Q – Where the Elbe River is concerned trust me you signed up for a bus tour. Our Elbe River “non-cruise” was supposed to leave Prague on July 5th to meet our boat, the Alstrid, up river a small distance away. Since there was almost no water in the river what happened to our group was that we were taken by bus to Dresden where Viking used our ship as a floating hotel for 3 days. They later bussed us to another of their boats the Beyla, where we stayed for another 3 days. Viking then took us by buses to see the sights, some of these bus rides involved hours of riding on a bus to see a sight/s and then go back to the ship.
It is my understanding that the port of Potsdam on the Elbe River was closed 3 weeks before our “non-cruise” was supposed to leave. Viking should have cancelled our trip then and there and given us a full refund rather that pretend in their email that we might be able to cruise. Viking needs cash flow even when the water doesn’t flow, perhaps that why we weren’t! offered the chance to cancel our trip.
Fellow travelers I have checked the website http://riverboatratings.com/, Viking is ranked # 5 there. Of the 11 river cruise companies shown in the ratings apparently Viking is the only company that scheduled cruises on the Elbe River in 2015. In the fall of 2014 AMA Waterways, for example, cancelled their entire 2015 schedule on the Elbe River because of low water problems in 2014. AMA’s representative, Brandon, said that they don’t want to cancel any cruises because their aim is to give their customers first class service and cancelling cruises certainly isn’t giving first class service.
I spoke to my attorney and passed on the concept of “Implied Contract”, he agreed that this was valid in this our situation. An Implied Contract is a legal term upheld by the US Supreme. Basically if a company says that they are going to do something for it’s customers then they are legally bound to follow though to make sure that it’s done. Just by the name, Viking River Cruise, the company is supposed to give us a river cruise.
They did NOT deliver on their promise to give our group and many others a river cruise. Viking can’t control the low water levels, however, they can give full refunds when they know that there is also no chance of cruising the Elbe. Viking didn’t give all of us adequate notice so we could cancel our trip and get a full refund. Some people were already in Europe so they couldn’t have cancelled their non-cruise'” on the Elbe River since they were already on the continent. Other people in our group were never notified about the low water issue !
For the hundreds/thousands of Vikings non-cruisers on the Elbe River who were not properly compensated for not cruising you may file a complaint with the BBB. bbb.org/losangelessiliconvalley/business-rev… You will see that Viking has 48 complaints registered with the BBB over 3 years. I’d would guess that that is just the tip of the iceberg. On May 28, 2015 the Better Business Bureau Board of Directors revoked Viking’s accreditation. Viking is back now with their A+ grade. Everyone should know that companies pay the BBB to be listed. The slate has been wiped clean from just 3 months ago when Viking’s accreditation was revoked. Interesting.
We have a group (46 people, who communicate daily via email) of us who have been inundating Viking with registered letters of complaint to the Chairman of Viking plus other senior executives, multiple emails and multiple calls to customer service. Don’t waste your time with emails, telephone calls and complaint letters to Viking. See suggestions below as to how you might get some response from Viking. So far they are stonewalling all of us hoping that we’ll just go away. Not a peep from Viking as to giving us a better offer than their standard offer of voucher for $ 1,000 per person for a future cruise, where they plan to make more money off of us. Viking has been advertising recently 2 for 1 cruising in 2016 plus $ 2,000 in vouchers to the general public, which is the same deal that they are offering our group of aggrieved customers. Does that sound fair ?
My wife had never traveled to Europe before and had never been on a river cruise. She is still waiting for her first river cruise. For people who want to complain about Viking’s mishandling of their complaints I’d suggest filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). You may also complain on Viking’s Facebook page, subject to being banned from Viking’s Facebook page by Viking, that’s happened to one of our group. You may also send complaints to http://riverboatratings.com/ << this group doesn’t accept advertising so that they aren’t beholden to any river cruise company. I’m going to copy this post and send it to riverboatratings. The editor will probably respond to you. Check earlier posts here for a website to check water levels on the Elbe River. I’m sure that one of our German friends who have been providing us with great information on the Elbe can re-post that web address. If you ever hear from a Viking representative make sure that you get an agreement to your satisfaction.
Lastly I think that all Viking employees should read this article in Inc. magazine about how to customer complaints. inc.com/matthew-swyers/8-steps-to-handle-cus… Best of luck getting Viking to come up with an acceptable agreement/settlement for you. Thanks for hearing me out.
A – Thank you for your letter. Quite frankly, we receive a fairly high volume of complaints and we do not wish to become a site filled with postings by amateur critics whose real identity cannot be verified. Your note had enough specifics to ring true and there were serious water level issues on the Elbe in early July.
We could only find one question in your e-mail; “Does that sound fair.” The question refers to the fact that Viking’s offer of a voucher for $2,000 a couple was the same offer the general public receives. Your concerns, your terrible experience, and your feelings, are completely understandable. Rather than write an essay in response, let us list some of our reaction to the important issues you have raised in this correspondence:
What Viking did – turning your River Cruise into a partial Bus Tour when the river you were scheduled to sail was impassable, is standard industry practice and your letter could apply to virtually any of the major river boat lines. Viking’s failure to respond to you in a human, personal manner is not standard industry practice.
