I recently had the opportunity to set sail aboard the Viking Octantis, the first of two new expedition ships the luxury cruise line is adding to its fleet this year. Octantis and its sister ship, Polaris, were specifically designed to combine leisure travel and scientific pursuit in both the Great Lakes region and Antarctica.
What I found was a wondrous mash-up of the excellent onboard experience the line’s become known for during the last quarter-century and state-of-the-art spaces focused on data collection, analysis, and scientific support for its onboard researchers. It’s a winning combination — with some incredible itineraries — that’s destinated to delight nearly every adventurer.
Here are 11 fantastic onboard experiences you should have during your adventure on Viking’s new expedition ships.
1. Channel Your Inner Science Guy (Or Gal!)
The Octantis was built specifically with science in mind, and this fact is evident as soon as you start to explore the ship’s lower decks. Here, you’ll find a fully operational laboratory, where the ship’s onboard resident researchers analyze water samples for micro-plastics, document migratory patterns of birds, and help organize weather balloon launches in partnership with NOAA. Octantis guests are encouraged to take part in lab demonstrations which bring them into the fold and further connect them with the research going on onboard. There’s an Explorer Suite, where guests can learn about specimens — flora, fauna, and mineral — found in and around the itinerary’s sailing route. And I especially loved the life-like, life-sized felt models of migratory birds we were likely to see during our cruise.
Then there’s the matter of all the toys. Octantis is outfitted with two small submarines, special ops boats, and a fleet of inflatable Zodiac watercraft, all designed to get scientists into the middle of the action. All of this incredible equipment is stored in the ship’s expansive hold, and what’s more, guests can also come aboard these craft for special sailings.
If you’ve ever been curious about science, our environment, and how data collection will help protect it, you’ll want to take full advantage of all the science onboard!
2. Attend A Lecture
If you find yourself overbooked on excursions and not able to attend an in-house lab or a sub sailing, but still want to work in a dose of science, no worries! Most evenings onboard, Octantis’s resident scientists gave a series of lectures inside the Aula, the ship’s beautiful auditorium. With its fully-retractable window panels emblazoned with famous works from Edvard Munch, the Aula is the perfect venue for fascinating presentations from Octantis scientists who explain their work, research, and findings in an approachable, relatable way. While these talks are educational, they are also highly enjoyable, and a great way to learn more about what will be learned onboard the Octantis now and over time.
3. Settle In With A Great Read
If you’re ready for a wind-down after all that adventure, fear not. The Octantis has a large, lovingly curated library that all guests are encouraged to check out, quite literally. Many of the books are focused on adventure, exploration, and wilderness, which makes them especially topical given the Octantis’s sailings and scientific focus. I picked up a couple during my week-long stay, and they were the perfect addition to my stateroom’s nightstand.
Another bonus: Many guests will tuck newspaper clippings or little post-it notes inside the ship’s books. I was lucky enough to find one, and it made my read all the more special!
4. Take An Art Tour
I’m a bit of a culture vulture when I go on vacation. The more museums, the better, as far as I’m concerned. And I’m always all in for a city’s art offerings.
While Octantis’s ports of call on my voyage featured more outdoor activities than those focused on culture or history, I was delighted to see that the ship’s attention to detail also extended to its onboard art collection. Various works in a variety of mediums were on display in nearly every hallway, open space, and corridor. Most come from Norwegian artists, and all pay homage to the Great Lakes and Antarctic regions Octantis was built to explore. What’s more, in each stateroom you’ll find small listening devices similar to those you’d use on a self-guided museum tour, and that’s precisely how you can use them on the ship. Each piece of art has a corresponding number, and you’ll learn much more about each one during a tour you can customize according to your time and interest.
5. Get Snowy At The Spa
The Nordic Spa, located on the ship’s second level, offers a whole host of treatment rooms that are free for all guests to access at any time. There’s a small pool overlooking the water, heated loungers, a sauna, a steam room, a bucket shower filled with — shall we say brisk? — water and then the piece de resistance, the snow grotto. After warming up, you step into the snow and let the flakes fall. It’s an experience designed to rejuvenate tired muscles and boost energy, and I had a great time trying it out.
Of course, the spa staff also offers a whole host of additional treatments including facials, massages, and other body treatments for an additional. I had the chance to try a couple out, and highly recommend them as well!
6. Sample World Cuisine
I cannot say enough about the food offerings onboard Octantis! There are two specialty spots: Manfredi’s, featuring delicious Italian cuisine, and The Restaurant, with fusion haute cuisine offerings. The World Café — open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — has a wide array of self-serve items as well as those cooked to order; the sushi here was sublime! And if you’re hankering for a snack or sweet treat in the middle of the day, Mamsen’s has you covered. This small café focuses on Nordic favorites including tea, cakes, and of course, waffles with berries and cream.
Trust me, on board the Octantis, you’ll fuel up quite well for all of your adventures during your sailing. My palate was quite pleased!
7. Take In The Scenery From Your Nordic Balcony
Sometimes, the most beautiful moments on vacation are the most quiet, peaceful, and still. Each morning after a workout, I opted for a room-service breakfast so I could nosh and sip my coffee from my stateroom’s sitting area. I’d lower the floor-to-ceiling window (or what Viking calls a “Nordic balcony”) overlooking the water, listen to the waves and just enjoy the scenery. Take the time to do this at least once while you’re onboard. You won’t regret it.
8. Polar Plunge In The Splash Pools
Octantis celebrates its Norwegian roots by embracing the hot-cold experienced described in the above section about the Nordic Spa. You can also incorporate this practice into an infinity pool plunge toward the rear of the ship. Here, you will find separate splash areas — cold, medium, and hot. Again, guests are encouraged to alternate between the three to get the full body benefit. Make sure you bring a robe so you can sit out on the lovely nearby Acquvit Terrace afterward!
9. Find A Cozy Nook
Sometimes after a long day of exploring, adventuring, hiking, and kayaking, you just want to relax and unwind in a cozy, quiet setting… but you might not be ready to return to your stateroom. In the ship’s main shared spaces, there are plenty of nooks just waiting to be discovered.
Octantis’s color scheme is elegant and neutral, with luxurious touches including comfortable blankets slung over armchairs, plush loveseats, “fireplaces” that give off a gorgeous glow thanks to water vapors instead of flames, and of course, those floor-to-ceiling windows revealing jaw-dropping views of the water. Many of these areas include table service, or you can simply grab a drink and meander your way over. These areas have a relaxed, serene feel, and I loved discovering them during my time onboard.
10. Have A Sip At The Hide
Octantis’s late-night speakeasy is called The Hide for a reason. You don’t have to know the secret knock, per se, but you do have to know how to get there. (It’s a bit of a mystery, and you might have to ask for help!) This tucked-away nook offers fine liquors and ports, as well as floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s a great place to meet up after dinner, with more than a hint of mystery about it. I loved visiting for a nightcap before heading off to bed each evening.
11. Make New Friends
Last but certainly not least, I found it delightfully easy to strike up conversations and make new friends with the other guests onboard Octantis. There’s no assigned seating for meals or any sort of “forced fun” activities, but you’ll find ample opportunity to get to know your fellow passengers. Viking attracts a certain type of traveler: I found everyone on board to be curious about the science taking place on the ship and appreciative of the natural beauty at each port of call and during each excursion. By the end of the voyage, I’d made lasting connections, not to mention enduring memories.