With Ocean Victory, American Queen Voyages has joined the fast-growing expedition cruise market, offering a state-of-the-art ship designed for those looking for light adventure or interested in cruising through Alaska in a more immersive and intimate style than that offered by the big cruise ships that sail the area every year.
The 186-passenger ship itself offers a striking silhouette thanks to its X-Bow design and blue livery. The X-Bow, which makes the front of the ship look a bit bulbous, was created to reduce noise and vibration on the ship. And we did notice a reduction in these nuisances on our Alaska cruise. The ship is quiet.
Ocean Victory offers terrific viewing areas, both indoors and outdoors, with a highlight being the drop-down platforms on Deck 5, which are lowered when the ship is at anchor or stable under its dynamic positioning. When these are lowered, guests can step out for the best views, standing over the water on either the port (left) or starboard (right) sides. We also loved the Observation Lounge on Deck 8, and all the outdoor spaces, from Deck 8 on down through Deck 4. On a ship where you want to see what's ashore and in the water, you're never more than a couple steps away from a view.
The hands-on science program, offered in partnership with California Polytechnic State University, also is a win. Guests can learn and play with things like algae under the watchful eye of the expedition staff, which includes interns from Cal Poly.
Dining on Ocean Victory could use some improvement, especially in terms of consistency from dish to dish and meal to meal. We found a few great dishes but many more that were just OK. It was the most common complaint we heard from fellow cruisers on our sailing.
We also felt like the programming was still undergoing some growing pains in its inaugural season. Some of the shore tours offered were exceptional (our jetboat tour to the LeConte Glacier was a highlight that we'll remember for years to come), while others just didn't hit right (a walking tour in Wrangell, which came with a premium cost, had some guests feeling like they spent too much money for something they could have done on their own). It's not unusual for this kind of reaction in a first season, and we expect things will smooth out after the line evaluates offerings based on guest feedback.
Overall, Ocean Victory offers a great mid-priced expedition option, especially for those who want a good blend of feeling pampered and time to do some deep exploration -- and maybe even try something they've never done before.
The Ocean Victory Deck plan is designed for expedition cruising, with lots of outdoor space for wildlife watching. Additionally, virtually all indoor spaces are lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, so you will never miss a sea lion or whale tail.
The ship is striking from a distance, thanks to its X-bow design, designed to reduce shake and movement when the vessel is in especially rough waters like the Drake Passage. This hull creates two full outdoor decks at the bow of the ship (on decks 7 and 8), as well as a hybrid indoor/outdoor observation space on Deck 5.
Indoors, the majority of the action takes place in the Expedition Lecture Room on Deck 5. This is where guests attend lectures, learn about the next day's expedition activities and generally hang out, grabbing drinks from the nearby bar or the coffee and tea station.
Two restaurants, one on Deck 8, the other on Deck 5, serve as the ship's dining rooms. The Main Restaurant on Deck 5 is the more formal space, and the only spot for dinner.
The mudroom, located on Deck 3, is where passengers get ready for their expeditions. This room offers large lockers, life jackets, big boots for use while you cruise and space for hanging wet or dirty clothes. This is also where you'll board the ship's Zodiac inflatable boats.
A seldom-open infinity pool, flanked by two hot tubs with limited hours of operation, is located on Deck 7 aft.
Ocean Victory's 93 cabins are mostly spacious, with a solid amount of storage room. They range from 157-square-foot cabins that come with French balconies to 465-square-foot suites with large balconies. In between, you'll find smaller suites, staterooms with verandas and even cabins that have windows that don't open. When you're cruising to Alaska, you'll likely want a view, and all cabins offer that, though you might miss a balcony if book one of the 16 View Staterooms, which offer only windows.
Cabins to avoid on Ocean Victory include those on Deck 4 aft (the back of the ship), near the mudroom entrance. These can see a lot of foot traffic, and they also will pick up late-night noise from the crew area, especially on crew karaoke nights. Cigarette smoke also comes from a mysterious source here, and we picked up whiffs of it on and off during our Alaska sailing, when we stayed in cabin 433.
