(9:30 a.m. EDT) -- Viking's expedition ships, coming in late 2021 and 2022, will have onboard lab facilities so passengers can be tested for COVID-19, the cruise line's founder and chairman said.
"We believe this is the right thing to do," Torstein Hagen said.
The move extends the health and safety practices that Viking instituted on its ocean cruise ships when cruising resumed in May. Viking is the only cruise line to have a full PCR testing labratory onboard.
Passengers and crew are tested daily through a saliva PCR process. You are given a test tube in your cabin nightly, and you spit into the tube when you wake up, before you brush your teeth or drink coffee. The cabin steward collects the tubes in the morning.
It's a process that seemed like overkill on paper a few months ago, but as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on, it is instrumental in allowing passengers to feel safe when traveling (myself included).
Cruising Saudi Arabia aboard Scenic Eclipse
Our Favorite Things Aboard Viking Venus
Regent Seven Seas Splendor Returns to the Seas
Silversea's New S.A.L.T. Program
Wonder of the Seas Construction Update: Sea Trials
NCL's Restart: What It's Like On The First Norwegian Cruise Ship Back in 16 Months
Cruise Critic and JJ Cruise : Our Experience Onboard Celebrity Edge (June 2021)
Here's What It's Like Onboard the First Large Cruise Ship to Alaska in 21 Months
LIVE Q&A: Cruise Critic and Emma Cruises Chat About All Things Cruise
Our Celebrity Silhouette Cruise Experience: March 2020 vs. July 2021
Cruise Executives Wish Cruise Critic a Happy 25th Anniversary
Freedom of the Seas: What's It Like Onboard a Test Cruise? (Cruise Critic & Royal Caribbean Blog
Q&A with Celebrity Cruises' Captain Kate McCue (2021)
Back on Celebrity Silhouette: Here's What It's Like On One Of Our Favorite Ships 15 Months Later
Freedom Of The Seas Resumes Sailing With New Rules
Cruise Critic | EatSleepCruise: What's It Like Onboard Celebrity Edge?
‘Top Chef’ Winner Kristen Kish Joins Holland America Line’s Award-winning Culinary Council
Celebrity Apex -- Video Tour of The Magic Carpet
Q&A: Cruisers and Crew Chat About The Joy of Cruising's Return
Celebrity Apex -- Eden
Celebrity Apex -- The Retreat
Celebrity Apex -- Video Tour of the Infinite Veranda Cabin
Q&A with Celebrity Apex's Cruise Director
Celebrity Apex -- Pools & Resort Deck
Celebrity Apex -- Embarkation Process (2021)
Live From Adventure of the Seas: What's the Same, What's Different and What's Better?
Here's What We Packed For Our Royal Caribbean Cruise (June 2021)
Celebrity to Restart from U.S. Homeport, PLUS Royal Caribbean Given Green Light for Test Cruises!
LIVE From MSC Virtuosa! Embarkation, the Buffet, COVID Protocols and MORE!
CRUISE NEWS Countdown! This Week's Top 5 Stories
NEWS: CDC Loosens Mask Restrictions; Norwegian Reveals NEW Ship Class
NEWS: What Does the Latest CDC Guidance Mean? We Explain, Cruisers & Cruise Lines React
Alaska 2021: Inside Passage Businesses Talk About A Devastating Season Without Cruise Tourists
CRUISE NEWS: Two Brand-New Cruise Ships From Disney And Celebrity Revealed, See Photos!
BREAKING NEWS: CDC Says Cruises From the U.S. Could Start by "Mid-July"
CRUISE NEWS: Two States Sue CDC Over Cruise Restart, New MSC Virtuosa Photos & More
CRUISE NEWS: The CDC Battle Over Cruise Continues!
LIVE Interview with Frank Del Rio, NCLH President and CEO, About Company's "Safe to Sail" Campaign
NEWS: Norwegian Makes HUGE Waves with Restart Plans (Bonus! Live From an Alaska Cruise)
Scrapped And Sold Cruise Ships We'll Miss (And 1 We Won't Have To!)
Where Can You Cruise To -- And From -- In Summer 2021?
