Cruisers are heading for the polar regions in a big way with demand running at unprecedented levels.
The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators said that 40,665 tourists visited Antarctica in the 2018-19 season – up 60 per cent compared to the 25,342 who arrived in 2014-15.
Australians, renowned for being intrepid travellers, are also increasingly attracted to the icy wilderness frontier, with more than 37,000 visiting Alaska in 2018.
Lines are sending more ships to the ice, with Viking Cruises announcing it will enter the expedition market for the first time in 2022 with the launch of two new Polar class ships.
So what does Viking have to offer. And how does it compare to an established expedition operator like Silversea.
Viking will launch its expedition itinerary with Viking Octantis in January 2022 followed by Viking Polaris eight months later in August. Besides cruising to icy Antarctica, Viking will debut on North America’s Great Lakes visiting the states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Viking’s new, ice-strengthened, polar class expedition ships, Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris will each accommodate 378 passengers.
Number of staterooms: 189
The size of each stateroom ranges from 222 sq ft to 1223 sq ft for the Owners Suite. Every stateroom will have a balcony, a king-sized bed, a heated bathroom floor and floor-to-ceiling drying closet. Suites will have a fully-stocked mini bar replenished daily and complimentary laundry.
Dining: A main restaurant offering fine dining, a casual World Café with “live” cooking and an open kitchen serving grill and premium seafood, Mamsen for Scandinavian fare and Manfredi’s for Italian cuisine.
Facilities: The Hangar, the first enclosed in-ship marina including an 85ft slipway to embark the rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) on excursions; two six-guest submarines, a fleet of military pro zodiacs that can withstand the harshest of environments; Arctic-tested kayaks, Viking expedition kit including boots, binoculars, jacket and waterproof pants for land and sea excursions. Passengers will also get specialty items such as trekking poles, snowboots and skis. A two-level Explorers’ lounge at the bow of the ship; a Nordic spa
Rate per day for a 13-day itinerary from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia is $1615 pp for departures in January, February, November and December 2022. ($20,995 pp total price)
The luxury line has four expeditions ships, including the new 100-passenger Silver Origin to debut this year. Other ships are the refurbished Silver Cloud, Silver Explorer and Silver Galapagos. The ships can accommodate guests ranging from 100 to 254. The line takes pride is offering a luxurious experience with an all-inclusive itinerary, all-suite accommodation with butler service and complimentary shore excursions accompanied by a team of expedition experts. They are smaller ships with fewer passengers on board so that the ships can access destinations that other lines cannot reach. As the line said: “Silver Explorer is expedition cruising at its best.”
The ice-rated ship has a strengthened hull to cut through the ice floes with ease. It can accommodate 144 guests.
Number of suites: 72
Suites: The biggest and most luxurious Owners Suite is 728 sq ft or 67 sq m including a private balcony with pillow menu, personalised stationery and a bar filled with the guests’ favourite wines and spirits. The Adventurer Suite is the smallest at 167 sq ft or 15 sq m with two portholes which the line describes as “cosy.”
Dining: The main Restaurant serves contemporary, international cuisine reflecting the region’s specialities unique to the destination. It’s open-seating so that guests can dine when and with whom they like. The Grill features lava stone cooking where passengers can cook their meal directly at their table – available only in the evening. In the day, it is a rotisserie offering salads and burgers.
Facilities: A fleet of 12 Zodiacs, fitness centre, an Observation library on deck 6 of the ship with panoramic views; a Connoisseur’s Corner for good cognac or premium cigars; an Explorer Lounge for lectures and seminars; spa and beauty salon for both men and women.
Rate per day for a 12-day itinerary from Ushuaia to Ushuaia on Silver Explorer is $1868 pp ($22,410 pp total price departing 13 February 2022)