Review of Viking Polaris: Luxurious Expedition Ship Offers Best of Both Worlds

A peregrine falcon swoops in and lands on the railing of the Viking Polaris. Dolphins cavort in the ship’s wake. Those sightings will be listed on a large wildlife board organized by Dr. Tim Gerber to be shared when we gather for daily reports.

A few decks down in the Hangar, two yellow six-passenger submarines named George and Ringo are ready for passenger expeditions. Two military-grade Special Operation Boats (SOBs) also wait in the Hangar for excursions and exploration.

Two yellow submarines onboard named George and Ringo

An on-board science lab provides a wide range of research activities for passengers. Each lovely stateroom has two pairs of powerful Meopta Optika MeoPro 8X42 binoculars and a large drying closet to air out wet expedition gear.

What kind of cruise ship is this?

Actually, the Viking Polaris is an expedition ship. It focuses on enrichment, learning and experiential activities.

But it is unlike any image of what an expedition ship might look like. Launched in September 2022, the Viking Polaris is an incredibly luxurious ship with gourmet restaurants and elegant Scandinavian designed staterooms as well as terrific expedition opportunities.

 

Dr. Tim Gerber displays the wildlife sighting list created by passengers.

A favorite Viking tagline, “Exploring the world in comfort,” certainly fits the Viking Polaris as well as fulfilling one of Viking’s registered trademarks, “The Thinking Person’s Cruise.”

Boarding Viking Polaris: Rating 10/10

My brother Joe joined me on the 16-day Canada & Atlantic Coastline cruise aboard the Viking Polaris from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale. Joe lives in Colorado. I lived in Indiana. So we met up at the Charlotte airport to fly into Canada together.

Viking definitely knows how to make boarding a ship as easy as possible. Joe and I had done the important paperwork before boarding – including using the Arrive CAN declaration confirmation – to breeze through the Toronto airport.

Waiting on the arrival side of the airport were several Viking greeters wearing red Viking jackets. On our jackets, Joe and I wore red Viking stickers that had been mailed to us. Suddenly, we were seeing other passengers with those stickers and carrying luggage with Viking tags.

Our tour organizers easily recognized Viking passengers and led us to a waiting motorcoach. A short drive took us to the ship dock where we were welcomed aboard Viking Polaris with a glass of champagne and a much-appreciated lunch in the World Café.

Viking Polaris Ship: Rating 10/10

As the seasons change, so do the stars visible in the sky. But from the northern hemisphere, one star is constant – the North Star or Polaris, positioned almost exactly above the North Pole.

An appropriate name for the Viking Polaris. As styles and ship designs may change, Viking ships always remain beautiful and passenger friendly. The Viking Polaris is definitely a star among cruise ships.

With a maximum of 378 guests in 189 staterooms, the Viking Polaris feels like a floating luxury boutique hotel with its lovely light-filled Nordic design. On our cruise, there were 310 passengers and 258 crew members. Most passengers were age 60 and up with the majority from America and Canada, plus others from New Zealand, Australia and the UK.

The ship is filled with spacious public areas as well as quiet places to sit and read, enjoy a cocktail or watch the ocean flow.  Bordered by floor-to-ceiling windows, The Living Room offers a variety of seating arrangements and features its own bar along with a stunning water vapor fireplace.

The Living Room

The fireplaces are in public spaces around the ship. I don’t know how a water vapor fireplace works but it certainly looks realistic and seems to be the most popular places to sit wherever they are around the ship.

A corner of The Living Room has a well-stocked Library. However, books are located in many places around the ship including staterooms. Never have to look far to find an interesting book to read.

The double-decker Explorer’s Lounge at the front of the ship offers panoramic views and bars. Situated at the aft of Deck 1, the Finse Terrace features lava rock fire pits and recessed heated seating.

The Bow at the fore of Deck 3 is the place to be when the ship goes through locks and canals such as the St. Lawrence Seaway Locks on the second day of our cruise.

Expedition Central on Deck 2 is a fascinating spot where we looked through microscopes to see microorganisms and could stop by during open hours to ask the Expedition Team about wildlife, geology, biology and other expedition questions.

Expedition Team member Loreen Niewerhuis explains a piece of technology.

The spectacular Aula is a state-of-the-art panoramic auditorium inspired by the University of Oslo’s grand ceremonial hall. With its 270 degree views and huge retractable 4K laser-projected screen, the Aula is the main gathering place for daily briefings, lectures, documentary screenings and musical performances.

