By John Wogan
January 15, 2020

Viking Cruises has just announced the launch of Viking Expeditions, an exciting new chapter in the company’s history. This new arm of the ever-expanding brand will focus on small-ship trips to Antarctica and the Great Lakes of North America.

Viking Cruises Expedition Ship pools on deck
Credit: Courtesy of Viking Cruises

Viking will begin these voyages in January 2022 with the Viking Octantis, a Polar Class 6 vessel with 189 staterooms and designed by the same team as its award-winning ocean ships. The Octantis will be followed by a second ship, Viking Polaris, in August 2022. Both vessels will be small enough to make their way through narrow waterways like the St. Lawrence River in Canada but large enough to handle the open seas. Eventually, they’ll offer sailings through Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, along the coast of Brazil, and island hopping around the Caribbean.

Viking Cruises Expedition Ship hangar
Credit: Courtesy of Viking Cruises
Viking Cruises Expedition Ship
Credit: Courtesy of Viking Cruises

“Our guests are curious explorers,” said Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking, at a launch event held Wednesday night at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. “Now, in creating ‘the thinking person’s expedition,’ we are perfecting polar expedition cruising, and we will usher in a new era of comfortable exploration in the heart of North America.”

This is Viking’s first foray into the Great Lakes region, and the announcement came with a commitment to bolster tourism and economic development in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. (The Great Lakes, incidentally, are having a moment. T+L chose them as one of our 50 Best Places to Travel in 2020, as more high-end cruise lines, including French company Ponant, are entering the region.) As for experiences guests should expect on board, Viking has created an exclusive partnership with the Cambridge University-based Scott Polar Research Institute and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (a leading bird research facility), which will match top researchers with each sailing, so guests will be fully prepped for their shore excursions. 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.

Viking Cruises Expedition Ship terrace deck
Credit: Courtesy of Viking Cruises

The line’s own 25 person-strong Expedition Team will also join every voyage. These experts, from biologists to botanists, geologists to glaciologists, as well as submarine pilots and photographers, with host daily lectures and briefings. On shore, guests have the chance to assist in field work, which might mean tracking migratory patterns of penguins, or trek with scientists as they collect various samples of flora and fauna. And while both ships are designed for challenging conditions, the on board experience is a different world, with six restaurants, a spa, sauna, and The Aula—an auditorium with floor-to-ceiling windows and 270-degree views and will act as the central educational hub.

Viking Cruises Expedition Ship lounge
Credit: Courtesy of Viking Cruises
Viking Cruises Expedition Ship living room
Credit: Courtesy of Viking Cruises

Expedition cruising wasn’t the only topic of conversation at the launch event. After a performance by Sissel Kyrkjebø, one of the world’s leading sopranos, she officially named the newest ship in Viking’s ocean fleet, the Viking Jupiter. And it all happened live via satellite, as the ship sailed between the Falkland Islands and Cape Horn, off the southern tip of Chile. Talk about an expedition.

Viking Cruises Expedition Ship Junior Suite with views of glaciers
Credit: Courtesy of Viking Cruises