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Sven-Olof Lindblad.

Lindblad’s Return to Service

By Anne Kalosh.

Like all other cruise operators, Lindblad Expeditions‘ ships are laid up to wait out the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company was fortunate to have no reported cases among passengers or crew. And, while two of its ships were stuck off the Falkland Islands for a week or so, charter flights got people home so the desperate situations that affected some other lines were avoided.

Now, during the global suspension of cruise operations, Lindblad is lining up coronavirus tests and working with a team of outside experts to bolster its health protocols.

Small-ship Advantage

“We firmly believe that the smaller size of our ships, our advanced cleaning systems and robust operating protocols, along with the remote geographies we visit, and the profile of our guests, ideally situates us to be able to resume operations safely and effectively once travel restrictions have been lifted,” the company said in reporting first quarter earnings.

CEO Sven Lindblad singled out its most notable advantage as the “size of our vessels, which range from 48 to 148 passengers, allowing for a highly controlled environment that includes stringent cleaning protocols. The small nature of our ships should also allow us to efficiently and effectively test our guests and crew prior to boarding.”

He estimated it will only take a few thousand tests a month to ensure all guests and crew across the entire fleet are tested.

Sven-Olof Lindblad.

“Lindblad travelers are eager to live their lives and won’t be held back,” says Sven Lindblad. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

“Additionally, the majority of our expeditions take place in remote locations where human interactions are limited, so there is less opportunity for external influence,” Lindblad continued.

“Lastly, our guests are explorers by nature, eager to travel and have historically been very resilient following periods of uncertainty.”

Testing is Key

The ability to regularly test crew and, as a condition for embarking, all guests is essential to restart operations, Lindblad stressed. He indicated the company expects access to reliable tests in the near future.

It’s also vital to offer a “verifiable” safe environment on board, to win the crew’s understanding and cooperation concerning new protocols and to have customers’ confidence.

On the latter, Lindblad reported receiving “many messages” about their eagerness to travel. While the company’s age group is older, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19, “They want to live their lives. They won’t be held back,” he said.

RELATED: Lindblad Announces “Self-Disinfecting Fleet.”  by Anne Kalosh

RELATED: Lindblad Expeditions Goes Carbon Neutral.  by Anne Kalosh

Wild & Remote Places

Since Lindblad focuses on wild and remote places, it’s possible to operate without the vast infrastructure the mainstream cruise industry requires. Docks and motor coaches aren’t needed.

“We drop anchor and launch Zodiacs and kayaks to explore … We control the logistics,” Lindblad explained. “We need very little shoreside support so we can keep self-isolated.”

Lindblad use lots of kayaks and zodiacs

The ships can anchor and deploy Zodiacs and kayaks to explore in places like Alaska, pictured here. * Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins for Lindblad Expeditions

In Alaska, for example, cruises sail between Juneau and Sitka with little other port content, “basically, one other place with human community. We will reduce that so there’s less exposure to communities,” he added.

Currently, anyone arriving to Alaska has to self-isolate for 14 days. “By July, I think [communities] will have a completely different view. By June, I don’t think that will be the case,” Lindblad said.

However, ports and borders need to open. For ships to explore the Norwegian Arctic, “Norway needs to invite us to come.” Iceland, Greenland and the Galápagos are also key to expedition programs.

The line is making plans to activate some third quarter voyages should authorities permit, and has already sorted out the charter air arrangements to get people to and from the ships.

Returned U.S. Aid

Lindblad qualified for the Paycheck Protection Program under the United States’ coronavirus relief bill, the CARES Act, but returned the money after the brouhaha over the funding of public companies. Sven Lindblad said the money was given back in the hope it will go to smaller entities like travel advisors, and he called on the U.S. to create additional support programs.

Meanwhile, for canceled voyages, most Lindblad customers are accepting future cruise credits instead of seeking refunds.

Bookings are coming in for 2020, 2021 and 2022, including more than $15 million since March 1.

To keep the business going, the company has acted to shore up its liquidity and cut expenses. Like other cruise lines, Lindblad is taking advantage of COVID-19 debt holidays (loan payment deferrals) offered by export credit agencies that guarantee loans to build ships in their countries.

A Look Inside National Geographic Endurance

Polar new build National Geographic Endurance was delivered in March by Norway’s Ulstein Shipyard. If not for the pandemic, the vessel would have been welcoming passengers aboard inaugural Arctic voyages now.

A video preview shows National Geographic Endurance’s X-Bow, a design patented by Ulstein for a smoother ride and better seakeeping.

The bridge is spacious enough to hold all 126 passengers, according to Capt. Aaron Wood — not that that would ever happen, but Lindblad is one of the few companies with an open-bridge policy. At water level the “Base Camp” houses two sheltered areas to board the Zodiacs.

Lindblad's return with the National Geographic Endurance

The 126-passenger National Geographic Endurance with its distinctive X-Bow. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

Endurance interiors have a sleek, modern Nordic look. And artist Zaria Forman curated a permanent polar art exhibit for the ship.

The Ice Lounge provides 39 flat-screen televisions for presentations. Restaurant 270º is named for its panoramic views, with floor-to ceiling windows. Meanwhile, the Sanctuary wellness center offers a yoga studio and infinity Jacuzzis. The very cool-looking transparent twin igloos afford panoramic views and seating on fur-covered daybeds.

Accommodations include 13 extra-large balcony suites — each named for a famous polar explorer. Of the 56 standard cabins, 40 (among them, 12 solo cabins) have balconies.

A sister ship, National Geographic Resolution, is under construction at Ulstein and still targeted for fourth-quarter 2021 delivery.

Hopefully, by then, the world will have awakened from the COVID-19 nightmare and small-ship expedition travel will be thriving again.

RELATED:  Peter Knego’s Adventure Aboard the Nat Geo Venture in Baja California.

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Responsible Travel Trends

Responsible Travel Trends

By Anne Kalosh.

Promising news in this era of coronavirus fears: Lindblad Expeditions is implementing “Premium Purity,” a system that fosters a cleaner, healthier ship while drastically reducing environmental impact.

Responsible Travel Trends

Lindblad said it’s committed to defining travel industry standards for sustainability and environmentally responsible operations. Here a ship in Antarctica. * Photo: Michael S Nolan for Lindblad Expeditions

Photocatalytic Process

ACT CleanCoat is a photocatalytic process — that is, it’s activated by light. This antibacterial spray breaks down bacteria, viruses, mold and airborne allergens. It can be applied to all surfaces to make them self-disinfecting.

A transparent and odorless spray, it protects a room like an invisible insulation while purifying and deodorizing the air for up to one year.

ACT.Global A/S, a Copenhagen-based company specialized in sustainable disinfection, said its ACT CleanCoat has been validated as effective against bacteria and viruses such as coronavirus, hepatitis, salmonella and E. coli.

Surfaces still need daily cleaning to remove dust and grease.

Here’s a video that explains more.

Chemical-free & Harmless

So the other component of Premium Purity is the ACT ECA water system. ECA stands for “electro-chemically activated.” This is a process in which salt molecules are split to create hypochlorous acid and sodium hydroxide, also known as lye and caustic soda.

In short, ACT.Global explained, the system turns water and salt into a liquid cleaning agent by destabilizing and elevating the electrical charge of the water. This has been proven an effective disinfectant.

Chemical-free and completely harmless to passengers, crew and the environment, the ACT ECA water can be used to clean rooms instead of toxic chemicals. Gloves, masks and other protective gear aren’t needed, and the water doesn’t need to be rinsed off.

“As the oldest and most experienced expedition travel company in the world, we go to some of the most pristine places on the planet. We are very conscious of the waste we produce, and how the cleanliness of our ship and protection of our guests on board is vital to a healthy environment,” said Bruce Tschampel, vice president of hotel operations for Lindblad Expeditions.

“Premium Purity is unlike anything we have seen out there,” he continued. “Our ships are truly pristine and healthy, and we already have measurable results to prove it from our initial pilot program on one ship.”

RELATED: Lindblad Elminates Single-Use Plastic Fleetwide.

Guest-reported Illness Down 50 Percent

Following a yearlong trial aboard National Geographic Explorer, the system is going fleet-wide. Tschampel said guest-reported illness has declined by 50 percent, more than 1,000 plastic bottles of cleaning products were eliminated, and water usage was dramatically reduced by 1.1 million gallons per year.

National Geographic Explorer

National Geographic Explorer. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

“The crew is raving about how much healthier the ship is and how effective it is to use this solution,” he added.

The fleet-wide rollout is another step in what Lindblad called its commitment to defining travel industry standards for sustainability and environmentally responsible operations.

Other Sustainability Initiatives

In 2019, the line went carbon neutral, offsetting 100 percent of emissions from its ships, all land-based operations, employee travel, offices in New York and Seattle and other contributors. Guest-facing, single-use plastics were eliminated fleet-wide in 2018. And Lindblad has operated a sustainable seafood program for many years.

Other initiatives include building ships that increase efficiency to reduce emissions, mandating supply chain solutions to eliminate plastic, sourcing and serving local, organic produce and making crew uniforms from recycled plastic.

Lindblad logo

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Quark Expeditions' Ultramarine new ship for 2020

New Ships of 2020

By Anne Kalosh.

For small-ship lovers, a bevy of oceangoing new builds are set to enter service this year. Of the 23 vessels joining the global ocean cruise fleet, a hefty 11 are small enough to be QuirkyCruise size (carrying up to 300 passengers).

In addition to these 11 will be many new river vessels and a few new coastal ships — so plenty of choices for travelers seeking the latest and greatest but not the biggest!

New Ships of 2020: Ritz-Carlton

One of the year’s most-anticipated ships is the first to be associated with a luxury hotel brand. The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection was due to introduce the luxurious, 298-passenger Evrima early this year. However, it has been delayed to mid-June because of issues at the shipyard, Spain’s Hijos de J. Barreras.

Designed as a yacht inside and out, Evrima promises to be a beauty when completed, with its cascade of open decks aft, a marina and spacious suites and lounges. Dining experiences will include Southeast Asian small plates, an alfresco seafood bar/steak grill, a marina spot and a restaurant by three-star Michelin chef Sven Elverfeld of Aqua at The Ritz-Carlton, Wolfsburg.