The Aula

The Nordic Spa is a real beauty and available without additional charge. A heated indoor pool with large windows to watch views floating by outside, wood-sided hot tub, sauna, cold-water dunking bucket, steam room and that amazing snow grotto are passenger favorites. A gym has separate sections for cardio, yoga, Pilates and weights.

The Hide on Deck 1 was difficult to find but one of my favorites. I visited it every day once I figured out the labyrinth of stairs between decks and only once was someone else in the appropriately named hideaway. I’d sit in one of the comfy chairs in front of the slanted wall of windows which makes it seem as though we are skimming over the ocean as the ship cruises.

The Hide

The Hide also has books and memorabilia from American explorer Ann Bancroft. Godmother of Polaris, Bancroft made history when she became the first woman to reach both the North and South Poles.

My Stateroom: Rating 10/10

Opening the door to my stateroom for the first time is always exciting. As with all Viking ships, there are no inside staterooms on the Polaris. In a first for polar expedition ships, a Nordic Balcony replaces the regular balcony used by many cruise ships.

A nifty contraption, the Nordic Balcony lowers the large upper distortion-free window on the glass wall with the press of a button seeming to turn my whole stateroom into a balcony. Another button lowers a light blocking curtain for privacy. An L-shaped sofa and coffee table are a good place to see and enjoy the outdoor sights.

My stateroom with its Nordic Balcony

An interactive 55-inch flat screen TV, hair dryer, ceiling-to-floor drying cabinet for storing life jackets and drying wet expedition gear, high-end bedding, Norwegian Marius-weave blankets,  bedside tables, plenty of drawers and storage space plus a neat cosmetics organizer in the desk. Just lift the top of the desk to see a large mirror and a bunch of little storage compartments for cosmetics.

Two large closets hold slippers, robes and a safe. A bookcase next to the bed features several books and those great binoculars plus a coffee maker. Underneath the bookcase is a small fridge with a mini-bar

Each evening we receive a Viking Daily newsletter chock full of important info. The newsletter also is available in a digital format on the Viking Polaris app in my cellphone as well as on the stateroom TV. Nice way to save paper.

My stateroom seating area

The bathroom is a treat with a generously sized shower, great water pressure, plenty of hot water, Freyja toiletries, anti-fog mirror and a wonderful heated floor.

Mamsen’s Restaurant (10/10)

Mamsen was what Torstein Hagen called his hard-working mother, Ragnhild Hagen. Her kitchen was a family safe harbor in any storm.

Now Mamsen’s on the Viking Polaris is a loving tribute to the family matriarch serving food that Viking founder Torstein Hagen enjoyed as a child. It’s a good spot to enjoy a light breakfast or Nordic lunch buffet or afternoon snack.

Mamsen’s waffles

As with all Viking Polaris restaurants, there is no extra cost to dine at Mamsen’s. The breakfast buffet features breads, cheeses, herring, oatmeal, sweet rolls, cinnamon rolls and those delightful freshly made waffles with fruit and syrup. Lunch has sandwiches and soup with some cakes.

The dishware in Mamsen’s is the same design as the set Torstein Hagen remembered from his childhood. Coincidentally, the pattern was called “Tor Viking” – maybe a foreshadowing of what was to come.

One of the photographs in Mamsen’s shows the woman herself on skis, pulling her granddaughter Karine in a traditional pulk or sleigh.

Mamsen pulling a sleigh with her granddaughter Karine

“In the winter, when the sun hardly rose, she made hearty soups and stews from scratch,” Karine once wrote. “In the summer, when the sun hardly set, we ate lighter fare of cured meats and fish and open-faced sandwiches which we call smorbrod.”

The grownup daughter of Torstein Hagen, Karine Hagen is now senior vice president of Viking Cruises.

Manfredi’s Restaurant (10/10)

In the often-cutthroat world of business, I heard the nicest thing on my Viking Polaris cruise.

The popular Manfredi’s Italian restaurant on the Viking Polaris was named for Silversea’s chairman Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio.

In return, d’Ovidio named a special spot on Silversea’s cruise ship after Viking Cruise chairman Torstein Hagen. At the very top of the Silversea’s ship, it’s called Tor’s Observation Library.

How about that for two competitors who can still be friends while aiming for excellence in the growing cruise world.

Although Manfredi’s is one of Viking Polaris’ specialty restaurants, there is no charge to dine there but reservations are required. One of the nice things about Viking Polaris is that reservations can be made on my cellphone app and stateroom TV as well as by calling the reservation desk.

Unlike the Scandinavian-themed décor on the rest of the ship, Manfredi’s definitely has an Italian vibe. Dark woods, framed photos of Italy’s famous movie stars, black-and-white floor, black tabletops, cushy leather chairs.

