The Frommer's Cruise Spotlight showcases cruise lines that catch our eye, from ultra-luxe to ultra-adventurous and everything between. This month, we'll take a look at Lindblad Expeditions, one of the most adventurous and learning-oriented of the small-ship lines.
In 1979, Sven-Olof Lindblad, son of adventure-travel pioneer Lars-Eric Lindblad, followed in his father's footsteps by forming Lindblad Expeditions (tel. 800/397-3348; www.expeditions.com), a sea-travel company dedicated to taking small groups off the beaten path and encouraging them to learn something while they're there. From the beginning, the line has specialized in providing environmentally sensitive adventure/educational cruises to remote places in the world, but in late 2004 the company's commitment to true exploration went to a new level when it formed an alliance with the National Geographic Society. Last week, the most visible manifestation of that alliance came into being as the 110-passenger adventure ship Endeavour was officially renamed National Geographic Endeavour and launched on a 20-day inaugural cruise from Valparaiso, Chile.
A former North Sea fishing vessel, Endeavour was retooled for expedition cruising in 1983 and boasts a reinforced hull, a fleet of Zodiac landing boats, and a video-enabled R.O.V. (remote-operated vehicle) that can dive up to 500 feet below the ice to record the goings-on for passengers. As part of its renaming, Endeavour has been repainted with a yellow "border" that mimics the famous National Geographic cover, while inside the vessel has been outfitted with a National Geographic Atlas in every cabin, plus globes, photos, maps, binoculars, and other expedition gear. Some of these enhancements will be added to the line's other ships as well.
"This partnership is a great fit with our mission of advancing geographic knowledge, while promoting the conservation of natural and cultural resources," said Geographic Society president and CEO John Fahey, aboard for the occasion. "We can now bring travelers to places that National Geographic has covered over the past century and allow them to participate in scientific exploration in real time."
The partnership offers benefits for both parties, giving the Geographic a permanent floating home for marine research and giving Lindblad a terrific drawing card that will appeal to its typically brainy passengers. Chief among the benefits is the presence of National Geographic experts aboard all future departures of the National Geographic Endeavour and select voyages on the line's other ships. Experts already scheduled to sail include National Geographic photographer and arctic expert Paul Nicklen (aboard Endeavour's July 17 "Land of the Ice Bears" Expedition to Arctic Norway) and journalist and former National Geographic Explorer TV host Boyd Matson (aboard Endeavour's January 7 and Jan. 18, 2006 voyages to Antarctica). In May and June, biologist, inventor, and filmmaker Greg Marshall will bring a team aboard Lindblad's Sea Voyager in Baja to do research on sperm whales using his innovative Crittercam video system, in which a lightweight camera is strapped to an animal to get an critter's-eye view of day-to-day life undersea. The camera can be remotely detached at the end of the viewing, allowing the animal to swim free.
Geographic experts will augment Lindblad's regular team of four to five resident naturalists, undersea specialists, biologists, and geologists, who run the day-to-day aspects of the expedition, presenting lectures and slide shows throughout each cruise and leading guest exploration either from the ship or on kayaking, motor-launch, and hiking excursions, which are included in the cruise price. Depending on weather and sea conditions, there are usually two or three excursions every day.
Operating cruises worldwide for 25 years, Lindblad has a more international feel than many of its small-ship competitors, though it offers a similarly casual, down-to-earth experience. Lindblad tends to attract well-traveled and well-educated professionals, usually age 55+ but often including a few younger couples and occasionally families. Throughout the year, a number of cruises specifically targeted to families are available in Baja, Alaska, Costa Rica, and the Galapagos. The latter is one of the regions with which Lindblad is most closely associated, along with Antarctica.
In the Galapagos, Lindblad offers year-round ten-day cruises aboard the new twin-hulled, 48-passenger M.V. Islander (starting from $4,180 per person) and the 80-passenger Polaris (from $3,480 per person). Sixteen-day voyages pair a Galapagos cruise with a land trip to Peru, visiting Machu Picchu (from $6,480).
Lars-Eric Lindblad was one of the people responsible for opening Antarctica to tourism in the 1950s, and got a cove named after him for his efforts. Today National Geographic Endeavour sails two different itineraries in the region. The 15-day "White Continent" cruise departs from Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, and offers six full days of exploration on the Antarctic Peninsula, along with Cape Horn and the islands of Tierra del Fuego. Whenever possible, Endeavor sails into Lindblad Cove. The longer 25-day "Antarctica, Falklands, and South Georgia" itinerary pairs this trip with visits to the South Orkney Islands, the Falklands, and South Georgia Island, where Ernest Shackleton landed in 1917 after his 800-mile small-boat crossing from Elephant Island, where his ship had become stranded. Antarctic cruises start at $7,990 and $13,990, respectively. Fifteen-day cruises depart in January, November, and December; 25-day cruises depart in December and February.
National Geographic Endeavour also sails voyages on the top of the world, with 11-day Arctic voyages sailing around Norway's Svalbard archipelago, located just 600 miles south of the North Pole. A 20-day comprehensive Scandinavia adventure sails from Copenhagen north along the Norwegian coast to the Lofoten Islands, Tromso, Bear Island, and Svalbard. Prices start at $5,290 and $8,850, respectively, with departures in June and July.
Endeavour's other sailing regions include the Baltics, the British Isles, the Panama Canal and Southern Caribbean, and the South Pacific.
The 62-passenger Sea Voyager offers 8-night cruises in Baja/Sea of Cortez (from $2,980, May-July) and Central America (8-day Costa Rica, July-Aug and Nov-Dec, from $2,780; 11-day Costa Rica/Panama, Oct-Dec from $4,380).
In Scotland, the 54-passenger Lord of the Glens, offers cruises in the highlands, via the inland waterway that links the country's famed lochs (12-days, May-Dec, $6,390, with add-ons available to Edinburgh and the Orkney Islands).
In the U.S., the twin, shallow-draught, 70-passenger Sea Lion and Sea Bird spend May-September operating in Alaska, British Columbia, and the Pacific Northwest's Columbia and Snake Rivers (8-day Alaska trips from $3,840), then transfer to Baja for 8-day sailings Jan-March (from $3,090).
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