Viking’s New Expedition Ships
Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris Expected to Enter Into Service 2022
Viking Cruise line founder and chairman Torstein Hagen has announced the building of two expedition ships designed for the luxurious exploration of not only the Antarctic and Arctic regions, but also North America’s Great Lakes.
After dominating river cruising for over 20 years, then making a spectacularly successful entry into top-end, small-ship ocean cruising, Viking revealed its latest focus: expedition cruises in two new custom-designed Polar Class 6 ships.
Viking Octantis will enter service in January 2022, with sailings to Antarctica and through the Great Lakes.
It will be followed in August that year by Viking Polaris, which will be exploring both polar regions.
As an indication of the loyalty of Viking repeat cruisers and their trust in the company, all six Antarctic cruises for the first season sold out rapidly after the company released only the most basic of cruise details to them, ahead of the public announcement.
The ship design conforms to the company’s Scandinavian signature of light, airy spaces with blond wood and clean lines, as well as introducing innovations intended to make sailing through sometimes challenging waters as comfortable as possible. Most noticeable is the upright prow which, in combination with a longer hull and fin stabilisers, Viking claims will provide superior stability in rough seas.
A new development, the U-tank, is designed to increase the ship’s stability by as much as 50 per cent, when it is stationary.
Also innovative is the drive-on system allowing rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) and zodiacs to be boarded within the ship and then eased down a slipway into the water, thus avoiding the difficulties of getting passengers into sometimes alarmingly bouncing boats. The RIBs, enclosed and self-contained, will enable longer explorations away from the ship than is possible in the open zodiacs.
Even more adventurous, the ships will be equipped with two yellow submarines, each capable of taking six passengers plus the pilot. As well as providing a unique – and included, for no extra fee – experience for guests, the submersibles will allow for invaluable exploration of depths that have formerly been out of reach.
Scientific research will be an important part of ship life. On board is a laboratory where scientists attached to
Cambridge University will be conducting fieldwork that guests will be able to observe up close. Specialists from the Cornel Lab of Ornithology will also be on board to share their bird-watching expertise with guests, as will weather-focused scientists at the Great Lakes.
They will deliver lectures and accompany excursions ashore, for which guests will be provided with cold-weather clothing and equipment such as boots, trekking poles and skis.
Sustainability is a concept to which Hagen is determined Viking will pay more than lip-service. He has rejected the use of LPG as a fuel, which he maintains is more damaging to the environment than carbon, and is currently committed to the use of marine gas oil, while believing that hydrogen is the fuel of the future
The style and comfort to which Viking’s many repeat guests have become accustomed have been incorporated into the expedition ships, along with some striking new features.
One is the provision of that Scandinavian favourite, the fire-pit, here made possible by using hot lava rocks to get around the standard prohibition on naked flames; and another is the tiered auditorium, where the screens retract to reveal full-length windows, allowing for a spectacular, panoramic view of the surroundings.
This idea is continued in the guest suites, where the floor-to-ceiling window gives an unimpeded view outside, and also slides down to form a waist-high balcony, enabling no-barriers appreciation of the outdoors. There has been no compromise on comfort in the rooms: “I think no-one should have to rough it on an expedition ship,” Hagen said.
The public areas are equally comfortable, with all the restaurants and lounges found on Viking’s ocean cruisers.
There is a gym, a complimentary spa, and a thermal suite with – if guests didn’t get enough of it while ashore – a snow grotto for cooling off after the sauna and before a dip in the hot pool. There is a set of heated pools on deck, under a retractable glass dome.
Viking’s usual system applies on the expedition ships, with most things included, such as beer and wine with meals, no gambling, and no-one under 18 – “People might like their own grandchildren, but they don’t like other people’s”.
Viking will be cruising the Great Lakes, which was a neglected destination that would be of great interest to the 80 per cent of the company’s customers who are American.