As we reported last month, Lindblad Expedition has expanded its partnership with the National Geographic Society and purchased a new ship. Though there were no enticing details at the time about the 6,100-ton, 323-passenger expedition vessel, Lindblad is now dishing some up -- and here they are as promised:
The new ship, currently called the Lyngen and operating for Hurtigruten (previously known in the United States as Norwegian Coastal Voyage), will be renamed National Geographic Explorer. This is a nice link to the past, as Lindblad's first ship in 1969 -- the first purpose-built expedition ship -- was called Lindblad Explorer. The name is also meant to invoke National Geographic's century of exploration.
National Geographic Explorer will initially be based in the Arctic, with its first sailing in the summer of 2008. Itineraries will include explorations around Greenland, Iceland and the Canadian Arctic, before it sails down the East Coast of the U.S. and transits the Panama Canal. From there, it will continue down the west coast of South America and end up with a series of Antarctica sailings in the winter of 2008/2009.
The refurbishment will mean much more than simply painting the hull and changing the carpets. As she is now, the 1982-built Lyngen offers smaller cabins, basic interiors and accommodates over 300 passengers -- as well as 40 cars -- in a small car deck. After an eight month refit, it will emerge essentially a new ship, with a capacity of only around 150 passengers and significantly upgraded facilities.
Currently, the Lyngen is relatively ungainly, with a short, cropped funnel and an awkward square stern, but the recently released rendering ... shows a transformed and appealing ship. With a dark blue hull encircled by the famous National Geographic yellow border, and a rebuilt stern and new funnel, the ice-class polar expedition vessel appears sturdy, rugged and ready for serious navigation.
As a relatively large ship for so few passengers, there will be plenty of room onboard for multiple dining venues and an expansion of their luxury wellness spa, called LEXSPA. While no details have been confirmed by the company, the renderings indicate several balcony cabins, marking the first time Lindblad has offered such amenities and one of the only expedition ships to offer more than a handful of them.
Of course, Lindblad's defining strength has always been its stellar academic and enrichment program, and National Geographic Explorer will feature a lounge area designed specifically for educational presentations. There will be numerous tools for further exploration off ship, including a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks, a hydro-phone for listening to whale songs, an underwater camera, and a remote operated vehicle that will bring images from hundreds of feet below the surface directly back to the ship's lounge. In addition, a bevy of Lindblad and National Geographic scientists, lecturers and photographers will accompany each sailing.
Over the last several years, the expedition market has grown in popularity, and the older, simpler ships that were the norm for far reaching expeditions have begun to be replaced by progressively more luxurious and amenity-filled vessels. Even ultra-luxe Silversea got into the fray last month by announcing the purchase of the World Discoverer, promising to offer expedition travel but with the creature comforts that line is known for.
The National Geographic Explorer will be Lindblad's answer to such increased competition, and fit in well with the company's philosophy: "Exploration does not mean deprivation." Lindblad President Sven Lindblad is obviously excited about the expansion, the most significant for the company in years. "This vessel will not only explore the remote areas of the world, but with our partners at National Geographic Society, we hope to positively impact these regions through guest involvement in scientific research and conservation."
For those who can't wait to see the ship or sail on her next year, you can start checking out the company's Web site for weekly updates, including photographs, during the refit.
And stay tuned to Cruise Critic -- in January, we'll be reporting from Antarctica onboard National Geographic Endeavour.
--by Ben Lyons, Cruise Critic contributor