Royal Viking Sea Undergoes a Transformation : After a $20-million make-over, the ship is sailing to Alaska as the Royal Odyssey.

For many Californians, the Royal Viking Sea has been a familiar ship for nearly two decades. So last winter, when the ship was transferred by Royal Viking Line's parent company Kloster Cruise Limited to a sister company, Royal Cruise Line, some wondered how much the ship would change, if at all.

On the surface, the two companies would seem to attract very similar passengers--mostly well-traveled, older, upscale couples and singles, and few, if any, families with children, young honeymooners or first-time cruisers.

But as competition in the cruise industry has increased, so has the polarization of lifestyles that differ not only from one line to another, but from one ship to another.

So after only two months and a relatively modest $20 million refurbishing, RCL has unveiled the Royal Odyssey, and even longtime veterans of the Royal Viking Sea will find it difficult to recognize many of the public areas. About $3.5 million was spent behind the scenes, much of it to replace the fire alarm system with new smoke and heat detectors, according to RCL's technical director, Marios Sterghiou.

"We still have a lot of Royal Viking passengers coming aboard," says Fernando de Oliveira, who has served as cruise director aboard this ship for both RVL and RCL. While there are a lot of similarities between passengers, there are also some differences, he notes.

"Generally, the RVL people spend more time with cocktail parties before dinner but are not around as much after dinner, while the RCL passengers stay up later, often until 1 a.m. in the lounges where there is dancing."

Two lounges on the Royal Odyssey have been extensively remodeled to attract more dancers. An aft lounge adjacent to the casino has been turned into the Ports of Call Lounge and Disco, with sleek, sophisticated colors and a new sound and light system, and the former North Cape Lounge on an upper deck amidships was fitted out with a new dance floor and sound and light system to become the Penthouse Lounge.

De Oliveira functions something like a traffic director as he plans daily shipboard activities that, he hopes, will disperse the passengers equally throughout the vessel. By scheduling a lively trio of musicians and some of the line's gentleman hosts, who dance with female passengers in the Penthouse Lounge before and after dinner, he has turned it into one of the busiest places on the ship.

In the forward observation lounge, very little of the decor was altered, but changing the room's musician from a harpist to a pianist, de Oliveira says, lightened the ambience considerably. "With the piano, you can still have a drink and a chat."

There are fewer tables for two in the dining room than before, he points out. Under Royal Viking, the 765-passenger ship had an average of 48 tables for two, but that number is reduced to about 18 now. "Our clientele are not the table-for-two clientele like Royal Viking," he says. "They like tables for six or eight."

Meals are served at a single seating, as they were on Royal Viking, a first for Royal Cruise Line, whose other two ships, Crown Odyssey and Golden Odyssey, offer two meal seatings. TV sets in the cabins are another amenity not found on the other RCL ships.

The cabins are little changed except for new carpeting, draperies and bedspreads, some of which seem to have been randomly chosen without regard to the decor.

The most luxurious accommodations are penthouse suites and apartments with separate sitting rooms, private verandas, big bathrooms and butler service. These cost about $675 a day per person, double occupancy.

All cabins have lower beds, generous closet space and private baths with tub or shower. Prices for inside lower deck cabins start at about $215 a day per person, double, while outside cabins begin at about $267.

A top sports deck that includes a golf driving range and paddle tennis court seems unchanged since Royal Viking days, including what appears to be the same stained green Astroturf that we noted needed replacing back in 1985.

Some small changes that are not improvements include the removal of the free Laundromat for passengers and the sparse number of books in the shipboard library, most of them dating back a decade or more.

A new fitness director schedules as many as six exercise classes a day, from aerobics to sit-and-be-fit chair exercises, while Royal Cruise Line's laudable "Heart's Content" program menus offer low-calorie, low-fat dishes at every meal.

Food and service are quite good on the Royal Odyssey, with cabins cleaned quickly and efficiently.

One new feature is Yianni's Hearth, a pool deck snack area with its own ovens that turns out fresh-baked cinnamon buns in the morning, warm chocolate chip cookies in the afternoon and pizza on occasion.

Officers and crew aboard are Greek and Filipino.

The Royal Odyssey is offering a series of seven-day Alaska sailings between Vancouver and Anchorage through mid-July, followed by a 10-day Vancouver-to-San Francisco itinerary and then two 12-day round-trip cruises to Alaska from San Francisco, departing July 25 and Aug. 6.

Prices for these sailings range from $215 to $685 a day per person, double occupancy, plus some air-fare add-ons. Some 55 single inside and outside cabins are also available at prices from $404 to $521 a day.

For the 1993 season, the Royal Odyssey will introduce some new RCL itineraries, including 11-day Amazon sailings between Manaus, Brazil, and Barbados, Jan. 16 and 27, and 12-day Canary Islands cruises between Lisbon and Malaga, Spain, also calling in Morocco.

For a free color brochure, call a travel agent or Royal Cruise Line at (800) 227-4534.

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