Article Published: Sunday, January 19, 2020
Viking announced the expansion of its travel experiences with the launch of new expedition voyages. Viking Expeditions will begin sailing in January 2022 with its first vessel, Viking Octantis, embarking on voyages to Antarctica and North America's Great Lakes. A second expedition vessel, Viking Polaris, will debut in August 2022, sailing to Antarctica and the Arctic.
Viking's arrival to the Great Lakes will mark a commitment to local tourism and economic development for the states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as the Canadian province of Ontario. As part of an exclusive preview, past Viking guests have been able to book select Viking Expeditions polar itineraries since October 9, 2019. Starting January 15, all expedition voyages – including the new Great Lakes itineraries – are available to the public for booking.
To develop the new expedition voyages, Viking has partnered with scientific institutions. The lead partner is the University of Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute. This relationship is underpinned by a major Viking endowment for scientific research into the polar regions, The Viking Chair of Polar Marine Geoscience, a Cambridge University full professorship based at the Scott Polar Research Institute, as well as a sponsorship fund supporting the Institute's graduate students. As part of this endowment, the Institute's scientists will undertake fieldwork on board Viking's expedition vessels and join voyages to share their expertise with guests.
Viking has also partnered with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a globally recognized bird research facility, whose ornithologists will regularly be on board the expedition ships, providing guest advice and interaction. Additionally, Viking has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), whose scientists will join expeditions in the Great Lakes to conduct research focused on changes in the region's weather, climate and ecosystems. NOAA scientists may also offer lectures about the Great Lakes' unique environment to Viking guests during these voyages.
Details of Viking's plans were unveiled by Chairman Torstein Hagen during a celebratory launch event that we were invited to in Beverly Hills, California. Hagen also announced that famed adventurers and educators Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft will be honored as ceremonial godmothers to Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris, respectively. Arnesen, a native Norwegian, became the first woman in the world to ski solo and unsupported to the South Pole in 1994. Bancroft is the first woman to successfully ski to both poles. Arnesen and Bancroft also became the first women to ski across Antarctica in 2001. Together they co-founded Bancroft Arnesen Explore/Access Water, an initiative that aims to engage and empower more than 60 million minds to create a sustainable tomorrow. Arnesen will also periodically serve as a member of the Viking Expedition Team.
During this event, attendees were treated to a performance by Sissel Kyrkjebø, one of the world's leading crossover sopranos and ceremonial godmother to Viking Jupiter, the newest ship in Viking's ocean fleet. Before her performance, Sissel officially "named" Viking Jupiter as the ship sailed between the Falkland Islands and Cape Horn. As part of the naming, Sissel offered a blessing of good fortune and safe sailing for the ship – a naval tradition that dates back thousands of years – and then instructed crew members currently on the ship to break a bottle of Norwegian aquavit on the ship's hull.
In the last eight years alone, Viking has introduced more than 60 new river cruise ships and six ocean cruise ships to become the largest combination ocean/river cruise company with a current fleet of 79 river and ocean vessels around the world. In 2020, Viking will launch seven new river ships. Six more ocean sister ships are on order, with options for four additional ships. These options could bring Viking's total ocean fleet to 16 ships by 2027.
The new Polar Class 6 Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris will host 378 guests in 189 staterooms; both ships are currently under construction and will be delivered in Norway by Fincantieri's VARD. Designed by the same experienced nautical architects and engineers that designed Viking ocean ships, the ships are sized and built for expeditions – small enough to navigate remote polar regions and the St. Lawrence River, while large enough to provide superior handling and stability in rough seas.
The ships will feature public spaces that are familiar to Viking's ocean cruise guests but that have been reimagined for expeditions, as well as new public spaces created specifically for expeditions. Straight bows, longer hulls and fin stabilizers will allow the ships to glide over the waves; ice-strengthened Polar Class 6 hulls will provide a safe way to explore; and U-tank stabilizers will significantly decrease rolling by up to 50 percent when the ships are stationary. Highlights on board include:
The Hangar brings comfort to expedition cruising. This enclosed, in-ship marina permits the launch of small excursion craft through the ship's multiple shell doors.
The Hangar's most innovative feature is an 85-foot slipway that allows guests to embark on RIBs from a flat, stable surface inside the ship, shielded from wind and waves. There is also a FerryBox, a set of instruments continuously collecting and displaying data on water quality, oxygen content, plankton composition and more.
Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris, while hosting guests, will also be working research vessels with an onboard team of Viking Resident Scientists working on a variety of studies. Developed in consultation with Cambridge University and Viking's other academic partners, The Laboratory, at 430 square feet, is designed to support a broad range of research activities and is equipped with wet and dry laboratory facilities, a sample processing area, fume cupboard, freezer and cool storage, comprehensive microscope optics and extensive bench space for analysis-specific instruments. Guests will have supervised access to The Laboratory, which is located in a glass-enclosed mezzanine above The Hangar, to learn from and participate with scientists undertaking primary research.
Viking will offer a variety of ways for guests to experience their destination, according to their interests and activity level, at no extra charge. With a program of complimentary experiences, expedition equipment available for guests on Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris will include a fleet of military pro Zodiacs designed for professional use in the harshest of environments; a fleet of two-seater Arctic-tested kayaks; and two 12-seater convertible RIBs.
Each ship will also feature two six-guest submarines that feature revolving seats and 270-degree spherical windows for an incomparable undersea experience. Everything guests need will be provided: a Viking Expedition Kit will contain items like boots, binoculars and waterproof pants; each excursion will carry a full range of Safety Equipment, such as satellite phones, VHF radios, ropes, life jackets and a comprehensive shore survival kit; and all guests will receive complimentary use of Viking Excursion Gear, which includes specialty items like trekking poles, snowshoes and skis.
