View of the spa on a viking cruise
Cruise Travel

Is This the Most Extreme Spa Ritual at Sea? What It’s Like to Try Viking Star’s Snow Room

Diving into a drift of snow in the middle of the sea? It's possible on the Viking Star, where you can experience a permanent winter wonderland no matter where the ship may sail. JS contributor Maria Teresa Hart takes the plunge.

See recent posts by Maria Teresa Hart

The vast, tumbling North Sea. A gleaming luxury ship. Onboard, a little chamber containing a precise dusting of snow. No, this isn’t the backdrop for the next James Bond movie. This is Viking Star, a vessel that sails through the Norwegian fjords, home to a frosty detour inside its spa’s thermal suite.

The “snow room,” I’d come to learn, is just a drop in the extravagant ocean that is the Viking Star cruise ship. Viking, a company known for their European river sailings, entered the ocean-cruising market in 2013 with a fleet of new ships, and they did not come to play. Every cabin has a balcony overlooking the waves, a mini-bar piled high with free treats, and heated bathroom floors—though it’s the public spaces that truly dazzle. The Wintergarden, where afternoon tea is served daily, features blond wood planks extending around a glass ceiling; the Explorer’s Lounge is a double-decker observation point; and the stern is capped off by an infinity pool where you feel like you could swim straight to the coastline. With so much to explore, it took me some time to discover the spa. My true adventure, however, was just beginning.

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The spa itself contains a warren of rooms divided into features: a jetted pool and whirlpool, heated ceramic loungers, a Vichy shower with multiple sprays, a cold-water splash, steam room, and the snow room. Beyond that, each locker room had a dry sauna and cold plunge pool.

View of spa on a viking cruise

“Don’t worry about showing me out,” I told the attendant, who was giving me a tour. “I’m going to live here now.”

She laughed and handed me a flyer, “Here are some instructions on Nordic bathing.”

The pamphlet illustrated a 12-step process alternating between hot and cold. It sounded like assembling Baked Alaska—only in this case, my body would be the meringue that’s both torched and tossed in the freezer. Step four actually contained the words, “be brave,” before instructing the reader to dunk themselves into the icy plunge pool. I could feel my goosebumps rising.

Here’s where I confess the truth: I’m decidedly not brave when it comes to the cold. My ideal climate is something akin to lukewarm tea, and I’ll complain loudly and enthusiastically when I’m even a few degrees out of my comfort zone. You could say I’m the very opposite of Norwegians—resilient folk who are raised on the motto “There’s no such thing as bad weather” and charge into frozen rain like it’s a summer sprinkler.

I put the Nordic bathing instructions to one side. I would not be doing a cold plunge, thank you very much. I cracked open the door to the snow room but promptly shut it closed and booked myself a facial instead—something that wouldn’t require a single drop of bravery.

RELATED: Cruising for People Who Hate Cruises

The next day, my treatment was every bit as pampering as expected. Inside the dimly lit room (complete with ocean views), my technician smothered my skin in concoctions—lingonberry in all of its forms—and made pitter-patter drumming motions across my forehead, lulling me into a state of twilight. Post treatment, I felt drunk, struggling to thread my arms through my bathrobe sleeves before weaving back through the hallway to the thermal suite. I zigzagged into the steam room, collapsing on the nearest bench.

Lounge chairs and heated salt pools inside the Viking Sea Spa

“Did you just come from a treatment?” A voice asked. I looked up to see a woman stretched out on the bench above me.

“I did. I got the facial,” I said. “You?”

“I got the Nordic Ritual,” she mused, describing something almost identical to the hot-cold Nordic bathing I’d read about, except her treatment was performed by the staff versus done solo.

“At the end of the treatment, they asked me to close my eyes and hold out my hands, and they placed a lavender-scented snowball in my palms, which they told me to rub all over my sore muscles until it melted.” She sighed.

At that moment, I realized I’d made the wrong choice. While blissful, my experience wasn’t out of the ordinary. It didn’t end with a perfumed snowball straight out of a fairytale. It didn’t have any surprises at all, which suddenly seemed sad.

After all, I didn’t come to Norway to eat the same burger I had at my corner restaurant, I didn’t get on a plane to Europe to watch Netflix shows that I could see on my couch, and I certainly didn’t come to Scandinavia to have the same spa experience I could have at any urban spa. It was then, I decided, that “be brave” would be my new mantra.

Snow Grotto on viking cruise

I launched myself from the steam room and marched across to its snowy counterpart. Without hesitation, I whipped the door open. The cold made me yelp, but I was a woman on a mission now. I deftly packed a snowball and began to rub it across my limbs, just as instructed. The chill was electric, but it was also invigorating. I could only stand a few moments before racing back to the warmth.

“I did it! I did it!” I declared, laughing triumphantly and collecting a high-five from two witnesses. I realized this would be the moment I’d remember most, the moment I did something courageous.

That attitude stayed with me. When we pulled into the port of Stavanger, a soggy, perpetual rain kept many passengers on the ship, but I was determined to go exploring. Be brave! I told myself. Get out there! It can’t be colder than a snowball! Sure enough, I hiked around the fjords, past a Viking burial ground, Norwegian horses, and white-water rapids—things I would have missed entirely if I’d decided the damp chill was too much for me.

RELATED: 10 Cool Things to Do in Norway Now

Back on the ship, I returned to the hot-cold features of the spa multiple times during my sailing, and each time, I felt so awake. My senses sharpened, my attention snapped into place. This is what new things, adventurous things, do for us—they allow us to dial into the present.

Now that I’ve returned home, the palatial Viking Star is quickly becoming a memory, a series of Instagrams I’ve buried under recent posts of weekend brunch and neighborhood dogs. But that snowball moment has stayed with me, and with fall and winter approaching, my new mantra is this: bring it on.

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