When we travel, we like to learn. Usually that means our focus is on the destination because we want to know as much as we can about the places we visit. But, since there is always an exception to the rule, on our recent journey from Barbados to New York aboard the Viking Octantis the ship was really the star of the show.
Speaking of stars, one of the first things we learned is that the name of the ship comes from the star Sigma Octantis, which is the closest star to the south pole.
That makes perfect sense because the Octantis was specifically designed as an expedition ship to explore the polar regions, especially Antarctica. That means that there are several aspects of the ship that are quite unique. We had certainly never seen anything like them before.
Many of the features are designed to provide some added comfort in the face of the frigid conditions encountered while exploring the Antarctic, so instead of an open air balcony, each cabin is equipped with a Nordic Balcony.
The idea is that the phenomenal scenery can be enjoyed in climate controlled comfort with the giant picture window in the raised position, but an open-air option is also available for the more adventurous passengers, or for times like our cruise when the weather is warm and sunny.
Each stateroom also has a heated drying closet for those snowy parkas and cold weather clothes, but we found it quite useful for our wet swimming gear on our Caribbean leg of our journey.
In another nod to avoiding the elements, Octantis has an enclosed in-ship marina called The Hanger. This allows boarding and launching of the ship’s various excursion craft while safely sheltered from the weather, wind, and waves.
The on board fleet includes over a dozen Zodiacs and several kayaks, along with four incredible vehicles for explorations, two six-seat submarines and two twelve passenger high-speed Special Operation Boats.
We missed out on going down in one of the submarines due to rough seas, but did get to take a quick cruise on one of the SOBs. These bad boys can really move! We got up to 38 knots, that’s 44 m.p.h., and let me tell you, that feels like flying on the water.
Usually speeds like that on the ocean would mean getting seriously tossed around by the waves, but these Special Operation Boats are equipped with seats on shock absorbers, so the whole wild ride was remarkably smooth.
Another intriguing feature designed with passenger comfort in mind is the state of the art U-tank stabilizers which can decrease rolling by up to 50% while the ship is stationary. The concept is remarkably simple, when the ship begins to list to one side water in a U shaped tank is transferred to the opposite side and balances the ship. Simple and effective!
There are also several technological advancements on Octantis, for instance, the ship operates all electric. This means that the four diesel engines are only used to generate electricity and the ship can easily operate on only two or three, and even on only one in an emergency. They have also added a system to remove almost all of the nitrogen oxides and carbon particles from the exhaust to help keep the pristine Antarctic ecosystem as clean as possible.
The high-tech amenities don’t stop there because scientific experiments and data collection were built into the ship. This means that researchers can travel along and gain valuable insights into our climate and environment.
There are two ongoing projects that passengers were able to participate in. The first involves cataloging the plastic microfibers found in seawater. The Octantis has a system that collects water, then runs it through a process of filters. The end results are placed on slides and examined for microscopic particles.
We joined several other passengers in The Laboratory to help the project by looking through high-power microscopes to count and document the fibers and particles we found.
The Viking Octantis is also partnered with the National Weather Service, and is the first civilian ship sanctioned to be a launch site for weather balloons. So on our second to last day, while cruising hundreds of miles off shore in the North Atlantic, we got to get up early and watch a launch.
The helium-filled balloon starts out about the size of a beach ball, but expands as it rises through the thinning atmosphere. By the time it reaches an altitude of twenty miles or more it has expanded to over thirty meters across and finally pops. No worries though, it is made of a special biodegradable latex so within a year it has disappeared.
All the while, data about the altitude, barometric pressure, temperature, humidity, and winds is being transmitted through a small radiosonde back to the ship and displayed on a big screen at Expedition Central, the main meeting place for all things scientific on board Octantis. We spent a lot of time there.
The data is then passed along to NOAA and the US National Weather Service to be added in with the other 102 weather stations reporting. All of this information is then used to create accurate weather predictions all over he world.
Yet even with all of these technological wonders, the ship has more than its share of other amenities for pampering, relaxation, comfort, and chowing down.
The huge spa area has public saunas and pools, along with extensive workout equipment and yoga space. Three more thermal pools, going from “Wow, that’s cold!” to “Ahhh, nice.” to “Yeah baby, now that’s a hot tub!” are lined up along the stern of the ship.
Several libraries and reading rooms are scattered throughout the decks, some with video gaming tables where lively impromptu backgammon, chess, checkers or other favorite board game matches break out on a regular basis.
When it came time to eat the crew of the Octantis really outdid themselves. We can safely say that this was the best buffet on any cruise we have ever been on. Fresh seafood everyday including king crab legs and several kinds of shrimp. There was also a sushi chef preparing perfect sashimi and rolls every evening.
Bread and pasta are made daily right on board, and a grill rivaling the best steakhouses sizzled at the ready for a T-bone, sirloin, or a surf and turf with fresh Caribbean spiny lobster.
Beyond the buffet, Manfredi’s serves authentic Italian fare made with that fresh, homemade pasta we mentioned. Magnifico! And The Restaurant features a variety of dishes and a relaxed yet upscale ambiance.
All in all we came to understand why Viking Octantis is classified as an expedition ship, because to travel is one thing, to explore another, but to be a part of an expedition is an entirely different experience.
On an expedition there are goals, not only to learn, but to add to the wealth of knowledge that can actually help the planet going forward. That is something Viking has devoted a great deal of attention to and a big part of why we like them so much.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
Thanks to Viking Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.