Victory Cruise Lines are an exciting new entry into the expedition market. As part of the Hornblower Group alongside American Queen Steamboat Company, Victory Cruise Lines have an experienced cruise team backing their expedition launch. Known as a leader in small-ship cruising on the Great Lakes, Victory Cruise Lines recently announced their first expedition ship – Ocean Victory. I sat down with David William Kelly, Executive Vice President, American Queen Steamboat Company, to discuss the move into the expedition market, what travellers can expect on board, design decisions, and responsible travel.

What drove the decision to move into the luxury expedition cruise market?

We are constantly striving to improve and expand our offerings so that we can present a diverse and balanced portfolio of cruise experiences. Moving into expedition cruising was a natural next step in this continued growth. We feel that our domestic, small-capacity cruises offer a more attractive option for travelers, and by offering Alaska expedition cruising we can tap into a new market, while still expanding our close-to-home experiences.

We’re seeing the entry of lots of new luxury expedition ships into the market – what makes Victory Cruise Lines stand out?

With a motto of “Discover By Doing,” we are offering a fully immersive, expedition style cruise experience. Our crew is made up of marine biologists, expeditioners, scientists, naturalists and students from California Polytechnic State University. We also worked with consultant David Giersdorf on the itineraries + shore experiences.  David brought 40 years of invaluable industry experience and focused expertise in marketing in the pacific northwest.

The bar onboard Ocean Victory

Expedition cruises can be both a relaxing holiday or an educational experience – will Ocean Victory focus on treating customers to a high-end holiday experience, or educating cruisers on the regions visited?

Ocean Victory guests will be treated to both. The same world-class service that is found on any American Queen Steamboat and Victory Cruise Lines vessel will also be featured in our expedition voyages. From each guest touchpoint – embarkation, onboard activities, shore excursion and disembarkation – guests can expect to find the same attention to detail. This, coupled with our partnerships with experts and ability to access smaller more remote ports, will allow us to offer a once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity for guests. Highlights include scientists from the Alaska Whale Foundation in partnership with the Five Finger Lighthouse research team coming on board to help guests discover the humpback whale population of Frederick’s Sound, as well as listening in to the whale’s communications through special hydrophones. Guests will also visit the Sitka Sound Science Center, where they can learn about the organization’s education and research efforts to protect the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of Alaska.

Ocean Victory has been described as ‘an innovative design that brings a new level of responsible travel.’ How does the vessel live up to this description?

Perfectly suited to its Alaskan environment, Ocean Victory’s distinction begins with its cutting-edge design and technology, making it the perfect vessel for our debut into expedition cruising. Ocean Victory was built to combine engaging and responsible travel with innovative design, technology and operating efficiencies so that guests can truly immerse themselves in the stunning Alaskan landscape.

  • Ocean Victory’s innovation starts with its X-Bow design, which allows the hull to cut through waves and eliminates the typical up and down slamming commonly found on other vessels. The X-Bow design also translates to a higher, unmatched level of clean-burning fuel efficiency.
  • The Ocean Victory is part of a new generation of low-energy vessels, boasting four diesel and two electro engines that are electronically controlled to optimize speed, and most importantly, fuel consumption.
  • Rolls Royce Zero Speed Stabilizers have been installed to reduce rolling, and therefore, make cruising more comfortable for guests. The brilliantly engineered stabilizers also minimize the necessity of dropping anchor, further protecting the fragile seabed and wildlife that live below.
  • Dynamic Positioning (aka “virtual anchoring”) – a computer-controlled system that automatically maintains the vessel’s position utilizing its own propellers and thrusters results in top-rated ship maneuverability. This means the ship can easily change positions for expedition operations, such as zodiac landings, while also minimizing its environmental impact. Lastly, the vessel’s small size and low draw allow it to dock in many of Alaska’s smaller ports not accessible to larger cruise ships.

What key opportunities or challenges do you foresee in the cruise industry in the coming years?

COVID-19 has certainly provided our industry with unprecedented challenges. However, over the past year we have been diligently working to enhance our operations so that they meet the needs of today’s travel landscape. This includes new and enhanced health and safety protocols through our SafeCruise commitment, which features a vaccination requirement for all guests and crew, mask mandates in all public spaces where social distancing is not possible and a new partnership with (Cruise Ship Hospitality Expo exhibitor) VIKAND Medical Solutions. So far, we have received an overwhelmingly positive response from guests on our health and safety protocols, and we are optimistic about the future. We have a great deal to be excited about, from the American Countess making her upcoming grand debut on the Mississippi River and Ocean Victory’s inaugural season in Alaska to the 2023 debut of the Ocean Discoverer in Alaska.

One of the two restaurants on Ocean Victory

Why would you encourage a traveler to choose a small-ship cruise over another option?

Ocean Victory’s smaller capacity allows us to provide guests a more intimate exploration of the Alaskan wilderness. The vessel features several amenities that present unmatched views of the wildlife and natural environment. Highlights include: breathtaking views from the vessel’s Observation Lounge, sliding Observation Platforms provide unique over-water viewing opportunities, and an activity platform that allows easy access to kayaks for water-level exploration. In addition, the Ocean Victory’s design and build allows us to access to smaller Alaskan ports, which many of our competitors are unable reach.  We can bring guests to new parts of Alaska previously overlooked, including national parks like Fiordland Park.

How did you develop the interiors on board Ocean Victory – where did the inspiration come from and who worked on the project?

The interior design of the Ocean Victory was a collaborative effort. We used Thomas Tilberg for the interior design and worked with them throughout the process. Inspired by the natural environment, Ocean Victory features spaces on board dedicated to learning and immersing guests into the natural surroundings. The Observation Deck with clear glass windows provides unobstructed views and reliable protection even in inclement weather. Staterooms are elegantly appointed with modern furnishings to offer a world-class stay. The ultimate goal with the interior design was to bring as much of the environment that is being explored in – this means expansive windows and observation areas and activity platforms.

The Library

Did you find there were any specific requirements when designing for expedition cruise, such as material selection, coatings, design for light and noise, in comparison to designing for ocean/river/lake cruising?

We are proud to be the recipient of SunStone Ships’ third vessel in their infinity series, Ocean Victory, and its fourth vessel, Ocean Discoverer. Every aspect of the 104.4m Ocean Victory was created to optimize the expedition cruise experience while promoting sustainability. The vessel features 93 suites – 68 with balconies, nine with French balconies, and 16 with panoramic windows and multiple observation areas, putting the Alaska wilderness and waters on full display. Additional onboard amenities include two restaurants, in addition to an open-deck dining area, observation and lectures lounges, piano bar, library, gym, spa and swimming pool with a pool bar and jacuzzi.