Around 350 guests turned out at the Beverly Hilton hotel last month to see Viking Cruises officially launch its “Expeditions” division and name two new ships. The Expeditions line will be a series of small-ship cruises to more extreme, less accessible destinations than are available on the Woodland Hills company’s traditional ocean and river cruises. So far, Expeditions will take travelers to Antarctica, the Arctic and the Great Lakes. “Our guests are curious explorers. They want to continue traveling with us to familiar and iconic destinations, but they would also like to travel further,” said Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen in a statement. “In creating ‘the thinking person’s expedition,’ we are perfecting polar expedition cruising, and we will usher in a new era of comfortable exploration in the heart of North America.” Guests at the event witnessed the naming of the first two ships in Viking’s Expeditions fleet – the Viking Polaris and Viking Octantis. Each will host up to 378 guests in 189 staterooms and will feature panoramic auditoriums for educational lectures and research laboratory spaces for use by the company’s academic partners from Cambridge University and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Both ships will be outfitted with straight bows, fin stabilizers and reinforced Polar Class 6 hulls for safe sailing through icy waters. The watercraft are currently under construction by Italian shipmaker Fincantieri and will be delivered in Norway in a few years. The Octantis will begin sailing to Antarctica and the Great Lakes in January 2022, while the Polaris will debut for voyages to Antarctica and the Arctic in August 2022. According to Andrew Kahn, director of operational business development at Woodland Hills travel agency Casablanca Express, expedition cruising is a natural evolution of river cruising, where smaller ships can dock at more ports and guests get to more intimately explore destinations. But where travelers in the past were concerned mostly with comfort, he said, today’s traveler wants a bit more action. “It’s all about adventure,” Kahn said. “Even on common, basic cruise ships.” And because expedition cruises have fewer guests and looser itineraries, the captain has more freedom to reroute based on spur-of-the-moment opportunities such as wildlife appearances, or simply to explore something new. Kahn said people who want to go on expedition cruises are generally willing to spend more money than the typical ocean or river cruise customer. That is reflected in Viking Expedition prices. The inaugural Antarctic Explorer cruise, for example, charges $14,995 a person for a 13-day voyage around the Antarctic peninsula. Viking’s 15-day Grand European Tour from Amsterdam to Budapest is downright cheap by comparison, running each guest just $3,649. A Viking spokesperson said the target consumers for expeditions are “experienced travelers, ages 55 and older … who are interested in culture, history, art and science.” Separately, Viking plans to launch seven river ships in 2020. It has six ocean ships on order, with options for four additional ships. That could bring Viking’s ocean ship fleet to 16 ships by 2027.