Evrima is one of 2020's new builds

Evrima has a cascade of open decks aft, ending in a marina. * Rendering: The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

Evirmas' indoor-outdoor Marina Lounge

Evirma’s indoor-outdoor Marina Lounge. * Rendering: The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

Pool deck on Evirma, one of the new ships for 2020

Evrima’s main pool deck, aft. * Rendering: The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

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New Ships of 2020: Expedition Ships

The expedition cruising boom continues, with nine new ships that are Quirky-sized coming in 2020. Among them are the first blue-water expedition newbuilds for several owners: Lindblad ExpeditionsNational Geographic Endurance, Crystal Expedition CruisesCrystal Endeavor, Quark Expeditions Ultramarine and Silversea Cruises’ Silver Origin for the Galápagos.

RELATED: Lindblad goes carbon neutral.

Named in honor of Ernest Shackleton, Endurance sports the patented X-BOW design with its distinctive inverted bow, for better seakeeping. Expanded fuel and water tanks allow for long-range operations, while a Polar Class 5 rating enables exploration in icy areas.

The 126-passenger ship has Scandinavian-style interiors and lots of glass for great views. Each of the 13 extra-large balcony suites is named for a polar explorer.

National Geographic Endurance's X-bow

National Geographic Endurance has an inverted X-BOW design for better seakeeping. * Rendering: Lindblad Expeditions

National Geographic Endurance large suite

Each of the 13 extra-large balcony suites is named for a polar explorer. * Rendering: Lindblad Expeditions

The all-suite Crystal Endeavor will emulate luxury brand Crystal’s hallmarks, including butler service, the Palm Court and specialty restaurants Prego for Italian fare and Umi Uma for sushi and dishes from master chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Additionally, the two-story Solarium pool deck will house the Asian-inspired Silk Kitchen & Bar during the evenings.

Below the Crystal Endeavour is “rolled out” of the covered building dock December 21. 

The 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor has a Polar Class 6 rating and will carry two helicopters and a pair of seven-person submarines.

Crystal Endeavor is one of the new ships for 2020

Crystal Endeavor will sail to the world’s far reaches, including the polar areas. * Rendering: Crystal Expedition Cruises

One of 2020 news builds is Crystal Endeavor

Crystal Endeavor’s versatile Solarium transforms into a dinner venue by night. * Rendering: Crystal Expedition Cruises

Ultramarine is designed for polar operations, Quark’s specialty. It will have an exceptional 70-day operational range and equipment for heli-hiking and heli-skiing, along with kayaks, paddle boards and Zodiacs. The 200-passenger Ultramarine will come with six suites for solo travelers.

Quark Expeditions' Ultramarine new ship for 2020

Ultramarine is Quark Expeditions’ first owned new build. * Rendering: Quark Expeditions

Silver Origin is purpose-built for the Galápagos, with an Explorer Lounge for expedition briefings and Basecamp, an elegant space with a large, interactive digital wall that connects with the Zodiac embarkation area.

This 100-passenger ship has lavish all-suite accommodations, some with sea-view bathtubs and showers, a new feature for Silversea. (Peek-a-boo, boobies!)

new ship Silver Origin

Silver Origin is built for the Galápagos. * Rendering: Silversea Cruises

New Ships of 2020: Continuing Series

French line Ponant continues its Explorers series with Le Bellot and Le Jacques Cartier, distinguished by their sleek, superyacht profiles and a marina platform with three positions, for use as a sun deck, as a launch pad for water sports and as the Zodiac embarkation point.

Each 184-passenger ship also contains the distinctive underwater lounge Blue Eye.

RELATED: Ponant & Backroads adventure in New Zealand

Ponant's new ships for 2020

Le Bellot and Le Jacques Cartier will sport Ponant’s distinctive Blue Eye underwater lounge. * Photo @L.Patricot

Portugal’s Mystic Cruises adds its second 200-passenger new build, World Voyager, which has features like an Observation Lounge topped by a glass dome for stargazing and a lighted glass well that looks down into the sea. Heated seats on the bow add a Mercedes-like touch and comfort for travelers spending extended time outdoors in the cold to view wildlife.

World Voyager is a new ship in 2020 for Mystic Cruises

World Voyager is second in a series of a planned 10 ships. * Rendering: Mystic Cruises

World Voyager is a new ship for 2020

World Voyager has an Observation Lounge with a glass dome to the sky and a glass well looking down into the sea. * Photo: Mystic Cruises

SunStone Ships continues building in China with expedition ship Ocean Victory. It will be chartered by Denmark’s Albatros Expeditions for the Antarctica season and by Victory Cruise Lines for Alaska as this U.S. brand branches into expedition sailings for the first time.

Ocean Victory has capacity for 186 passengers. It uses the X-BOW design and is built to Polar Class 6 standard.

Ocean Victory is a new ship in 2020 for Victory Cruise Lines

Ocean Victory’s lounges include a spacious library. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

The new ship Ocean Victory

Ocean Victory’s elegant dining room. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

Australia’s Coral Expeditions follows up 2019’s Coral Adventurer with a near twin, Coral Geographer. The 120-passenger ship will provide four more bridge deck suites (six total) featuring bathrooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and an infinity bathtub with sky views.

Though Coral Geographer is scheduled for delivery in late 2020, it actually begins sailing the Indian Ocean in early 2021.

the new ship Coral Geographer

Coral Geographer will debut with sailings to remote islands of the Indian Ocean. * Rendering: Coral Expeditions

The new ship Coral Geographer is a stunner

Coral Geographer has six of these roomy bridge deck balcony suites. * Rendering: Coral Expeditions

New Ships of 2020: Classic Sailing Vessel

One of the year’s more unusual small ships is a classic sailing yacht. The three-masted Sea Cloud Spirit of Sea Cloud Cruises will turn heads with its 4,100 square meters/44,100 square feet of sails.

Of the 69 ocean-view cabins, 25 have their own balconies. An elevator will connect the five decks. A fine dining restaurant and a casual dining experience on the lido deck are planned. Sea Cloud Spirit will have a wellness/spa venue, too.

RELATED: Sea Cloud II Cruise to the Canary Islands & Morocco 

Sea Cloud Spirit

Sea Cloud Spirit — a classic yacht style and tons of sails. * Rendering: Sea Cloud Cruises

Sea Cloud Spirit rendering

Shaded deck space on sailing ship Sea Cloud Spirit. * Rendering: SeaCloud Cruises

Fellow sailing ship specialist Star Clippers had been set to introduce Flying Clipper, a replica of the largest square-rigged tall ship ever built, in 2019. The vessel was completed and ready for handing over, according to Croatia’s Brodosplit yard. However, a dispute with Star Clippers drags on in arbitration, leaving Flying Clipper in limbo.

RELATED: Star Clippers in Thailand, This Cruise Rocks

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Lindblad in Alaska

Reader Review: Lindblad in Alaska’s Inside Passage.

REVIEWER

Elizabeth Moss from the USA.

CRUISE LINE

Lindblad Expeditions.

SHIP

National Geographic Venture.

DESTINATION

Alaska Inside Passage.

# OF NIGHTS

7.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

July 2019, from Juneau, Alaska.

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 4

-Cabin Rating: 5

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 4

HAVE YOU BEEN ON A SMALL SHIP CRUISE BEFORE?

I’ve been on 1 small ship cruise.

REVIEW

We’ll never forget the zodiac cruise rides to see icebergs and glaciers! Our 9 year old twins were particularly impressed by the “vikings” who surprised us with hot chocolate during one of the rides. This was our first ever cruise, so we have no comparison, but we loved this way of seeing Alaska. The views were amazing and the ship’s captain would stop if there was interesting sea life or wildlife spotted.

Food was great, cabins were comfortable and roomy, the crew was friendly and helpful. We really enjoyed the naturalists and  programs, though didn’t attend all that was offered as it would have been more than we wanted. Some days were a little slow for the kids, but they managed as there were a few other children on board.

The atmosphere was relaxed and casual and we had a lot of fun meeting our 92 fellow passengers, who seemed to enjoy the same type of vacation experience as we did.

Highly recommended.

Reader Review bird

 

 

Here’s the Lindblad Expeditions site.

And check out some of Elizabeth’s photos from her cruise:

A Zodiac launching on a Lindblad Alaska cruise

Photo: Elizabeth Moss

family cruise with Lindblad in Alaska

Photo: Elizabeth Moss

close to a waterfall in Alaska

Photo: Elizabeth Moss

Couple on a Lindblad cruise in Alaska

Photo: Elizabeth Moss

The sleek lines of Lindbad's Nat Geo in Alaska

Photo: Elizabeth Moss

berry picking on an Alaska cruise

Photo: Liz Moss

 

QuirkyCruise Review

reader reviews logo hi resContribute to our pool of honest reviews by real passengers. QuirkyCruise wants to hear about your latest small ship cruise for our Reader Reviews, a growing reservoir of opinions by small ship cruise lovers around the world. We don’t edit or sugarcoat, we just present QuirkyCruise reader reviews straight from travelers to you.

Click here to fill out a QuirkyCruise Reader Review FORM.

And here’s an INDEX of ALL our Reader Reviews. Have a look at what fellow travelers have to say and see what floats your boat.

 

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Nat Geo Venture Reader Review

NAT GEO VENTURE in Alaska.

REVIEWER

Laura Virkler  from the USA.

CRUISE LINE

Lindblad Expeditions.

SHIP

National Geographic Venture.

DESTINATION

Southeast Alaska.

# OF NIGHTS

7.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

July 2019, from Sitka, Alaska.

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 3

-Cabin Rating: 5

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 4

HAVE YOU BEEN ON A SMALL SHIP CRUISE BEFORE?

I’ve been on 1 small ship cruise.

REVIEW

We took our three children (ages 16, 14 and 12) on this trip and everyone loved it for different reasons. Our oldest was able to talk with so many of the naturalists on the ship and really used her love of bones and history, and she loved the crew. Our middle son isn’t very social, but the crew on the bridge let him come and hang out and learn how the ship worked and he was fascinated with all of it. Our youngest met many other kids his age and loved being able to explore the ship on his own. All three kids loved the freedom they had on the ship.

