These New Viking Expedition Ships Will Sail Longitudinal World Cruises and to the Great Lakes — Submarine Excursions Included

A closer look at the new Viking Polaris and its sister ship, Octantis.

Aerial of the Viking Polaris docked in Amsterdam

Courtesy of Viking

“Go big or go home” isn’t the official Viking motto, but it sure feels like the company’s mantra. Long dominant in river cruising and now a major player (and Travel + Leisure World's Best Awards winner) in midsize-ship ocean cruising, the company has recently and definitively moved into a new market: expedition cruising. 

Twin expedition ships Octantis and Polaris just came online and offer sailings to Antarctica, coastal Canada, Patagonia and the Chilean fjords, as well as a few offbeat destinations, such as the Great Lakes. Itineraries start at eight days, but most are in the 12-24 day range, while a marathon longitudinal world cruise in 2023 visits nearly a dozen countries over 70 days

On deck lounge area on board the Viking Polaris

Elizabeth Heath

Pole Jumping

The ships join an increasingly crowded field of expedition vessels and occupy, for now, a unique slot in the small-ship industry. Each with room for 378 passengers in 189 cabins, Octantis and Polaris are at least twice as big as most other expedition ships, both in capacity and tonnage. That means they can carry more people, give them a smoother ride and get them there faster — to Antarctica, notably — while still offering the intimacy of an expedition-sized vessel. Their dimensions allow them to anchor in smaller, more remote ports and, moreover, meet a crucial International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) criterion that allows only ships with fewer than 500 people aboard to discharge passengers on the continent. 

The not large, yet not quite small, approach Viking brings to expedition cruising in 2022 is the same that it brought to ocean cruising in 2015 when it broke into that market with the 930-guest Viking Star. Now running seven ocean cruise ships, all with capacities of just under a thousand, the company has four more similarly sized vessels on order and several more in the works. 

From river to ocean to iceberg, Viking is nothing if not consistent. Its ships deliver the high-end experience that its passengers have come to expect — elevated without being stuffy. And the brand’s all-inclusive packaging keeps pricing transparent — the “no nickel and diming” promise, per Viking marketing. 

On deck plunge pools on board the Viking Polaris

Elizabeth Heath

Onboard the Polaris

We had a chance to preview Viking Polaris when it set sail from Amsterdam on Sept. 30, in celebration of Viking's 25th anniversary and the naming of Polaris and bound for South America and Antarctica. Polaris and Octantis are identical to one another and return Viking customers will recognize familiar color schemes and comforts from other ships, including the two-level Explorers' Lounge with wraparound glass walls that bring the outdoors in. The Nordic Spa features a delightfully warm — and delightfully empty at 8 a.m., when I popped in — indoor pool, as well as a sauna and steam room, an ice grotto, tranquil relaxation areas, and spa treatment rooms. 

Dining venues include Viking staples: the World Café is a multi-station buffet that feels remarkably removed from the buffet-line vibes of bigger ships and features a range of international fare, including a sushi station and a raw bar. Manfredi’s is the brand’s Tuscan-themed eatery set on the same deck as The Restaurant, the ship’s fine-dining venue. Another Viking favorite is Mamsen’s, the Norwegian comfort-food venue named for the company’s matriarch. 

Interior of the spa on board the Viking Polaris

Elizabeth Heath

Between larger common areas and restaurants are countless small nooks and sitting areas suited either to small groups looking to chat over drinks or individuals seeking to curl up with a cup of coffee and a good book.

As with its ocean cruises vessels, staterooms on Polaris are all ocean-view, with the smallest clocking in at 215 square feet. Most feature what Viking calls a “Nordic balcony” — a nearly floor-to-ceiling window that can be opened to let in the fresh air. Even the smallest cabins have a separate sitting area that’s outfitted with a cozy couch, perfect for watching the scenery go by. The four Explorer Suites have private walk-out balconies and access to a shared garden, while a single, ginormous (1,238 square feet) Owner’s Suite has an immense private garden with a wooden hot tub, plus a wine and music collection curated by Viking founder and chairman Torstein Hagen.

A library lounge common area on board the Viking Polaris

Elizabeth Heath

Interior of a stateroom on board the Viking Polaris

Elizabeth Heath

Those that have to make do with a standard cabin will find an extremely comfortable and well-planned space that makes use of every bit of square footage without feeling cramped. King-size beds, which can be converted into two twins, have a five-star hotel feel, and thoughtful touches like reading lights and USB plugs make the space all the more functional. Other hotel amenities include a complimentary mini-bar, a Nespresso machine, and a pitcher of water that’s replenished several times a day. Roomy bathrooms have heated floors — a nice touch, especially on a ship sailing to colder destinations — as well as ample shower space, Freya toiletries, and plenty of room to stash a Dopp kit or two. 

Set a course for adventure

As with other expedition cruise lines, the emphasis on Polaris is on up-close, outdoor learning, environmental awareness and cultural programs. A team of expedition staff, photographers, researchers, naturalists, and scientists of all stripes are there to help passengers get the most from their excursions, and an onboard laboratory allows interested guests to participate in citizen-scientist efforts.

The Viking Polaris and other Viking ships sailing through Amsterdam

Courtesy of Viking

That expedition piece is, of course, what sets Polaris and sister ship Octantis apart from the rest of the Viking fleet. And a large part of the ship is devoted to planning excursions and getting people off the ship and out onto the water, ice, or whatever adventure lay in store. An impressively huge hangar holds zodiac boats, kayaks, larger military-style zodiacs, and the coolest toys of them all, two six-person submarines. A dive on one of those yellow submarines — between the two ships, there are four subs, each named for a member of the Beatles — are included in cruise fares, which is not insignificant given that these are pricey add-ons with other carriers. 

A free submarine ride may or may not be enough to set Viking apart in a crowded sea of expedition cruises, but the company is betting that brand loyalty, coupled with its clientele’s itch to explore, will make for smooth sailing in this latest ambitious undertaking. 

In 2023, Polaris and Octantis will offer more than two dozen itineraries in North America, Central and South America, and Antarctica, including Undiscovered Great Lakes, an eight-day cruise from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Thunder Bay, Ontario. The 18-day Panama and Scenic South America cruise departs Fort Lauderdale and crosses the Panama Canal to end at Santiago, Chile. Antarctic itineraries range from the 13-day Antarctic Explorer to the 71-day Longitudinal World Cruise that begins in Milwaukee and winds up in Ushuaia, Argentina. 

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles