Ports in Ontario have been flooded with excitement as the Viking Octantis, Viking's first expedition ship, sailed from Toronto to Niagara over the weekend.
The arrival of the new ship marked a return to cruising on the Great Lakes after two years of suspended service due to COVID-related restrictions, sparking enthusiasm among travel advisors and cruise lovers who made their way to ports to see Octantis in all its glory.
TravelOnly’s Brenda Falvo, owner of www.TravelAway.ca, caught a glimpse of the ship as it sailed through Port Colbourne, ON, where buses picked up passengers and took them on tours through the Niagara Region.
“I love the full windows in the rooms – the Nordic Balconies,” said Falvo, who took to Facebook to post a picture of herself standing in front of the ship. “You can tell it is an expedition vessel as it loads the tenders inside for the safety of passengers.”
With a capacity of 378 guests in 189 staterooms, the Viking Octantis kicked off the 2022 cruise season that runs from May to October, and will sail five itineraries that stop in Toronto.
The ship recently sailed the Atlantic Coastline to the Great Lakes following it first voyages to Antarctica, and will visit U.S. and Canadian destinations such as Fort Lauderdale, Charleston, New York, Lunenburg, Quebec City, Niagara Falls, Point Pelee and Thunder Bay.
A second, identical sister ship, Viking Polaris, will join the fleet later in 2022 and sail the Great Lakes in 2023.
"Designed for discovery"
Octantis is about offering more indoor and outdoor viewing areas than other expedition vessels, bringing guests as close as possible to nature and scenery.
All staterooms on board Viking’s expedition ships feature a Nordic Balcony, a sunroom that converts into an al fresco viewing platform with an observation shelf at elbow level to stabilize binoculars or a camera.
With spaces like “The Aula,” a panoramic auditorium, “The Hangar,” an in-ship marina, “The Science Lab,” where guests can interact with scientists, and “Expedition Central,” a hub for onboard experts to share their research and knowledge about destinations, the ship was “designed for discovery,” as Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking Cruises, said in a statement last March.
“It’s exciting to see our first expedition vessel, the Viking Octantis, arriving into the Great Lakes for her debut season,” Jordana Botting, director of business development for Eastern Canada at Viking Cruises, told PAX.
One of Viking’s objectives is to support scientists in their research of natural environments, she said.
“Every voyage will provide opportunities for scientific discovery—for our guests,” Botting said.
“In addition to offering our guests the ability to explore some of the world’s most pristine destinations in comfort, and in the most responsible way possible, we are proud that our expedition vessels can also be utilized as ships of opportunity for important research that might not be possible otherwise.”
Scientists from renowned academic institutions have been undertaking fieldwork on board Viking Octantis “and will be sharing their expertise with our guests” through lectures, opportunities to join in on field work, or by working alongside them in an onboard laboratory, Botting said.
"Modern & sleek"
Kabir Bageria, host of the podcast Keeping Afloat, made his way to Toronto’s harbourfront on Friday (April 29) to catch a glimpse of the ship as it docked in the city.
“It’s modern and sleek,” said Bageria, a former cruise director. “It’s very in line with larger cruise ships – almost a mini-version. It’s an impressive feat of engineering.”
It’s also the most state-of-the-art vessel to sail the Great Lakes, he said, especially due to specific size requirements in place for fitting through the locks.
Bageria is looking forward to sailing aboard Viking Octantis from June 18-25.
The ship is currently en route to Point Peele and its arrival in communities is expected to revitalize local tourism.
A 2018 study estimated that cruise activity at Ontario ports could generate more than $6 million annually in revenue to sectors catering to vessels, passengers and crew.
"The return of cruise ship passengers to the Great Lakes will bring renewal and revitalization to our local tourism and travel sectors, hard-hit over the past two years,” said Geoffrey Wilson, CEO, PortsToronto. “We are thrilled to welcome them back.”