My husband and I thought the cabins were very nice and so comfortable and had everything we needed. The staff was amazingly friendly and helpful. Meals were nice but became tedious after 7 days, but everything was very good. The excursions were interesting and the sights amazing — glaciers and icebergs and bears and seals and so on. Our one complaint would probably be that outings were a little slow-paced and a lot of time was spent on education, which is awesome, but a little slow sometimes.

All of us loved the experience and the ship and its crew!

Reader Review bird

 

 

Here’s the Lindblad Expeditions site.

 

reader reviews logo hi resContribute to our pool of honest reviews by real passengers. QuirkyCruise wants to hear about your latest small ship cruise for our Reader Reviews, a growing reservoir of opinions by small ship cruise lovers around the world. We don’t edit or sugarcoat, we just present QuirkyCruise reader reviews straight from travelers to you.

Click here to fill out a QuirkyCruise Reader Review FORM.

And here’s an INDEX of ALL our Reader Reviews. Have a look at what fellow travelers have to say and see what floats your boat.

 

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Guests get up close to a calving glacier in Southeast Alaska, at the Sawyer Glacier.

Lindblad Expeditions Goes Carbon Neutral

By Anne Kalosh.

Great news for QuirkyCruisers who care about the impact of their travel on the planet: Lindblad Expeditions is becoming a carbon neutral company beginning this year, in 2019.

This enforces the small-ship operator’s longstanding commitment to the environment. It also supports the efforts of its partner, National Geographic, to identify greenhouse gas emissions associated with its travel programs and decrease their impact by offsetting those that cannot be eliminated.

100 Percent Offset

Lindblad said its investments will offset 100 percent of emissions from its ships. This means eight ships in the Lindblad-National Geographic fleet and five leased, along with all land-based operations, employee travel, offices in New York and Seattle and additional small but measurable emission contributors.

Guests get up close to a calving glacier in Southeast Alaska, at the Sawyer Glacier.

Travelers with Lindblad Expeditions can feel good knowing the carbon impact of their journey is offset. * Photo: ©Flip Nicklin Lindblad Expeditions

“Greatest Threat Humanity has Ever Faced”

“As a company, recognizing that global climate change is arguably the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, we all need to urgently step up our efforts whether big or small,” said Sven Lindblad, CEO and founder, Lindblad Expeditions. “Our goal is to reduce and offset our carbon footprint, and to commit to carbon neutrality throughout the many layers of our business.”

Lindblad added that “climate change and its resulting impacts on global biodiversity and human health and livelihoods has provided a clarion call and awakening. The message is clear: we must rebalance and rebalance urgently.”

Travel contributes to the human footprint that affects the earth’s climate. National Geographic Partners has been working to reduce this impact over the past decade, investing more than $1.5 million in verifiable carbon offset projects, according to Nancy Schumacher, executive vice president, travel and tour operations.

Golden-mantled howler Monkey (Alouatta Palliata), family, troop, Barro Colorado Island, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Gatun Lake, Panama Canal, Panama

Climate change impacts global biodiversity. * Photo:©Ralph Lee Hopkins Lindblad Expeditions

Verified Emission-Reduction Projects

Working with South Pole, a leading developer of emission-reduction projects, Lindblad now has a portfolio of six investments that align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. These investments focus on renewable energy (solar and wind), reforestation and community-based projects in six countries, including Mexico, Peru and Vietnam, places that Lindblad-National Geographic travelers visit.

South Pole requires independent, third party verification and regular monitoring of the projects in its portfolio to ensure they deliver the stated impacts and adhere to the highest internationally recognized standards. Further, South Pole ensures emission reductions are accurately measured and verified to enable transparent public reporting.

Carbon neutrality joins a host of other sustainability programs at Lindblad.

The company banished guest-facing single-use plastics fleet-wide in 2018 and has served sustainable seafood on board for many years. Other initiatives include building more efficient ships that require less energy to operate and, therefore, reduce emissions. Lindblad also mandates supply chain solutions to eliminate plastic, serves local, organic produce and makes crew uniforms from recycled plastic.

$17 Million in Traveler Donations

Since 1997, Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic have raised more than $17 million from travelers to the regions they explore together. These voluntary donations currently go toward conservation, education, research, storytelling and technology projects that support the health and viability of oceans, coastlines and coastal communities.

snorkeling south pass fakarava on a Lindblad Expeditions cruise

Lindblad travelers can donate to a fund that supports the health and viability of oceans coastlines and coastal communities.* Photo ©Mike Greenfelder for Lindblad Expeditiions

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Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

By Peter Knego.

My Lindblad Expeditions “Among The Great Whales” adventure aboard the brand-new 100-passenger National Geographic Venture began at San Jose del Cabo at the tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. It was a three-hour drive up the Pacific Coast and across rugged desert terrain to the CostaBaja Resort overlooking the Bay of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

“Among the Great Whales” itinerary. Note the order of ports may vary. * Map: Lindblad Expeditions

A nice buffet dinner under the stars provided an ideal way to unwind and meet fellow shipmates, about 100 well-traveled Americans and a scattered few from other countries.

Nearly everyone on board the 7-night cruise was there to see and get up close to the wildlife, sea lions, birds and especially the whales. Many guests were avid photo takers who appreciated the official photographer‘s tips with techniques.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

All aboard as the National Geographic Venture prepares to depart San Carlos! * Photo: Peter Knego

On Board

The next afternoon, we crossed to the Pacific Coast to join the brand-new National Geographic Venture; aka NG Venture.

Introduced in early 2019, the 238-foot, 2,380-gt NG Venture is a sparkling, state-of-the-art expedition ship with a fleet of eight zodiacs and 24 kayaks. The US-flag ship is fitted with stabilizers that would come in handy in open ocean conditions.

The ship has four decks connected by a lift and two stair towers. The layout includes a lounge, dining room, shop, gym, an open bow observation platform, an open bridge (conditions permitting), a sheltered stern terrace and a platform for boarding kayaks and zodiacs.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

The interior portion of Lounge Deck begins with the Lounge, which can seat all guests at once and features a bar, library, numerous LED screens and a rotunda-style podium called the Circle Of Truth for presentations by the ship’s expedition team. * Photo: Peter Knego

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

At the aft end of Lounge Deck, the Dining Room can also seat all guests at once and features floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides. * Photo: Peter Knego

Due to an approaching storm, instead of overnighting for a morning bird-watching excursion in Bahia Magdalena, we sailed off to Laguna San Ignacio, a protected whale feeding ground about 100 miles up the coast. It is a site made famous by the likes of John Steinbeck and Jacques Cousteau.

The Cabin Accommodations

My Category 3 cabin had a comfy queen-size bed, two picture windows, a writing desk, plenty of storage space, and bathroom with shower. Being the most forward cabin, it was a bit bumpy that first night as it took the brunt of the pounding waves and succumbed to some serious “corkscrewing” — that dreaded combination of pitching and rolling.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

There are no keys to access cabins on the National Geographic Venture, including Category 3 stateroom 202, shown facing port.  All staterooms do lock from the inside and are stocked with eco-friendly amenities (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel — in shower dispensers) and soap. * Photo: Peter Knego

Thankfully, for those like me with motion sickness issues, the ship provided an abundant supply of delicious ginger chews and meclizine tablets. Both were effective.

As for the Venture’s other accommodations, the top-grade Category 1’s have large picture windows that look out to a narrow promenade, a sitting area and an expanded bathroom. Category 2’s are slightly smaller but come with a private balcony.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

The NG Venture’s Category 1 staterooms have picture windows that look out onto the Observation Deck promenade. * Photo: Peter Knego

Categories 4 and 5 are the most economical, and thus smaller and lower in the ship, which can actually be a good thing when the seas get rough.

The lack of televisions provided a chance to fully disengage from the chaos of the outside world.

 First Excursion Ashore

It was gray and cooler than expected when we finally reached the shelter of Laguna San Ignacio the next afternoon. That first Zodiac ride in the chilling wind and rough surf would add to the sense of adventure and ultimately pay off in spades.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Zodiacs are accessed via a platform on the stern of the ship. * Photo: Peter Knego

Strangely, this entire week in the Baja region would be about ten degrees cooler than in California where I live, so I was glad to have brought a sweatshirt and waterproof windbreaker along.

No matter what the weather conditions are, you can never go wrong with layers!

Peter all layered up in Baja! * Photo: Peter Knego

After a beach landing, we transferred from the ship’s Zodiacs to locally operated pangas that buzzed us deep into the gray whales’ turf. All around us, the giant cetaceans were “spy hopping,” or projecting their massive bodies vertically out of the sea to get a peek above the surface and then falling back with a giant splash.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

A pair of gray whales doing their “spy hop” maneuver at Laguna San Ignacio. * Photo: Peter Knego

Our guides explained that this gravitational shifting also helps them digest the little crustaceans and other tiny creatures they had come to gorge on.

As our panga returned to the beach, a “friendly” (a baby gray calf) surfaced alongside just long enough for us to pat its barnacle-encrusted skin before it vanished back into the bubbly realm.

Click below: When a whale breaches within touching distance, it is called a “friendly”.

 

Sunsets & Sunrises

Back aboard the National Geographic Venture, dinner was slightly delayed so that we could gather on the bow for a startlingly beautiful sunset. For that lingering transition from day into night, our slice of the world was bathed in an almost fluorescent orange and magenta glow.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

San Ignacio’s sunset over the bow. * Photo: Peter Knego

The next morning, it was all about Zodiacs and pangas and the pursuit of more whales.  The seas were not only teeming with majestic grays, but provided a side show of dancing dolphins, the occasional leaping manta and scores of sea turtles.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Pangas, breaching grays and the mirage-like National Geographic Venture at Laguna San Ignacio. * Photo: Peter Knego

With the sun beaming on the jagged purple peaks of the Sierras De La Gigantes in the backdrop, it couldn’t have been more exhilarating. Although there were no more close encounters of the “friendly” kind.

Racing Ahead to Avoid a Storm

For the next 36 hours, the National Geographic Venture made a mad south-by-southeasterly dash for Cabo, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez.  For a delightful interlude on that first afternoon, dolphins frolicked in our bow wave.

Click above to view dolphins escorting the National Geographic Venture on her southbound journey.

Thankfully, as the Venture kept ahead of the storm, it would be a relatively smooth ride. I enjoyed the ship, dining, enrichment lectures and fellow guests, free of the trance-inducing effects of meclizine.

