We always love hearing from readers, and particularly those who are discovering river cruising for the first time. Reader David Kirk and his wife recently returned from a cruise aboard Viking River Cruises‘ brand-new Viking Odin, stepping onboard after the ship had only been in service for mere weeks. His extensive report from onboard this revolutionary new ship follows, and it sounds like their first trip along the waterways of Europe was a complete success.
The Viking Odin
The Viking Odin is a brand new ship. When we boarded, it had only been in service for 3 weeks – doing a two-week cruise and a one-week cruise. We had never been on a river cruise before, so this was all new to us. The ship itself is 135 meters long (about 443 feet) and a little more than 11 meters wide (about 38 feet). It is not very tall, because it must travel under many bridges. In fact, there are times when the top deck is closed because the clearance under a bridge is very little. It carries a maximum of 190 passengers in 95 rooms.
There are four decks on the ship. All rooms have exterior views. The lowest deck has a few staterooms of the smaller and cheaper category. They are at water level, so they have small windows. The second and third decks are similar to each other. They have slightly larger rooms with either a verandah such as ours, or with a French balcony – which is a sliding glass door but no space to step out on.
The suites have a verandah for the living area and a French balcony for the sleeping area. The upper deck (Sun Deck) is an open space, mostly covered with artificial turf. There are sun lounges, chairs, tables, and shade umbrellas up there. Unfortunately, we did not get to enjoy this deck, as we had a lot of cool and damp weather.
We had what is called a verandah room, which was 205 square feet in size. Our room had a large bed, a bathroom with toilet, shower and sink, and sliding glass doors to a small verandah, about 2 feet deep and 10 feet wide. There was one chair and an ottoman/stool in the cabin, and two chairs and a very small table on the verandah.
I found the chair in the room to be very uncomfortable, but the chairs on the verandah were fine. For such a small room, there was an amazing amount of storage space. Two design techniques helped accomplish this – all the doors (bathroom, shower, and verandah) were sliding doors, and there was storage under the bed for the suitcases. There was a good number of drawers and cabinet space to hold all of our clothes. There was a safe in the room where we kept our money and passports; it was large enough to also hold my laptop computer.
Information we received from other passengers indicated that the smaller rooms may be somewhat cramped for two people. And we did hear a report that some rooms on the lowest level had some noise issues. We were in the middle of the ship in the upper deck of rooms, and we had no noise problems at all. In fact, it was difficult for us to tell if we were moving without looking out the window.
There was a large (perhaps 36”) flat screen television on the wall that helped to save space. There was access to several English language stations, some on demand movies (free), and live images from cameras both on the bow and on the stern of the ship. There was a clever use of many mirrors to make the space seem bigger than it really was. Overall, a small room, but well designed and sufficient space for the average couple on the cruise.
The reception area was toward the forward part of the ship on the second deck. It had an atrium / skylight above it all the way to the Sun Deck. In front of the reception area was the restaurant. Above the restaurant on the third deck was the Viking Lounge – this is the gathering place in the evenings for lectures, drinks, and entertainment. In front of the lounge is the Aquavit Terrace. This is a small terrace that is surrounded by sliding glass doors that can be opened in good weather.
A small library was located on one deck.
A healthy touch: hand sanitizers that were placed in the reception area – meant to help reduce the chances for spreading illnesses or bacteria.
There is wireless internet throughout the entire ship. This is a satellite connection, and will not be as fast as your home system. It worked well for simple emails. It was a little slow whenever graphics were involved. Several times, I uploaded some photos to send to friends with my emails. One photo typically took 3 to 5 minutes to upload, and occasionally it failed part way through. For those who do not bring their laptop computer with them, there are two computers in the common area available for general use – although they are kept quite busy except during off hours.
The Viking Odin Staff
We cannot say enough good things about the staff on board. They were very helpful, very pleasant, and very knowledgeable. There was quite a mixture of nationalities among the staff, but predominantly they were from Eastern Europe. I don’t know if this was because we were on a cruise in Eastern European countries, or if this would be true of Viking’s other itineraries. All of them spoke some English, and the staff that we were mostly in touch with spoke excellent English.
The room and the common areas were kept spotlessly clean. All activities were well planned and kept on schedule.
