Viking recently launched the newest member of its fleet: the expedition ship Octantis. With its current itineraries focused on the Great Lakes and Antarctica, the gorgeous vessel seamlessly transitions between the serious science conducted on-board, and the high-end travel option Viking’s become recognized and lauded for during the past 25 years.
I recently had a chance to cruise on the Octantis, chat with Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen, and learn more about what makes this ship so special. Here are six quick takeaways from my time onboard:
1. It’s Smaller Than It Looks
Fans of Viking’s river cruises might be a bit intimidated at first by Octantis’s size. At 665 feet, with a beam of 77 feet, this is a long, slender ship, with a total of six decks and a range of different staterooms to accommodate 378 guests. While sturdy enough to cut and glide through arctic ice, she feels comfortable, accessible, and even cozy. I never felt lost, but always felt at home on the Octantis. Of course, the attention to detail shines as well.
“Luxury means so many things to different people,” Hagen explained. The Octantis, he said, “is not opulent, but elegant in its details.”
2. Serious Science Takes Place On The Octantis
It becomes very clear — very quickly — that Octantis was designed with scientific research in mind. The commitment wasn’t an after-thought, but rather baked into the ship’s very DNA. Viking has established collaborative partnerships with top universities, non-profit organizations, and government entities, allowing scientists to conduct research on board with the aim of sharing data to advance climate research and mitigation.
While on Octantis, I had the chance to tour the ship’s hangar, where a fleet of Zodiac inflatable boats, special operations boats, and even two submarines are stored. While guests get the chance to take excursions on each of these vessels, they are also essential to data collection in the Great Lakes and Antarctica. They are all deployed by the ship’s scientists in pursuit of valuable data to support projects including analysis of bird migration patterns, wildlife surveys, and even measuring the amount of microplastics in the water. The ship’s scientists also routinely release weather balloons to gather climate data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Octantis has a fully-equipped, onboard laboratory, and its resident and visiting scientists are eager to share their research and expertise with guests through talks and tours. The innovative, symbiotic connection between science and leisure is evident on Octantis, and it’s one accepted, appreciated, and celebrated by all on board.
“It allows for both comfort and scientific exploration,” said Hagen. “I have never seen a ship like this, ever. Our guests will have an interesting, meaningful experience onboard. We are certainly appealing to the curious, and we want to offer a superior product.”
3. It’s Loaded With Art And Culture
The Octantis is an expedition boat in the truest sense of the word, a vessel of opportunity for scientists and guests alike. However, when you’re ready to take a break from the action and adventure, rest assured there are plenty of opportunities to do just that. Like on other boats in its fleet, Viking took the time and care to curate an art collection that reminded me of a museum gallery at every turn.
Featuring mainly Norwegian artists, the works range widely, from watercolors and oils to inks, textiles, and even glass and wood sculptures. There is also a fascinating collection of archival photographs and artifacts documenting past Arctic expeditions (the dogs look particularly annoyed). Passengers who download the onboard app will find a guided tour that can be synced up with listening devices in each room. It’s a great way to really get to know the stories behind the gorgeous collection.
Another way to unwind and get a culture fix is to cozy up with a book from the ship’s extensive library. Each title here was also curated with both the itinerary and guest in mind, and there’s ample cozy space to enjoy these good reads, perhaps with a glass of wine or crafted cocktail, but always with a stellar view.
4. You Can Take A Snowbath – Really
Plan on running both hot and cold at the ship’s Nordic spa. Traditional treatments on offer (and included in your fare) will have you working up a warm glow in the sauna or herbal-scented steam room, then racing into the snow grotto or bucket shower for a refreshing and quick cool-down. Even the outside pools feature a cold plunge, a medium-moderate section, and then a bath-like temperature.
Guests are encouraged to alternate between all the options to get the maximum benefit, which includes detox, relaxation, and boosted circulation. Additional options at the spa include a hygge massage, where you receive a soothing session while lying on a heated sand table for maximum cocooning comfort; or the Nordic Restart treatment, which includes a cranberry body scrub, followed by a massage, topped off with a relaxing scalp ritual. This spa is top-notch, and you’ll want to take full advantage of it!
5. Every Palate Will Be Pleased
The Octantis offers elevated cuisine, no matter if it’s grab-and-go or a five-star sit-down dinner experience. The self-service World Café, where a majority of the ship’s seating is located, runs the gamut of meal choices. From made-to-order eggs and waffles in the morning and a whole range of entrees for lunch, they even offer sushi, custom-grilled meats, including lamb chops and ribeyes, and an assortment of pastas and other hearty dishes for dinner. Desserts are to die for here, too.
Mandfredi’s, a fine Italian dining experience, and The Restaurant, which serves fusion favorites, are open for dinner by reservation only. If you need a sweet or savory pick-me-up, Mamsen’s fits the bill for snacks nicely in between meals. And room service is also always available in your stateroom. There were a few mornings I took a quiet breakfast in my room, looking out at the lovely Great Lakes scenery. It was a wonderful way to start the day.
The bottom line is I was highly impressed by the meal offerings on the Octantis, and always felt well-fueled and ready for the next adventure.
6. Activities And Adventure Abound
Speaking of adventure, there’s plenty to go around on board the Octantis. Keep in mind both the Great Lakes and Antarctic expedition itineraries lean into the nature around them, and a bit less on offerings in each city or town along the way. While there was great sightseeing on Mackinaw Island, I spent my 3 days in Canada’s Georgian Bay, hiking, kayaking, and going out for scenic cruises on the aforementioned Octantis scientific vehicles. The hikes were challenging, there were the expected black flies and other summer bugs, and several activities were canceled due to high winds. It didn’t matter, though. The sum of the experiences was so rich, I found it completely worth the extra few challenges encountered along the way.
The Octantis is unlike any other cruise ship I’ve been on before. The clear onboard commitment to science, data gathering, exploration, and education made me feel less on vacation and more on an adventure. The chance to engage with science in a thoughtful way — along with the great excursions and Viking’s impeccable attention to detail and comfort — make her a winner. I look forward to seeing how the data gathered from Octantis, and her soon-to-be commissioned sister ship Polaris, will help increase overall understanding of our natural, wondrous world.
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