Odyssey of the Seas -- From Steel Cutting to Delivery 2021
CRUISE NEWS: The CDC's Silence And Where Vaccinated Passengers Can Sail in 2021 -- VIDEO
BONUS NEWS! Royal Caribbean, Celebrity to Resume Cruising in June
BREAKING: A Big Cruise Line Says Guests Need the Jab, Another Announces U.K. Return
NEWS: This Cruise Line is Returning to Cruise SOON!
Could One Year Without Cruises Turn Into Two? 3 Reasons We're Optimistic (And 1 Reason We're Not)
Odyssey of the Seas' Debut in Israel, and Where Royal Caribbean Might Restart Next
Video Of Odyssey Of The Seas Conveyance March 2021
Cruise Restart, Rising Cruise Prices & The Vaccine's Impact On Bookings (Video)
Exciting Disney Cruise News, More Vaccine Mandates & MSC Seashore Sneak Peek (VIDEO)
Video Q&A With MSC Grandiosa's Hotel Director, Giuseppe Pane
Why Lines Aren't Canceling Alaska Cruises, Robot News and More
CDC Mask Mandate, Cruise Vaccine News and Canada's Cruise Ban Through 2022
Cruisers and Cruise Lines Talk Vaccines, Big Azamara News and More
Royal Caribbean Group Sells Popular Cruise Line, Mandatory Vaccines and More
Exciting Cruise News From Carnival Corp., Pause Extensions & More
Exciting New Ships in 2021 - This Week in Cruise News
Rudi Sodamin Makes A Special, Thanksgiving-themed "Food Faces" Video For Cruise Critic
Coin Ceremony For Celebrity Cruises' New Ship, Celebrity Beyond
Cruising In Maine During COVID-19, On the Only Ship Sailing in the U.S.
Former Cruise Ship Captain Offers "Ghost Tours" of Empty Cruise Liners in South England
Variety Cruises' Galileo, The First Eastern Mediterranean Cruise In The COVID Era
Royal Caribbean Group Announces E-muster, Keyless Cabin Check-in And Other App Improvements
Drone Footage Of MSC Grandiosa Docked In Genoa For First Sailing Since The COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 Cruise Safety & Sanitizing Equipment On Variety Cruises' Galileo
Cruise Lovers Share: "Why We Can't Wait to Sail Again!"
MSC Cruises - Smart Future Of Guest Experiences
First Look At Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady
Bolt - Top Deck Roller-Coaster at Sea on Carnival Mardi Gras
Norwegian Encore - Hull Art Reveal - Artist Eduardo Arranz Bravo
Disney Cruise Line Announces Disney Wish
Virgin Voyages Unveils Beach Club And Entertainment
Royal Caribbean Odyssey Of The Seas Steel Cutting At Meyer Werft
Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection To Debut In 2020
Virgin Voyages Reveals Suite Design New Cruise Ship
Celebrity Edge Sneak Peek: Why You Should Be Excited About Celebrity Cruises' Newest Ship
The Blue Eye Lounge On Ponant's Explorer-class Cruise Ship
Celebrity Edge Shipyard Hyperlapse Tour
Marella Cruises Cast Members Rehearse New Show Debut
Shipyard Tour: Royal Caribbean’s Symphony Of The Seas Gets Its Finishing Touches -- Video
Shaquille "Shaq" O'neal Named Chief Fun Officer Of Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Cruise Line's "Choose Fun" Commercial
Live From MSC Seaside: A Cruise Ship Designed For The Outdoors
Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum Of The Seas Celebrates Keel Laying
Sneak Peak At Symphony Of The Seas
Spectrum Of The Seas Steel Cutting At Meyer Werft
Anthem Of The Seas Welcomes Gigi The Giraffe
HRH Prince Phillip Visits Cunard's Fleet
Royal Rendezvous: 3 Cunard Queens Arrive In Southampton
Celebrity Silhouette's Conveyance (2011)
A Look Into the Lab
Cruise Critic toured the lab on Viking Venus, the line's newest ocean ship, which is cruising the Mediterranean from Malta. The equipment is state-of-the-art, encompassing a dual process that first extracts the RNA from the saliva before running the samples through a second machine that detects COVID-19. The lab can run up to 1,500 samples a day.
