Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris will explore polar regions - and the Great Lakes. Viking Expeditions

River, Ocean, And Now — Viking Expeditions!

On January 16, less than two weeks after the glittering Golden Globes took place at the historic Beverly Hills Hilton, the hotel’s spotlight was shining on another award winner: Viking Cruises.

Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen, while no Ricky Gervais (thank God), hosted an evening that was a dazzling combination of big announcements, superb entertainment, and even a ship naming!

The festivities began with a lavish cocktail hour in the Wilshire Garden and a buffet brimming with a vast selection of delectable seafood and caviar. The space’s décor included a massive replica of the Viking ship that is the line’s symbol, complete with a dishy Viking who cheerfully posed with the travel professionals and media in attendance.

A dishy Viking greeted the media with his ax. | Photo: Judi Cuervo

The Viking Evolution

Later, at the hotel’s International Ballroom, the charming Hagen kicked off the evening’s presentations by taking us on a journey through the history of Viking Cruises and its extraordinary evolution: From its launch in 1997, single-handedly creating the modern river cruise industry, through today, when we find the Viking logo upon 72 riverboats and six ocean ships (with six more under construction and four more in the planning stages) which, combined, attract more than 500,000 guests each year.  

Amazingly, in 2015, the first year of Viking’s ocean operation, it was voted the best small-ship cruise line by a number of prestigious travel publications and websites. The largely inclusive Viking (complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, at least one complimentary shore excursion at each port, free wi-fi and no restaurant surcharges) continues to hold that top spot through a commitment to “elegant simplicity,” a calm and quiet onboard ambiance that is destination-focused with an emphasis on enrichment … and no casino!

Life On Board the New Viking Ship 

Your Viking shipmates will likely be well-educated, well-to-do English speakers with an interest in history, science, culture, and music. Your ocean-going ship will carry 930 guests. No matter which ship you sail, the design will be identical, a concept that Hagen believes will allow repeat passengers to feel at home no matter which ship they’re on. Water parks and pool slides? You won’t find them, or the children that tend to use them, here — a guest must be a minimum of 18 years old to sail the award-winning line because, as Hagen points out, “Guests love their grandchildren, but not other people’s grandchildren.”

RELATED: Celestial Sailing on Viking Orion

Viking Jupiter Naming Ceremony … in L.A.!

Viking Jupiter may have been sailing since February 2019, but her official naming and godmother blessing took place at The Beverly Hills Hotel in January 2020. With the assistance of that gorgeous Viking, Norwegian soprano Sissel Kyrkjebo (who would later entertain us with her magical singing voice) wielded an ax — the symbol for power and success in the Viking age — to remotely name and bless the vessel, while many miles away Viking Jupiter’s Captain Erik smashed a bottle of Champagne against the ship’s hull as she sailed toward Cape Horn, Chile.

Introducing Viking Expeditions … the Ends of the Earth!

Viking will welcome two expedition ships in 2020, Viking Octantis (January 2020) and Viking Polaris (August 2020).

Viking will welcome two expedition ships this year. | Photo: Viking Cruises

Riverboats … ocean ships … and, beginning in 2020, Viking Cruises adds two expedition ships to its family: Viking Octantis (January 2020) and Viking Polaris (August 2020). Each of these six-deck purpose-built 30,150 grt ice-strengthened Polar Class-6 ships will have a capacity of 378 guests and 260 crew. The ships’ design features two forms of stabilizers (the conventional fin-type that reduce rolling while sailing and a U-tank stabilizer that decreases rolling when the ship is stationary) along with innovative safety features that will allow comfortable exploration as they ply some of the world’s roughest waters. The 430-square-foot Laboratory also allows each ship to operate as a working research vessel with a cast of onboard scientists (including biologists, botanists, oceanographers, ornithologists, and more) conducting a variety of studies that guests may choose to participate in by assisting in data collection and other tasks. For this new venture, Viking has partnered with world-renowned scientific institutions including the University of Cambridge and Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology.

Once aboard these new vessels, guests can expect the familiar … along with a few big surprises unique to Viking Expeditions.

