Public rooms are located on Decks 5 and 6, with the heart of the ship being the Observation Lounge on Deck 5. Situated on the bow, with floor-to-ceiling windows and plenty of comfortable chairs surrounding a circular bar, it provides the perfect environment for watching the passing world go by or catching up on the news with the potted papers -- U.S., U.K., Australian and Canadian versions -- printed each day.
The smaller, cozy Emerald Bar -- situated above the Observation Lounge on Deck 6, the sun deck -- also has large windows and, by day, it's a quiet spot to relax. The wood-floored sun deck at the aft of the ship has chairs, tables and sun loungers. There's also a library -- really a euphemism for a quiet area, as the shelves contain a limited number of books on China and no fiction. There are five tables that can be used for board games -- including Monopoly and Mah-jong -- and jigsaw puzzles, which are provided.
Next to the Observation Lounge is the wood-paneled Internet room, equipped with eight desktop computers that are free to use. In theory, it looks and sounds great but, in reality, it's a bit of a white elephant. Passengers are forewarned in the ship's literature that the connection is "very poor or even nonexistent" when the ship is sailing. On our cruise, this was the case virtually the whole time, sailing or in port, leading to some frustrated passengers questioning the point of having a whole room dedicated to it. Also on this deck is a shop that sells jewelry, including Chinese pearls.
Deck 4 houses the onboard tailor, another really nice touch. Passengers can buy off-the-peg Chinese jackets, dresses, Tai Chi clothes and other garments or have them made-to-measure during the cruise. The children's clothes are fun to take home as gifts. Prices start from around $12 for a hat, and you can expect to pay $128 for a jacket.
More attractive gift items can be found on Deck 3, where an onboard artist paints intricate fans, glass and pictures. A general shop also sells Viking logowear, panda toys, books and other souvenirs.
The reception and cruise manager's desk is located on the lobby level on Deck 2. Although short lines invariably formed at busy times, the reception desk was well staffed, and crewmembers dealt quickly and efficiently with questions and requests. Occasionally there were some small language issues, in which case another crewmember was requested to assist.
Other facilities include a medical center and an inexpensive photo backup service where digital images are transferred from your camera to disk. The ship has an onboard video photographer who records elements of the cruise. The resulting DVD package, which also includes a photo CD with more than 300 images and a route map, makes a lasting memento and costs around $40. The decks are linked by two elevators.