We have been pursuing the issue of prior notification where water level issues in Europe will prevent passengers from enjoying the river boat vacation they think they will be receiving. We cannot find a single river boat operator, to date, that has an advanced warning policy in place that will allow guests to cancel their cruise on short notice due to river levels. That said, your travel agent should have known the Elbe was closed down and should have urged you, as we do with all European river boat clients, to carry the best available cancel for any reason insurance. If you have normal insurance, the “Act of God” provisions will serve to provide the river boat operator with an escape from liability.
Your comments that the public gets the same offer, 2-1 cruising in 2016 plus $2,000 in vouchers, that was offered to you int he form of two $1,000 offers. That is not true. Viking River has always had early booking discount offers in place. Their brochure prices are high enough to accommodate two-for-one pricing. It is a marketing ploy that many cruise lines and river boat companies use. It is, of course, a phony offer, since virtually no one pays the list price. But your goodwill vouchers are on top of any current offer. So it is a real offer. Offering vouchers for future cruises is standard industry practice on virtually all of the lines.
We are not certain that your attorney is correct. But we are not law school graduates so who knows what the courts would rule. But we want to share our opinion that every river boat brochure makes it extremely clear that bus tours may be substituted for portions of a river cruise when uncontrollable weather conditions make passage by ship possible. Every cruise line and river boat company has those clauses in their contract of passage. Unfortunately, few travelers read them and even fewer travel agents take the time to discuss this aspect of “risk”. And that is what it is. When you book a river boat cruise you do run the risk of it not operating as described for any number of operational reasons outside the control of the river boat operator. Don;t think this is unique to Viking. The very top-rated lines substitute bus touring and hotels for the river boat experience when conditions make that necessary.
The money issue troubles us as you seem to have a lack of clarity on what the benefits were with a group of 46 travelers. You did not get the same offer as others who booked your scheduled cruise. As part of the group contract your travel consultant signed, you would have received at least three complimentary cruises for a group of that size. That adds up to well over $10,000 in free passage. Normally that money is pro-rated among members of the group giving them a further discount. Or, instead, it may have been used to provide free cabins for the leaders of the group.
We do sympathize with your position and we feel particularly touched by this kind of experience for your wife’s first trip to Europe. But let us suggest that your group has gone about this in exactly the wrong way, guaranteeing a non-response from Viking which, based on your legal threats, will now stand behind its contract and brochure. Your travel consultant earned, by our calculation, a minimum of $30,000 for this group. You should not be dealing with Viking River or wasting your time sending letters to its Executives. Your travel consultant should be fighting this battle on your behalf with the sales department and her contacts at Viking. Your consultant has likely done many other groups and represents some substantial revenue for Viking. The negotiation as to compensation for the group should have taken place quietly, behind closed doors, so that Viking could have an opportunity to service your agent and make certain that the agency did not lose your business. Your agent would have pointed out that the group is “media savvy” and that some offer should be made to “avoid airing this in public in forums and elsewhere.” That’s the way to get things done. You have placed Viking in a position where their back is against the wall. Your letter makes us wonder what your consultant has done for their $30,000 + commission?
Finally, let us restate one of our fundamental travel rules for river boat consumers. All of these lines have lovely brochures. Their ships are essentially the same size and they all sail the same rivers. They all use the same gene pool of guides and they can only offer tours based on what is offered by the local tour operator in town with whom they have a contract. You can have an enjoyable, in fact excellent, experience on Europe’s waterways. When everything is going well there is nothing better and you can have a truly memorable vacation on any of the lines reviewed on our site. But our ratings include a key component that is totally unknown to the consumer. One of the most important measures our ship inspectors and evaluators measure is the manner in which a river boat company reacts when things do not go perfectly. And we can promise you, there are vast differences in this regard. That is one of the primary reasons some lines score much higher than others in our ratings. Include this consideration next time you choose a river boat or cruise line. Ask your travel consultant how the company you are considering has handled past issues involving high percentage guest dissatisfaction based on the inability to operate as scheduled.
We know you feel this is a Viking problem. We wish it was. Viking is, by a wide margin, the world’s largest river boat operator. You are always going to see more complaints aimed at Viking than any other line. That is to be expected. You are also going to see Viking named “World’s Best …….” in various magazine reader polls since they have the largest number of past guests, most of whom rate their river boat experience quite highly. That is why the cruise or river boat consumer should never pay attention to Reader Polls. Clearly someone failed to notify your group properly. Unfortunately, the Elbe is well known to have some low bridges and water level issues. June and July, seem to produce the most cancellations. . Several other lines experienced disruptions. Please do let us know the outcome.
We apologize to our readers for the length of this response but we felt that, in this case, it was necessary.