The new luxury expedition ship Viking Octantis sails from Milwaukee in the United States to Thunder Bay in Canada, passing through rugged islands and breathtaking sounds. Sue Wallace settles in for a memorable trip.
It’s quite the James Bond script. One minute we’re in a fast wave of Viking special ops boats jumping over the turquoise waters of Canada’s spectacular Silver Islet near Sleeping Giant Provincial Park on Lake Superior and the next, sipping bubbles and toasting to the immaculate landscape in all its splendour.
Known as the SOB for short, the sleek, military-grade boat moves at high speed and it’s a thrilling ride, reminiscent of a big-screen Bond boat chase with the wind in its hair and the jet of water casual gentle on your face, while snug. a high-tech suspended seat.
Guide Hans Martin, who has spent many seasons in the Arctic, spots a bald eagle soaring from afar and later talks about the archipelago’s 30,000 windswept islands – some are tiny, with a single tree .
Blue skies, bright sunshine and eerie fluffy white clouds frame the pretty views of this secluded pine-choked Lake Superior coast in Ontario.
The area has a fascinating history: the equivalent in today’s currency of A$87 million worth of silver was mined from a small underwater mine 384 meters below a tiny rocky island near Silver Islet until it was closed in 1884.
Later we visit the historic general store and tea house on the shore of Silver Islet village, where the cinnamon rolls are legendary.
“This area is rich in history and you just have to look at this spectacular scenery,” says Jeff Korkola, who along with his wife Sandy owns the store, which opened in 1871 for the mining company and miners. The miner’s original crate, receipt book and felted wool helmets, covered in candle wax that lit their way to the icy depths, are on display.
The port is the culmination of an eight-day nature-packed Great Lakes cruise from Milwaukee in the United States to Thunder Bay in the Canadian province of Ontario aboard the expedition ship Viking Octantis , which debuted this year.
The Great Lakes, which include Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario, are the largest body of fresh water on Earth by total area and the second largest by total volume, containing 21% of the world’s surface fresh water.
The huge expanse of water resembles an inland sea, with white-capped waves that sway back and forth as the wind picks up. It’s quite different from river and ocean cruises, but just as enjoyable.
What does the ship look like?
Viking Octantis can accommodate 378 guests and 256 crew and is a stunner. Purpose built as an expedition vessel equipped to sail to Antarctica and other remote destinations, she is also very stylish and comfortable with touches of luxury.
The focus is on discovery and learning, with a 36-strong expedition team providing opportunities to unleash those inner curiosities and engage in experiments in the science lab. Guests can participate in research activities, hands-on workshops and an early morning weather balloon release to collect statistics, in partnership with the University of Cambridge and Akvaplan-niva, a company affiliated with the Institute Norwegian water research.
The ship is a treasure chest of fancy ‘toys’, including two six-person submarines named John and Paul – they’re yellow, of course, and endorse Chairman Torstein Hagen’s love of the Beatles. The other two submarines, George and Ringo, are aboard sister ship Viking Polaris, which is due to launch later this year. The 270 degree spherical windows allow you to see what is hidden under the waters of the lake.
There are also 17 high-tech military-grade Zodiacs, 16 kayaks and two 12-berth SOBs, all located in an enclosed marina aboard the ship, The Hangar, which has revolutionized the way passengers enter boats from an interior slipway. sheltered from wind and waves.
Viking Octantis showcases the best of Scandi design, showcasing Norwegian culture, history and eclectic decor, with attention to detail.
We listen to captivating lectures, documentaries and feature films in the impressive panoramic auditorium, Aula Theatre. Modeled after the famous Ceremonial Hall at the University of Oslo, the former location of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, it houses reproductions of the three central murals created by Norwegian Expressionist Edvard Munch for the original Aula, as well as bay windows. .
Expedition Central is the hub for all you need to know about activities, with an impressive ceiling art installation Thinking about the Flyway by Norwegian artist Toril Bonsaksen, which depicts the incredible migratory journey of a seabird.
Some of my favorite haunts are the living room and the library, where you can cozy up on a comfy sofa next to a faux fire and leaf through lovely books ranging from tales of explorers, garden design and travels , hosted by Heywood Hill Bookshop, a landmark literary bookshop in the heart of London.
Another is the open-air Finse Terrace, with its sheltered sunken seating and lava rock “fire pits.” It is named after the Hagen family dog, which in turn was named after the Norwegian plateau of Finse where polar explorers including Nansen and Amundsen trained. The beloved dog’s paw prints are embedded in the floor tiles.
