Missed out on Tunis and Algiers

By Stephen Addison
This item appears on page 26 of the July 2018 issue.

In my experience, most cruise passengers fall into two categories: those who cruise primarily to enjoy the ship and shipboard activities and those whose focus is on the cruise’s destinations. My wife and I fall into the latter category.

On June 30, 2017, we booked the Jan. 18, 2018, sailing of Viking Ocean Cruises’ “Southern Mediterranean Discovery” itinerary. This cruise was to begin in Rome (Civitavecchia) and end in Barcelona, with stops at Trapani (Sicily), Tunis, Cagliari (Sardinia), Algiers and Valencia.

We’ve visited both Rome and Barcelona previously, but the other five ports of call were new to us. While seeing Sicily and Sardinia was intriguing, the main reason we chose this cruise was the opportunity to visit Tunis and Algiers.

Back in 2009, we had a wonderful 8-day trip to Tunisia, and we were interested in experiencing Tunis post-revolution. During that trip, we had approached the forbidding Algerian frontier near Mid├Ęs, but crossing the border wasn’t an option. This cruise would offer us at least a taste of Algeria.

In late December 2017, approximately one month before our departure, Viking notified us that Tunis and Algiers were to be replaced by Naples (which we had already visited) and Palma de Mallorca (which we had no interest in visiting).

The change in itinerary was due to US State Department warnings; there was an elevated risk of unrest due to President Trump’s announcement that he would relocate the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (Personally, I don’t let warnings worry me too much, but I can appreciate Viking’s situation and potential liability.)

I promptly called Viking to register a complaint about the itinerary change. Their representative was sympathetic, but no compensation was offered. If we had canceled at that late date, we would have forfeited the entire cost of the cruise.

The cruise, itself, began well, but the weather deteriorated after Naples, our first port of call after leaving Civitavecchia. Due to rough seas, our Sicily port was Palermo instead of Trapani.

While Palermo looked like an interesting city, on our included guided shore tour we were simply driven through the appealing downtown. Most of the excursion’s time, and all of the free time on the tour, was spent in a far less interesting beach town and in the Santuario di Santa Rosalia church in the mountains overlooking Palermo. Had we had time to research Palermo prior to the trip, we would have chosen to spend the day in the city.

The weather continued to worsen, to the extent that our visit to Sardinia was canceled altogether. We spent that day confined inside the ship, which performed very well in waves up to 5 meters and winds up to 50 knots. Fortunately, we aren’t particularly prone to seasickness, so the rough weather wasn’t a problem.

By the time we arrived in Palma, the weather had cleared. Mallorca is scenic but didn’t hold much attraction for us.

The next day, in Valencia, which exceeded expectations, we were back on schedule and enjoying the weather.

Between the starting and ending points of our cruise, Valencia was the only port, out of the five planned ports of call, that was on the original cruise itinerary.

Clearly, Viking can’t be held responsible for the impacts of weather and State Department warnings. If it hadn’t been for the weather and the changes in itinerary, the cruise would have been fine. We did find it impressive that Viking was able to arrange a collection of excursions on short notice for each substitute port.

During and after the cruise, we discussed the itinerary change with our fellow passengers. Much to my surprise, everyone we asked had also booked this cruise so that they could visit Tunis and Algiers. (Cruise lines should take note: there’s a market for cruises which visit North Africa.)

Lesson learned — don’t fall in love with a particular cruise itinerary. If you want to visit edgier destinations, do it on a trip on which you have more control.

My wife contacted Viking a few days after the trip and succeeded in getting a $250 credit voucher for each of us as compensation for our disappointment.

Viking’s oceangoing ships are outstanding, and we enjoy the sailing experience. Despite being disappointed with the canceled ports on this cruise, we’ve already booked our next cruise with Viking Ocean Cruises. This time, we chose an itinerary and time of year less susceptible to external events.

STEPHEN ADDISON

Charlotte, NC

ITN emailed a copy of Mr. Addison’s letter to Viking Ocean Cruises (5700 Canoga Ave., Woodland Hills, CA 91367) and received an acknowledgement of receipt but no formal response.