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Dreaming of Antarctica? You'll soon have a new way to get there

Jan. 16, 2020
8 min read
Viking Octantis
Dreaming of Antarctica? You'll soon have a new way to get there
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It’s official: Viking is getting into expedition-style cruising to the world's most remote destinations.

The fast-growing cruise company late Wednesday announced it would begin voyages to such off-the-beaten-path destinations as Antarctica and the Arctic in 2022 on two new, polar-class expedition ships.

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To be called Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris, the new vessels will hold 378 passengers a piece and carry everything from Zodiac boats and kayaks to submarines for exploring. Viking Octantis will debut in January 2022 and initially sail in Antarctica and the Great Lakes. Viking Polaris will arrive in August 2022 and spend its first year in Antarctica and the Arctic.

The announcement has been widely expected since 2018, when expedition ship builder Vard revealed it had received an order for two vessels from Viking. At the time, Vard and Viking wouldn’t say what type of ships the vessels would be.

“Our guests are curious explorers,” Viking founder and chairman Torstein Hagen said while making the announcement. “They want to continue traveling with us to familiar and iconic destinations, but they would also like to travel further.”

Viking's new expedition ships will spend a significant part of the year sailing in Antarctica. Image courtesy of Viking.

The announcement is a significant development in the world of expedition cruising, a type of cruising that involves traveling to remote, hard-to-reach places on small, hardy vessels that carry their own landing craft. Viking is known for quickly becoming a major force in the niches of cruising that it enters.

Related: How to plan a cruise with points and miles

The announcement comes as Viking is in the midst of a massive expansion into upscale ocean cruising. The company has grown from one of the smallest players in the market to the biggest player in the market in just five years. Launched in 2015, Viking’s ocean division has quickly rolled out six 930-passenger ships. Six more are on order for delivery by 2025.

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Still, Viking is perhaps best known for its rapid takeover of the river cruise business over the past decade. The period saw it add more than 60 new river vessels. The line’s current fleet of 73 river ships accounts for about half of all river cruise capacity among lines catering to North Americans.

Viking will add another seven new river ships this year.

Expedition cruising is one of the hottest and fastest-growing segments of cruising, and it’s drawing a wide range of new players.

Luxury leader Crystal Cruises will unveil its first expedition ship later this year, and Seabourn Cruise Line’s first expedition ships will debut in 2021. Luxury purveyor Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours also just entered the space with its first expedition ship. Established expedition cruise operators such as Ponant, Hurtigruten, Lindblad Expeditions and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises are adding new expedition ships, too.

The new Viking expedition ships will have the same elegant Scandinavian design that’s found on the line’s new ocean ships, and quite a few onboard venues will be familiar to Viking fans. Its restaurants will include a version of Viking’s signature Italian restaurant, Manfredi’s, and the Scandinavian-inspired Mamsen’s outlet in addition to the main dining venue. Also familiar will be a top-of-the-ship, glass-walled Explorers’ Lounge promising stunning views of passing scenery.

There will be several new and unusual features, too. Most notable will be The Hangar, an enclosed marina that will allow passengers to transfer to small boats for exploring while still in the protected interior of the ship. It’s a first for an expedition cruise ship.

Viking's new expedition ships will have first-of-their-kind interior marinas where passengers can board inflatable boats for water touring. Image courtesy of Viking.

The ships also will have what just may be the most stunning lecture halls ever at sea. Located at the back of the vessels, the high-tech rooms will have sliding walls behind the lecturers that can open to reveal the surrounding scenery through floor-to-ceiling glass.

Viking said each of the ships would be staffed with an expedition team of more than 25 people including biologists, botanists, geologists, glaciologists, oceanographers, ornithologists and polar experts who will offer daily lectures on the places the ship visits. Such lectures are a big part of expedition cruising.

Viking also has partnered with the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology to bring leading researchers and educators on board the vessels. Each of the ships will have a dedicated research room with science equipment called The Laboratory where visiting scientists can work on research while on board. Passengers will have the chance to assist the visiting researchers in fieldwork during landings.

Lecture halls on Viking's new expedition ships will have walls that slide open to reveal stunning views through floor-to-ceiling glass. Image courtesy of Viking.

In a first for polar expedition cruise vessels, every cabin on Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris will have floor-to-ceiling glass walls that slide partially open from the top to create a balcony-like feel. Six categories of rooms will range from 222 to 1,223 square feet.

Related: What to pack for your first cruise — and what to leave at home

Each of the rooms will have a drying closet that circulates warm air to dry wet clothing after landings. On polar itineraries, passengers will be issued expedition kits with boots, binoculars and waterproof pants for use while on board as well as a Viking expedition jacket to keep. The ships also will carry trekking poles, snowshoes and skis for passenger use.

Floor-to-ceiling glass windows that slide open from the top will be a hallmark of cabins on Viking's new expedition ships. Image courtesy of Viking.

The submarines on board (each of the ships will have two) will be used for underwater exploring in remote locations. They’ll carry six passengers a piece. In addition to Zodiac boats for landings, both Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris also will sail with two 12-seat convertible rigid inflatable boats for waterborne touring.

Both of the ships will have ice-strengthened Polar Class 6 hulls, allowing for travel deep into the polar regions. They'll also have dynamic positioning systems that will enable them to hover over the seabed without anchoring.

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The vessels will cater to a well-heeled crowd with fares starting around $1,000 per day per person. Initial sailings include 12-night trips to Antarctica starting at $14,995 per person and 12-night trips in the Arctic starting at $13,395 per person. There line also plans a 43-night itinerary from the Arctic to Antarctica that starts at $33,995 per person.

Each of Viking's new expedition ships will have a two-level Explorer's Lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows. Image courtesy of Viking.

Of particular note is Viking’s plans to send Viking Octantis to the Great Lakes for the summer of 2022. The region traditionally has drawn very few cruise vessels.

In the Great Lakes, Viking plans seven-night itineraries between Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that take in the natural splendor of “the nation’s fourth sea coast” with stops in such places as the granite islands of Georgian Bay and the cliffs of Thunder Bay. Fares will start at $6,495 per person.

Fares include nearly all shore excursions; all onboard meals; beer and wine with lunch and dinner; and onboard Wi-Fi.

Voyages are available for booking as of today.

Featured image by An artist's drawing of Viking Octantis. (Image courtesy of Viking)