Viking Cruises is charting new territory yet again. The Norway-based river and ocean cruise line — which launched in 1997 and now has an annual revenue of $3 billion — announced this week that it will introduce two new purpose-built expedition vessels that are suitable for both river and ocean sailing. Named for the stars Polaris (the north star) and Sigma Octantis (the south star), they will sail to “the ends of the earth and closer to home.” Translation: Antarctica, the Arctic, a multi-week repositioning journey, and a series of Great Lakes and Canada explorations here in North America.
In Los Angeles on Wednesday night, Viking founder and chairman Torstein Hagen said the company’s mission is to “perfect expedition voyages” and that the new ships and itineraries will offer an array of innovative amenities and experiences. Here are 10 things to know about Viking’s new expeditions program.
1. Viking Expeditions launches in January, 2022 — but the first six inaugural Antarctica itineraries have already sold out. The journeys were offered to past Viking guests and were completely booked within a month. Right now, there are two Antarctica and South America itineraries available in 2022: an 18-night Antarctic and South America Discovery cruise from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro in March, and the 12-night Antarctica Explorer that sails from Buenos Aires in November.
2. The ships — Viking Octantis to be launched in early 2022, and Viking Polaris to debut in August 2022 — are long, sleek, and will feature all the usual Viking onboard amenities. As with all Viking sailings, passengers must be 18 years of age or older to sail. The ships, which are being built in Norway by Fincantieri, will feature the familiar Aquavit Terrace and pools at the stern; a two-deck, glass-walled Explorer’s Lounge in the bow; and a Nordic spa and fitness center with a thermal suite. Both polar class 6 ships will be 30,150 gross tons and carry 378 passengers.
3. The expedition ships also feature some very cool first-of-their-kind amenities. Key to the comfort of passengers embarking on expeditions will be The Hangar. This enclosed marina inside the ship will include an 85-foot slipway that will allow passengers to board RIBs (12-passenger rigid inflatable boats) from a stable interior platform rather than outside the ship amidst the wind and waves. Equally important are the planned U-tank stabilizers, which will reduce rolling by up to 50 percent when the ships are stationary.
4. Excursions will be on land and on sea—as well as beneath it. Perhaps the coolest feature of Viking Expedition ships will be a submersible dubbed “The Yellow Submarine” by Hagen, who admits to being a Beatles fan. Each ship will feature a pair of the six-passenger submarines with revolving seats and 270-degree views. An undersea voyage will be included in the expedition fare, even in the Great Lakes.
5. Staterooms are innovative, too. All 179 staterooms and suites will feature a glass-walled sunroom (instead of a balcony) with a top glass window that lowers to allow for al fresco access under the right conditions. There will be six stateroom categories — Nordic Balcony, Deluxe Nordic Balcony, Nordic Penthouse, Nordic Junior Suite, Explorer Suite and Owner’s Suite — ranging in size from 222 square feet to 1,233 square feet. All feature sleek Scandinavian design, king-size beds, and spacious bathrooms with large walk-in showers and heated floors.
6. There will be four dining venues — familiar to Viking Ocean cruisers yet tweaked slightly for expedition itineraries. Guests who love the Norwegian specialties at Mamsen’s (named for the Hagen family matriarch) can enjoy them on the two new expedition ships. There's also regional fine dining in The Restaurant; Italian specialties in Manfredi’s; and a new casual “market” concept with an open kitchen, live cooking, and sushi and seafood offerings called World Café.
7. Onboard learning will be enhanced by dynamic new settings. Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris will both have scientists working onboard in a 430-square-foot laboratory. Developed with Cambridge University and located in a glass-enclosed mezzanine above The Hangar, the lab will welcome visitors. The ships will also have the Aula auditorium for lectures, nature films, and other presentations. Located at the stern, it will also feature floor-to-ceiling windows with 270-degree views, as well as access to the Finsa Terrace, which features outdoor seating and lava-rock fire pits.
8. Nine Expedition itineraries are currently available in 2022 and 2023. Viking Expeditions is debuting with the following itineraries:
- Antarctic Explorer: 12 nights from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia; November and December, 2022; January and February, 2023
- Antarctica & South America Discovery: 18 nights from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro in March, October, and November, 2022)
- Antarctic Adventure: 14 nights fro Buenos Aires to Ushuaia in December, 2022
- Arctic Adventure: 12 nights, roundtrip from Tromso in August and September, 2022
- From the Arctic to the Antarctic: 43 nights from Tromso to Ushuaia in September, 2022
- Undiscovered Great Lakes: 7 nights from Thunder Bay, Ontario to Milwaukee — or the reverse itinerary, called Great Lakes Explorer — from May to September, 2022
- Niagara & the Great Lakes: 7 nights from Toronto to Milwaukee in April, May, June, July, and September, 2022
- Canadian Discovery: 12 nights from New York to Toronto in April and October, 2022
9. Like most expedition cruising, it isn’t cheap. Viking’s pricing for its inaugural season starts at about $1,050 per person, per day (7-night Great Lakes fares are a bit less, at around $750 per person, per day). On the other hand, Viking's offerings are all-inclusive and on the lower end of the pricing spectrum for this kind of cruise.
10. They really thought about the details. Not only will all passengers be supplied with a Viking Expeditions Kit — boots, binoculars, waterproof pants, and a Viking Expeditions jacket (you can keep this last item) — but each cabin will also feature a “drying closet” that circulates warm air to dry wet clothing after expeditions.