As a connoisseur of small ships and adventure travel, cruising on the newly minted expedition ship, Viking Octantis, for a 10-day “Caribbean Connections” itinerary, ahead of its inaugural season in the Great Lakes was like a dream come true.
Viking Octantis, captures the spirit of expedition cruising nestled firmly on 6 decks of signature Viking designs, facilities and services.
With just 378 passengers and 189 staterooms, she’s larger than the Viking river ships and carries far fewer passengers than their ocean ships. With understated elegance, exceptional Nordic design, and comfortable outside cabins, the entire ship felt cozy, warm and personal.
Embarkation in Bridgetown, Barbados
My daughter and I flew to Bridgetown, Barbados for an overnight stay at a local resort prior to embarkation. Following the straightforward dockside COVID testing and vaccine checks, we donned our masks and were greeted by a host wearing a traditional Norwegian bunad dress. The multi-level atrium, with magnificent art and outstanding designs, prompted the first of many, “Wows” from my daughter, who was sailing on a Viking Cruise for her first time.
Our Nordic Junior Suite with Nordic Balcony
We were then shown to our spacious Nordic Junior Suite with a Nordic Balcony on Deck 4 and given a short tour with instructions for operating the wall-to-wall window and using the TV and heated floor and towel rack in the bathroom. The room also contained a heated full-length closet for drying expedition clothing…helpful for certain cruise itineraries.
Although we tend to over-pack, this was not a problem in our suite that had 2 generous closets along with loads of shelves and drawers that easily swallowed everything in our suitcases. The bathroom had 2 sinks and vanity areas as well, perfect for mother and daughter!
Our suite came with a fully stocked mini-bar and a “Welcome Aboard” bottle of Champagne, complimentary laundry and dry-cleaning service, 24-hour room service, and a cabin steward for all of our needs. This was heavenly! Wifi was free with excellent service throughout the ship.
Food Glorious Food
With so many delectable dining options, it was difficult to choose where to eat, but we did manage to try every one of the restaurants over our 10-day cruise! All are included at no additional cost, even specialty restaurants like the elegant Italian Manfredi’s and The Restaurant, serving Scandinavian and regional dishes. Do make reservations as soon as you can online at My Viking Journey or when you board the ship. We frequented the buffet at the World Café, with every international food imaginable available for most breakfasts and lunches. We also enjoyed the waffles and green juice at the small Norwegian deli, Mamsen’s using traditional family recipes passed down from generation to generation.
Nordic Spa and Fitness Centre
The Nordic Spa was available to guests at no extra charge and on most days we followed the Viking signature Nordic bathing ritual to detox and relax, including the sauna, cold bucket shower, an outdoor badestamp (spa tub), a snow shower and even an indoor pool. Other services were offered at additional cost and could be booked at the Spa. My daughter found the hygge massage on a heated sand table was a wonderful way to relax after an active day, and having my hair done in the salon was a special treat after snorkeling in the ocean water. You can even work with a personal trainer in the Fitness Center or just use the cardio machines and mats independently.
The Living Room, Library, Explorer’s Lounge and The Hide
The Living Room and Library, complete with thousands of carefully curated books sorted by subject, like expedition travel, explorers, the solar system and wildlife were our go-to places to read, relax and reflect, while the two-storey Explorers’ Lounge was ideal for socializing with live music as we watched the sunset each evening. The Hide, with its sloped windows beneath the water on Deck 1, became our after-dinner haunt for liquors and aperitifs, and even some storytelling by the expedition team.
Expedition and Adventure
Viking Octantis is a game changer for expedition cruising in that the entire ship is designed for discovery embedded in the understated design, attention to every detail, along with a host of expedition leaders and scientists.
The expedition and discovery features include Expedition Central, where we could speak to the expedition team and scientists on a one-on-one basis. We went up to the helipad as a weather balloon was launched by the field research scientists. Data from the weather balloon was transmitted in real time to Expedition Central where passengers could view and discuss the data. We enjoyed our journey to becoming “citizen scientists” in the onboard Science Lab as well, under the guidance of scientists and specialists from the University of Cambridge and the National Oceanic and Administration (NOAA).
An industry-first in-ship marina, The Hangar, is home to two military grade special operations boats, two submarines (yes, they are yellow), 17 zodiacs, 16 kayaks and a dive boat. We signed up for a Viking excursion on one of the special operations boats and without ever going outdoors we were able to board the boat for a thrilling hour-long shoreline adventure ride around St. Kitts and Nevis.
I expressed an interest in doing a dive on one of the submarines. Following a safety and information briefing, and despite having to be weighed, and being warned against going in the submarine if I experienced claustrophobia and motion sickness, I signed up and took the plunge with 5 other guests and the submarine captain on this once in a lifetime experience. It did not disappoint and I found it simply exhilarating!
If this is something you can see yourself doing, be sure to sign up early. Submarine dives are dependent on mother nature and cannot always be operated.
We were able to watch films, documentaries and live lectures in the magnificent auditorium called the Aula. The walls and large screen retract to reveal floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views, and access to an outdoor lounge, the Finse Terrace, our favourite places for sail aways and cocktails around the firepits.
Island hopping in the Caribbean, and then cruising up to New York City on the Viking Octantis was a perfect itinerary. The well-organized land and water-based excursions in St. Barts, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts, British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were ideal to get a taste of each of these unique islands. Our favourite excursions included snorkeling in the coral reefs and marine reserves in Saint Lucia and St. Barts, climbing through the boulders and grottos at “The Baths” in Virgin Gorda, BVI, and beach getaways in St. Kitts and St. Barts.
One excursion was included by Viking Cruises in every port. Additional excursion options were available at a reasonable cost and we often booked more than one excursion each day. The three sea days provided opportunities to immerse in the onboard learning and enrichment program, schedule spa and fitness appointments, or to simply find a comfortable corner to curl up and read a book.
On our final day, most passengers and many staff were in the Explorers Lounge and outside on the Shelter and the Bow by 5:30am, as Viking Octantis made her way up the Hudson River into the heart of New York City, passing glistening office towers and the Statue of Liberty. We disembarked at Pier 88, while some other passengers were continuing on for the next leg of the inaugural sailing to the Great Lakes in Canada and the United States. Oh, how we wished we could have stayed on board!
I hope this brief article has given you a better sense of what the new Viking Octantis is like, and that you, too, have an opportunity to experience this delightful blend of gourmet food, ultra-comfortable accommodations, and expedition ship adventure. I am grateful to have shared this wonderful experience with my daughter. I would highly recommend an expedition adventure on Viking Octantis for multi-generation families, solo travellers, couples and groups of friends alike.
Photos courtesy of Judi Cohen
Cover photo: Spectacular sunrise arrival in New York City on the Bow of Viking Octantis, photo Judi Cohen