But my happy place is the Nordic spa which reflects Scandinavia’s holistic wellness philosophy with its bathing rituals. It’s hard to leave the warm, sparkling waters of the hydrotherapy pool, but I do and sit in the sauna, then cool off with a cold bucket shower and warm up in the traditional Norwegian badestamp, or wooden hot tub, open to the outside.
My skin tingles in the invigorating rain of snow as tiny snowflakes descend. I rub my feet in the mound of snow then lounge on a heated tiled bed until it’s time for a Swedish massage with deft hands. I leave completely at peace with the world and ready to sink into bed and dream of snowy adventures.
My cabin is a paradise with a northern balcony – a large window that opens halfway up and becomes a gazebo, a bed that entices you to linger, a sofa, a dressing table and a drying closet. The bathroom has heated floors and is stocked with Freyja products, and there is a coffee machine and mini-bar.
Peckish ? You can order 24-hour room service, then watch on-demand movies, live webcam views and enrichment lecture rehearsals – heaven, really.
Dinner aboard the Viking Octantis
The acclaimed Italian restaurant Manfredi’s offers the farmhouse-inspired heartiness of Tuscany or the robust flavors of the northern provinces. Caprese insalata with buffalo mozzarella, vine-ripened tomatoes and basil is followed by Bistecca Fiorentina, a house specialty – think thick rib eye coated in garlic oil and rubbed with porcini powder, salt kosher, brown sugar and red pepper flakes; exceptional. There is only one word for the final grand tiramisu – “squisito” – exquisite.
The restaurant offers daily changing menus and regional specialties using fresh, local ingredients and classics that are always available, including the Chairman’s Choice – poached Norwegian salmon – which I love. There is no additional charge for these two restaurants, but reservations are essential.
The World Café is like a food court, with great little cafes including the Grill, a sushi bar and a 24-hour bakery; you will also find premium seafood and international dishes.
My favorite is the intimate Mamsen’s, which pays homage to Hagen’s mother, Ragnhild ‘Mamsen’ Hagen, where traditional Norwegian cuisine is the star, including split pea soup, smørrebrød (open sandwiches) and waffles made according to Mamsen’s original recipe.
When it comes to cake, the Suksessterte, or cake of success – an almond cake covered in rich layers of vanilla cream – is downright addictive.
The iconic image of Mamsen on his cross-country skis pulling his grandson on a sled, and the tableware reimagined from the plates and cups used in the family kitchen, endear this intimate dining space.
For aperitif we head to the Explorers’ Lounge, where an Aquavit cocktail seems appropriate, while after dinner we head to the Hide. Finding it is part of the charm.
Tucked into the ship’s steel bow, the Hide looks like the inside of a rustic explorers cabin. Large slanted windows offer sweeping views of the landscape during the day, while at night it’s a cozy retreat.
Itinerary and activities on board
Onboard activities include nature and wildlife lectures, science workshops, music recitals and trivia. Ports include pretty Mackinac Island, home to charming Victorian-era homes with flowery hanging baskets. It’s car-free: transportation is by horse-drawn carriage. There are plenty of fudge shops and the majestic Grand Hotel is perfect for a high tea.
There are three stops in Georgian Bay including Parry Sound, the town of Killarney and Frazer Bay, all of which are part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
We spend a morning on the Soo Locks Bridge, which connects Lake Superior and Lake Huron, sipping Irish coffee to warm us up. Silver Islet is our last port before disembarking at Thunder Bay.
Viking Octantis merges luxury and adventure expeditions seamlessly, while awakening a spirit of discovery – no doubt that would meet with Mr. Bond’s approval.
Great Lakes Explorer cruises on Viking Octantis depart May 19, June 2 and June 30, 2023, priced at $8,795; vikingcruises.com.au.
Favorite experience? The self-guided art trail on board is an ode to Nordic heritage. It features eclectic digital and print media, sculptures, installations, photography and oil paintings that stopped me in my tracks.
The many exquisite works are hand-picked. These include originals by Astrid Nondal, Toril Bonsaksen, Anne Ingeborg Biringvad and Hanne Lydia Opøien Figenschou, Thore Heramb and Jakob Weidemann.
What to pack for your trip
Leave your evening dress and pumps at home: it’s more about being laid back and comfortable on Viking Octantis.
Pack a warm, waterproof down jacket for shore excursions, a fleece top, sturdy shoes, a hat, mosquito repellent and sunscreen. The sun can be fierce even on cloudy days.
For the evening, smart pants, shirts and casual dresses suit the expedition-style ship. Don’t forget your swimmers: the Nordic hydrotherapy pool is fabulous.
Binoculars are provided and rain pants can be borrowed. There is a drying closet in your cabin for wet clothes and the laundries on each floor are free.