find stairs easy.
Food and Dining
3 out of 5
Food was not up to Viking's usual very high standard. At dinner you had a Ukrainian menu with local specialities, a normal menu with a few choices and an "always available" menu of poached salmon, steak or chicken breast. Lunch was a buffet with often rather limp salad, a vegetarian choice and some kind of pasta. Sometimes there was carvery meat but they didn't serve much in the way of veg to go with it. Boiled potatoes featured in almost every meal. The soups were good. Desserts were nothing special. Breakfast was pretty much the same every day with very fatty, flabby, undercooked streaky bacon and what they called Ukrainian bacon which looked like thin slices of processed ham. There was a sausage of sorts each day, most of which looked pale and unappetising. There was scrambled egg, usually some sort of fried potato with vegetables, fried mushrooms and an egg station. There were pancakes and things like eggs Benedict to order. Bread never really seemed fresh and the white baguettes weren't really white but a sort of dingy grey. There were various croissants and pastries but these tended to be rather soggy. Service was excellent, although the lovely Ukrainian crew struggled a bit with English.
4 out of 5
The cookery demonstration was fun, with the girls all dressed in national costume. They sang and danced and we all tried varenyky, a kind of dumpling.
Not to our liking
Service and Staff
5 out of 5
We couldn't fault the service. The staff, who were largely young Ukrainian girls, were helpful and tried hard to speak English. Thank goodness for Google Translate! A special mention to the girls in the Panorama bar who gave us first class service.
4 out of 5
This is an old ship but it has been thoroughly "Vikingised". The interior is modern and very clean. The dining room was pleasant. It was nice to have tables for two and none of that awkward banquette seating. Some of the tables were rather close together. There is no real lounge area with comfortable seating, hence only 4 stars. There is the odd small sofa in various corners, but you wouldn't call them especially comfortable. There are two bars, one on the top deck where all the entertainment happens, and a pleasantly quiet one at the front of the ship. Continental breakfast is served here each morning. There isn't a huge amount of outside deck space. Fortunately the ship wasn't full.
Cabin / Stateroom
4 out of 5
Cabin was a good size, as was the balcony. The door out to the balcony was very hard to open and shut. The bed was not the most comfortable. There was a small shower room with (horror) a shower curtain which had some staining. There was a desk with a stool and another small armchair. We had a small fridge which kept the water cold. Some cabins have awkward pillars right beside the bed. Fortunately ours didn't.
Don't expect this to be the most interesting itinerary. There are lots of steps to the moorings.
Ports of call
4 out of 5
We visited the monastery of the caves and the cathedral. The monastery church is beautiful and if you're lucky you'll hear the lovely chanting. There is a very steep walk down to the caves where you see the preserved bodies of long-dead monks. It's dark and you only have the light of a votive candle. You don't really get to see the bodies, as they are well wrapped and have their faces covered. We also went to the Pirogova architecture museum. It's a huge place but we only got to see a small part of it and were hurried out because some VIP was visiting.
Kremenchuk, Russian Federation
5 out of 5
Didn't bother getting off because it looked like such an industrial dump.
1 out of 5
The mooring here was beside a derelict and rather unsafe-looking building, through which we had to climb on many steps. Then a long, stony ramp down to the buses. The city is full of abandoned Soviet construction. All 4 buses arrived at the museum pretty much together and because we were last we had to hang about in a war exhibit outside for ages. The museum was fairly interesting but far too much time was spent standing around in this very hot building listening to the guide telling us about every exhibit. That took so long we had hardly any time to visit the church behind the museum. My husband didn't get to the church because of the walk. It would have been easy for the bus to drop off and collect those with walking difficulties from the rear of the church but very little provision was made for people with disabilities on this trip.
2 out of 5
Another depressing city. We were dumped for 70 mins in a park on the main Street. Shops were dreary. Afterwards we crossed to an island where there was a reconstructed Cossack settlement which was quite interesting but again there was a lot of hanging about in the hot sun (around 30 degrees) listening to the guide. We could have gone back to see a horsemanship and folk dance display after lunch but the thought of sitting outside in that heat didn't appeal.
1 out of 5
We walked round in 33 degrees standing in front of various statues listening to the guide speaking at length about each one. We had been promised a market, which turned out to be about 4 stalls all selling the usual tourist tat. There was a group of ladies in traditional costume singing folk songs, of which Ukraine seems to have an endless collection.
4 out of 5
Odessa was definitely the highlight of the tour. It has quite a Mediterranean feel and some very fine buildings. The transfiguration cathedral was beautiful. We visited the Piroz market with the chef, which was quite an experience. Lots of tastings and quite a bit (again) of hanging around in the heat. The meat section was a revelation - no refrigeration and not a fly anywhere! Wouldn't buy my meat there though!
3 out of 5
Because we were flying back to Heathrow via Warsaw we were stuck on the ship until after 3pm. There were only two toilets. We were given lunch and could continue to use our drinks package. Odessa airport is a dump. It is hot and dirty.
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