Wine, beer and soft drinks are complimentary at lunch and dinner. Since he had served us before in the World Café, server Jerome knew our names, which drinks we preferred and that we liked a table by the window.

Manfredi’s Restaurant

Printed in Italian and English, the menu features a wide range of starters, salads, soups, pasta, risotto, sides and meats like pesce spade (marinated and grilled swordfish) and bistecca fiorentina (thick cut ribeye steak coated in garlic oil and rubbed with porcini mushroom powder, kosher salt, brown sugar and red chili flakes).

For dessert, I had baba al rum, fragile e sorbetto di lampone e limone. It’s like a sponge cake soaked in rum atop a bed of fresh strawberries with whipped cream and strawberry sorbet. Awesome.

The Restaurant (10/10)

Yep, that’s its name. No charge to dine in The Restaurant but reservations are required for the classic dining experience. The menu reflects both regional specialties and continental classics.

Décor is light and airy with white tablecloth covered tables. The menu has two sides – daily specials and always available classics such as tiger prawns, beer-marinated chicken, New York strip steak, poached Norwegian salmon, cheese and jam, gelato and sorbet.

Daily menu featured seared tuna, caprese salad, poached Arctic char, Beef Wellington, quinoa and bean chili, pistachio crème brulee and blotkake – Norwegian cream cake with strawberry jam and sugared whipped cream.

World Café (10/10)

Jumbo shrimp. King crab legs. Broiled lobster tail. Sushi. Premium steaks. The World Café is the ship’s buffet but it is certainly not like other cruise buffets. Menu items are terrific and neatly displayed.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served here. A gelato station offers delicious ice cream. The staff will make rolled ice cream sundaes. Featuring a wide array of global dishes, the World Café offers top-notch cuisine and an ever-present Executive Chef Satheesh Devan.

Chef prepares lobster rolls for lunch.

Chef would greet passengers, keep an eye on food presentations and watch for a passenger who had great difficulty walking and talking. When Chef saw the man enter the World Café, he would help him to a seat and fill a plate to bring to him. Just a thoughtful touch above and beyond Chef’s duties. But it seemed as though all staff went above and beyond to make our cruise so memorable.

Paps Explorers’ Lounge (10/10)

In another nod to family history, Paps Explorers’ Lounge bar is named for Torstein Hagen’s father. From his family’s little red house in Nittedal, Norway, Paps became a CPA by correspondence course. Every day, he bicycled from his home to the historic Rotnes Bruk estate where he applied his accounting skills.

Paps was well loved for his winning sense of humor, his unwavering work ethic, his taste for licorice, the pencil always kept handy behind his ear and his love of family.

Paps was so popular that during one election year, he got his name on the ballot for both parties. In 1945, Crown Prince Olav of Norway decorated him for his resistance during World War II.

Paps remained a man of and for the people with such large attendance that there was standing-room-only at the church for his memorial service.

Paps’ favorite brandy special is served in the bar at the lounge for $5. The drink calls for one third brandy from Norway’s Vinmonopol (the state-owned company with sole rights to sell beverages containing more than 4.75 percent alcohol), two-thirds hot water and one packet of brown sugar.

A photo of Paps along with his brandy special 

Every evening, Joe and I liked to conclude our adventurous day by sitting by the fireplace at Paps, listening to musical duo Zee and Dee and savoring a drink while the Viking Polaris cruised through the night.

 Shore Excursions (9/10)

Viking Cruises is expert on shore excursions. Our cruise itinerary had a terrific choice of shore excursions, some free and some requiring a fee. Plus we had those wonderful days at sea.

Umbrella Alley in old Quebec city

Tue – Embark in Toronto

Wed –  Scenic sailing, St. Lawrence Seaway Locks

Thu – Trois-Rivieres in Quebec, Canada

Fri – Quebec City

Sat – Scenic sailing St. Lawrence River

Sun – Cap-aux-Meules in Quebec

Mon – Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia

Tue – Lunenburg in Nova Scotia

Wed – Sail the Atlantic Ocean

Thu – New York City

Fri – Sail the Atlantic Ocean

Sat – Norfolk, Virginia

Sun – Sail the Atlantic Ocean

Mon – Charleston, South Carolina

Tue – Sail the Atlantic Ocean

Wed – Disembark in Ft. Lauderdale

An SOB heads out for an excursion.

Although we had terrific shore excursions each time Viking Polaris docked, my most memorable was the complimentary 911 Museum in New York City. As dawn broke, our ship cruised past the Statue of Liberty, a most impressive sight that always gives me shivers of gratitude that I’m an American.

