For those of you who don’t really care about the planning of a trip like this, feel free to disregard this and the next several postings and just tune back in on April 13th when we depart….but for those of you who enjoy the planning of a trip almost as much as the trip itself (Peggy? Sandy? Sam? Donna? Ump? ME!) then the next few posts are for you.
This posting will be about the cruise purchase itself and I will follow later this week with a post or three about the air, hotel and our planning tactics.
When Yost and Sam asked us to join them, they had already booked the cruise direct via Viking. Viking was offering a 2 for 1 fare special which was “ending” at the end of the month…of course, the special was immediately reinstated so our rush to book wasn’t really necessary but I quickly went looking for any deals that might be out there.
Turns out Costco was offering not only onboard credits but also a Costco Gift card based upon how much your entire trip was worth. Additionally, because Yost and Sam recruited us, Viking lowered our cruise by $100 per person and did the same for them. So while still expensive compared to ocean cruising, we did save a good bit.
In addition to several suites aboard, Viking offers three basic types of staterooms – Veranda, French Balcony, and Standard – known among river cruisers as “Aquarium Class.” The floor of these rooms is below the waterline but they do have a high window which is above the waterline as you can see in the picture below (the lady doesn’t come with the room.)
The veranda staterooms are pretty self explanatory, they have a balcony large enough for two chairs and a small table. The “French Balcony” staterooms are unique (as far as I know) to river cruising. Rather than a balcony, one wall of the room is a sliding door with a rail. So you get to enjoy having the open feeling of a balcony at a lower cost.
On Viking, the veranda and standard (aquarium) staterooms are the same size with the veranda’s having the extra square footage of the balcony but the French balconies are smaller rooms. Since booking a veranda wasn’t in the financial cards, Mike and I decided we would prefer to have the extra space of the aquarium stateroom rather than a smaller French Balcony. Yost and Sam elected to go with the French Balcony.
All of us initially booked our cruises to include airfare as Viking was offering a deal on air …I think it was $900 or so for economy. All of us hoped to be able to use award points to travel in a an airfare class more suitable to our overblown visions of ourselves…or at least a class where we might stand a chance to sleep on the way over. Stay tuned for how all that turned out but suffice it to say, that prior to final payment for the cruise, we all canceled the air portion as we were successful in booking via frequent flyer (or credit card user) points.
Viking requires a substantial deposit and a relatively early final payment…for some reason, Yost and Sam’s final was due in June while Costco allowed us to wait until September but in both cases it was well before the usual 75-90 days prior to sailing that ocean cruise lines require. On CruiseCritic, the website where I spend entirely too much time, there is much complaining about this but in my view, they make the rules, if I don’t want to live by them, then I can find someplace else to vacation.
Sometime after we made final payment, Sam and Yost got an email from Viking telling them that our cruise had been canceled and to call ASAP to discuss options. I decided I best talk to Costco and see what they had to say
Viking was offering to put us on any cruise that left within 30 days of ours and give us a two category upgrade. For Y&S that would get them into a veranda -Lucky them!
However, since Mike and I had selected the absolute lowest priced aquarium (there are two categories per type of stateroom mostly determined by how far from the stairs you are), it would only put us in the highest category French Balcony…which I didn’t really want since the room was smaller. After about an hour and a half on the phone, the nice lady at Costco who once I told her I was six seven and not a petite flower went to bat and got us moved into a veranda stateroom! So, now the four of us (as you can see below if you look closely) are in side by side REAL balconies for the price of much cheaper accommodations. The only downside is that we loose a day on the front end of our trip but have an extra one in Budapest at the end….this was easier than changing our award flights and who doesn’t want an extra day in the “Paris” of the east???