While you still can't take a train directly to Madison from Milwaukee, next year you'll be able to sail between Brew City and Antarctica, as Viking offers three "Longitudinal Cruises," that last more than two months each.
You’ve likely noticed the Viking Octantis cruise ship arriving and departing Milwaukee every week or two all summer long as it plies the Great Lakes on a series of routes that call at Niagara Falls, Mackinac Island, Toronto, Thunder Bay, Duluth, Detroit and some beautiful provincial parks in Ontario, including the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve at Georgian Bay.
Starting next year, Octantis’ identical twin Polaris – being built this year in Norway – will join her here. But first, Octantis will return to Antarctica, where she first sailed before arriving in the Great Lakes in May.
Next year to start the season, Octantis will arrive in the Great Lakes as part of an eye-popping 65-day “Longitudinal World Cruise I” that departs Buenos Aires, Argentina on March 2.
She next heads to Antarctica and then up the west coast of South America (with side trips to Easter Island, the Galapagos and Macchu Picchu available), through the Panama Canal, to Mexico, Florida, up the East Coast of the U.S., and through the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes before arriving in Milwaukee on May 5.
When the Great Lakes season ends, the expedition vessels – with their full complement of scientists and lecturers, as well as holds full of small craft like lightning-fast special ops boats, flexible Zodiac boats and even two submarines – head back in the opposite direction to Antarctica on the even longer, 71-day “Longitudinal World Cruise II," and 70-day "Longitudinal World Cruise III."
Departing from Duluth on Sept. 12, Cruise II, on Polaris, does not call at Milwaukee, but does visit Door County (Algoma) on Day 6, before continuing on. However, Cruise III, on Octantis, departs Milwaukee for Antarctica on Sept. 8.
For the folks who can conjure the $49,995 fare per person ($44,995 for the 65-day cruise) it will surely be the trip of a lifetime, even if these are not Viking’s longest journeys. (That would be a 138-day, 28-country World Cruise. Some other cruise lines have even longer ones, like Royal Caribbean’s 274-night, 65-country jaunt slated for December 2023.)
In short, I was impressed not only by the exceptional food, drink, spa, beautiful staterooms and super personable service – as well as by activities like hiking and kayaking – but also by the expedition cruise model, which uses passenger fares to fund scientific research in the ship's on-board lab in partnership with universities around the world. Passengers can even lend a hand with some of the on-board research.
Octantis is also the only civilian ship that serves as a National Weather Service weather balloon station. Passengers get up early in the morning to watch the launch and learn more about the process and the research conducted.
It’s a far cry from what I previously thought an all-inclusive cruise would be.
There are no late-night parties or fancy dress affairs on Octantis, but rather a well-curated selection of thousands of books about the sea, lakes, wildlife travel and more; lectures and talks by scientists and experts; and other similar programming.
In addition, these new expedition ships like Octantis don’t drop anchor – which disturbs the sea and lake bed and their habitats – instead using a system of thrusters to maintain position.
It definitely feels like a model that’s moving cruise travel in the right direction.
Viking is also launching a 15-day Mississippi River cruise between St. Paul and New Orleans – more on that later.
In the meantime, for more on the Longitudinal Cruises, go here.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.