Dawn of a New Day

Day six began with the night sky morphing from ink blue into a lovely shade of pre-dawn purple-essence.

With coffee in one hand and camera in the other, I worked my way up to the bow platform to join fellow guests as the rising sun cast its first rays on Friar’s Rocks. The iconic formation at the tip of Cabo San Lucas is also known as Los Arcos.

Sunrise on Friar’s Rocks, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. * Photo: Peter Knego

Scores of tiny craft were heading out of Cabo’s small harbor to join us in welcoming the new day and the National Geographic Venture’s transition from the open Pacific to the Gulf of California, or as it is more commonly called, the Sea of Cortez.

After breakfast, the Venture motored to the outskirts of another small marina, that of San Jose Del Cabo, where we boarded zodiacs for a short ride ashore. I opted for the combined bird-watching walk in the estuary and time to wander the old town, with its historic mission, shops and galleries.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Birders in the San Jose Del Cabo estuary. * Photo: Peter Knego

Whales Whales & More Whales

Back aboard in time for lunch, we felt the gentle rumble of the Venture’s diesels propelling us into deeper water for an afternoon spent chasing humpback whales. With each breach and fluke, there were gasps, the frenzied clicking of camera shutters, and the occasional groan of someone who just missed capturing the action in pixels.

Another spectacular sunset serenaded us as we gathered on the stern terrace, where the al fresco bar was opened up for the first time during our trip.

On most nights, one of the naturalists would give an excellent presentation on the marine life, history and lore of the region.

Highlights were lecturer Marylou Blakeslee’s readings from John Steinbeck’s and Ed Rickett’s “The Log From The Sea Of Cortez,” describing their pioneering visit to the Baja Peninsula. I also greatly enjoyed expedition leader Bette Lu Krause’s tales of being a young female mariner in a male-dominated sea.

Day seven began with an early morning blue whale sighting as the Venture neared Isla San Francisco. I signed up for the morning kayak ride in the relatively sheltered bay, seizing the opportunity to not only get up close to a rocky outcrop of pelicans but to snap some nice, up-close views of our ship.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Kayaking off Isla San Francisco. * Photo: Peter Knego

 

Click above to experience the National Geographic Venture from a kayak’s perspective.

After returning the kayak, I joined a guided walk into the tide pools on the other side of the narrow strip of land linking the two halves of the islet. Expedition team members pointed out numerous starfish species, urchins, crabs, sea cucumbers and other saline fauna.

Snorkeling

Lunch on the ship was followed by a snorkeling expedition. Lindblad provided the gear, including wet suits, as the sea temperature was in the mid-60s.

My adventurous Australian snorkeling partner Haney and I encountered some pretty exciting sea life, including a rare zebra eel, schools of positively fluorescent fish and some adorable yellow puffers.

Another zodiac ride to/from the ship allowed us to change gear for an afternoon hike that unfortunately had to be aborted midway due to severe winds.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Isla San Francisco overview. * Photo: Peter Knego

As we kayaked, snorkeled and hiked, our expedition leaders pieced together an exciting last segment of the voyage. Taking advantage of the extra day gained by skipping Bahia Magdalena we would head to Puerto Escondido.

Sightseeing Alternative

Here, the next morning, local drivers took us on a ride back to Bahia Magdalena on the Pacific Coast to board pangas for another chance to enjoy an all-day expedition amongst the whales.

Those, like myself, who opted for the alternate choice, would be driven up into the Sierras de la Giganta for a visit to the historic Mission San Javier.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Nestled in Baja Sur’s rugged mountains, Mission San Javier was built in 1744. * Photo: Peter Knego

Then it was off to nearby Loreto, a charming Sea of Cortez resort town, where we could savor a Mexican lunch with time to explore on our own.

Last Full Day

Our last full day would be spent in the Espiritu Santo archipelago where the first morning excursion included a swim amongst sea lions followed by zodiac-ing into their feeding ground, where the rock formations resembled the creatures we had come to witness.

Rock formations versus sea lions in Espiritu Santo. * Photo: Peter Knego

Click below for a leaping sea lion snippet.

 

Late that afternoon, we anchored off Los Islotes where the crew prepared a beach barbecue while many of us headed off on hosted hiking expeditions in search of wildlife and the unique flora of the Baja Sur region.

Hiking at Los Islotes in the Sea of Cortez’ Espiritu Santo archipelago. * Photo: Peter Knego

As the final sunset extinguished itself, we returned to the ship for a slide show recap of the week’s adventure, then ultimately back to our cabins to pack and prepare for our homeward journeys the following morning. 🐋

Click here for a gander at QuirkyCruise’s John Roberts’ photo essay on the Nat Geo Venture.

Weather

This particular itinerary with both Pacific and Sea of Cortez ports operates between January and March.

Weather is typically moderate but it can get very windy in the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific swells can be rough at times, especially for a small ship.

What’s Included

Drinks and tips are not included, but excursions are included in each port. In certain spots, weather conditions permitting, there will be a choice of activities from snorkeling and kayaking to hikes of various length and endurance.

Lindblad provides gear for snorkeling (masks, fins, snorkels and wetsuits), but guests must bring hiking boots and shoes that can withstand “wet landings” in the zodiacs. Layers of light clothing are highly recommended.

Rates for  the 7-night “Among the Great Whales” itinerary start at $5,990 USD per person based on double occupancy in a Category 1 cabin.

All images, text and video copyright Peter Knego 2019

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Galapagos Islands Overview

By Heidi Sarna.

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most coveted and stunning small ship cruising regions in the world thanks to the unique wildlife (from sea lions and seals to turtles, iguanas, penguins and birds of all feathers) and the scientific legacy of Charles Darwin. The naturalist first spent time on the remote Pacific Ocean islands in the 1830s (see below) when his theory on natural selection took seed.

The endemic Galapagos marine iguana

The endemic Galapagos marine iguana. * Photo: Michael S Nolan

A volcanic archipelago of 20 main islands, and 100 or so more islets, the Galapagos Islands are one of the original 12 UNESCO World Heritage sites established in 1978. They represent an incredibly diverse range of habitats — from hauntingly desolate volcanic landscapes to lush green highlands, mangroves, and sandy beaches, both gorgeous arcs of white sand and fascinating black lava swathes.

Off shore, there are coral reefs and lagoons, and diving and snorkeling is excellent in many places. Since 1966, most of the land and surrounding waters — 97 percent to be exact — were set aside by the Ecuadorian government as a national park.

Major ocean currents come together at the Galapagos archipelago, some 600 miles west of Ecuador, creating a rich stew of nutrient rich cool waters from the south (Humboldt Current), warm currents from the north, and a deep cold current from the west, all of which in turn support a vast array of interesting flora and fauna from diverse environments.

“The Galapagos Islands are home to some of the highest levels of endemism (species found nowhere else on earth) anywhere on the planet. About 80% of the land birds you will see, 97% of the reptiles and land mammals, and more than 30% of the plants are endemic. More than 20% of the marine species in Galapagos are found nowhere else on earth. Favorites include the giant Galapagos tortoise, marine iguana, flightless cormorant, and the Galapagos penguin — the only penguin species to be found in the Northern Hemisphere.”

— Galapagos Conservancy

Wild Galapagos giant tortoise munching grass on Santa Cruz Island, on a Lindblad Expeditions trip. * Photo: Michael S. Nolan

Wild Galapagos giant tortoise munching grass on Santa Cruz Island, on a Lindblad Expeditions trip. * Photo: Michael S. Nolan

To try and keep the islands as untainted by tourism as possible, Ecuador regulates the number and size of ships (100 passengers or less) permitted to cruise in the waters of the Galapagos Islands, and also limits the number of times a particular ship can visit an island (once every 14 days). Cruising between islands usually takes place at night, so daytime is spent on shore or in the water on excursions. Naturalists guides, all licensed with the Galapagos National Park, lead excursions, give talks on board and mingle with passengers.

Ships in the Galapagos are equipped with Zodiacs (small inflatable boats) to take small groups of passengers to shore, along scenic coastlines and on snorkeling expeditions. Snorkeling equipment is routinely provided and diving gear can often be arranged. Some ships, like the Lindblad boats, have underwater cameras shooting videos that are then shown in the ships’ lounges. Some ships also have kayaks for use on guided jaunts.

Time on board is spent listening to lectures from the naturalists and standing on the decks chatting with other passengers, officers and crew as you keep an eye out for wildlife. Before dinner passengers usually gather in the lounge for a drink to discuss the day and what’s in store for tomorrow.

It’s just under a two-hour flight between Guayaquil on the Ecuadorian mainland coast and the airport on the island of Baltra, next to Santa Cruz, or the airport on San Cristobal Island. Cruises can be as short as three or four nights, are as long as two weeks, though most are 7 to 10 nights, not including the one- to two-night hotel stay in Guayaquil or Quito on either end that is necessary to make most flight connections.

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Ports of Call

Here are highlights from a handful of islands; most have multiple sights on shore and off.

Bartolome. It’s considered the most visited and most photographed island in the Galapagos, namely for Pinnacle Rock — a cool rock formation you can ogle from a nearby bluff. The picturesque beach below it is popular for snorkeling and swimming; keep your eyes open for Galapagos penguins, herons, Galapagos hawks, green sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, and white- and black-tipped sharks

Espanola. This is the island for seeing Albatross — we’re talking 25,000 to 30,000 Waved Albatross doing their goofy mating dances between April and December. Many other bird species nest here as well, including blue-footed and Nazca boobies. Flocks of tamed Darwin’s finches and Española mockingbirds sometimes land on tourists’ heads and shoulders. Bright red and green marine iguanas are also part of the show. On the beach at Gardner Bay, adorable sea lion pups congregate on the beach while mom goes fishing.

Fernandina. The archipelago’s youngest and most volcanically active island, here you can see marine iguanas and flightless cormorants, as well as penguins, sea lions and Sally Lightfoot crabs. The lava cactus growing on young lava is another cool site. Divers off shore will be thrilled to spot sea horses, sea turtles, and many types of sharks and rays.

