Fast-growing Viking doubles down on adventure cruising with a second expedition cruise ship

Editor’s note: TPG’s Gene Sloan accepted a free trip from Viking to attend a preview event this week for Viking Polaris. The opinions expressed below are entirely his and weren’t subject to review by the line.

On Friday, fast-growing Viking doubled down on its move into adventurous expedition cruising with the unveiling of a second vessel specifically designed to explore far-off places like Antarctica and the Arctic.

With dozens of Viking executives, business partners and media looking on, the company officially welcomed the 378-passenger ship, Viking Polaris, with a short but upbeat naming ceremony along the waterfront of Amsterdam.

Ann Bancroft, the first woman to ski solo to the North Pole, served the traditional role of ship’s godmother during the ceremony, using a ceremonial Norwegian spade to cut a red ribbon. The ribbon cutting triggered the breaking of a bottle of Aquavit against the ship’s hull.

The use of a bottle of Aquavit, a Scandinavian spirit, instead of a bottle of Champagne to name Viking Polaris was a nod to Viking’s Norwegian heritage. Viking founder and chairman Torstein Hagen is Norwegian.

“Have you ever seen anything like this? I’ve never seen anything like this,” a clearly proud Hagen said at the afternoon event, which started in the ship’s glass-walled Aula lounge with a talk by Hagen and finished with the bottle breaking on its bow.

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Amsterdam is a major hub for Viking river ships that sail on the Rhine River and is often visited by its ocean ships, too. It’s also where Hagen was when he founded Viking 25 years ago.

Friday’s celebration for the arrival of Viking Polaris, which included a brief performance by Norwegian crossover soprano Sissel, doubled as a celebration of the company’s 25th anniversary.

Viking Polaris is a sister vessel to Viking’s first expedition ship, the 378-passenger Viking Octantis, which debuted earlier this year in Antarctica.

Currently sailing in the Great Lakes, Viking Octantis also was officially named at Friday’s event via a live video feed. The ship’s ceremonial godmother, explorer Liv Arnesen, was on stage at the event in Amsterdam and directed the bottle breaking on Viking Octantis via the video link.

Both Viking Polaris and Viking Octantis are specifically designed to take travelers to the most remote parts of the world and operate in the toughest conditions.

Famed explorer Ann Bancroft cuts a ribbon using a traditional Viking spade to christen the new Viking Polaris. GENE SLOAN/THE POINTS GUY

As is typical for expedition ships, these are hardy vessels, with reinforced bows that let them bump through ice in polar regions and extra tanks for fuel and food.

Each of the vessels also has its own landing craft on board to bring people ashore in remote locations, as well as kayaks and even submarines for exploring. (The latter is the hot new thing for expedition ships — upscale cruise brands Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours and Seabourn have been adding them to expedition ships, too.)

Like other expedition ships, both Viking Polaris and Viking Octantis are designed to operate with a large and seasoned “expedition team” that includes biologists, botanists, geologists, glaciologists and ornithologists who lecture regularly.

However, each of the vessels has several new and unusual features, too. Most notable is The Hangar, an enclosed marina that allows passengers to transfer to 12-seat excursion craft while still in the protected interior of the ship. It’s a first for an expedition cruise ship.

Related: The 3 types of Viking ships, explained

In another first for a polar expedition cruise vessel, every cabin on each vessel has floor-to-ceiling glass walls that slide partially open from the top to create a balcony-like feel.

Both Viking Polaris and Viking Octantis are designed to be upscale. Like all Viking vessels, they boast an elegant Scandinavian design. The restaurants on both vessels include a version of Viking’s signature Italian spot, Manfredi’s, and the Scandinavian-inspired Mamsen’s outlet.

Another feature of both ships that will be familiar to regular Viking customers is a top-of-the-ship, glass-walled Explorers’ Lounge offering stunning views of passing scenery.

Unlike some cruise brands, Viking continued to expand its fleet rapidly during the COVID-19-related industry downturn. Viking Polaris is one of 16 new vessels that recently joined or will soon join the Viking fleet.

Related: The ultimate guide to Viking cruises

In addition to expedition vessels, Viking now operates 80 river ships around the world as well as seven traditional ocean ships. Three more river ships and four more ocean ships for the line are under construction, Hagen said at the event.

“Bad times are the times when you should invest,” Hagen said. “We try to take the opportunities when we see them.”

Hagen founded Viking in 1997 with just four river vessels. As recently as 2012, the company operated just 29 ships. The privately owned brand, which now has 10,000 employees, has been one of the fastest-growing cruise operators in history since then. It has roughly doubled in size every three years since 2012 and now carries 500,000 passengers a year.

Related: The ultimate guide to picking a cruise line

In case you’re curious, Viking Polaris is named after the current “north star” that hovers over the North Pole. Viking Octantis is named after Sigma Octantis, the current “south star” that hovers over the South Pole (it’s also known as Polaris Australis).

The names are a nod to the polar regions where these expedition ships likely will spend much of their careers.

Viking Polaris will spend the coming winter sailing in Antarctica before repositioning to the Great Lakes for the summer of 2023.

Fares for 12-night Antarctica trips start at $13,995 per person, not including taxes and fees. Great Lakes sailings start at $5,995 per person, not including taxes and fees.

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