Meals are offered in two spots: The Main Restaurant and the more casual Panorama Restaurant. The variety featured is solid, with enough to appeal to most tastes -- even for those with dietary restrictions.
Food might be the biggest opportunity for improvement on the ship, as many of the dishes are underseasoned or overcooked -- and they're inconsistent from one dish to the next. In a place like Alaska, where you want that beautiful salmon filet, we were disappointed by the salmon, which we tried on several occasions and found to be dry and lacking flavor. We also wish there was a stronger connection to the region the ship is sailing, something parent company American Queen Voyages does so well on its river ships. Outside of salmon, there was no dish that screamed Alaska, no use of huckleberries, for example, and crab was offered only once, as an appetizer.
You'll find plenty to eat, but those looking for an immersive dining experience might end up disappointed.
Ocean Victory is an expedition ship, which means it's designed around getting guests close to nature and wildlife. For many passengers, this cruise will be an experience that challenges and surprises at every turn.
The ship is designed for expedition cruising, with the highest ice-class rating (PC5 Category A) -- something you won't need to worry about in Alaska but is handy when the ship sails in Antarctica, when it's chartered to Albatros Expeditions. The ship has a marina, which includes a floating platform used for loading kayaks or the popular polar plunge. It also has a mudroom filled with small lockers, assigned to each cabin. Guests can store their outdoor gear -- raincoats, waterproof pants, personal flotation devices and boots -- in these lockers and gear up in the mudroom rather than their own cabins. (It's a little tight, but it saves you a mess in your cabin.)
With more than a dozen Zodiacs onboard, passengers can count on plenty of opportunities for sightseeing, and many of the ship's port visits are done so via these rigid inflatable boats; Ocean Victory anchors (or uses its dynamic positioning system) out at sea, and guests load into Zodiacs to get ashore. The expedition crew assures that it can safely get anyone in and out of Zodiacs, and we saw this in action on our sailing, as several passengers with injuries or chronic joint problems were able to get into and out of the boats.
A large expedition team is assigned to the sailing, with people specializing in areas like kayaking or marine biology. They give lectures daily on things like the sea kelp in Alaska or the migration patterns of whales. They run the expedition activities, which typically happen on only two days during the voyages.
In addition to the expedition team, the ship hosts a Tlingit native, who speaks about the people and culture. Shore excursions to smaller ports, like Petersburg or Kake, give guests an additional glimpse of the native culture in Alaska. We attended onboard lectures on the art and culture around totem poles, and then we saw them being created in Kake.
Food at all restaurants
One bag of laundry per cabin per cruise
At least one shore excursion in every port
Rides on the ship's Zodiacs
Use of kayaks
All lectures and hands-on learning
Wine, beer, soft drinks and spirits
On-demand movies and TV shows
Most daily activities, unless otherwise noted
Gratuities on spa treatments
Premium wine, beer and spirits
Premium shore excursions
Additional laundry and pressing services
There's a heavy crossover between Ocean Victory and American Queen Voyages' river ships. Many guests on Ocean Victory have cruised on the company's other ships. The average age on the ship is somewhere north of 70 years.
Guests are curious and want to explore but generally aren't looking for extremely difficult or particularly strenuous activities; they don't mind exertion but want comfort and relaxation as well.
While Ocean Victory does have two accessible cabins (both suites) and a central elevator, guests with mobility issues need to consider whether they will enjoy an expedition cruise if they're unable to participate in all activities. Zodiac transfers, for example, can be difficult for those who have mobility concerns, and kayaking and the like might be off limits, depending on your comfort and abilities. Likewise, there is a 1-inch-plus threshold separating most public spaces, so those using wheelchairs, scooters or walkers would struggle.
There are no gatherings for LGBTQ+ or solo guests, but the onboard vibe is collegial, and passengers quickly get to know one another. Most guests are older couples; kids are allowed though not common, except during holidays and summer seasons, when school is out.
American Queen Voyages Expedition Cruise on the Ocean Victory
A Cruise for a Nature Lover