(8:35 p.m. PST) – Viking Cruises, which already oversees successful and ground-breaking river and ocean cruise lines, will branch out into expedition cruising in 2022 with two vessels sailing in Antarctica, the Arctic and the Great Lakes.
The two ships, Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris, will debut in January 2022 and August 2022, respectively. Each will carry 378 passengers in 189 staterooms, making them significantly smaller than the current Viking Ocean ships, which carry 930 passengers. Both vessels will have a Polar Class 6 ice rating, allowing them to safely and comfortably navigate ice conditions.
Viking Octantis will spend its first season sailing in Antarctica, with 13- and 19-day itineraries departing from Buenos Aires and ending either in Ushuaia or Rio de Janierio. It will then reposition to the Great Lakes. Viking Polaris will spend its first season in the Arctic, with 13-day round-trip itineraries to Svalbard from Tromso, Norway.
The announcement took place Wednesday at an event in the Beverly Hilton, Los Angeles, celebrating the christening of Viking Ocean's most recent ship, Viking Jupiter. While the launch of the expedition line was no surprise -- plans to previous guests had been announced in late 2019 and published on the Cruise Critic message boards -- most of the details about the ships' programming, cabins and public spaces had not yet been revealed.
What came out Wednesday makes Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris seem like an active science lover's dream, with a working lab staffed by research scientists; two submarines with rides included in the fare; a fleet of kayaks and complimentary use of skis, snowshoes and trekking poles.
Creature comforts onboard have not been neglected either, such as an indoor-outdoor faux firepit, staterooms that create an outdoor "balcony" space with a push of a button; and an indoor/outdoor pool complex. The ships also borrow liberally from Viking Ocean ships, with a complimentary Nordic spa; a two-deck Explorers' Lounge at the front of the ship; and familiar restaurants such as the Norwegian comfort food venue Mamsen's, The Restaurant, Manfredi's Italian restaurant and the World Café marketplace.
Fares, too, follow the Viking formula with shore excursions, beer and wine at lunch and dinner; Wi-Fi; self-service laundry; and 24-hour room service included in the price. Viking Expeditions guests will also receive charter flights for hard-to-reach places included in the fare, as well as use of Viking expedition gear. Passengers on polar trips will also receive a Viking Expedition jacket -- saving suitcase space, on the way there, at least (people can keep it) -- and an expedition kit with use of boots, binoculars and waterproof pants.
Staying true to Viking's overall philosophy, Viking Expeditions will remain adult-focused, with an age minimum of 18.
Also new from the line: The inclusion of the Great Lakes in the expedition lineup.
The four Great Lakes itineraries include eight-day cruises that sail between Thunder Bay, Ontario and Milwaukee; as well as Toronto and Milwaukee; a 13-day St. Lawrence River sailing between New York and Toronto is also planned. Great Lakes ports on the cruises include better-known destinations such as Mackinac Island, Niagara Falls and Detroit as well as lesser-known Midwest towns such as Houghton, Michigan; Traverse City, Michigan; Duluth, Minnesota; and Georgian Bay, an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
In the announcement, Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen called out the economic development that the cruise line planned to bring to the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as Ontario. It's a region that's new to Viking, as the company has yet to bring its river boats to the Mississippi River.
A new brochure from Viking Expeditions confirmed the polar sailings that have already been on sale for past Viking customers since October 2019. Starting January 15, all of the expedition voyages, including those to the Great Lakes, will be open for booking to the public.
Among the additional details about the onboard spaces and programming:
- Scandinavian Built and Designed. The ships are being built by the same architects and engineers that developed Viking's ocean ships, in Norway at Fincantieri's VARD yard. The size is designed to be small enough to meet the requirements of polar sailing and the St. Lawrence River, while large enough to be stable in rough seas. Expect similar modern Scandinavian design that the line developed on its ocean and river ships.
- Groundbreaking Godmothers. The godmothers for Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris will be adventurers Liv Arensen and Ann Bancroft, respectively. Arensen is from Norway and was the first woman to ski solo and unsupported to the South Pole in 1994, while Bancroft is the first woman to complete various difficult expeditions at the Arctic and Antarctica; both women were the first to ski across Antarctica in 2001. The two also run a foundation, the Bancroft Arensen Explore/Access Water, which focuses on sustainability.
- Viking Resident Scientists. Arensen will periodically serve as a member of the Viking Expedition team, which along with Viking Resident Scientists, will consist of more than 25 onboard experts per journey, including biologists, botanists, geologists, glaciologists, oceanographers, ornithologists, polar experts and researchers. The enrichment partnerships are being developed with the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University, and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).