Results arrive within four hours. While the test is sensitive, it's extremely accurate; COVID-19 positives are detected early in the incubation period, well before a rapid antigen test would pick it up, Hagen said. When a positive occurs, it's double checked with a second saliva test, as well as a swab.
Passengers who test positive are isolated, and if the secondary results show COVID-19, the guests are taken off the ship. Close contacts are notified, tested and monitored. All passengers on Viking ocean ships carry a small contact tracing device, which is generally not triggered unless you've been around a positive case indoors for longer than 15 minutes.
What happens next depends on the country; Viking has agreements and protocols with every port. In Malta, for example, positive cases must go into a 14-day quarantine. While the costs of this are picked up by the cruise line, Cruise Critic recommends all passengers traveling overseas for the near future purchase travel insurance that covers trip delay and COVID-19 medical costs.
Since Viking resumed cruising, they have tested more than 19,656 people on their ocean cruises, as of August 26 – with a result of 32 positives from vaccinated passengers, Hagen said. Only four of those cases were symptomatic, showing that Viking's protocols have caught people with the virus who would never have known they have it, allowing them to be isolated and offboarded before causing an outbreak. Two of the four cases required hospital care. (On our trip, two passengers tested positive on the first day and were offboarded in Malta.)
While Viking recommends people take PCR tests on their own before they arrive at the ship, it's not a requirement for vaccinated travelers entering Malta -- and so positive cases will show up, especially with the delta variant being so widespread, the onboard ship doctor told us.
The biggest factor that leads to surprise positive tests for passengers is usually travel before they arrive or going out to a gathering with unvaccinated friends and family before their trip, the doctor said. More advice from Cruise Critic: Wear a mask, preferably a KN-95, when you're at the airports, on planes and in transit, and lay low in the time period between your last PCR test and your trip. You don't want your expensive European vacation to be ruined by dinner with your in-laws.
Testing Not Cheap, But Necessary
Daily onboard testing is not cheap; Hagen said the line is spending as much on testing as they are on fuel this year. But he said early on, he and the line's medical consultants recognized that testing would be important for maintaining a safe atmosphere, beyond vaccination and masking (which are also required).
Testing is also giving the line confidence to go ahead with its world cruise, at a time when other cruise lines are canceling. (Viking's 2021 world cruise is scheduled to depart December 24.)
Having testing on the line's the 378-passenger expedition ships -- Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris -- will also be key in creating confidence on far-flung itineraries. Viking Octantis which will debut in December 2021 and will sail in the Antarctic and the Great Lakes. Viking Polaris follows in summer 2022, cruising in the Arctic and Antarctic.
Viking does not have PCR labs on its European riverboats, although passengers still take saliva PCR tests daily. Hagen said that's because the ships are so close to labs and health facilities onshore.
All in all, 2022 is shaping up to be a big year for Viking. The line is launching its Mississippi River ship – the 386-passenger Viking Mississippi – in summer 2022. Viking also has more specialty river ships in Egypt and on Asia's Mekong coming, as well as two more ocean cruise ships, Viking Mars and Viking Neptune, coming in May 2022 and November 2022 respectively. Eight new European Longships are being added in 2021 and 2022.
The constantly changing nature of the pandemic has been difficult for cruising; even on Viking Venus' current sailing, British passengers were surprised when the U.K. government suddenly put Montenegro, which is a scheduled stop on the current itinerary, on the red list. To help the British guests avoid an expensive quarantine, Viking gave them cabins on the next cruise and rebooked their flights from Athens.
2022 Revenue Higher Than 2019
All in all, though, Hagen said that he's "bullish" on the future. Projected revenue for 2022 is already 41 percent higher than it was in 2019, driven in part by the new expedition and Mississippi River expansion.
"We have been fortunate," he said, noting that Viking is not a public company. Besides Hagen, there are two other shareholders in Viking who were happy to invest, he said. "They saw it as a great opportunity.
"We are a great company and we should have enough finances not to worry about anything. We are in a very good position."