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LivNordic Spa aboard the Viking Sky Cruise Ship

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Hot and Cold: A Nordic Spa at Sea

Veronica Stoddart


Wearing a bathing suit, a plush white terrycloth robe, and matching slippers, I pad into the hushed thermal suite of the LivNordic spa on the new Viking Sky cruise ship. New age music plays softly as I settle onto a lounge. Flanked by two fellow cruise passengers, I’m here to experience a guided Nordic bathing ritual led by Jasper Karl Everts, a massage therapist from—where else—Stockholm.

The hydrothermal area is the striking centerpiece of the spa—widely considered one of the best at sea. It’s certainly one of the most unusual with its own glass-encased snow grotto (yes, real snow!)—the first on a cruise ship.

That snow plays a starring role in the spa, which is inspired by ancient Nordic bathing culture (Viking Cruises was founded by a Norwegian, after all). Run by Stockholm-based spa consultancy Raison d’Etre, it follows the Nordic wellness principles of alternating hot and cold treatments to detox the body, relax tired muscles. and boost circulation. Right now, that sounds heavenly.

Exuding serenity, blond and blue-eyed Jasper introduces us to the bathing ritual by asking that we clear our minds and focus on our breathing to achieve inner stillness. Then we rub our limbs with a small brush in a heart-directed motion to stimulate the lymph glands. After we repeat the motion with rubbing salts, Jasper leads us to the steam room, where we sit, eyes closed, for as long as we can bear it. This opens our pores to release toxins. When we’re well baked, we walk a few steps to the blue-lit snow grotto, kept at 14º F., where snowflakes flutter from the ceiling. Amid giggles, we form snowballs to rub on ourselves in the same motion as the salts. This simulates rolling in snow or jumping in lake ice, common in northern climes.

I consider how fitting it is to experience the ultimate Scandi wellness tradition while sailing through the gorgeous Norwegian fjords, where hot and cold plunges have been de rigueur for centuries to achieve health and wellbeing.

We stay in the snow room until we start to shiver; then it’s back to the warm embrace of the sauna. We repeat the cycle for three visits to the sauna and two to the grotto. On our last stint in the sauna, Jasper gently beats us on the back with a birch tree branch to stimulate the skin and blood flow—a popular Finnish practice.

Blissfully relaxed and detoxed, we return to our lounge chairs in a setting of beautiful Scandinavian decor: Swedish limestone and black slate; white pigmented ash, reminiscent of the Tree of Life in Norse mythology; and planters filled with birch trees—the national tree of Sweden and Finland. Accented with a sleek glowing fireplace, the spa radiates a harmonious organic feel reflecting LivNordic’s nature-inspired approach.

I consider how fitting it is to experience the ultimate Scandi wellness tradition while sailing through the gorgeous Norwegian fjords, where hot and cold plunges have been de rigueur for centuries to achieve health and wellbeing.

Once settled in, we’re offered a choice of a head, hand, or foot massage. I go for the scalp and become putty in Jasper’s skilled hands. I practically fall asleep.

Next come three facial treatments. We cleanse with an eco scrub containing a jojoba grain and lactic acid exfoliant. After removing it, we apply a facial mask made from cloudberries native to the Arctic tundra of Scandinavia. We polish off with a blueberry seed oil cream that leaves our skin baby soft and smooth. We conclude our sensual Arctic journey by hugging another participant or a massage therapist until we feel their breath with our whole body. I float out of the spa.

The 90-minute guided ritual is offered once a week on each cruise (for just $39) on all of Viking’s three 930-passenger ocean ships. But guests can create their own experience for free. All the spa facilities are complimentary to passengers—rare for a cruise. Try your own hot and cold routine using the warm saltwater thalassotherapy pool with soothing jets, the hot tub, the cold-water bucket-dump shower (pull the chord and get drenched with an icy downpour), the dry sauna, the cold plunge pool, and four heated ceramic loungers.

Woven throughout the spa is the Raison d’Etre philosophy, which states that “LivNordic is a lifestyle choice that embraces a natural way of living and the simplicity of design found in our Nordic countries.” That means keeping things simple. So to prevent the choices from being overwhelming, the spa offers just three types of Swedish massage—mindful (gentle), detox or deep-tissue—and two types of facials—a Nordic classic and a HydraFacial. Full body treatments are limited to Northern Stillness (massage and blueberry wrap), Arctic Detox (massage, scrub, and cupping) and Viking Restart (massage and cranberry scrub).

The Spa also offers manicures, pedicures, and hair styling services in the salon. Plus, men can get shaves and beard trims in a small barbershop.

The mostly Swedish staff has been trained to achieve a “conscious touch,” which requires them to connect with their own energy and express a sense of wellbeing with clients. Based on my own dreamy experience, I’d say they have succeeded indeed.

Veronica Stoddart

Veronica Stoddart

Award-winning editor and writer Veronica Stoddart is the former travel editor of USA TODAY. She has written for two dozen publications and websites.