Viking Ocean veterans will be familiar with Mamsen’s, The World Café, The Aquavit Terrace, and other public rooms (yes, the Nordic Spa with its snow grotto will be aboard!) but each will be redesigned for expedition travel.

The Expedition Experience 

The big surprises come in the form of new spaces developed specifically for the expedition experience. In addition to the Laboratory, Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris offer The Hangar, an enclosed marina that allows comfortable launch of the expedition ships’ rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) for exploration; The Aula, an auditorium located at the ship’s stern featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and 270-degree views; and The Finse Terrace, a first-of-its kind outdoor lounge with heated lava-rock firepits that let guests observe the majestic landscapes and remarkable wildlife of these extraordinary and remote parts of the world in relative warmth.

Cabin categories aboard Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris range from a cozy 222 square feet to 1,223 square feet and each will include Viking’s innovative Nordic Balcony, a sunroom that becomes an open-air viewing platform, a floor-to-ceiling drying closet, and the same fabulous bathrooms that we’ve come to love on Viking’s ocean ships!

Ready to explore? Daily briefings and lectures by Viking’s Resident Scientists and expedition leaders will prepare you to for your landings and on-shore experiences. Climb into a RIB or military-grade kayak for the journey, or, for an undersea experience, board one of the ship’s two six-passenger submarines — yes, they’re yellow — for a close-up view of extraordinary sea life. These undersea adventures are free of charge, as is all equipment related to your expedition. You can even keep the parka.

Expeditions to Antarctica and the Arctic range from the 13-day Antarctic Explorer to a 44-day voyage from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

(And if you think Viking’s entry into expedition popped up out of nowhere, you’re wrong. In 2013, designs for an expedition ship were abandoned because its fuel would have been damaging to the environment. Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris, on the other hand, use a cleaner fuel that ensures safe and responsible visits.)

Introducing Viking Expeditions … Closer to Home!

An expedition to the Great Lakes and Canada?

Rendering of the Viking Expedition ship: Penthouse Junior Suite - Polar Option

Viking Expeditions’ Penthouse Junior Suite | Photo: Viking Cruises

That’s right! Beginning in April 2022, Viking Polaris will let us explore closer to home with a lineup of expeditions that let us discover the wonders in our own backyard. America’s Great Lakes are one of the most under-explored regions of the world — from the majesty of Niagara Falls to the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore and wildlife that includes moose, bald eagles, black bears, and more. Navigate between Lake Superior and Lake Huron via the Soo Locks, an 1850s-era engineering marvel, and kayak along the shoreline of the car-free Mackinac Island or hike boreal forests in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Great Lakes expeditions sail from Thunder Bay, Milwaukee, or Toronto and are eight days in duration. A 13-day Canadian Discovery itinerary, which sails from New York to Toronto, is also available.

Viking … Everywhere!

In less than 25 years, Viking Cruises has evolved into a major industry force that sails to 95 countries on seven continents, plying five oceans, 20 rivers, and, soon, five Great Lakes. While it’s known as the “thinking person’s” cruise, it’s obvious there’s a lot of thinking going on at the line’s home office as well, with extraordinary innovations and experiences a Viking signature.

RELATED: Around the World in 245 Days With Viking Cruises (VIDEO)

In addition to lovely ships and riverboats, impressive itineraries, superb dining, and outstanding service, there are the special Viking advantages.  You can discover, for example, The Quiet Mediterranean, less-crowded off-season travel to some of Europe’s major cities, get to the Caribbean sun quicker via a San Juan embarkation point, dock alongside the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Karnak Temple in Luxor, and so much more.

And now, with the newly-announced Antarctica, Arctic, and the Great Lakes itineraries, you’ll be able to find those Viking advantages all over the world. Literally.

— Judi Cuervo

Photos: Viking Cruises, Judi Cuervo, Viking Cruises (x2)

Judi Cuervo is a New York City native who fell in love with cruising in 1976 during her first sailing aboard Carnival Cruises’ Mardi Gras. Twenty years later, she began her freelance cruise writing gig and, since that time, has covered mass market, ultra-premium, riverboat and expedition ships for regional, national and international publications as well as cruise websites.