Floreana. There’s so much to photograph on this island, from pink Galapagos flamingoes to pintail ducks, stilts, large-billed flycatchers, several species of finch. Devil’s Crown is the remnants of a volcanic crater that pokes up through the water of shore; strong swimmers and confident snorkelers can jump off zodiacs right into the crown for a close up look at sea lions, king angel fish, balloon fish, hawkfish, yellowtail grunts, tiger snake eels, white-tipped sharks, eagle rays, wrasses, hammerhead sharks, and sea turtles. Birds also like Devil’s Crown, from boobies to pelicans, and frigatebirds.

Blue footed boobies have, as you would expect, blue feet. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

Blue footed boobies have, as you would expect, blue feet. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

Isabela. The largest of all the islands at about 75 miles long, Isabela has several active volcanoes, including 5,600-foot-high Wolf Volcano, the highest point in the archipelago. The island has more wild tortoises than all the other islands combined, according to the Galapagos Conservancy, and the west coast of Isabela is considered the best place to see whales, from humpbacks to sperms, sei, minkes and orcas. The island is also home to birds of all kinds, from flamingoes to paint-billed crakes, white-cheeked pintails, common gallinules, flightless cormorants, penguins, pelicans and lava herons, plus land birds the likes of finches, hawks, yellow warblers, large-billed flycatchers and occasionally the woodpecker finch. There are also a handful of excellent dive sites offshore.

Rabida. This small, arid island is home to scads of marine iguanas and sea lions, as well as brown pelicans, and blue-footed and nazca boobies. Large pink flamingos, pintail ducks and common stilts feed in the shallow water of a saltwater lagoon, while finches, Galapagos doves, yellow warblers, and mockingbirds dart around.

San Cristobal. The island where Darwin first went ashore in 1835, San Cristobal is the second most populated island in the Galapagos with about 6,000 permanent residents and it also has an airport with daily flights to the mainland. Otherwise, the island is a wonderland of natural sites including Punta Pitt, a dramatic bluff with great views of a sea lion colony and the communal nesting place of red-footed, blue-footed and Nazca boobie birds. The coral sand beach at the base of the gorgeous Cerro Brujo tuff cone is popular for swimming and snorkeling and Kicker Rocker is a spectacular volcanic offshore rock formation where blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, frigatebirds, and sea lions roam.

Santa Cruz. The most populated of the Galapagos, Santa Cruz is the islands’ tourism hub thanks to the airport that most tourists go in and out of on neighboring Baltra Island, a 10-minute ferry ride away. Top sites on Santa Cruz include the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center to have a look at the many different species, from hatchlings to juveniles to old timers. (Thousands of giant tortoises lived on the islands until the 19th century when sailors and pirates began to kill them for food and oil.) Other island highlights include: Cerro Crocker, the highest point on the island with great views; Las Bachas beach, a major nesting site for sea turtles; South Plaza islet for sea lions, land iguanas and lots of seabirds; and offshore dive sites teeming with sea lions, sea turtles, sharks, eels, manta rays, eagle rays, fur seals and lots of fish.

Santiago. Once the scene of thriving salt mines in the early to mid 20th century, today there are several great visitors’ sights, including James Bay where you can see nesting sea turtles, flamingoes, Galapagos hawks, white-cheeked pintail ducks and fur seals. In Sullivan Bay, you can walk across a recent (late 19th century) lava flow and check out the interesting volcanic cones and formations. There is also an excellent snorkeling site in the channel between the shoreline and a small islet called Chinese Hat, where you can take a gander at sea lions, penguins, rays and sharks.

For more details, the Galapagos Conservancy is a great source.

When to Go

You can cruise the Galapagos Islands year-round. The peak season is summer — mid-June though early September — and mid-December though Mid-January, when prices are highest and islands are the busiest.

December through May is warmer (mid 70s to mid 80s Fahrenheit), sunnier and rainier (expect a daily afternoon shower). Since temperatures are warmer both in and out of the water, and there’s little wind, snorkeling is appealing, except that there are fewer fish swimming around. It’s breeding season for land birds, sea turtles and sea lions (in March and April, you can see adorable newborn seal pups crawling on the beaches), so you can watch mating rituals and ooh and aah over babies.

June through November is cooler (low 70s Fahrenheit) and windy (seas can be rougher), but it rarely rains during these months. The Humboldt Current is to thank, it reaches the Galápagos from the south and brings colder water and colder weather with it. BUT it also brings water rich in nutrients and plankton, so there are more fish in the sea at this time of year (divers and snorkelers love it), and because there are more fish, there are lots of seabirds fishing, from Albatrosses to Penguins, Blue-footed Boobies and owls.

Lindblad Expedition's National Geographic Endeavour in the Galapagos. * Photo: Sven Olof Lindblad

Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Endeavour in the Galapagos. * Photo: Sven Olof Lindblad

Company Reviews

We’ve written cruise line profiles of a number of major small-ship companies cruising in the Galapagos — AdventureSmith Explorations, Celebrity Cruises, EcoventuraG-AdventuresGreenTracksLindblad Expeditions, Silversea ExpeditionsTauck, Un-Cruise Adventures,Zegrahm Expeditions and Quasar Expeditions — with a reviews of Kleintours of Ecuador and Latin Trails coming soon.

And here we offer a brief round-up of even more companies, which may be tour operators and/or travel agencies, that sell Galapagos cruises and can help with other aspects of trip planning. They may charter entire ships or have just a cabin or two allotted to them, it all depends; nevertheless, it doesn’t affect the experience for you.

All of the following companies are members of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA) and are required to be insured and bonded. 

RELATED: Randy Mink’s Article about his Galapagos cruise aboard Latin Trails’ 16-passenger Sea Star Journey,

Eclipse Travel

This Australia and New Zealand owned and operated tour operator specializes in travel to South America, Central America and the Poles. In the Galapagos Islands, they offer four different trip levels for every wallet — budget, standard, superior and deluxe. The budget packages, for example, include a $2,500 USD 7-night cruise aboard the 16-passenger AIDA MARIA with simple bunk-bed cabins to $6,700 USD for a 7-night cruise on the brand new 16-passenger motor catamaran PETREL with posh twin- or double-bed cabins and suites, all with balconies.

Contact:  Level 6, 115 Pitt St, Sydney, NSW 2000 Australia USA; (+61) 2 8199 9465 and www.eclipsetravel.com.au.

Journeys International

Founded in 1978 by Will and Joan Weber, former Peace Corps volunteers, teachers and conservationists, this family-owned business was one of the original “eco tourism” companies before it was ever the ubiquitous term it is today. Journeys International continues to thrive on personal, small-scale encounters with interesting places around the world, including the Galapagos Islands.

Most cruises are 7 nights long and many are on the 20-passenger LETTY, ERIC or FLAMINGO I, a nearly identical trio of sister ships also used by other companies, including Natural Habitat Adventures. During the summer months of June, July and August, plus December, the trio offers special family-friendly cruises for families with children ages 5 or 6 and older.

Contact:  107 Aprill Drive #3, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103 USA; 734-665-4407 and www.journeys-intl.com.

Mountain Travel Sobek

This travel company is the merger of two adventure outfits — Mountain Travel that formed in 1969 and a year later organized its first Galapagos cruise (for the Sierra Club, and the first North American company to go there) and Sobek Expeditions, which was founded in 1973. The combined company has continued to offer adventurous travel ever since, including groundbreaking hiking, rafting, skiing, kayaking and sailing trips over the years in China, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Libya, Ethiopia and other places.

Its Galapagos cruises are aboard the 16-passenger REINA SILVIA; 48-passenger LA PINTA with a hot tub, four triple cabins and six connecting cabins ideal for families; or the 16-passenger GALAXY, all with all en-suite cabins.

Contact:  1266 66th St, Suite 4, Emeryville, California 94608-1117 USA; 510-594-6000 and www.mtsobek.com.

Natural Habitat Adventures

In business for more than 30 years, this company offers Galapagos trips focused on families, photography, and hiking & kayaking, and offers classic general interest trips as well. Choose from the 20-passenger expedition yacht LETTY with teak wood cabins (including a pair of triple cabins ideal for families) and interiors; the 16-passenger motor catamaran ATHALA II with four balcony cabins and also a hot tub; and the brand new 20-passenger luxury yacht ORIGIN, with two triple cabins, a small gym, hot tub and open bar.

All cabins on the three vessels are en suite and each boat carries two naturalist guides on board for intimate excursions with no more than 8 to 10 passengers per guide. Natural Habitat Adventures is an official travel partner of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which gives them an edge in itinerary planning.

Contact:  PO Box 3065, Boulder, Colorado 80307 USA; 303-449-3711, www.nathab.com.

Wilderness Travel

Wilderness Travel, a founding member of IGTOA, operates active adventures that are hiking, wildlife and/or culture focused in more than 75 countries worldwide and has been offering small-ship cruises in the Galapagos since the company was founded in 1978. Founder and president Bill Abbott says that almost 70% of their clients have traveled with them before or are direct referrals from those who have.

Their 8- to 17-night Galapagos trips, which include two night hotel nights in Guayaquil, are aboard the romantic 16-passenger square-rigged sailing yacht MARY ANNE, the 12-passenger yacht PASSION with a hot tub and two suites with a marble-clad bathrooms, and the 12-passenger yacht REINA SILVIA. Wilderness offers extensions to the Ecuadorian highlands, Peru/Machu Picchu and the Amazon.

Contact:  1102 Ninth Street, Berkeley, California 94710 USA; 510-558-2488, www.wildernesstravel.com.

Charles Darwin in More Detail 

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

An excerpt from Galapagos: Both Sides of the Coin, by Pete Oxford and Graham Watkins (Imagine Publishing, 2009).

Of all the scientists to visit the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin has had the single greatest influence. Darwin was born on February 12, 1809, in Shrewsbury, England. In 1831, having studied medicine at Edinburgh and having spent time studying for Holy Orders at Cambridge, with nudging from Professor Henslow, Darwin convinced Captain Robert FitzRoy to let him join him aboard the H. M. S. Beagle as the ship’s naturalist. FitzRoy was taking the Beagle on a charting voyage around South America. On Sept 15, 1835 on the return route across the Pacific, the Beagle arrived in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin disembarked on San Cristóbal (Sept 17-22), Floreana (Sept 24-27), Isabela (Sept 29-Oct 2) and Santiago (Oct 8-17). FitzRoy and his officers developed updated charts of the archipelago, while Darwin collected geological and biological specimens on the islands.

