At its core, Viking Octantis is an expedition ship. It simply doesn't offer production shows in a theater. And you won't miss it. After an intense day of expedition excursions, many guests are content to grab dinner, a drink or two and head to bed.
Much of the activity during the day takes place ashore, so most of the time, onboard programming during the day is light. This is a chance for the ship's toys to shine.
For starters, the ship has two yellow submarines onboard (named Paul and John, natch!). These are taken out for discovery when weather and local regulations permit. While a number of expedition ships offer submarines, Viking's sub dives are included in the price of the cruise fare for every passenger, regardless of cabin category.
In theory, that means each guest who wants a sub ride can get one. In practice, it's a little less clear cut, as weather often can and does mean the sub can't operate. On our sailing, we had two really good days of availability, with a half-dozen or so dives per day. If your dive gets canceled, the crew will do their best to get you on another dive later in the week, but it's not always possible, and we heard from a lot of disappointed guests.
Bottom line: Consider a sub dive a bonus to your vacation. If book only because of the sub, you could very well be unhappy. (If you can, book your sub ahead of your cruise online at your My Viking Journey hub.)
If you are lucky enough to get on the sub, it's a pretty exciting experience. How often do you get to go as many as 300 meters below the surface of the ocean? In Antarctica, you might see jellyfish or witness just how deep glaciers or icebergs go. In the Great Lakes, you might see fish like pike or sturgeon, invasive species (zebra and quagga mussels, for example) or even shipwrecks.
Because Viking Octantis is a working science vessel, it is collecting data from its subs and reporting its findings to partners like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Norwegian Polar Institute.
Tip: You really need to make sure you are physically capable of doing the sub ride. Getting from the Zodiac to the submarine is difficult, requiring lots of maneuvering in unstable water. The sub is also small, and anyone who has the least bit of claustrophobia should seriously consider this before riding. If you do choose to give it a go, know that if you get out there and change your mind, you're not just preventing yourself from taking a ride; you're preventing your whole group from going. Guests are weighed before going on the sub, and groups are precisely put together by weight. If one person bails, the whole group misses out.
In addition to the subs, Viking Octantis also has two Special Operations Boats (humorously dubbed SOBs). Each of these boats, which cost roughly $1.1 million each, weighs nine tons and is 40 feet long. They essentially are ridiculously high-end rigid inflatable boats that can hit high speeds and provide a comfortable way to explore, especially for guests who might have trouble getting in and out of the Zodiacs.
The SOBs are designed to load inside The Hangar, a state-of-the art storage facility that houses all of the ship's toys. Passengers load onto the SOBs, which then slide via a roller track into the water. This keeps passengers dry and comfy, and is an easy way to board. The SOBs can take guests farther away from the ship than the Zodiacs can, so the sightseeing range is even more expansive.
The Hangar also houses the ship's 16 kayaks, 17 Zodiacs and a dive boat that always is in use when the subs are deployed, ensuring safety. (The ship occasionally offers tours of The Hangar; if you see it on your schedule, sign up! It's fascinating.)
Note: Subs and other toys, including the special operations boats, Zodiacs and kayaks can't operate in U.S. waters because of the Passenger Vessel Services Act. On Great Lakes itineraries, these will only be used in international and Canadian waters.
When excursions aren't going on, guests can join in on lectures, which often are specific to the region that the ship is visiting. In the polar regions, you might learn about whales, seals or penguins. In the Great Lakes, you could find out about phytoplankton or toxic algae. With 36 people on the expedition team, science and learning are front and center on any Viking Octantis voyage.
Most lectures take place in The Aula, a gorgeous theater with a retractable giant 4K screen that works for presentations or running movies and documentaries. When the screen lifts, you see expansive views from the back of the ship; you literally could be learning about albatrosses, then see them flying on the currents off the back of the ship.
Additional learning might take place in The Science Lab, an actual lab with microscopes where guests become citizen scientists, participating in activities like counting microplastics. There's also Expedition Central on Deck 2, where you can casually chat with the expedition team or take in classes. There's a giant screen there that can be used to show and explain data. On our cruise, we released a weather balloon, and we could watch its progress and see the data it was returning, right on that screen in real time.
We really enjoyed the learning on our cruise, though one gripe we had was there weren't lectures on days where we were in port. On sea days, there were plenty of lectures and hands-on activities offered. Those who don't care so much about science will still enjoy themselves.
During the day, you'll see the occasional trivia session offered; questions are tough, and competition, though friendly, is fierce. Bridge play is also offered. The hangout during the day tends to be The Living Room, a comfy space that is great for reading (you'll find hundreds of books all over the ship, if you're looking for something to read) or putting together a puzzle. The Living Room also has a number of game tables that include a variety of fun electronic games, such as digital backgammon or Texas Hold 'Em.
A daily paper schedule is delivered to your room each night outlining the next day's activities, though you can use the Viking Voyager app on your mobile device as well to see what's going on at any given time. The app was a little glitchy on our sailing, and we were happy to have the paper copy.
Tip: If you want to learn more about the art and history of exploration, the Viking Voyager app offers a self-guided audio art tour that is a great way to spend a day at sea.
For the most part, the ship has a relatively chill vibe, day or night. When the sun goes down, guests get ready for dinner. Most will swing by a bar for a predinner cocktail and casual conversation with new friends. Entertainment is casual, with a pianist or duo performing. (The duo on our sailing was great, singing contemporary hits as well as older pieces.) But for the most part, entertainment serves as a backdrop to great conversation.
In the evening, passengers will get a briefing about what to expect the next day -- especially important in Antarctica. Movies might be shown on the big screen in The Aula, where they combine popcorn with chardonnay (or your drink of choice).
