Viking Odin: First Impressions

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    There's been a huge amount of fuss over Viking's new cabin layout -- it's supposed to make room for true suites and a good selection of balconies with room to sit. Founder Torstein Hagen described the plan to Cruise Critic thusly: Why do corridors have to run straight down the middle of a ship? By moving the corridor on Deck 3 one meter to the side, ship designers were able to squeeze in the extra space for real balconies you can sit on. The funny thing is that, unless you’re looking for it, you don't really notice that the corridor is not perfectly aligned with the center.
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    You will notice, however, how nice it is to be able to sit out on your own balcony, something that's just not possible on most river-going vessels in Europe, where size -- especially width and height -- is limited by low-hanging bridges and narrow locks. And better yet, the new design means that there's a good variety of cabins with balconies. Viking, of course, is certainly not the first operator to democratize the riverboat balcony -- though execs would have us believe it was. Competitors AMAWATERWAYS and Scenic Tours have boats featuring an abundance of "real" verandahs.
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    The Longships' two-room suites are indeed comparable to upscale accommodations you'd find on ocean-going ships, though it's important to note that they're smaller in size because riverboats have more space restrictions. The big difference between suites and cabins is simply that suites have a separate living room with a door that closes off the bedroom. In my cabin, number 304, the living room features an expansive seating area, mini-fridge, flat-screen TV programmed with complimentary movies and the usual satellite channels, and a small desk.

    Whether in suites or standard verandah cabins, the bedroom is laid out pretty much the same, with the same color scheme. The biggest difference, oddly enough, is that the standard cabins have much more storage than suites.
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    As a traveler who regards cruise ship lobbies as places to pass through as quickly as possible, Odin's sun-splashed, two-deck atrium is the most beautiful I’ve seen on any ship. The glass ceiling and walls of floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors make this an airy place to rest on a sunny day -- and I love the cozy, contemporary seating nooks; to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed curling up in a wide-lapped leather chair, checking e-mail on my laptop and watching passengers stroll by.
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    On the atrium's lower deck, real mossy shrubs (and fake daffodils) offer a natural touch; here's where you'll find customer service, the concierge and the all-important (if bijoux) boutique selling Viking logo wear.
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    While the dining room is elegant and unfussy, what's great here is that there are many tables for two -- not a standard feature on every riverboat. Traditionally, river cruises are considered social events, and passengers are encouraged to dine in large groups rather than at intimate and cozy tables for two. So the table arrangement matters -- especially if you'd like the option to be social at times and at others simply to have a meal with your traveling companion.

    On our cruise the two-tops were pushed together and the usual forced socialization was the norm -- but crew was very willing to find space for pairs upon request.
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    What's so different about the Aquavit Terrace, Viking's new indoor-outdoor cafe? I can't think of a riverboat that has one (the only al fresco dining you're likely to experience is the occasional themed buffets on the ships' top decks). What Viking's done is wall off the bow with all-glass panels (cutting down on wind but not on vistas). There are nine tables out here and outdoor heaters for nippy weather. If you just feel like whiling an afternoon away with a good book, don't miss the fabulous rocking chairs.
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    Indoors at the Aquavit is a space I’ve dubbed the conservatory; it’s entirely surrounded by clear glass walls (and an all-glass ceiling), and generously furnished with cushioned wicker chairs and sofas and a handful of dining tables. A beautiful granite buffet station is located here, and offers a lighter fare alternative to the dining room at breakfast and lunch. In cool weather this part of the Aquavit can be closed off from the terrace via accordion-like glass doors.

    Stay tuned for our detailed "sneak preview" review of Viking Odin, which will launch next week.
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