At the time of his visit, Darwin had not yet developed the ideas he presented later; it was only in retrospect that he realized the full significance of the differences among Galapagos species. Noteworthy about his visit were his observations of three different species of Galapagos mockingbirds on different islands and what the acting governor, Englishman Nicholas Lawson, told him about the differences among the giant tortoises from different islands.

While in the archipelago, Darwin focused as much on geology as on biology, collecting many geological specimens. Later, when he grasped the significance of the differences among the mockingbirds and tortoises, he resorted to the collections of his crewmates to look for inter-island variations among birds, plants, and other species, having failed to label all the specimens in his own collections, by island.

On the Origin of Species (published in 1859) changed the way we look at and understand the world. The book focused on the transmutations of species and explained, in detail, the mechanism that underlies evolutionary change. In On the Origin of Species, Darwin countered the predominant view of the time by presenting observations on the high number of endemic species found in the islands, the close interrelatedness of these species, and the absence of some groups of species. All of these observations ran contrary to the reasoning behind “Special Creation,” then the dominant explanation of the distribution of species.

Critically, Darwin suggested a highly logical alternative mechanism to explain the distribution and types of species, which he termed “natural selection.” His argument was that if individuals vary with respect to a particular trait and if these variants have a different likelihood of surviving to the next generation, then, in the future, there will be more of those with the variant more likely to survive.

In On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin offered a compelling answer to the outstanding question of biology, which was “how life on earth had evolved.” The book was, as Darwin commented, “one long argument” that stemmed from his five-week visit to the Galapagos Islands and attempted to include all life on earth. On the Origin of Species linked Darwin and Galapagos inextricably and changed the islands forever.

Breathtaking Machu Picchu -- both the beauty and the altitude. * Photo: Mountain Travel Sobek

Breathtaking Machu Picchu — both the beauty and the altitude. * Photo: Mountain Travel Sobek

Machu Picchu

If you’re going to the Galapagos Islands, you may want to consider a trip to Machu Picchu, many lines offer add-ons to the amazing Inca site in the Andes Mountains of Peru. Most trips are 4 to 8 days, allowing for a day or two to acclimatize in historic Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire at about 11,800 feet above sea level, before hiking, training or helicoptering to the stunning remains of the 15th-century Machu Picchu, which are set dramatically on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba River some 50 miles from Cusco at almost 8,000 feet.

The best way to experience Machu Picchu is to hike at least one way — consider a two- or three-day trek, with porters to carry your stuff, set up the tents and cook your food — though may people opt to take the train to the site from Cusco. When you first lay eyes on the well-preserved ruins of temples, alters, fountains and staircases, you’ll be blown away. Machu Picchu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. Peru’s capital Lima, with its gorgeous 16th-century old town is the oldest Spanish colony in South America; Lima is less than an hour’s flight from Cusco and less than two hours by air from Guayaquil.

 

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Fly-Free from Australia Cruise Offers

Fly-Free from Australia Cruise Offers

Check out these special small-ship cruise offers that include free economy round-trip airfare from the folks at Cruise Traveller, an Australia-based small-ship expert. For more details or to book, click on the links to go to the agency’s website.

Click here for more info about Cruise Traveller.

Cruises below are available to Australian passengers only.

 

Cruise Traveller

 

Happy small-ship cruising!

Galapagos Greats: LINDBLAD & THE GALAPAGOS Islands

Cruise Package: 7-night Galapagos cruise adventure plus 2 hotel nights, round-trip from Guayaquil; selected departures August to November 2019.

Ship: 96-passenger Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Endeavour II; built in 2006 and refurbished in 2016.

Fly-Free from Australia Cruise Offers

National Geographic Endeavour II.

Offer Includes:

  • Free return economy class airfare between Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne and Guayaquil.
  • 2-night (1 pre and 1 post) hotel stay in Guayaquil with breakfast and transfer to charter flight.
  • Free round-trip charter flights between Guayaquil and the Galapagos.
  • 7-night cruise aboard the National Geographic Endeavour II round-trip from the Galapagos including all shipboard meals, open bar (some top shelf beverages not included) plus Zodiac shore excursions and port taxes.

➢➢Fares for Twin Cat 1 Ocean View Upper Deck cabins from $9,120 AUD per person; Twin Cat 3 Ocean View Lounge Deck cabins from $11,990 AUD per person; and Single 2S Ocean View Upper Deck cabins from $13,620 AUD per person.

Expires: 31 July 2019 (or until sold out/withdrawn).

Visit the Cruise Traveller site for more info or to book this cruise.  

* Offer available to Australian guests only.

Fly-Free from Australia Cruise Offers

A map of the Galápagos Islands. * Map: Cruise Traveller

 

Shamrock Express: ADVENTURE CANADA & IRELAND

Cruise Package: 11-night Ireland expedition cruise plus 1 hotel night; round-trip from Dublin, departs 9 June 2019.

Ship: 198-passenger Ocean Endeavour; built in 1982 and last refitted in 2016.

"Adventure Canada" Specials

Ocean Endeavor. * Photo: Adventure Canada

Offer Includes:

  • Free round-trip economy class airfare between Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth and Dublin.
  • 1-night hotel stay in Dublin with breakfast with transfers.
  • 11-night expedition cruise aboard the Ocean Endeavour round-trip from Dublin, Ireland including all shipboard meals, plus Zodiac shore excursions and port taxes.

➢➢Fares for Twin Cat 4 Ocean View cabins from $12,545 AUD per person (was $16,790); Twin Cat 6 Ocean View cabins from $15,160 AUD per person (was $19,790); and Single Cat 4 Ocean View cabins from $14,760 AUD per person (was $24,330).

Expires: 15 April 2019 (or until sold out/withdrawn).

Visit the Cruise Traveller site for more info or to book this cruise.  

* Offer available to Australian guests only.

Ireland cruise. * Map: Cruise Traveller

 

The King Penguin Parade: PONANT & THE SUB-ANTARCTICS

Cruise Package: 14-night Sub-Antarctic expedition cruise plus 2 hotel nights, from Dunedin to Lyttelton, departs 1 Feb 2020.

Ship: 184-passenger Le Laperouse; built in 2018.

quirky-cruise-cruise-traveller-deals-june-18-2018-stern-of-le-laperouse

The stern of Le Laperouse. * Rendering: Ponant

Offer Includes:

  • Free round-trip economy class airfare from Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne to Dunedin and out of Christchurch on return.
  • 1-night hotel stay in Dunedin, New Zealand with transfers.
  • 14-night expedition cruise aboard the Le Laperouse from Dunedin to Lyttelton including all shipboard meals, open bar, plus Zodiac shore excursions and port taxes.
  • 1-night hotel stay in Christchurch, New Zealand with transfers.

➢➢Fares for Twin Cat DEL Deluxe Balcony from $17,675 AUD per person (was $21,055); Twin Cat PR4 Prestige Balcony from $19,545 AUD per person (was $23,360).

Expires: 31 March 2019 (or until sold out/withdrawn).

Visit the Cruise Traveller site for more info or to book this cruise.  

* Offer available to Australian guests only.

Fly-Free from Australia Cruise Offers

New Zealand and the SubAntarctic region. * Map: Cruise Traveller

Note: Deals are generated by, and the responsibility of, Cruise Traveller, and are based on availability and are subject to change. Cruises are capacity-controlled and offers may be withdrawn at any time. All rates are per person and some fares may include shore excursions and some or all beverages.

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Orion in Antarctica (Lindblad).

REVIEWER

Anisha  from the USA.

CRUISE LINE

Lindblad Expeditions.

SHIP

National Geographic Orion.

DESTINATION

Antarctica.

# OF NIGHTS

10.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

January 2019, from Ushuaia, Argentina.

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 5

-Cabin Rating: 5

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 4

HAVE YOU BEEN ON A SMALL SHIP CRUISE BEFORE?

I’ve been on 1 small ship cruise.

REVIEW

Overall we really enjoyed the cruise; the staff, food, and destination were all superb!!  The other passengers on the ship were all very nice and from all walks of life. Antarctica is a very special place to visit, you really feel like you are on a movie set or a postcard. To be in a place with so much natural, uninhabited beauty is truly once in a lifetime.

The only comment I have is that it takes awhile to actually get to/from Antarctica on the ship, so the activity level is a bit light overall. However, once you are near land there are opportunities to kayak, walk/hike on the ice, and get up close to wildlife (seals, penguins, and whales).

Thank you Heidi for providing info about various trips and igniting the travel bug in all of us adventurers!

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Expedition Ships for 2019-2022

New Expedition Ships for 2019-2022

By Heidi Sarna & Ted Scull.

The big news in the small-ship world of late are the 25 expedition ships (under 300 passengers) being built or on order. An unprecedented number of cruise lines have been investing time and resources into building small expedition cruise ships to explore hard-to-reach places around the world.

Whether you’re eager to explore the breathtaking glaciers of Iceland, see polar bears in the Arctic or a waddle of adorable penguins in Antarctica, small expedition ships will take you there. In fact, there are many isolated locales where an expedition cruise is really the only way to go: from hopping around the Galapagos Islands to exploring the Polar Regions and isolated corners of Australia or South Pacific islands.

While some are very cushy and luxurious with fancy spas, plush suites and multiple gourmet dining venues, others are more restrained and destination-focused. Either way, expedition vessels are built as transportation for intrepid travelers to reach remote places. Most have ice-strengthened hulls for cruising the Polar Regions, some with extra-strengthening, and most carry Zodiac boats for excursions.

Trends in next-generation expedition cruise vessels focus on high-tech gear to enhance passenger interaction with the environment — think mini-submarines and helicopters. Some have underwater cameras that a diving staff member uses to take high-definition footage of the undersea world around the ship, beaming the video back to passengers on board. Hydrophones, or underwater microphones, used to catch whale sounds are standard equipment on expedition ships. Increasingly, ships carry a ROV, a remotely operated vehicle capable of diving far deeper than a human Scuba diver to view parts of the undersea world you could otherwise only speculate about.

In terms of environmental impact, the newest expedition vessels are being kitted out with hybrid engines fueled by hydrogen and with hull designs that improve fuel efficiency. Read on for more details.