- The Laboratory and Fieldwork. These experts will serve up daily briefings and lectures, as well as lead fieldwork on land. Both ships will have a 430-square-foot working space called The Laboratory, equipped with wet and dry lab facilities; a sample processing area; a fume cupboard, freezer and cold storage; comprehensive microscope optics and bench space for instruments. Passengers will have supervised access to The Laboratory and also help the scientists with primary research -- something that's rare on an expedition cruise. Examples might include monitoring birds to help identify migratory patterns or helping scientists collect samples. In the Great Lakes, NOAA scientists may join expeditions to conduct climate change studies.
- The Hangar. Unlike most expedition ships, which embark passengers onto Zodiacs at the back of the ship, the Viking vessels will have an enclosed in-ship marina called The Hangar. The space will have an 85-foot slipway where people can get on and off the RIBs (rigid inflatable boats) on a flat, stable surface inside the ship, shielded from the wind and waves (which also makes this kind of travel easier for people with accessibility issues). The space will also include a FerryBox, a set of instruments that collect and display data on water quality, oxygen content, plankton composition and more.
- Expedition Equipment. Expedition cruises need toys to get passengers up close and personal with the landscape, and Viking is no exception. The ships will have a fleet of Zodiacs, as well as two 12-passenger RIBs. Active cruisers will appreciate the two-seater, Arctic-tested kayaks as well as the use of the trekking poles, skis and snowshoes. The ship will also have two six-person submarines with revolving seats and 270-degree spherical windows. Safety equipment onboard includes satellite phones, VHF radios, ropes, life jackets and a comprehensive shore survival equipment.
- Auditorium and "Firepit." The main lecture hall on the ship will be called The Aula, a panoramic room at the back of the ship. Modeled after the University of Oslo hall where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, The Aura can seat half of the ship's guests at once, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering 270-degree views. Outside The Aula is Finse Terrace, an outdoor lounge area (named for Karine Hagen's dog, Finse). This space will have comfy couches and warming lava rock "firepits" -- as close to fire as you can get on a ship -- where people can view glaciers and nature outside.
- Nordic Balcony. All of the staterooms on both ships will have what Viking is calling a "Nordic Balcony," essentially a large window that can partially drop down and turn part of the room into an open-air space with the push of a button. It's a similar concept to the "infinite balconies" on Celebrity Cruises' Edge-class ships (and its new Galapagos-based ship Celebrity Flora); Scenic debuted this style of cabin on its river "space ships." The windows will have a ledge where you can stabilize a camera or binoculars.
- Stateroom Specifics. There will be six stateroom categories on the two Viking Expeditions ships, ranging from 222 square feet to 1,223 square feet: Nordic Balcony, Deluxe Nordic Balcony, Nordic Penthouse, Nordic Junior Suite, Explorer Suite and Owner's Suite. The rooms will have a king-sized bed and a bathroom with a glass-enclosed shower, heated bathroom floors and anti-fog mirrors. There will also be a floor-to-ceiling "drying closet" where circulating warm air dries clothes and expedition gear.
- Suite Life. The three suite categories on the Viking Expeditions ships mirror those on Viking's ocean ships in their layout and amenities. The Nordic Junior Suites are 322 square feet, and have additional storage and seating; an expanded bathroom with extended shower and double sinks; a fully-stocked mini-bar replenished daily, and perks that include welcome Champagne, laundry and shoeshine service and priority restaurant reservations. The 580-square foot Explorer Suites are true suite, with two separate rooms and a full outdoor veranda, as well as the Nordic Balcony. There's also a special space called the Explorer Suites Garden on the top deck, just for passengers in this class. Finally, the 1,223-square-foot Owner's Suite has two separate rooms, including a living room with a six-seat dining table. It also has a 792 square foot private garden with a traditional Norwegian hot tub and outdoor dining table.
- Pools, Spa and Fitness. Borrowing the term Aquavit Terrace from its river cruise ships, Viking Expeditions ships will have this space at the back of the ship with a retractable glass dome on top. The indoor-outdoor space will have three different temperature-controlled pools, including one where you can swim between inside and fresh air. The popular Nordic Spa from the Viking Ocean ships will be found on Octantis and Polaris, boasting a thermal suite with a sauna, snow grotto, chaise loungers, a warm hydrotherapy pool and hot tub, all surrounded by windows. The ship will also have a state-of-the-art fitness center.
Viking is not the only line entering the increasingly competitive expedition cruising market. Scenic debuted Scenic Eclipse in 2019; Crystal Cruises has an adventure yacht coming out in 2020; luxury line Seabourn is developing an expedition arm and Silversea already has luxury expedition ships in the market, with more on the way this year.
But the in the announcement, Hagen noted that all of the details going into Viking Expeditions build upon the success that the cruise line has already experienced in other sectors.
"We invented the concept of modern river cruising when we launched in 1997; then we reinvented ocean cruises and became the 'World's Best Ocean Cruise Line' in our first year of operation, as well as every year since then," he said. "Now, in creating 'the thinking person's expedition,' we are perfecting polar expedition cruising, and we will usher in a new era of comfortable exploration in the heart of North America."