BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Viking is about to become the latest company to jump into the expedition cruise business, launching a line called Viking Expeditions in 2022 with two 378-passenger ships.

The Viking Octantis will debut in January of that year on itineraries to Antarctica and the Great Lakes. The Viking Polaris, with a planned August 2022 delivery, will operate in Antarctica and the Arctic regions. The ships will have ice-strengthened hulls. 

The line has a contract for the pair with Vard, which is constructing the hulls in Romania and finishing the ships in Norway.

Viking opened the books on all itineraries to the general public Jan. 15. 

The line formally revealed its expedition plans at an event here that included the official naming of its newest ocean ship, the Viking Jupiter, by soprano Sissel Kyrkjebo, who also performed.

In a statement, chairman Tor Hagen referred to the product as "the thinking person's expedition."

"Our guests are curious explorers," he said. "They want to continue traveling with us to familiar and iconic destinations, but they would also like to travel farther. We began as Viking River Cruises; then we evolved into Viking Cruises with the addition of ocean cruises; today we stand singularly as Viking ... visiting more than 403 ports in 95 countries and on all seven continents." 

The expedition category has seen major growth over the past two years, and more is planned. Several companies in the tour operator and cruise sectors are constructing ships that are purpose-built for expedition cruising. 

Viking did not allude to plans for expedition ships beyond the Octantis and Polaris, although its initial letter of intent with Vard included an option for two additional ships. The company is hardly a stranger to expansion. It has more than 60 river ships, with seven more scheduled to join this year, and its ocean fleet, launched in 2015, now numbers six vessels, with six more on order and options for another four.

On the environmental front, Viking said the ships will meet guidelines and requirements from the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators and others. The company said its expedition ships' straight bows would reduce fuel consumption, while a dynamic positioning system would enable the vessels to maintain position without anchoring.

Viking also said it has partnered with research institutions as part of its "commitment to destination-focused learning," adding that between staff and resident scientists, it would have more than 25 experts aboard each expedition cruise. It has created an endowed seat at Cambridge University's Scott Polar Research Institute, and the institute's scientists will conduct fieldwork on the ships and interact with passengers. Other partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The Octantis and the Polaris are being designed by the same engineering and architectural teams that handle Viking's oceangoing ships. They will include public spaces familiar to its passengers such as the Explorers' Lounge — but "reimagined for expeditions" — and will feature the company's Scandinavian-modern interior design.

One space unique to the expedition ships will be the Hangar, which Viking said was an industry first: an in-ship marina facilitating the launch of small excursion craft through the ships' multiple shell doors, including an 85-foot slipway that enables guests to embark rigid inflatable boats from a stable, interior surface. The ships will also carry Zodiac craft, kayaks and two six-passenger submersibles.

And since they are designed as both leisure cruise ships and research vessels, a 430-square-foot room called the Laboratory will be "designed to support a broad range of research activities" in a mezzanine above the Hangar. Guests will have supervised access.

The cabins will have what Viking called a Nordic Balcony, a sunroom where the top of the glass can be lowered to the open air.

Viking is also designing the aft deck of the ships as a combination lecture hall and outdoor lounge. The backdrop to the Aula auditorium will be floor-to-ceiling windows with 270-degree views. Adjacent to the Aula will be the Finse Terrace, an outdoor lounge with couches and warming, lava rock "fire pits."

Viking said the two spaces can be combined for "an unmatched … alfresco experience for guests to be immersed in nature."

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