Since making its name in the river cruise industry, and its Goldilocks sweet spot in the mid-size ship category, Viking Cruises has dipped its toe in the expedition cruise waters. The result? An “all-in” approach to polar adventure, with two new, identical, purpose-built Polar Class 6 ships.
The Viking Octanis, named after the South Star, and the Viking Polaris, named after a star in the Ursa Minor constellation, are set to sail to Antarctica, Patagonia and the Chilean fjords, as well as along coastal Canada and into the Great Lakes. In fact, the ships were specifically designed to fit through the Welland Canal. Itineraries range from eight to 24 days.
Both the Octanis and the Polaris are just a bit bigger than other expedition ships, carrying 387 passengers each – so they can move faster and arrive a little sooner at their destinations. Viking aficionados will recognize more than a few elements reminiscent of other ships, including the elevated service and upscale experience in general – all of the luxury with none of the stuffiness.
An ocean of comfort awaits onboard
A two-level Explorers’ Lounge sports large windows for prime polar viewing. The Aula is a two-deck auditorium space with glass on three sides, inspired by the University of Oslo’s ceremonial hall. More restaurants than you would expect include the multistation buffet The World Café, fine dining venue The Restaurant, Italian specialty eatery Manfredi’s and the smaller Mamsen’s, which offers Norwegian comfort food.
The pretty Nordic Spa has a good-sized indoor pool, plus a sauna and steam room, an ice grotto and treatment rooms for smoothing away the knots.
Comfortable ocean-view suites are designed to make best use of space, with sitting areas and “Nordic balconies,” wherein floor-to-ceiling windows open right up. Four Explorer Suites have private walk-out balconies and access to a little garden, while the Owner’s Suite is as dazzling as you would expect. Guests will appreciate the little touches, including minibars, Nespresso makers and heated bathroom floors – ideal for the polar parts of the world.
Deck 1 is where the action is
Viking makes it truly easy to move from ship to shore, regardless of where in the world the Octanis and Polaris may be. While stepping out of your comfort zone and into a world of icebergs, glaciers, penguins and seals may seem daunting, the whip-smart expedition teams aboard both ships are knowledgeable naturalists, scientists and researchers. You will get to know them very well through your luxury expedition cruise, via environmental awareness talks and cultural classes on board and off. The Laboratory provides lab space for research of all types – including the ships’ affiliations with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Norwegian Polar Institute, the University of Cambridge and the Scott Polar Research Institute, among others.
Interestingly, the Viking Octanis is the first civilian ship sanctioned to be able to launch weather balloons.
And The Hangar on Deck 1? Well, it is like something out of a James Bond movie. The space is equipped with Zodiac boats for cruising the icy inlets and shore landings, and a fleet of kayaks for those that opt into that program. Two high-speed Special Operations Boats are jet-propelled, taking guests very close to wildlife – close enough to hear the humpback whales. Two six-person Cruise Sub 7-300 yellow submarines spirit you down about 300 feet to the ocean floor. They’re named after The Beatles – George and Ringo on the Polaris, John and Paul on the Octanis.
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With more than two dozen sailings between them, the Viking Octanis and Viking Polaris span the waterways down North, Central and South America, and on to Antarctica. The popular 13-day Antarctic Explorer is an amazing start – or if you have time, go all out via the 71-day Longitudinal World Cruise.