 

2019-2022 SCHEDULE OF NEW EXPEDITION SHIPS UNDER 300 PASSENGERS
CRUISE
LINE
SHIP
NAME
PASSENGER COUNT GROSS TONNAGE DEBUT
DATE
Antarctica XXI Magellan Explorer 100 4,900 Q4 2019
Aurora* Greg Mortimer 180  8,000 May 2019
Celebrity Cruises Celebrity Flora 100 5,739 Q2 2019
Coral Expeditions Coral Adventurer 120 5,000 Q1 2019
Crystal Yacht Expeditions Endeavor 200 25,000 Q4 2019
Hapag-Lloyd Hanseatic Nature 230 15,540 April 2019
Hapag-Lloyd Hanseatic Inspiration 230 15,540 Oct 2019
Lindblad Expeditions Nat. Geo. Endurance 126 12,300 Q1 2020
Lindblad Unnamed Polar Explorer Class 2021
Mystic Cruises World Explorer 200 9,300 May 2019
Mystic Cruises Unnamed 200 9,300 Q1 2020
Oceanwide Expeditions Hondius 180 5,590 Q2 2019
Ponant Le Bougainville 184 10,038 June 2019
Ponant Le Dumont-d’Urville 184 10,038 Sept 2019
Quark Unnamed 200 13,000 2020
Scenic Scenic Eclipse 228 16,500 April 2019
Scenic Scenic Eclipse II 228 13,000 2020
Ponant Le Bellot        184 10,038 April 2020
Ponant Le Jacques Cartier      184 10,038 July 2020
Seabourn Unnamed 264 23,000 Spring 2020
Seabourn Unnamed 264 23,000 Spring 2022
SunStone Unnamed 160 8,000 Sept 2019
SunStone Unnamed 130 8,000 April 2020
SunStone Unnamed 160/180 8,000 Sept 2020
SunStone Unnamed 160/180 8,000 April 2021

*Charter from Sunstone

 

A BRIEF SNAPSHOT OF THE EXPEDITION LINES
ANTARCTICA XXI 

The pioneering company Antarctica XXI is building the MV MAGELLAN EXPLORER for a late 2019 delivery. The company specializes in offering Antarctica expedition air-cruise combos; flying passengers over the stormy Drake Passage to board their small expedition ship directly in Antarctica.

Holding a maximum of 100 passengers, the MV MAGELLAN EXPLORER will have a large, forward-facing observation lounge, a viewing deck, and a dining room that accommodates all guests and expedition staff in a single sitting. Cabins range from 220 to 440 square feet; most have balconies and a handful are dedicated cabins for singles.

The ship will be outfitted with a pair of meeting rooms, protected outdoor barbecue area, sauna and gym. Kayaks and snowshoes are carried on board. It’s being built to the latest Polar Code specifications established by the International Maritime Organization and carries a Polar Class 6 ice-class. For comfortable navigation, the ship will have stabilizers as well as bow and stern thrusters.

New Generation Expedition Ships

A rendering of Antarctica XXI’s Magellan Explorer. * Rendering: Antarctica XXI

CELEBRITY EXPEDITIONS

To debut in mid-2019, Celebrity Cruises is building 100-passenger CELEBRITY FLORA, an all-suite ship with a glass-wrapped observatory and a library dedicated to the Galápagos. A marina at the stern will make it easy to step into Zodiacs for the frequent nature tours — hiking, swimming and snorkeling — that characterize a Galápagos cruise. A staircase leads from the marina to the Sunset Lounge, an outdoor space with a plunge pool. Inside, Darwin’s Cove is the place where passengers can chat with the naturalists who lead tours and give informative talks.

Briefings will be delivered in the Discovery Lounge, where there’s a full bar, stage for entertainment and comfy seating. Besides the Seaside Restaurant, open for all meals, the ship will have a casual alternative, the Ocean Grill, with panoramic views and the opportunity to dine under the stars.

The standard “Sky Suites” measure 330 square feet with an “Infinite Veranda” that has doors that can slide to the side to make the veranda a seamless part of the room. When the doors are closed, creating a separate veranda area, the top of a floor-to-ceiling outside window can be lowered to the open air. The Penthouse Suites, at 1,288 square feet, are the top accommodations. CELEBRITY FLORA’s will have dynamic positioning so there’s no need to drop anchor to keep it in a fixed position at sea and an in-suite water filtration system that should cut or eliminate the use of bottled water, reducing plastic waste.

Celebrity's Custom-Built Galápagos Ship

A bird’s eye view rendering of the Flora. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises


CORAL EXPEDITIONS

Australia-based Coral Expeditions is scheduled to release the new 120-passenger CORAL ADVENTURER in mid-2019 with another sister ship expected to follow after that one. The design will reflect Coral Expeditions’ standard of offering a relaxed and intimate onboard atmosphere. The ship is designed to explore tropical regions including the Kimberley; Cape York and Arnhem Land (the top of Australia); Indonesia’s Papua New Guinea and Spice Islands; and the South Pacific. There are six zodiac boats carried on board plus a pair of trademark Xplorer tenders that comfortably seat all passengers at one go for excursions.

Wow-factor features include multiple indoor and outdoor bars, including the Explorer bar on the sundeck for sunset drinks with 180-degree views. The casual dining area will seat all guests at once and the curated wine cellar features modestly-priced boutique wines for daily drinking and exceptional vintage Australian reds as well.  More than half the cabins will have balconies and there’s also a gym with elliptical trainers and treadmills.

New Expedition Ships for 2019-2022

The new 120-passenger Coral Adventurer. * Rendering: Coral Expeditions

CRYSTAL CRUISES

Crystal Cruises is building the 200-passenger CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR “mega-yacht” for launch in late 2019. Designed for Arctic, Antarctic, and tropical conditions, the megayacht will have a PC6 Polar Class designation for cruising in Polar Regions and also be fitted with state-of-the-art offshore dynamic positioning technology. This means that computer-controlled systems allow the ship to automatically maintain its position with its own propellers and thrusters, so it can float atop coral reefs and historic ship wrecks without using anchors.

CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR’s cool exploration “toys” include capacity for two helicopters and a submarine. Eighteen electric amphibious zodiacs are also part of the entourage, plus kayaks, paddle boards, snorkeling and diving equipment, recompression chamber and dive support tender. There will also be SEABOBs, high-tech underwater scooters for exploring what lurks beneath.

The onboard vibe will be just as over-the-top in terms of amenities, with six dining venues, an observation lounge with 270-degree panoramic views, and a pool whose floor can be lifted to create a dance floor or alfresco dining area. There will be a “Crystal Life” spa, salon and fitness center.  The standard suites will be 400 square feet (including balcony) and all have butler service. Fares are all-inclusive.

New Generation Expedition Ships

Rendering of the Crystal Endeavor. * Rendering: Crystal Cruises

HAPAG-LLOYD CRUISES

The German line Hapag-Lloyd Cruises plans to release two new 230-passenger expedition sister ships — the HANSEATIC NATURE (April 2019) and HANSEATIC INSPIRATION (Oct 2019). The HANSEATIC NATURE will be a German-speaking ship while the HANSEATIC INSPIRATION will be an international ship, with all cruises conducted in both English and German.

Both with have the highest ice class for passenger ships (PC6).

A blend of adventure and comfort, these ships are setting the bar high with three restaurants, two bars, a lounge, ocean-view fitness studio, and an extensive spa with floor-to-ceiling windows and an outdoor area with a Finnish sauna. There is also a hydrotherapy shower and ice fountain, and a hairdressing salon. A pool out on deck can be covered with a retractable roof.

The pair will have 120 cabins and suites, with balconies or French balconies, ranging from 236 square feet for a Panorama Cabin to 764 square feet for a Grand Suite. Both will carry Zodiacs on board for excursions, and ply the waters of the Arctic and Antarctic, as well as the Amazon River and South Pacific.

Expedition Ships for 2019-2022

Rendering of the Hapag-Lloyd’s 2 new expedition ships. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

LINDBLAD EXPEDITIONS

Lindblad wrote the book on small-ship expedition cruising, when it pioneered Antarctic and Galapagos expeditions a half-century ago. In May 2018, Lindblad introduced the new 100-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE, a sister to the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST, to Alaska, the Inside Passage and the Pacific Northwest. The new ship will have 22 of 50 cabins with step-out balconies and six sets of connecting cabins for families and groups. There is a Sun Deck Bar and a dedicated mudroom for storing your expedition gear. Guides and naturalists are excellent, and the ship comes equipped with twin expedition landing craft, Zodiacs, kayaks, paddleboards, undersea video camera, hydrophone, glass bottom boat, video microscope, snorkeling gear and a crow’s nest camera. The line has an open bridge policy.

Bigger news is the recent announcement that the line is building its first new ocean-going ice-class polar vessel, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE, for delivery in early 2020. A core design feature of the 126-passenger vessel is the distinctive X-BOW that provides fuel efficiency while significantly improving passenger comfort in rough seas. The X-BOW, designed by Norway’s Ulstein Group, is found on numerous non-passenger vessels, but is just breaking in to the some of cruising’s next-generation expedition ships.

The impressive exploration toys range from kayaks and cross-country skis, to a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), hydrophones, a video microscope, underwater video cameras and a helicopter landing platform. Amenities include two dining venues, multiple observation decks, and suites and cabins include a dozen designated for solo travelers. You’ll find a spa, gym, yoga room and a pair of infinity Jacuzzis. Read more details in a recent QuirkyCruise news piece.

Lindblad Orders New Expedition Ship

A rendering of Lindblad’s polar new build. Look at that dolphin nose-like bow! * Rendering: Lindblad Expeditions

MYSTIC CRUISES

Running on an energy-efficient Rolls Royce hybrid propulsion system, the 200-passenger WORLD EXPLORER was launched by Mystic Cruises in October 2018. This ship is the first vessel in a series of as many as 10 ships in total, with three more réplicas of the WORLD EXPLORER slated for delivery first quarter 2020, 2021 and 2022. Each will have a Bureau Veritas Ice Class 1B rating.

Amenities will include a bow observation deck, theater/lecture hall, main lounge, observation bar, restaurant, library, small casino, fitness room, outdoor pool and jogging track. For the expedition itineraries, the mudroom and lockers for passenger gear will come in handy. Most cabins are 280-square-foot balcony suites, with two dozen “infinity” cabins having a sea-facing glass wall.

