The Line in a Nutshell
Lindblad Expeditions is the most adventure- and learning-oriented of the small-ship lines, offering itineraries that stay far away from the big ports, concentrating instead on wilderness and wildlife. Sails to: Alaska, Columbia and Snake rivers, Sea of Cortez/Baja, Central America (plus Europe, Arctic Norway, Antarctica, South America, Galapagos, Nile River, Mediterranean, and New Zealand).
Want to trade in casinos and gold by the inch for 6:30am wakeup calls and shipboard forums on climate change? Then look no further than Lindblad Expeditions, which for the past few years has been operating cruises in partnership with the National Geographic Society, offering a more international, professional product than any of its small-ship competitors. The company attracts passengers who want to see, learn, and do as much as possible: You may find yourself kayaking along Alaska's intertidal zone, hiking deep into old growth forest near running salmon streams, or simply admiring the scenery while the ship's captain adjusts the itinerary to follow breaching whales. Some activities even start before breakfast. Throughout it all, flexibility and spontaneity are key, and high-caliber expedition leaders and guest scientists and photographers work hard to make the experience fresh and exciting. Significantly, they ensure that you come away having learned a lot, and just as importantly, having had lots of fun, too.
Lindblad tends to attract well-traveled, well-heeled, and well-educated professionals who are looking for an active, casual, up-close experience of their destinations, packed with wildlife, culture, and history. They're the granola crowd with money, and they're fiercely loyal to the company and willing to pay an often substantial premium to sail. While most of them are in the 55-plus age range, a surprising number are younger, active couples. Lindblad actively encourages children and families to go on its trips, strongly believing that most kids would love to go kayaking near glaciers or snorkeling with sea lions. Single travelers are also welcome, and the line has a cabin-share program so that singles can sail without paying double for a double-occupancy room.
In general, passengers must be active and fit due to the lack of elevators, the necessity of climbing in and out of Zodiacs, and kayaking and other activities.
In 1958, adventure travel pioneer Lars-Eric Lindblad formed Lindblad Travel and began offering the first tours to remote regions of the world such as Antarctica and the Galapagos. Lars-Eric came to be considered one of the fathers of eco-tourism, and in 1979, his son Sven followed in his father's footsteps by forming what is today called Lindblad Expeditions. From the beginning, the line has specialized in providing environmentally sensitive adventure/educational cruises to remote places in the world, with visits to a few large ports thrown in for good measure. Today, it still strives to go as far off the beaten path as possible and is keen to keep its heritage and spirit of adventure alive while providing a very comfortable, well-organized experience.
In 2004, the company strengthened its already outstanding academic and enrichment program through its association with the National Geographic Society. Today, all Lindblad-owned ships have been renamed to include the National Geographic moniker; the society and company work together to develop new technology for shipboard use; and National Geographic writers and photographers accompany many sailings. The two organizations have also joined forces to create a fund promoting conservation, reflecting their motto of "Inspiring people to explore and care about the planet."
The line's two Alaska ships, the identical, 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Bird and National Geographic Sea Lion, are more jeeps than sports cars, with small cabins and basic public areas. Though many of the amenities and services of big ship cruising -- TVs, room service, minibars, and so on -- are absent, Lindblad has outfitted the ships with more tools than a Swiss Army knife, including underwater video cameras, video microscopes, kayaks, inflatable Zodiac landing boats, and a hydrophone to eavesdrop on marine mammals. Particularly fun is an underwater "bow cam" that allows you to glimpse dolphins swimming in the bow wave or watch schools of fish below you while the ship is anchored. Despite the two ships' basic facilities, they are attractively furnished, well maintained, and have wireless Internet and a small spa/wellness program.
In addition to Alaska, these ships also sail Washington's and Oregon's Columbia and Snake rivers, the Pacific Coast of Central America and Panama, and Mexico's Baja Peninsula. The larger, completely rebuilt National Geographic Explorer hosts many of the line's most exploratory sailings and, in the Galapagos, Lindblad operates two vessels year-round: the 48-passenger National Geographic Islander and the 96-passenger National Geographic Endeavour.
Lindblad Central America Cruises -- Lindblad also operates the National Geographic Sea Lion in Central America. The vessel sails from Central American home ports during the winter, visiting Costa Rica and Panama and putting the emphasis on the region's jungle and marine life. Panama cruises also incorporate the history of the Canal. Prices start around $4,660 per person for weeklong Central America sailings.
Lindblad believes in serving local and organic foods wherever possible, and has several partnerships to source environmentally sustainable food. A fleetwide policy even prohibits the use of shrimp onboard due to the harmful by-catch when harvesting. The food may not be gourmet, but it is fresh and tasty and often reflects the culture and tastes of the region, along with such standard entrees as filet mignon, glazed shallots with red-wine sauce and giant scallops, and pasta primavera with spinach fettuccine. Dinners are served in single open seatings, and lecturers and other staff members dine with passengers, providing opportunities to, say, have a conversation about humpback whale migration over dinner. Vegetarian options are available at every meal, and other special diets (low-fat, low-salt, kosher, and so forth) can be accommodated with advance notice. Weather permitting, National Geographic Sea Bird and National Geographic Sea Lion offer deck barbecues, as well as beach barbecues in Mexico's Sea of Cortez, featuring such local dishes as grilled local seafood, handmade tortillas, tomatillo salsa, and a selection of Baja wines. Guests eat their fish tortillas by tiki torchlight, then sip their wine by a shore-side bonfire, soaking in some of that fabled "sense of place." A similar barbecue is held for the Central America sailings.
Snacks & Extras -- Appetizers served in the late afternoon include items such as fruit and cheese platters, and baked brie with pecans and brown sugar. Occasional extras, such as hot chocolate with schnapps served on the bow in front of a glacier, make for unexpected and welcome treats.
Dining room staff and room stewards are affable and efficient, and seem to enjoy their work. As on other small ships, there's no room service unless you're ill and unable to make it to the dining room, and no laundry service.
Tipping is traditional, with $15 to $20 per day suggested.
Lindblad cruises are part summer camp and part college seminar, with days typically spent off-ship aboard Zodiac boats or kayaks, and/or on land excursions. While on board, passengers entertain themselves with the usual small-ship activities: wildlife-watching, reading, and conversation. Five naturalists (the most carried by any of the small-ship lines) and a video chronicler, plus historians and undersea specialists where appropriate, present numerous lectures and slide shows throughout each cruise and also lead guest exploration onshore.
Many voyages also feature guest scientists, photographers, and lecturers from the National Geographic Society. Amateur photographers will be especially delighted with the many photography-themed sailings, where you can learn from and interact with some of the very best wildlife photographers in the world.
Each evening, the onboard naturalists lead discussions recapping the day's events, and, after dinner, documentary and feature films are occasionally screened in the main lounge. Naturalists take advantage of their toys, like the video microscope that allows you to get more up close and personal with plankton than you ever imagined, or the hydrophone that's dropped over the side to let passengers listen to whales singing. In some regions, local musicians may come aboard to entertain. Books on nature and wildlife are available from each ship's small library.
Though Lindblad is primarily an adult line, families and younger couples make up a good portion of passengers on Alaska, Central America, and Galapagos sailings. Staffmembers on these sailings have taken a family-travel course designed by Lindblad in conjunction with the National Geographic Education department.