Viking’s first expedition ship Viking Octantis is taking adventure cruising to a new level with inquisitive passengers joining scientific research projects as well as exploring the planet in home-from-home comfort, writes Lesley Bellew
It’s one of those fantasy moments – Viking Octantis is sailing through turquoise waters into the glitzy Caribbean island of St Barts and the beautiful people on mega yachts are out on their sundecks watching us!
We give them a wave from our sleek new 378-guest expedition ship, with its distinctive sharp bow, as it moors in this billionaires’ playground where the likes of Paul McCartney, Leonardo DiCaprio and Beyoncé come to relax in the sunshine.
We are visiting this exclusive 10-square-mile French territory for a day during Viking Octantis’ repositioning cruise to the Great Lakes. After a maiden season in Antarctica, the ship is sailing around the Caribbean islands before a three-day Atlantic voyage to New York and then on to Canada for the summer.
There’s not a ship in sight that can match the £10-million worth of ‘toys’ we have in the ship’s marina, The Hangar, where special operations boats and Zodiacs can whizz down an 85-foot slipway straight into the sea – thereby setting the ship apart because guests with mobility concerns can still take a ride.
Two six-seater yellow submarines, named after John and Paul from The Beatles, are also part of the adventure kit, although a reasonable level of fitness is required to board the subs from a Zodiac.
Polar-Class Viking Octantis is a new breed of expedition ship (with sister Viking Polaris launching in November 2022). It’s not just a playground or platform to see polar wildlife, guests also get involved with serious research to help the planet.
In The Lab, passengers are hands-on, monitoring microplastics in water samples taken in Antarctica as onboard scientist Dr Brandi Revels inspires guests to learn more about our fragile Earth. Partnerships with the University of Cambridge, the Norwegian Institute of Water Research and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are just the start of this serious business.
The learning continues through lectures and briefings in The Aula, a beautiful theatre with 270-degree sea views, all in the comfort of cream leather seats with Scandi woollen blankets. The Aula leads out to the Finse Terrace where sofas set around lava rock firepits are a perfect space for watching wildlife or simply enjoying a drink under the stars.
The 17-strong expedition team make the journey particularly memorable by sharing their knowledge with natural enthusiasm and in The Hide, a cosy lounge literally hidden on Deck 1 forward, they happily regale stories of their adventures. while we enjoy a nightcap.
These unique learning opportunities sit alongside Viking’s signature home-from-home comforts for passengers aged over 18. The Aquavit Terrace, a spa, hydropool and gym are all there so the ship has a familiar look and feel to the river and ocean ships which salute Nordic heritage alongside modern design.
Dining also echoes Viking’s ocean ships with the World Café, Manfredi’s and the main restaurant serving fresh, healthy options through to five-course a la carte menus all within the cruise fare.
Viking Octantis is smaller than Viking Ocean ships, accommodating up to 378 passengers rather than 900, but the ship is light and airy with plenty of nooks and crannies, and shelves of library books in the lounges. Cabins differ only by having a Nordic balcony with floor-to-ceiling windows that lower half way with a flick of a switch and a warm air wardrobe for drying clothes in colder climes.
Passenger Pat Tate, from Rugby, is on her first cruise. After a series of cancelled holidays during the pandemic she opted for an adventure sailing on Viking Octantis. She said: “I had no idea what to expect, but the ship is beautiful and I love the learning and research side.
“Yesterday I was on the deck watching a weather balloon being sent up and then in the Expedition Centre watching the results come in that contribute to global forecasts, while the day before I was on birdwatching tour in the San Juan rainforest.
“The cabin is really comfortable, dining is exceptional and the crew are so friendly so I will definitely book a cruise every year.”
Eight-day Great Lakes Explorer features Milwaukee, Mackinac Island and Georgian Bay, Ontario. Prices from £6,495 per person in August 2022, including return flights to select UK airports, Nordic Balcony stateroom, all meals including wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, use of Viking expedition gear, wifi and watersports/tours from The Hangar. Book early prices from £5,495 pp based on May 2023 departure. Visit viking.com or call 0800 319 66 60.
Length: 665 feet
Beam: 77 feet
Class: Polar Class 6
Year built: 2022