Viking recently launched the latest member of its fleet: the Expedition Ship Octantis. With current itineraries focused on the Great Lakes and Antarctica, the magnificent vessel seamlessly transitions from the serious science conducted on board to the high-end travel option that Viking has become known and praised for over the past 25 years. years.
I recently had the chance to sail the Octantis and learn more about what makes this ship so special. Here are six takeaways from my time onboard:
1. It’s smaller than it looks
Fans of Viking’s river cruises might be a little intimidated at first by by Octantis Cut. At 665 feet, with a beam of 77 feet, she’s a long, slender ship, with a total of six decks and a range of different cabins to accommodate 378 guests. Although tough enough to cut and glide through arctic ice, it feels easy, accessible and even comfortable. I never felt lost, but I always felt at home on the Octantis.
2. Serious science takes place on the Octantis
It becomes very clear — very quickly — that Octantis was designed with scientific research in mind. The engagement was not an afterthought, but rather built into the very DNA of the ship. Viking has established collaborative partnerships with top universities, non-profit organizations and government entities, enabling scientists to conduct research on board with the goal of sharing data to advance climate research and mitigation.
While on Octantis, I had the chance to visit the ship’s hangar, where a fleet of Zodiac inflatable boats, special operations boats and even two submarines are stored. While guests have the opportunity 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 search of valuable data to support projects such as analyzing bird migration patterns, wildlife surveys and even measuring the amount of microplastics in the water. The ship’s scientists also regularly release weather balloons to collect climate data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Octantis has a fully equipped on-board laboratory, and its resident and visiting scientists are eager to share their research and expertise with guests through lectures and tours. The innovative and symbiotic link between science and leisure is evident on Octantis, and it is a link accepted, appreciated and celebrated by all on board.
3. It’s full of art and culture
The Octantis is an expedition ship in the truest sense of the word, a ship of opportunity for scientists and guests. However, when you’re ready to take a break from the action and adventure, rest assured that there are plenty of opportunities to do so. As on other boats in its fleet, Viking took the time and care to maintain an art collection that reminded me of a museum gallery at every turn.
Featuring mostly Norwegian artists, the works are wide ranging, ranging from watercolors and oils to inks, textiles and even glass and wood sculptures. There’s 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 to listening devices in each room. It’s a great way to really get to know the stories behind the wonderful collection.
Another way to unwind and get a dose of culture is to unwind with a book from the ship’s extensive library. Every title here has also been curated with the itinerary and the guest in mind, and there’s plenty of comfortable space to enjoy those good reads, perhaps with a glass of wine or a craft cocktail, but always with a stellar view.
4. You can take a snow bath – really
Plan to run hot and cold at the ship’s Nordic spa. Traditional treatments on offer (and included in your rate) allow you to warm up in the herb-scented sauna or steam room, then rush into the snow grotto or bucket shower for a quick and refreshing cool down. Even the outdoor pools feature a cold dip, a medium to moderate cross section, and then a bath-like temperature.
Clients are encouraged to alternate between all options to achieve maximum benefits, including detoxification, relaxation, and boosted circulation. Additional options at the spa include a hygge massage, where you receive a soothing session lying on a heated sand table for maximum pampering comfort; or the Nordic Restart treatment, which includes a cranberry body scrub, followed by a massage, complete with a relaxing scalp ritual. This spa is top notch and you will want to take full advantage of it!
5. Every palate will be satisfied
The Octantis offers fine dining, whether it’s a take-out meal or a five-star sit-down dinner. The self-service World Café, where the majority of the ship’s seats are located, offers the full range of dining choices. Eggs and waffles cooked to order in the morning and a whole range of entrees for lunch, they even offer sushi, custom grilled meats including lamb chops and rib eye, and an assortment of pasta and other hearty dishes for dinner. The desserts are to die for here too.
Mandfredi’s, a fine Italian dining experience, and The Restaurant, which serves fusion specialties, are open for dinner by reservation only. If you need a sweet or savory pick-me-up, Mamsen’s is perfect for snacking between meals. And room service is also always available in your cabin. There were a few mornings when I had a leisurely breakfast in my room, admiring the beautiful scenery of the Great Lakes. It was a wonderful way to start the day.
In the end, I was very impressed with the meal offerings on the Octantisand always felt well fueled and ready for the next adventure.
6. Activities and adventures galore
Speaking of adventure, there’s plenty to do aboard the Octantis. Keep in mind that Great Lakes and Antarctica expedition itineraries rely on the nature around them, and somewhat less on the offerings of each town or village along the way. While there was great sightseeing on Mackinaw Island, I spent my 3 days in Canada’s Georgian Bay, hiking, kayaking and scenic cruises on the aforementioned island. Octantis scientific vehicles. The hikes were tough, 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 experiences was so rich that I found it was definitely worth taking on the few additional challenges along the way.
The Octantis unlike any other cruise ship I have been on before. The clear onboard commitment to science, data collection, exploration and education made me feel less on vacation and more on adventure. The ability to engage in science thoughtfully – along with the great excursions and Viking’s impeccable attention to detail and comfort – makes her a winner. I look forward to seeing how the data collected from Octantisand her sister ship soon to be commissioned Polariswill help increase the overall understanding of our natural and wonderful world.
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