(2:33 p.m. EST) -- Viking Cruises' foray into the exciting and growing world of expedition cruising came one step closer to reality in December, when the line successfully floated out its first purpose-built expedition vessel, Viking Octantis.
The 378-passenger ship is scheduled to debut in early 2022 and will spend its maiden season sailing itineraries to Antarctica and North America's Great Lakes region. The ship will be followed by a sister, Viking Polaris, which will debut in summer 2022 and will offer voyages to the Arctic and Antarctic.
The ships are being styled in a similar fashion to Viking's fleet of oceangoing vessels, and are being constructed at Fincantieri's VARD shipyard in Søviknes, Norway. Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris will launch Viking's new Viking Expeditions brand.
Viking is one of several lines planning new expedition vessels to be launched over the next few years.
This year, dozens of new rugged, nimble and luxurious expedition vessels are scheduled to debut, including new offerings from Atlas Ocean Voyages, Crystal, Lindblad Expeditions, Ponant, Quark Expeditions, Silversea, Seabourn, and others.
Most new expedition vessels debuting this year and beyond are intended for service in the world's polar regions. Nearly all have ice-class ratings, and more and more vessels are offering additional "toys" for exploration, like onboard helicopters, submarines, and remotely-operated vehicles (ROV's).
Viking, on the other hand, is choosing to once again focus on the experience, both onboard and ashore. To that end, passengers can expect to find similar features that have proven popular on the line's award-winning river and oceangoing vessels, along with the company's trademark Scandinavian décor.
Viking's new expedition fleet will offer dedicated expedition teams onboard, along with a fleet of zodiac rafts for explorations ashore. Both ships will also offer a wide array of accommodations; a scientific laboratory onboard; faux outdoor firepits; and three temperature-controlled swimming pools, with indoor and outdoor options.
Viking Octantis sets sail in 2022.