What it’s like to sail to Antarctica on Viking Cruises’ new luxury expedition ship
At the stern of the ship, a remarkable room called Aula functions as a lecture hall – if, you know, your college lecture hall had plush leather seats draped in woolen blankets and a self-contained espresso machine parked at the outside. Massive windows on three sides allow stealing glimpses of the very environment about which a group of speakers educates passengers: daily talks range from a 45-minute seminar on “penguin diversity” by onboard birdwatchers, to a discussion on the formation of Antarctica from a geologist. Many nights documentaries are also shown here (one of the favorite original footage from Roald Amundsen’s 1910-1912 expedition to the South Pole).
Guests have the opportunity to turn their curiosity into action in The Science Lab, where they can learn about the active research projects being carried out on board (through partnerships with the University of Cambridge and the Norwegian research institute Akvaplan -Niva). There’s also a citizen science element – laypeople can sign up for a lab experiment that involves helping the team count microplastics found in water samples or preparing bait for an underwater camera. which documents the local fauna. (Although, frankly, I felt more useful to take a ride and then let them get back to real work.)
Outdoor spaces to immerse yourself in the destination
With so many large spaces inside, you might be surprised to learn that the bow was my favorite spot on the whole ship. Wildlife viewing, made easy with professional binoculars in each cabin, was addictive; add the expedition staff – a mix of marine biologists, cetologists, historians and adventure guides with many years of expertise in the area – and their regular presence on deck made it hard to walk away . What a privilege to be able to report something moving in the water and have an expert a few feet away immediately identify the animal for you and then answer any questions you may have about its behavior, life cycle and advice to identify it yourself. Even better: I found the onboard geologist just as able to answer my questions about gentoo penguin behavior as a member of the tour team could spot humpback whales on the horizon – everyone is an expert in everything, it seems.
Inside, the decor always takes the lead
For those less comfortable amidst the elements, take comfort in knowing that the interior is designed to enjoy the outdoors. The shelter is a covered space between the ship and the bow with heated railings to warm cold hands and soft seats. Aft of the ship, the Finse Terrace had a little less wind, but was also great for bird and whale watching. (It looks like a set of plush lounge chairs will fill this area in warmer climates.) And be sure to find The Hide secret location before disembarking: Just forward of the ship on Deck 1, the speakeasy-style enclave has a fireplace and front-row seating for the searing waves outside, with nightly storytime hours featuring members of the expedition team.
As for the cabins? Nordic balconies, as Viking calls them, ensure that everyone can hear the breath of minke whale beaks straight from the bed – just press a button and the top half of the floor-to-ceiling windows slide away, allowing customers to feel the fresh air from the comfort of their sofa.
While the excursions offered on the Octantis will vary by destination, the ship’s hangar filled with toys gives passengers a taste of what to expect wherever they sail with the ship. It currently houses 16 kayaks, 17 zodiacs, two special ops boats and two yellow submarines (named John and Paul, as if there was another option; the Polaris will have George and Ringo).