Luxury and Learning Combine on New Expedition Ship
When the Viking Polaris was launched in September 2022, I wondered how different a cruise might be aboard this new expedition ship.
Would it be like going every day to my least-favorite science class in high school? Would the ship be a bit less elegant and the food lacking the gourmet cuisine for which Viking is known?
As one of my final cruises for 2023, I got a chance to find out for myself about this unusual Viking Polaris. What I discovered was that Viking Polaris has all the charms of other Viking ships plus a focus on enrichment, learning and experiential activities.
The Viking Polaris surprised and fascinated me. It was unlike any image of what an expedition ship might look like or what a 16-day cruise from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale might be like. I’ve been singing its praises ever since.
Overall Review and Ratings 10/10
Waiting on the other side of the Canadian airport were several Viking greeters wearing red Viking jackets who led us to a waiting motor coach for the short ride to the ship.
10/10 The Ship
Named after the North Star, 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.
10/10 My Stateroom
Large and comfy with a wonderful Nordic Balcony glass window that raised and lowered with the touch of a button.
With multiple restaurants, Viking Polaris charges no extra cost to dine in any of them. Wine, beer and soft drinks also are complimentary at lunch and dinner. Cuisine is some of the best I’ve ever had – on land or on sea.
9/10 Shore Excursions
Our cruise itinerary had a terrific choice of shore excursions, some free and some requiring a fee. Most memorable was cruising past the Statue of Liberty as dawn broke.
Mother Nature provided the best entertainment on our cruise. Whether it was watching the ocean flow or looking for critters to put on a wildlife sighting list or listening to one of the scientists onboard explain some of the wonders of the world, we had fun while we learned.
I certainly didn’t miss it but the Viking Polaris offered skimpy shopping. The ship’s Nordic Shop had basic toiletries, some snacks and a few clothing items.
A corner of The Living Room had a well-stocked library. However, books were located in many places around the ship including staterooms.
10/10 Nordic Spa
Available without additional charge, the Nordic Spa has a heated indoor pool, wood-sided hot tub, sauna, cold-water dunking bucket, steam room, gym and that amazing snow grotto. Spa treatments cost extra, of course.
The Viking Polaris crew had a way of making people feel so welcomed that it was difficult to pack up and walk off. The process of leaving was well organized and as easy as possible.
10/10 Overall Rating
From top to bottom, the Viking Polaris is a beauty with an excellent staff as well. I learned something new every day and made memories that will be treasured. A true gem in the realm of cruising.
The Word is Out – Viking Polaris is a Wonderful Way to see the World
When I stepped off the Viking Polaris in Quebec, a woman standing on the shore asked me about the new ship. Why is it called an “expedition ship” she asked? And would I recommend a Polaris cruise to others?
The Living Room
First, why is it an expedition ship? Because a Viking Polaris cruise emphasizes learning about our big wide wonderful world. An example – a few decks down in the ship’s Hangar are two yellow six-passenger submarines named George and Ringo for passenger expeditions into the deep. The Polaris’ sister ship Viking Octantis has two submarines named John and Paul.
Yellow submarines George and Ringo
Then there’s the spectacular Aula, 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.
On Deck 2, Expedition Central is a fascinating spot where we could look 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.
Each lovely stateroom has two pairs of powerful Meopta Optika MeoPro 8×42 binoculars and a large drying closet to air out wet expedition gear.
As for whether I would recommend the cruise – definitely. Not just because the Viking Polaris is a beauty that offers fascinating experiences and serves scrumptious cuisine but mainly because of the crew. No matter how top-notch a ship is and how yummy is its food, if the ship’s crew is lazy, surly or nowhere to be found – the cruise is a waste.
The crew of the Viking Polaris – from captain to cabin attendant – was friendly, efficient, caring and downright excellent.
My Favorite Gems
The Hide – On Deck 1, The Hide 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 made it seem as though we were skimming over the ocean as the ship cruised.
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.
Viking Daily Newsletter – Each evening we received a Viking Daily newsletter chock full of important info. The newsletter also was 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.
Nordic Balcony in my stateroom
Mamsen’s Restaurant – Mamsen was what Viking founder Torstein Hagen called his hard-working mother, Ragnhild Hagen. Her kitchen was a family safe harbor in any storm.
Mansen’s breakfast waffle
Now Mamsen’s on the Viking Polaris is a loving tribute to the family matriarch serving food that Torstein Hagen enjoyed as a child. It’s a good spot to enjoy a light breakfast or Nordic lunch buffet or afternoon snack.
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.
Paps Explorers’ Lounge – 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’ Explorer Lounge
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.
Every evening, I liked to conclude my 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.
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
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)
– 16-member expedition team of scientists, biologists, geologists, botanists, ornithologists
– No charge for expedition tours on Special Operations Boats (SOBs) or use of kayaks or zodiacs.
– $499 for one-hour on 6-seater submarine dive. (Because of weather, no sub dives on our cruise)
– Smooth sailing with the latest stabilization technology
Statue of Liberty
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch
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