What It's Like to Take a Cruise to Antarctica
"Dress like an onion." That's what they tell guests aboard the Viking Polaris, the new and incredible Viking expedition ship in the cruises line. Why? One of the most-asked questions when booking a cruise to Antarctica is, "what do I wear?"
Thanks to the onset of cruise lines traveling to the continent, Antarctica is now more accessible than ever. What once felt like a far-off dream can now be ticked off your travel bucket list. We sailed on the Viking Polaris, taking guests to the Arctic, where we trekked through the powdery white snow to encounter seals, birds, and whales. And penguins—so many penguins.
Here are answers to your most-asked questions about polar cruises and this specific cruise ship, including how, exactly, to dress like an onion.
What is it Like to Sail on the Viking Polaris?
We sailed aboard the Viking Polaris in Jan of 2023. To sail on the Viking Polaris cruise is, in a word, luxurious. The itinerary for Viking expeditions like this one are thoughtfully set, you'll find your room with a Nordic balcony as attractive as the sights, and you might just keep finding new details to love throughout your journey.
Viking Polaris Cruise Itinerary
The 13-day Antarctic Explorer itinerary begins and ends in Buenos Aires, with six full days (weather permitting) of exploring Antarctica. Only two days on board the Viking Polaris are cruising days, so your trip is filled with plenty of can't-miss Viking expeditions.
At a glance, the Viking Polaris Arctic itinerary is:
- Day One: Buenos Aires
- Day Two: Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego)
- Day Three: Cruising (Drake Passage)
- Day Four-Day Ten: Antarctica
- Day Eleven: Cruising (Drake Passage)
- Day Twelve: Cape Horn
- Day Thirteen: Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego)
From Ushuaia, you'll disembark the Viking Polaris and board your plane back to Buenos Aires.
Since Antarctica is an extreme environment—in beauty and temperature—your Viking expeditions during the days on the continent may change to give you the best experience with the weather conditions and active wildlife. The ship brings expedition vessels for you to use designed for exploring the icy waters around Antarctica.
Other Viking Polaris Cruise Itineraries
This ship does other Viking expeditions, including a trip through the Great Lakes and one through the Chilean fjords, most of which leave and return through Fort Lauderdale, FL. Trips through the Great Lakes are between 8 and 15 days. The Viking cruises through South America range from 14 to 32 days. Longer Viking excursions, like the 32-day Patagonia, Fjords & Panama Canal cruise, transport you to seven or more countries.
Expedition Ship Features
There's a lot to discover and enjoy on the Viking Polaris, with its understated elegance everywhere. Here are some features we think everyone should know about and seek out if they get the opportunity to enjoy a journey aboard this ship:
The Restaurant Options
There are plenty of onboard gourmet restaurants guests can indulge in on the Viking Polaris, including:
- Mamsen's: A restaurant serving Norwegian specialties, including waffles, open-faced sandwiches, and split pea soup.
- Aquavit Terrace: The perfect area for taking in your surroundings as you enjoy hot chocolate, mulled wine, or, yes, aquavit.
- Manfredi’s: A warm and welcoming Italian restaurant inspired by trattorias.
- World Café: A restaurant that offers everything from a grill menu to sushi.
And, of course, you always have access to your mini bar, including alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, in your Explorer suite.
Other Ship Areas to Explore
When you're not enjoying an educational excursion (more on that below), there's plenty to explore on Viking expeditions. If you want to keep in shape during your voyage, there's a gym that looks upon the sea. Those who love more relaxing activities will find a whole range available, from educational seminars to wine tastings to movie nights.
You'll also find guests cozied up with a book in front of the faux fireplace or playing card games around a table on your Viking expedition. It's not unusual to find servers passing out hot beverages or offering a tray of morning pastries to early risers aboard this expedition ship.
Education & Excursions
Viking’s commitment to science and learning is beyond impressive. From the vessel’s “Expeditional Central” to an onboard science lab with resident scientists (we had one visiting from Cornell on our sailing). Passengers are welcome to visit the Viking Polaris lab and even assist with research.
Not to overwhelm you with the deck plan, but there's also an auditorium inspired by where Nobel Prize winners give their speeches, where you'll listen to some of the educational speakers. Just outside this area is the Finse terrace with its lava-rock "firepits," the perfect place to enjoy some of the stunning scenery of your Arctic expedition.
During Viking expeditions, it's impossible not to reflect upon and feel like the explorers before us: Shackleton, Amundsen, and Scott—as you explore the Seventh continent and the last wild frontier. Something else we loved: the cruise ship has a wildlife sighting whiteboard that’s continuously updated with birds (over 30 on our sailing), pinnipeds (Weddell Seals were a favorite), cetaceans (whales galore), and more.
The crew was on-hand to happily answer questions or discuss wildlife and onboard science. And it felt as if everyone knew each other’s name. The vessel has 189 staterooms; our cruise hosted 328 passengers with a crew of 261.
What to Pack on a Cruise to Antarctica
The first question on everyone's mind is: "What do I pack?" The Viking website makes this fairly seamless with a robust packing list, as well as items that you can rent, all delivered to your stateroom.