Unlike ocean cruising, this river cruise ship does not really travel that far. In many cases we were only underway 4 or 5 hours at a time, and that may include the time consuming issue of going through a lock. In our cabin, we were not bothered at all by engine noise, docking or undocking noises, etc. There is no feeling of movement at all, so people that suffer from seasickness can be worry free.
The ship stopped at least once a day, and one day we stopped in two different places. There was always an organized sightseeing tour each day. These basic tours lasted from an hour and a half to all day. All of the basic tours are included in your stateroom fare. In addition to these tours, there were four or five “optional” tours, and these cost extra – averaging about 50 euros per person. Two examples of the optional tours were a wine tasting trip to a local winery and a Mozart / Strauss concert in Vienna.
Most of the basic tours came in one of two forms – the classic tour and the easy tour. The classic tour was usually on a tour bus, with several stops and walks along the way. Remember that the places we stopped are old European towns or cities, and buses often cannot get into the heart of the old town. Many of the excursions allowed some free time for shopping, coffee in a local café, etc.
The easy tour was designed for those people with limited mobility – those who could not walk long distances or up and down steps or needed to avoid rough cobblestone streets. In taking this version of the tour, they did miss some of the sights.
In a few cases, Viking offered a third form of the basic tour – an “up close and personal” version. In this case, no tour bus was used. Instead, there was more walking, and use of city transit systems such as subways, buses, or trams. Passengers needed to sign up for the easy tour or the up close and personal tour the evening before, as space was limited to 25 people for each of them.
Our experience was only with the classic tours, and they were very well done. All the tour buses we used were modern, clean, and well maintained. We always had a driver, a local guide, and a staff member from the ship. The drivers were courteous and skilled. The local guides were knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and willing to answer any questions you might have. In each ship cabin, there were two audio headsets. For each excursion, you took the headset with you, and your guide was equipped with a microphone, so you could hear the guides without having to stand right next to them. At the end of each outing, you simply put your headset back in its charging station in your cabin. The guides, although clearly proud of their cities or towns, were open and honest. They would warn you about pickpockets or about street vendors who might not sell good quality wares.
We did buy the optional tour to hear a Mozart and Strauss concert in Vienna. It was handled in the same excellent way – a bus took us from the ship to the concert venue, and was there to take us home at the end of the concert. One comment needs to be made about the concert – it is designed strictly for tourist groups. This is not a typical classical concert that you might attend in your home town. This concert lasted only about one hour, it was held in a small hall, and the only attendees were members of various tour groups. Having said that, we did enjoy the performance, and we would do it again.
On one afternoon, the Chef offered to meet interested guests at a local market and discuss some of the local products with them.
Unlike ocean cruising, onboard activities are limited. There is no casino and few, if any, organized games.
In the morning, one of the tour directors held a “non-stressful” exercise class. (Attendance was not abundant.)
On the Sun Deck were one giant sized chess set and a small putting green. A few board games were available for use from the library.
In the evenings, a pianist played before and after dinner in the lounge. Each evening, the tour director would have a briefing on the next day’s activities. These were very well done, and helped to set the stage for a smooth running operation.
Several nights during the cruise there was one lecture or entertainment event. These were held in the lounge. These events were targeted at the region we were visiting. In the lectures, we heard a presentation on the European Union, and another on Mozart. One night, we had a very interesting talk given by our tour director on growing up in an eastern bloc country. It was enlightening to hear a first hand account of what it was like to grow up under communist control, and then to hear how things changed when the Iron Curtain fell. On two evenings we had local groups come on board the ship for an hour’s song and dance – again related to the region we were visiting.
There was a tour of the bridge and a tour of the galley offered. One afternoon, the chef demonstrated the technique for making apple strudel.
All breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are included in the base cost of the cruise. However, if you took the full day excursion to Salzburg, lunch was at your own expense.
Unlike larger ocean ships, there is only one dining room. Seating is open, and tables varied from seating 6 to 10.
There are two options at breakfast – seating in the dining room or a casual breakfast in the lounge. In the lounge, selections were limited. In the dining room, there was a full buffet breakfast – typically there was ham, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, potatoes, pastries, cold cuts, cheeses, cereals, fruit, porridge, yogurt, breads, etc. The wait staff would provide juices, coffee, or tea, and take your request for the cook who would prepare eggs or omelets to order.