We caught a Liar's Club session on our sailing, and a welcome and farewell reception with the captain and officers take place on every cruise.
Viking Octantis doesn't have a casino.
For a ship of its size, Viking Octantis has a lot of spots for grabbing a coffee or cocktail and whiling away the hours. Drinks are moderately priced; you won't be gouged for your beverages. And the ship does offer the Viking Silver Spirits package that is so reasonable, many passengers elect to purchase it. Virtually every drink onboard is covered by that package.
The ship also features a deep wine list, and guests looking for something outside of the house wine list will have enough options to keep most satisfied. The beer list is also a nice surprise, offering craft beers from Norway as well as a good selection of European brews.
For a Predinner Chat: It's tough to beat the incredible, two-level Explorer's Lounge, with lots of nooks for conversation. Ahead of dinner, you might catch a pianist or musical duo. And while the music is good, it serves as a background to the conversation.
For a Whiskey: Or a scotch. Or Aquavit or Armagnac. Speakeasy-inspired The Hide offers up spirits, and that's it. When the bar cart rolls in around 8:30 each night, it's a fun place to relax and sip. The Hide, located on Deck 1, is actually tough to find; you can only get there by the forward stairs/elevator.
While You Read: Filled with books, couches and game tables, The Living Room Bar is a wonderful spot for grabbing a drink while you read. Or put together a jigsaw puzzle.
For a View: Enjoy the indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace with a cocktail in hand. Regardless of whether you're inside or out, you'll have great views thanks to floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors and the perfect aft location.
Viking's main pool is an indoor/outdoor pool located in the Aquavit Terrace on Deck 5. Guests can swim indoors, or, when the connecting window is open, through to the outside. The pool is an infinity pool. Outdoors, you'll find smaller plunge pools on either side of the main pool. Be careful! By design, the pool on the port side is hot, while the one on the starboard side is freezing cold. (In keeping with traditional Nordic spa lifestyles.)
Like any good expedition ship, Viking Octantis offers plenty of outdoor decks, ideal for checking out wildlife and seeing gorgeous landscapes. There's no "bad" spot for viewing, but the best might be the ship's Finse Terrace, located on Deck 2, aft. Adjacent to The Aula lecture hall, Finse Terrace is a large area with a Nordic garden feel, thanks to neat rows of faux hedges. Outdoor-friendly couches and padded benches fill the area, with two large "fire pits" to keep people warm even in cold climes. The space is named after Executive Vice President Karine Hagen's dog, Finse; look for the pawprints!
Another terrific viewing area is The Bow on Deck 3. When whales are breaching or dolphins porpoise, this is where you'll want to be, as you have unobstructed views from the most forward spot on the ship. The adjacent Shelter provides a little break from the wind.
Other outdoor viewing and gathering spots include the wide-open Deck 6, promenade space on Deck 5 that almost fully wraps the ship and seating in front of the Explorers' Lounge on Deck 4.
Not an outdoor space but worth mentioning is The Hide. While at night the space transforms into a bar, during the day, it's about as close to the water as you can get without going in. Located in the bow on Deck 1, the exterior walls are angled, and so are the huge windows, giving guests an incredible view of the water below.
Wi-Fi service is included in all cruise fares, and is generally solid enough for writing emails and checking in on social media sites. It bogs down when everyone is onboard using it all at once, though, so if you have to have faster internet, wait till other guests are sleeping or ashore. When others were ashore, we found it fast enough to have a video meeting, without our camera on. (It works best nearest the ship's routers, which are well-camouflaged. Our best service came in The Living Room and right next to Guest Services.)
Viking Octantis also offers a lovely shop filled with clothing and jewelry, with a Scandinavian tilt.
There's a reason Viking Cruises wins Cruise Critic's Editors' Picks Award for Best Cruise Ship Spa year after year: The cruise line knows how to put together a fantastic spa complex. Viking applied the same approach it uses on its larger ocean-going vessels and applied it perfectly to Octantis. The scaled-down version includes a gorgeous -- included -- thermal spa that has a giant thalassotherapy pool, large steam room, sauna, snow grotto, cold "dump" bucket shower, and experience shower, plus heated ceramic chairs as well as thickly padded loungers.
Our favorite addition might be the badestamp, a hot tub with an open window directly to the outside. It's surrounded by real wood and smells like you're outdoors. It's a beautiful and peaceful place to spend time.
It's a popular spot, especially on sea days, but traffic there seems to meander, with guests staying for an hour or two at a time, then moving on, making room for the next group.
The ship's spa is adjacent to the thermal spa, offering a variety of massage and facial therapies. Many of them are Nordic themed, with options like Scandinavian Reflex (a therapeutic Swedish foot and calf massage) and our favorite, the Viking Restart, which is part massage, part skin treatment and all relaxing. A small hair salon offers hair treatments, including blowouts and restorative therapies.
Tip: Look for the Nordic Bathing Night activity to show up on your daily program. This by-appointment is a guided journey through Nordic bathing traditions, alternating hot and cold treatments. A nominal fee applies, and it fills up quickly.
The gym on Viking Octantis is well-equipped and is notable for its variety of equipment, from treadmills and a rowing machine to dumbbells (up to 10 kilograms) and weight machines. You'll also find stationary bikes, ellipticals, jump ropes, resistance bands, medicine balls and mats.
The fitness center is actually divided into two spaces: the weight and cardio equipment area and a second space for fitness classes and stretching. It's easy to miss this space, which hides behind floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Classes, like core or stretching, are offered daily and included in the cost of your cruise. This area also is ideal for yoga; the ship includes blocks, bolsters, straps and mats. It also offers on-your-own, on-demand classes like yoga and stretching (projected on a big-screen TV).
Only adults 18 and older are permitted to sail on Viking Octantis.