Here's a rundown of what we'd recommend for a "summer" trip to Antarctica:
- Two base layers, one of which is fleece and another wool
- Two mid-layers, such as a vest and a zip-up fleece
- Viking provides their guests with:
- Water boots (so no need to wear anything else on excursions)
- Waterproof pants
- A lightweight puffy jacket that zips into a waterproof shell (the latter is yours to keep)
- A pair of thin, fingerless gloves that can be worn underneath waterproof gloves (so that you can slip off the top layer and take photos)
UV goggles or sunglasses (we used both)
- A neck gaiter
- A balaclava
- A warm hat
During the daytime on board Viking Polaris, most passengers are in more sporty gear, often going to or from an excursion. Come evening, the dress code would be best described as smart casual. And don’t forget a swimsuit or two; the ship’s pools and Nordic spa is available anytime to guests on the Viking Polaris cruise.
What Are the Passengers Like on a Cruise to Antarctica?
Viking Polaris cruises are designed to appeal to an adult crowd. There are no children, no casinos, and no umbrella drinks. The emphasis on cultural enrichment and high-end offerings appeal to a certain crowd, and this cruise skewed retired, active, and well-traveled.
The minimalist Scandinavian interiors of the Viking Polaris appealed to those who want R&R, and the food and beverage program appealed to foodies. Right now, a cruise is the most accessible way to travel to the Arctic, and we believe that as more people show interest in visiting the content, the younger the demographic might start to skew.
Will I Get Seasick on a Cruise to Antarctica?
Another common question when discussing a cruise to Antarctica is: Will I get seasick? The Viking Polaris is touted as an ice-strengthened Polar Class 6 vessel with a longer hull and straight bow equipped with state-of-the-art fin stabilizers to provide the calmest possible journeys in remote regions. Long story short, the Viking Polaris is specifically built for the sea conditions in these remote regions.
The company’s u-tank stabilizers are built to significantly decrease rolling when the ship is stationary, but weather conditions can be unpredictable, and it's not as if you can pop into a local CVS on the continent. It's best to be prepared. Most passengers could be found with patches, ginger chews, or over-the-counter (and prescription) remedies. The infamous Drake Passage, which takes between 36 and 48 hours to cross, can be nausea-inducing, even if it's the "Drake Lake."
What Are the Staterooms Like on the Viking Polaris?
The idea of expedition ships can call to mind cold steel, but the cabins on Viking Polaris feel as if you’re in a floating luxury boutique hotel. All rooms on this cruise ship feature a king-sized bed with high-end bedding and Norwegian Marius-weave blankets. The ocean-view rooms (also called their Nordic Balcony staterooms) all have what’s called a Nordic Balcony with floor-to-ceiling glass that can be lowered with the push of a button.
Instead of an outside balcony (too cold for that), there's a spacious and cozy seating area. And that's not the only cozy touch offered on these Viking expeditions. The room has a surprising amount of storage that easily fit all of our luggage with space (plus under-bed storage). The large drying closet has been built to air out your expedition gear.
Viking Polaris Amenities
There’s an in-room mini bar with soft drinks and snacks that’s refilled each day and binoculars to borrow. There’s even a flat-screen TV (nice when you have some downtime on the Drake passage).
The bathrooms are equipped with a generously sized shower, robes and slippers, Freyja® toiletries (no need to bring SPF, hand cream, or shower products), and the best part: a heated floor. Room service is available 24 hours a day and includes twice-daily housekeeping.
While all of the rooms come with the Nordic balcony, the Nordic Penthouse staterooms (and higher options like the Explorer Suite) come with several amenities not available in the Nordic Balcony and Deluxe Nordic Balcony options. If you choose the penthouse option, your expedition cruise ship experience will also include free shoe shine services and dry cleaning for your smart casual wear.
If you're looking for a truly one-of-a-kind experience, the Owners Suite aboard the Viking Polaris offers it. That suite comes with a large master bathroom, dinner and a guided tour with the ship officers, room service from any restaurant on the ship, a private library, music collections curated by Chairman Torstein Hagen, and a private garden lounge area.
How Long Are Viking Cruises to Antarctica?
Polar cruises vary depending on which cruise line you choose. We blocked off about two weeks for the 12-night Antarctic Explorer itinerary offered through the Viking Polaris, but many guests choose to spend extra time on the front or back end of the trip. An expedition cruise on the Viking Octantis is a similar length.
What Are the Excursions Like on the Viking Polaris?
Aside from the gorgeous ship, the excursions might just be the best reason to sail on Viking Polaris. Depending on the weather, guests can book everything from their fleet of Military Pro zodiacs, kayaks, and even the large-capacity submarines with revolving seats and almost 270° spherical windows that offer views in all directions.
Pro-tip: Download the MyViking app and book excursions as early as possible to nab your top choice and make the most of your time on your Viking Polaris cruise.
Your Time on the Ship
The new expedition ships like the Viking Polaris have luxurious locations throughout the ship for your hours spent onboard. Polar itineraries can be active (which is why the guests skewed active), but there were plenty of options for recovering from each Viking expedition. In addition to your private veranda or Nordic balcony, the Viking Polaris offers tasteful locations like World Café, The Library, The Explorer's Lounge, and Aquavit Terrace.
The Bottom Line
The Viking Polaris was an incredibly luxurious way to visit a bucket-list destination and makes visiting remote destinations like Antarctica downright cozy. These Viking cruises stand out for their onboard science programming, spa, and outstanding service.
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