“I even hate to use the term ‘cruise ship’ to describe this vessel because it’s so different from any other ship,” Viking Founder and Chairman Torstein Hagen told a small group of journalists invited to tour the cruise line’s first expedition vessel, Viking Octantis.
“I used to say that Viking cruises were designed for people just like me. That was 25 years ago when I was 55, but the statement still holds today,” he said.
The enthusiastic and innovative Norwegian businessman, first trained as a physicist, was aboard Viking Octantis, when the ship made an overnight stop at Pier 88 in Manhattan this week, part of its inaugural voyage to the Great Lakes.
A traditional naming ceremony had been planned long in advance of the New York stop. And Hagen was to have been joined by the new ship’s godmother, Liv Arnesen, the educator and explorer who was the first woman to ski solo to the South Pole. But the traditional celebratory activities associated with a ship christening were overshadowed and postponed by the conflict in Ukraine.
Viking Octantis: Purpose-built for expedition cruising
This new Polar Class 6 expedition vessel is a product of Hagen’s visionary leadership as well as a testament to his moxie. Although the occasion was low-key, the excitement of the first guests, visitors, and crew on board was palpable.
He noted that adding these ships to the fleet will allow it to transport guests to all seven continents, filling the “white spot” he felt was missing. He explained that the new ships are designed and engineered to be as large and stable as possible with a “big belly” to assure passenger and crew safety and comfort when sailing in remote polar destinations and inland canals.
Viking Octantis is 665 feet long with a 77-foot beam and six passenger decks. The ship is able to host 378 guests in 189 double-occupancy staterooms; no staterooms are specifically designed for solo travelers.
One thing all three classes of Viking ships (the Longship river vessels, ocean-going ships, and now the first of two expedition ships) have in common is the breed of passengers they attract. Viking has developed a fiercely loyal base of repeat passengers who tend to be older, and in search of education and enrichment as opposed to entertainment. They are travelers seeking immersive, destination-focused trips that allow them to experience nature and different cultures up close.
Like the sea and ocean-going vessels, the luxury expedition ships are also adult-only. They, too, tend to self-select passengers on the basis of what they do not offer: smoke-filled casinos, glitzy production shows, formal nights, butlers, art auctions, water slides, and photography sales.
An inside peek at Viking Octantis
Many elements of the design and decor of the expedition vessel will be familiar to those who have previously sailed on Viking’s ocean and river ships: a feeling of spaciousness; an inviting midship atrium; clean, contemporary Scandinavian design, decor, and furnishings; a relaxing, neutral color palette accented with nautical blue in well-appointed staterooms; and light-filled conversation areas in lounges and living room areas (as opposed to large, impersonal spaces) that always appear uncrowded.
The dining and bar options on the expedition ships also mimic those of their forebears. These include The Restaurant, serving regional and Scandinavian dishes; Manfredi’s, an elegant Italian eatery; The World Cafe, a food hall-like setting offering a wide of international cuisine, with a popular seafood and sushi bar; and Mamsen’s, serving light fare and snacks (an ode to Hagen’s Norwegian mother).
A distinct emphasis on science and the environment
Apart from the nature-laden itineraries that transport guests to Antarctica, the Arctic, and the Great Lakes and Canada, the ship combines many aspects of a natural history museum with that of a working science laboratory.
Upon boarding, passengers are met by a display of sculptural reproductions of indigenous birds, made of felt and sized to scale. The ornithological exhibit changes as the ship sails to different environs. The artifacts and decor of some public spaces give them the semblance of classrooms. Oversize eye-catching photos and illustrations of wildlife, explorers, and scientists line the hallways.
With a 36-person Viking Expedition Team on each journey, passengers have the opportunity to interact with, converse, and work beside bench scientists across various settings on the ship. The team includes an expedition leader, photographer, field research scientists, general naturalists, mountain guides, kayak guides, submarine pilots, and other specialists and support staff. The cruise line also has working partnerships with the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
A first among expedition ships, each vessel has a protected in-ship marina (called The Hangar), with an 85-foot slipway that makes it easy for guests to embark and disembark Special Operations Boats from a flat, stable surface inside the ship shielded from wind and waves. The expedition fleet also includes kayaks, Zodiacs, and two six-seat, piloted submarines with 270° spherical windows.
Life onboard Viking Octantis
Don’t be mistaken — There is no shortage of creature comforts on Viking Octantis and complimentary wine and beer flow freely.
All six categories of staterooms and suites have Nordic balconies with retractable windows that serve as in-room alfresco observation platforms. The expedition ship also has a Nordic spa with saunas, a snow grotto, hydrotherapy pool, and massage rooms; a fitness center; a heated indoor-outdoor swimming area with a retractable dome; a full-service beauty salon, panoramic lounge areas, and more.
But these guests are just as likely to gravitate to The Aula Auditorium, named after the ceremonial hall at the University of Oslo that was once a venue for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. With floor-to-ceiling views and a 4K laser-projected screen, lectures, briefings, and films that ground and round out their adventures are hosted here.
With these new vessels, Viking hopes to raise the bar for sustainable travel and energy efficiency with an integrated bow system creating a longer waterline, engines with heat recovery systems, and electric propulsion designed to minimize underwater noise pollution. The line also holds the distinction of being the first to have full-scale, onboard PCR laboratories for frequent non-invasive saliva PCR testing of all guests and crew, as well as air purification systems designed to mitigate the spread of viruses.
And more to come
Polaris, the sister ship to Viking Octantis, is expected to launch in August 2022, with journeys to Antarctica and The Arctic and to the Great Lakes starting in 2023. This will mark yet another auspicious milestone for the 25-year-old company that’s carved a unique niche in the cruise industry.