Updated January 8, 2020
Five minutes in the freezing cold? If you can bear the snow grotto, it might be the most fun you can have wearing just your bathing suit onboard a Viking cruise ship.
What It Is
The snow grotto is part of the thermal suite on all Viking cruise ships. The concept is based on the Scandinavian bathing ritual, which involves alternating hot and cold therapies. (Proponents of the ritual say the process will leave you invigorated and improve circulation, among other benefits.) The snow grotto is a small, glass-enclosed room filled with manmade snow; the freezing room temperature prevents the snow from melting.
I visited the thermal suite on Viking Sea, which is free to all passengers, on a sea day, so the space was fairly busy but not at all crowded. But first, I swung by the spa desk to ask for instructions and was told to spend time first in the steam sauna, then hit the snow grotto for 5 minutes. Easy enough.
Wearing a bathing suit and spa-provided slippers, I popped into the steam sauna, which was really hot, and the thick steam makes it somewhat difficult to breathe. Still, great conversation with other Viking Sea passengers helped me last nearly 10 minutes, and I was sufficiently heated to brace for the next step.
Full disclosure: I despise the cold, so the thought of spending any time in a cold room wearing nothing but a bathing suit did not appeal to me. For the first attempt, I wore slippers and a robe over my suit.
Walking into the snow grotto requires a step up, and the floor was slippery from snow being repeatedly trampled. (Luckily, another passenger inside gave me the heads up, and I grabbed the bar located right next to the door to steady myself.) To my surprise, the cold didn't feel so cold. In fact, it felt pretty pleasant, and the 5 minutes on my feet passed quickly.
Feeling emboldened, I returned to the steam sauna to repeat the process, then back into the snow grotto, this time wearing just my bathing suit and slippers. A passenger inside had brought in a towel to put on one of the ice-covered benches and kindly shared it. (He said he brought the towel not as a barrier to the cold but because he had had "an embarrassing incident" previously in which his swim trunks stuck to the bench as he stood up.) Even with the towel, the cold bench was a bit too much, so I opted to stand again after a few minutes. The second time, I didn't stare at my watch but left the soothing blue-lit grotto when it felt like it was time.
In the end, I did feel better -- more alert, awake and energized -- and other passengers reported the same results. The feeling lasted for a couple of hours, which was a nice pick-me-up.
Worth a Try?
Give the snow grotto a shot, even if you aren't keen on the cold. Sure, there's the novelty of it, but you might feel great afterward. Plus, you get bragging rights. (Who wouldn't want to start a story with, "Did I ever tell you about the time I stood in the snow wearing nothing but a bathing suit?") And because the experience is included in your cruise fare, you have nothing to lose.
Things to Note
The floor of the snow grotto gets really slick, so if you have mobility issues, this might not be the right thing to try. Visit early in the morning, when the snow is fresh and untrodden, to avoid slipping.
Also take note that about once per cruise, the grotto needs to be defrosted and cleaned, meaning it might not be available on the afternoon you're aiming to try it.
Do yourself a favor and bring a towel if you plan to sit down, and don't try venture in with bare feet.
Benches can accommodate a total of three people comfortably, and an additional two to three people can squeeze in standing. More than that, and chances are, you'll feel claustrophobic.