Inspired by the University of Oslo's famed ceremonial hall where the Nobel Peace Prize was historically awarded, The Aula, a panoramic auditorium at the stern, will offer a dynamic venue for lectures and entertainment, with floor-to-ceiling windows and 270-degree views.
Adjacent to The Aula through sliding glass walls is the Finse Terrace, an outdoor lounge area with comfortable couches and warming lava rock "firepits" – perfect for panoramic views of the surroundings.
Together the two spaces can be combined to create an indoor-outdoor al fresco experience for guests to be immersed in nature.
All staterooms on board Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris feature a Nordic Balcony, a sunroom that converts into an al fresco viewing platform. Harnessing the Norwegian reverence for light and to create the optimal wildlife observatory at sea, the Nordic Balcony's floor-to-ceiling, distortion-free glass at the very edge of the ship lets guests take the views in while keeping the elements out.
Should guests wish to feel even closer to nature, the top of the panoramic glass lowers to transform the stateroom into a sheltered lookout, with an observation shelf at elbow level to stabilize binoculars or a camera. Guests can choose from six stateroom categories that range from 222 square to 1,223 square feet: Nordic Balcony, Deluxe Nordic Balcony, Nordic Penthouse, Nordic Junior Suite, Explorer Suite and Owner's Suite. All staterooms feature a Nordic Balcony, as well as a king-size bed and large bathroom with spacious glass-enclosed shower, heated bathroom floor and anti-fog mirror. Every stateroom is also equipped with a floor-to-ceiling drying closet that circulates warm air to dry and store clothing and expedition gear.
Nordic Junior Suites (322 square feet) and Explorer Suites (580 square feet) on Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris rival those on Viking's fleet of ocean ships, with wood detailing and amenities that include additional storage and seating, an expanded bathroom with extended shower and double sinks, welcome champagne, a fully-stocked mini-bar replenished daily, complimentary laundry and shoeshine services, priority restaurant reservations and more. Explorer Suites feature two separate rooms, a Nordic Balcony and a full outdoor veranda. Additionally, each ship features one Owner's Suite, which at 1,223 square feet, is twice the size of the Explorer Suites. With the most exclusive accommodations and amenities on board, it features two separate rooms – a living room with six-seat dining table and a bedroom – as well as a 792 square feet private garden with a traditional Norwegian badestamp (wood-sided hot tub) and outdoor dining table.
Located at the stern and featuring a retractable glass dome, this indoor-outdoor heated sanctuary will allow guests to be surrounded by their destination as they swim and lounge in three different temperature-controlled pools, including an "inside-out" swimming experience.
In keeping with Viking's Nordic heritage, The Nordic Spa on board is designed with the holistic wellness philosophy of Scandinavia in mind – with a thermal suite that features a Sauna, Snow Grotto and chaise lounges, as well as a warm hydrotherapy pool and badestamp (hot tub), surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows. A Fitness Center will also provide the latest equipment and workout gear.
Similar to Viking's ocean ships, Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris have a two-deck Explorers' Lounge at the bow of the ship, offering a spot for taking in scenery through double-height windows over a mug of mulled wine or glass of Norwegian aquavit.
Viking's expedition ships will offer an array of dining options that build on the venues from Viking's ocean ships, but which have been redesigned for expeditions.
The Restaurant will offer fine dining featuring regional cuisine and always-available classics; the casual World Café will be a new "market" concept that offers live cooking, an open kitchen, bakery, grill and seafood and sushi choices, as well as a wide range of international flavors; Mamsen's, named for "Mamsen," the Hagen family matriarch, serves Scandinavian-inspired fare; Manfredi's offers Italian cuisine; and 24-hour room service will be complimentary for all guests.
Connecting guests to their destinations through experiences is central to Viking creating "the thinking person's expedition." As part of that commitment to destination-focused learning, Viking's partnerships with the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology will match leading researchers and educators with each expedition.
The onboard expedition program is designed to prepare guests for their onshore experiences, with more than 25 experts accompanying each journey – the Viking Expedition Team (expedition leader and staff, photographer and submarine pilots) and Viking Resident Scientists (biologists, botanists, geologists, glaciologists, oceanographers, ornithologists, polar experts and researchers).
On board, guests will enjoy daily briefings and world-class lectures about their destination – and engage with working scientists from academic institutions in The Laboratory or participate directly in citizen science programs. On shore, guests can assist in fieldwork or interact through experiential activities during landings – such as monitoring birds to help identify migratory patterns; accompanying scientists to collect samples; or taking their cameras ashore alongside a professional photographer to learn how to capture scenic landscapes.
Compliant to all guidelines and regulatory requirements from AECO, IAATO, the Antarctic Treaty System and the Governor of Svalbard, Viking's expedition ships minimize environmental impact and meet the most stringent emissions and biosecurity standards. Additionally, the straight bow reduces fuel consumption, and a dynamic positioning system enables the ship to hover over the seabed without anchoring.
Every Viking Expeditions cruise fare includes a Nordic Balcony stateroom or suite, virtually all shore excursions, all onboard meals, and all port charges and government taxes. Just as with Viking's ocean cruises, guests will also enjoy many complimentary amenities as part of their fare, including beer and wine with lunch and dinner service; premium dining reservations; lectures; Wi-Fi; self-service laundry; access to The Nordic Spa; and 24-hour room service.
As part of their fare, Viking Expeditions guests will also receive charter flights for hard-to-reach locales and the use of Viking Expedition Gear specialty equipment for land and sea excursions. On polar itineraries, guests also receive their own Viking Expedition Kit, which includes everything needed to be comfortable – as well as a Viking Expeditions Jacket to keep.
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