Statue of Liberty by dawn’s early light

Dawn breaks as we cruise into New York City 

Boarding a motor coach at 7 a.m., we took a driving tour around New York City before arriving at the 911 Memorial in Lower Manhattan. Nearly 3,000 people died in the al-Qaeda attack on Sept. 11, 2001. Many more have died since then from toxic exposure.

The al-Qaeda terrorists knew they couldn’t destroy the United States militarily so they decided to destroy America’s symbols instead, our museum guide said. The 19 terrorists hijacked four planes.

The al-Qaeda set their sights on the 110-story Twin Towers as centerpieces of the World Trade Center symbolized America’s economic power and prosperity.

A white rose signifies the birthday for a man killed in 911.

As headquarters for the U.S. Department of Defense, the Pentagon was a symbol of American military power. The Capitol building that it is thought Flight 93 was to destroy symbolized the center of American legislative government.

At 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At 9:03 a.m., the second hit the South Tower. At 9:36 a.m., the third plane hit the Pentagon. At 10:03 a.m., the fourth plane crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Investigators said that plane was headed to the White House or the US Capitol when passengers rushed to overcome hijackers.

Instead of rebuilding the Twin Towers and creating a new World Trade Center, the site became a memorial. The 9/11 Memorial opened Sept. 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the attacks. The names of those killed are etched in bronze around the edges of the pools. Sad to see the white roses placed near the names of those whose birthday was on the day we visited.

The Memorial Plaza surrounds two enormous reflecting pools where the towers used to stand. The pools feature 30-foot waterfalls, the largest man-made waterfalls in North America. The water cascades into reflecting pools, finally disappearing into the center voids.

On May 21, 2014, the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened. The main exhibition space is located seven stories below the 9/11 Memorial at the bedrock foundations of the World Trade Center. Inside the museum are artifacts from the attacks including personal stories from survivors, first responders, area residents and eyewitnesses.

Each person who died on Sept. 11 had a story to tell, a life to live and people who loved them. The fire helmet of Fire Dept. 3 Captain Patrick Brown honors his sacrifice. He died in the 911 attack but his body wasn’t recovered until nearly three months later. He was 48 years old.

Although the memorial and the museum were packed with visitors, both places were eerily quiet. In fact, our guide Darrell reprimanded a couple of young girls who were laughing and taking smiling selfies by leaning against the engraved names of those who died. Respect should be shown at the memorials, he noted.

The 911 Memorial

Disembarkation (10/10)

Disembarking from Viking Polaris was as easy as embarking. Only, Joe and I didn’t want to leave. Viking Polaris and its crew has a way of making people feel so welcomed that it is difficult to pack up and walk off. In fact, quite a few passengers said they had already booked their next Viking cruise. I can certainly understand that.

 Final Thoughts About Viking Polaris Cruise

– Free WiFi

– Complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner.

– Complimentary cocktails and champagne for sailaway party and other special events

– No charge for any restaurants

– Business center stocked with computers for guest use

– Complimentary 24-hour room service

– No photographers and photo sales

– No umbrella drinks

– No casino

– No smoking in interior spaces

– No art auctions

– No children under 18

– No inside staterooms

– No fee to use Nordic Spa

– No fee to use self-service laundry

– Free laundry detergent

– No waterslides or on-ship rides

– No big musical stage productions

– Nordic Shop offers only basic toiletries, few snacks and some Viking sweaters, jackets, hats.

– No jewelry shops or tables set up in the concourse

– No bottles of liquor or cartons of cigarettes in Nordic Shop

– No hard sells for merchandise in the Nordic Spa.

– Free bottles of purified water in staterooms

– Yes, those are birds singing in the ship’s public restrooms. (Actually, recordings of bird songs)

-Many metal surfaces such as door handles and hallway railings were covered in leather for a more comforting touch.

– 16-member expedition team of scientists, biologists, geologists, botanists, ornithologists

– $499 for one-hour on 6-seater submarine dive. (Because of weather, no sub dives on our cruise)

 – No charge for expedition tours on Special Operations Boats (SOBs)or use of kayaks or zodiacs.

-Smooth sailing with the latest stabilization technology

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

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1 thought on “Review of Viking Polaris: Luxurious Expedition Ship Offers Best of Both Worlds”

  1. The Viking Polaris Cruise was truly a most memorable trip. Grateful that I got to experience it with my sister. Highly recommend this to anyone who loves exploring, learning and seeing such beautiful views. Truly a lifetime experience.

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