There are also two options for lunch – seating in the main dining room or a casual lunch in the lounge. In the lounge, selections were limited – usually a soup, salad, and one hot dish in a buffet line. In the dining room, there was a salad and cold cuts buffet, and a choice of three or four main items (always including one pasta dish) that were handled by the wait staff. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, beer, or wine were complimentary with lunch.
Dinner was served only in the dining room. There were no formal nights, but most people dressed in nice casual attire for dinner. On the menu were three or four choices for each course – appetizer, main plate, and dessert. In some cases, the dishes reflected the area in which we were traveling. There was always a vegetarian option. For those with less adventurous appetites, there were always some standard dishes available off the menu (sirloin steak, grilled chicken breast, etc.). As with lunch, coffee, tea, soft drinks, beer, or wine were complimentary.
In many cases, we were in port during mealtimes, and there would be no problem if you wanted to eat at a local restaurant (at your own expense, of course), as long as you made it back to the ship before it moved on! Viking also made the point of allowing you to buy some local beverages during a port stop and bringing them back on board. They specifically said that you were welcome to bring a bottle of local wine to dinner and there was no corkage fee.
There was a small refrigerator in each room, and Viking provided a bottle of water daily to each cabin. The refrigerator came empty, not like a hotel style mini-bar. If you bought beer or other drinks from a local store, you could easily put them in the refrigerator. Near the lounge area was a tea and coffee bar that was available 24 hours a day. At many times, it also had muffins or cookies as well.
There were no other meals provided (such as a midnight buffet), with one exception. The evening of the Mozart / Strauss concert, dinner was held earlier than usual, and Hungarian Goulash was prepared and available upon return from the concert.
In general the meal portions were reasonably sized – not too large. This is good considering the number and frequency of mealtimes on the ship. In fact, on a personal note, we actually skipped dinner one night because we were just not hungry.
There were only a couple of empty staterooms on the ship, and also a couple of staterooms with only one occupant. The average age of the passengers on our cruise we estimated to be in the mid-60’s. We know of one lady who was celebrating her 90th birthday, and there were a couple of ladies who worked for a travel agency who were much younger. There were no children. A few people had mobility issues, and used a scooter to get around. There is an elevator on the ship, but only between the second and third decks. It does not access the lowest deck nor the Sun Deck. Fortunately for those who cannot handle stairs, the lounge, the restaurant, and most of the staterooms are on the second and third decks.
Charges for hard liquor at any time, and for beer, wine, and soft drinks outside of lunch and dinner hours, were typical for cruise line and hotels. These were all accumulated to a running tab for your stateroom. An all inclusive drink package was available at the beginning of the cruise.
Gratuities were not included in the base price. Viking recommended small amounts for the individual bus drivers and guides at the time of service, since we would not see them again. For ship staff, tipping was at your discretion of course. It could be done three ways – money placed in an envelope (no identification of stateroom number) that would be distributed among all the staff, an amount added to your room account and settled with it (also shared among all the staff), or you could personally tip any staff member individually.
I was extremely pleased to confirm that my belief regarding a few major advantages of river cruising turned out to be true. One must remember that rivers were the mode of transportation for centuries and centuries. It is not surprising therefore that major cities grew up along these rivers. When your river cruise ship docks in the city that is exactly where it is – in the heart of the city. One can easily walk off the ship and you are immediately in the heart of the old city.
On ocean cruises, there are often tenders required to take you to shore, or you dock in a freighter port, miles away from the city you thought you had docked at.
In contrast, on several occasions I left the Viking Odin in the afternoon to look around the old city, to shop, or to revisit something I had seen on our morning tour. It was literally ten steps off the ship and you were on a main sidewalk of the city.
David Kirk is retired and lives in Central Texas. He and his wife love to travel, especially in Europe. They have done some ocean cruises in the past, but none recently. This was their first river cruise. Still curious about the Viking Odin? Read our detailed ship review right here on River Cruise Advisor, or view our deck-by-deck Photo Tour of this revolutionary new vessel on our sister-site, From the Deck Chair.