The ship is chartered to Quark Expeditions for Antarctica (2019/20) and the rest of the year to Germany’s Nicko Cruises, a company owned by Mystic Invest, for sailings to the Arctic, Norwegian Fjords and Mediterranean.

Expedition Ships for 2019-2022

A rendering of Mystic Cruises’ 200-passenger World Explorer * Rendering: Mystic Cruises

OCEANWIDE EXPEDITIONS

A leading polar cruise company since 1993, Oceanwide Expeditions is building the new 180-passenger HONDIUS to ply the Arctic and Antarctica. Launching in the spring of 2019, it will be rated Polar Class 6. A speedy zodiac embarkation is guaranteed, with two separate gangways and an indoor platform that can be used for outdoor activities such as kayaking. The line’s goal is to offer a comfy, informal atmosphere onboard, with the main focus placed on the nature and wildlife programs and related shore activities, from camping to snowshoeing, and zodiac excursions. Accommodations range from twin cabins and quads, to spacious suites — a total of 14 have balconies.

The propulsion system consists of two medium speed main engines and one adjustable pitch propeller. The environmentally-friendly system, which features a shaft generator instead of a diesel-driven generator, allows the lowest possible fuel consumption and CO2 emission. The vessel will also use biodegradable lubrication oils; certifiably hazardous-free coating and paint; steam for onboard heating; LED interior and exterior lighting (reducing power and fuel needs); and waste heat (such as cooling water for the main engines) reused for the production of fresh water.

Expedition Ships for 2019-2022

The 180-passenger Honidus, to ply the Polar Regions. * Rendering: Oceanwide Cruises

PONANT

French-owned Ponant, known for its sophisticated international atmosphere, is scheduled to release four new 184-passenger “Explorer” sister ships in the span of two years, all named after French explorers: LE LAPEROUSE (2018), LE CHAMPLAIN (2018), LE BOUGAINVILLE (2019), LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE (2019), LE BELLOT (2020) and LE JACQUES CARTIER (2020). The Explorer series will have an Ice Class 1C rating with reinforced hull for polar navigation. Inside, elegant cabins will have private balconies and public rooms are being designed with light woods and lots of blues and beige.

The ships will have cool pools with wake-facing views and also a counter-current system. Each will sport a 188-seat state-of-the-art theatre, sauna with ocean views, and two restaurants. The innovative “Blue Eye” lounge located under the water line will immerse passengers in the undersea world with two porthole windows and three underwater cameras projecting images on big screens.

A stern marina allows easy access to swimming, kayaking, diving and other watersports, as well as Zodiacs for excursions. These vessels will offer cruises to Iceland and the Arctic Circle as well as Norway, the Greek Isles and Indonesia.

New Generation Expedition Ships

A rendering of the stern of Ponant’s new builds. * Rendering: Ponant

SCENIC

Known for its large fleet of river boats, Scenic is entering the expedition world. The line is building a new 228-passenger luxury expedition yacht called SCENIC ECLIPSE, delayed and now to debut in April 2019. After inaugural voyages in the Mediterranean and Cuba, it will head to Antarctica for the winter, then back through the Mediterranean to the Arctic region.

Marrying luxury with adventure, SCENIC ECLIPSE will have heated indoor and outdoor pools, a spa, gym, and yoga and pilates studio. Choose from nine different dining venues, ranging from casual to fine dining. The all-suite accommodations have balconies and butler service. All-inclusive fares cover all drinks, laundry service and wifi. For exploring on shore, two helicopters and a submarine are carried on board, plus Zodiacs, kayaks and snow shoes. SCENIC ECLIPSE II is due in 2020.

New Generation Expedition Ships

A rendering of the swanky Scenic Eclipse. * Rendering: Scenic

SEABOURN

Seabourn has offered an expedition-style program in Antarctica with the Seabourn Quest since 2013, and will continue to do so until the arrival of the purpose-designed pair of 264-passenger expedition vessels expected to debut in 2020 and 2022. Seabourn Cruise Line introduced a trio of ships that offered a new high standard of luxury accommodations beginning with Seabourn Pride in 1988 with 208 passengers, the identical Seabourn Spirit the following year, and slightly larger Seabourn Legend 1996.

When these ships were sold to Windstar Cruises, Seabourn’s new, much larger fleet exceeded QuirkyCruise’s passenger limits,  with Seabourn Odyssey (2009), Sojourn (2010), and Quest (2011) taking up to 458 passengers and Seabourn Encore (2016) and Ovation (2018) with 600 passengers. So now that Seabourn is entering the expedition ship business, as have other upscale lines, with passenger capacities falling below our 300-passenger limit, we’re back reporting on Seabourn and their new builds.

 

SUNSTONE SHIPS

The largest tonnage provider of expedition vessels to the cruise industry, Miami, Florida-based SunStone Ships is releasing four new sister ships within the span of the next two years, and has an option to build additional six vessels.

The ships are being designed with inverted bows, which are thought to mitigate vertical motion from waves to create a smoother ride. The first delivery will be in September 2019, with one vessel to follow every six months afterwards. SunStone’s new ships are being planned to accommodate between 130 and 200 passengers. They’ll be rated Ice Class 1A or Polar Code 6. The vessels’ interior will be created by Florida-based design firm Tomas Tillberg Design International, one of the most sought after names in the business.

The vessels are being built in China (by China Merchants Heavy Industry, near Shanghai,) with the design, equipment and management supplied by Norway’s Ulstein Design & Solutions. The plan is for the fleet to be chartered to other companies within the expedition world. The first vessel has been chartered long-term to Aurora Expeditions in Australia. This vessel’s technical operations will be managed by Cruise Management International (CMI) and the hotel operations, by sister company CMI Leisure.

New Generation Expedition Ships

Note the inverted bow of SunStone’s new builds. * Rendering: SunStone

 

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Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

By John Roberts.

Lindblad Expeditions welcomed the newest ship, the 100-passenger, 50-stateroom National Geographic Venture, to its fleet at a ceremony at the historic Treasure Island Pier 1 in San Francisco. My wife Colleen and I joined the inaugural cruise, a quick two-day adventure in San Francisco Bay in early December. The cruise was over much too quickly but gave us a great sense of how wonderful it is to sail an expedition voyage with Lindblad, and in such comfort on a beautiful new vessel.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Lindblad Expeditions founder and CEO Sven-Olof Lindblad tells a little about the Lindblad story during the christening ceremony of the new National Geographic Venture. Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic have had an alliance in cruising since 2004.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Crew line the deck in front of the bridge during the christening alongside the historic Treasure Island Pier 1 in San Francisco. The shiny and new NatGeo Venture, which was built in the U.S. at the Nichols Brothers Shipyard on Whidbey Island in Washington, will sail seasons in Baja California, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

 

Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

Capt. Andrew Cook — yes, he says he’s proud to live up to his name as a Captain Cook — is master of the vessel.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

There is an open-bridge policy on National Geographic Venture, which means you can stop by to see how the navigation of the ship works.

 

Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

The bow area is the best spot to enjoy scenic sailing. We all rushed out for our sunset sailaway in San Francisco Bay toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The bow even has a raised platform in the middle so passengers can better see wildlife in the surrounding waters during the voyage.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The sun is quickly fading in the distance, just past our view of Alcatraz Island.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Capt. Andrew Cook welcomes passengers onboard his spanking-new ship. The lounge area is a comfy space and a natural gathering spot for pre-dinner cocktails and to hear talks from the ship’s field staff and naturalists.

 

Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

The dining room onboard National Geographic Venture features a buffet for breakfast and lunch. You can find numerous healthy choices, like organic chicken, salads, red and golden beets, and quinoa. There’s also a carving station and you’ll always find sweets to tempt you at the buffet, too.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The open-seating dining room on NatGeo Venture offers a moving window on the world.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

This is my healthy breakfast — an omelet with turkey sausage, some kiwi, yogurt and other fruit.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

I was amazed at my first meal, a lunch that was loaded with goodness from the buffet. I typically have trouble finding healthy choices on most cruise ships but not on National Geographic Venture.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

I chose the rack of lamb for dinner. It was a good pick. The menu also always offers a seafood and vegetarian option.

 

Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

Colleen said this avocado mousse with passionfruit, meringue and hint of beetroot and salt was the best dessert she has ever had.

 

Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

Our cabin had plenty of open shelving, which I found nice to organize and have easy access to my camera equipment and other items.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The bed was fairly comfy in our stateroom No. 217, which has a balcony.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Binoculars are at the ready in the lounge for when wildlife is within sight.

 

Into the Northwest Passage 2020

Photo: John Roberts

Some of your activities take you into chilly waters, and Lindblad Expeditions has you covered with wetsuits.  There’s also a telescope that sits at the front of the lounge so you can peep out on the scenery as you wish.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Or, you can just make like you see something at the front of the ship and sneak off with some more goodies from the snack area. No one will judge you.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

There is a well-stocked bar in the lounge, with cocktails, wines and craft beers at the ready. We found the hotel staff onboard to be unfailingly friendly and good at anticipating passenger needs.

 

Photo: John Roberts

On Day 2, we headed out for our adventures. The marina at the back of the ship is where you load into Zodiacs.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

We enjoyed a skiff tour around San Francisco Bay with our guide Emily Pickering.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

National Geographic Venture sits off Angel Island in the bay.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The Sun Deck is at the back of the ship. It’s a wonderful place for enjoying the views and it’s also where the morning stretch class takes places each day.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

In the afternoon, we went ashore at Angel Island for a hike at Mount Livermore.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

The sunny weather made for ideal hiking conditions on the first day of December.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Nearing the top of Mount Livermore, we can see the skyline of San Francisco and much of the bay.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Two happy hikers enjoying reaching the peak. Our hike was five miles roundtrip.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

We made it back onboard before sunset and settled in with a quick walk around the promenade on NatGeo Venture.

 

Lindblad Expeditions’ New National Geographic Venture

Photo: John Roberts

Then, it was time to reward ourselves with well-earned brews after a day of thrills. We quickly fell in love with the friendly Sebastian who was always there with a smile — and our beers.

 

Photo: John Roberts

The author gets another look at San Francisco Bay and breathes in the fresh air aboard the new National Geographic Venture.

Click the photo  ⬆️⬆️⬆️ for John’s VIDEO overview of the Nat Geo Venture!

 

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