Christmas markets unpleasant surprise on cruise-tour

Through a travel agent friend, in May ’06 two friends and I booked a Christmas markets cruise with Viking River Cruises. The Nov. 28, 2006, sailing of the Viking Danube Explorer from Nuremberg to Vienna was our first experience with river cruising, but it will not be our last. (We booked a cruise with Viking from St. Petersburg to Moscow, Russia, for September 2007.)

We enjoyed the ship, other passengers, the hardworking enthusiastic young crew and the chance to visit some of Germany and Austria’s Christmas markets.

However, imagine our disappointment when, upon our arrival in Nuremberg, our cab driver assured us the markets would be open on Friday, Dec. 1, yet we would be departing the city on Nov. 29!

In Regensburg, some of the markets were open but not the craft market. In Passau, the market luckily opened for its first day just as we completed our walking tour. (Not all passengers were aware of this, so two of my friends missed this market too.)

We chose this cruise because we believed that all Christmas markets in the cities visited would be open. We were given no other information, nor was our travel agent.

The booklet “Departure Information and Itinerary from Viking River Cruises for the Danube Explorer 7-Night Cruise Nuremberg to Vienna,” dated Sept. 29, 2006, states, “The embarkation dates for this day-to-day itinerary currently coincide with opening dates for all the Christmas Markets described.”

As a retiree, I could have chosen any cruise date, so knowing whether markets were open would have influenced the date I chose. This cruise was not priced lower than those on other dates. (Excluding airfare, the total cost for two of us was $4,698.)

What did I learn from all this? I learned that just because a company’s promotional material says that Christmas markets should be open, the cruise company may not have checked with the towns that schedule the markets.

Christmas markets are scheduled in relation to church calendars. In a Dec. 21 e-mail to my travel agent, Susan Fox of Viking River Cruises wrote, “Christmas markets are generally open from the last day of November. . . . 2006 happened to be one of the years when the first Friday before the First Advent (the Nuremberg general opening date) unusually fell on December 1st. While we missed this, we want to point out that it was also incumbent upon you to verify that your clients were booked on the correct date in the months prior to the trip.”

I do note that the newest promotional booklet I received from Viking in January’s mail has additional information in several places suggesting you check their website for updated information on the cruises that include visiting Christmas markets in 2007.

My second lesson was about my right to contact a company that provides the travel experience that I want to compliment or question. I did not know that all my comments should be sent via my travel agent, if I had used one. Now I certainly know that if you have an agent, Viking River Cruises expects you to deal with the agent, not directly with their company. I am used to being an independent traveler, so I disagree with this policy, though I can see that it is much more efficient for the company.


Kodiak, AK

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Viking River Cruises and received the following reply.

Thank you for sharing Marcia Oswalt’s letter with us and for giving us a chance to respond. While Viking River Cruises strives to provide accurate and up-to-date travel information to all our passengers, some itinerary details may not be fully available at the time we print our brochures.

Ms. Oswalt confirmed that she became aware of our Danube Explorer cruise in May 2006, at which time all printed and web

materials for this itinerary make special note that Christmas markets are seasonal and, if not open during any portion of the trip, may be substituted with additional leisure time. Ms. Oswalt noted that she only missed one Christmas market during the entire Danube Explorer cruise.

In regards to Ms. Oswalt’s issue with her first Viking River Cruises experience, our Customer Relations manager responded in a timely manner and immediately apologized for the lack in information. We took immediate action to rectify the situation by providing Ms. Oswalt and all members of her Danube Explorer group with a $250 cruise credit toward a future cruise.

Ms. Oswalt has since decided to book another Viking River Cruises vacation, traveling with a group of nine people to Russia. As an additional gesture of goodwill, we allowed Ms. Oswalt to combine the cruise credit with our group discount and provided her with a $25 Shipboard Credit.

We strongly value the opinions and travel experiences of ITN readers and welcome any and all feedback they may provide about our company. The satisfaction of our passengers is our number-one priority, and we strive to provide them with the best travel service and experience possible.

LISA JUAREZ, Vice President Marketing Communications, Viking River Cruises, Inc., 5700 Canoga Ave., Ste. 200, Woodland Hills, CA 91367