National Geographic Sea Bird Entertainment
The hub of the ship is the lounge on Deck 3. Passengers gather there to socialize, listen to lectures and presentations, and even muster, as it's the only indoor gathering spot on the ship (other than the dining room). Groups will cluster around wooden tables with swiveling brown patterned chairs. Watch out, as the ship's floor is slanted up, so many of the chairs and tables are at an angle. Bench seating lines both sides of the windowed space.
The lounge is also home to the ship's bar, which serves alcoholic beverages and specialty coffees for an extra fee. Mixed drinks range in price from $6 to $8, beers are $3 or $3.50, and wine $5.50 to $7.50 a glass. On Columbia River itineraries, beer and wine are complimentary during Recap and at dinner. The bar is generally open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. (It might be open longer hours on cruising days.) A self-service area features free coffee, tea, hot chocolate, soda and fruit. When a bartender is not on duty, beers can be taken on an honor system from the fridge that houses the cream and milk for hot beverages.
Scheduled onboard entertainment is limited to presentations by the expedition staff on the history, geology and wildlife of the cruise region. The photography specialist will give talks on taking better photos, and the hotel director might chime in with a briefing on local food. Flat-screen TV's and video microscopes add interesting visuals to the presentations. The expedition staff are passionate about their subjects and want their audience to both learn and have fun. From tongue-in-cheek poems regaling the coot bird to historical lectures peppered with trip-specific in-jokes and gentle ribbing between staff members, the expedition team manages to impart tons of information without boring anyone.
The expedition staff also run the daytime programming on and off the ship. Depending on the itinerary, activities might focus on exploring remote landings, hiking, kayaking and zodiac trips to see wildlife. Or they might be more land-based excursions that involve visiting museums, historical sites or scenic areas like waterfalls. Each itinerary has a mix of active and educational options. Even better, all of these activities are included in your fare. They're well chosen, and the biggest complaint is not having enough time to do each activity. Be warned that because of the wealth of options and Lindblad's desire to truly give passengers an in-depth exploration of a destination, daytime schedules are jam-packed with not much downtime. If you want a rest, you might have to skip an activity -- something many Lindblad travelers are loathe to do. That is, after all, what you're paying for.
To help you appreciate what you're experiencing, Sea Bird has several sets of binoculars for passengers to borrow, as well as high-tech gadgets like underwater cameras and hydrophones to eavesdrop on marine mammals. They even send divers out to come back with photos and video.
National Geographic Sea Bird Public Rooms
On a three-deck ship, it's pretty easy to get around. The topmost Bridge Deck, Deck 1, features the open bridge (stop by and have a chat with the captain), as well as the outdoor lounging and exercise area (also the site of alfresco barbecues). The Upper Deck, Deck 2, is mainly a cabin deck, with an open deck area at the bow and the status board at the aft end. The status board is the ship's very low-tech way of keeping track of its passenger's whereabouts. When leaving the ship, passengers move a magnet from the "Onboard" to "Onshore" column, then move it back upon their return. The Main Deck, Deck 3, houses the lounge and dining room, with the zodiac landing area outside. Both inside and outside stairways allow access between decks; there's no elevator. Smoking is only allowed in one designated area on Deck 2, aft.
A small library, just a few bookshelves, is found at the back of the lounge. It contains a small selection of novels, games, puzzles and reference books related to the itinerary. They're located beside glassed-in cases housing some of Lindblad's "Global Market" items. The Global Market is Lindblad's answer to a gift shop. The line seeks out local artisans in the areas it visits (e.g. Alaska or Baja) and purchases craft items to sell onboard, while also supporting the artists by providing equipment and materials when necessary. Lindblad logo items and expedition gear (camera lens cleaners, fleece vests or wicking under layers, for example) are also for sale. Several times per cruise, the full collection of gift selections is put out in the lounge for guest perusal and purchase. At any time, items can be purchased from the purser, hotel director or bartender.
On the other side of the bar is a Mac computer for downloading and post-processing photos and a PC for accessing the Internet. Wi-Fi is also available in the lounge or on the aft end of Bridge Deck. (We only ever found a connection in the lounge.) Internet packages can be purchased at the following rates: $22.50 for 30 minutes, $55 for 100 minutes or $100 for 250 minutes.
National Geographic Sea Bird Spa & Fitness
Yes, there is a spa onboard, called the LEXSpa. It's just one room with a massage table, but it does the trick. You can get a half-hour ($55) or hourlong ($100) massage, and no one will try to give you the hard sell afterward because there's nothing to buy. The signup system is a bit haphazard: you sign up on a sheet with your preferred massage length, and the wellness instructor finds you when she's available, which could be at any time or -- if many people want massages -- possibly never at all. If the massage and/or activity schedule is light, the wellness instructor might offer free 5- to 10-minute chair massages on deck.
The wellness instructor also leads morning stretching and yoga classes outside on the top deck, and classes are held even if it's a chilly 40 degrees. We were surprised at how popular the classes were, even in frigid temps. In one corner of the top deck are three cardio machines (an elliptical machine, a spinning bike and an exercise bike with movable arms) and an exercise ball. You can borrow yoga mats, free weights and resistance bands from a box. Children younger than 14 may not use the fitness equipment without parental supervision.
Otherwise, Sea Bird passengers get their workouts off the ship with hiking, biking, snorkeling and kayaking. The ship carries single and double kayaks onboard, as well as several Zodiac inflatable boats for less-athletic boating. Walking sticks are kept in an umbrella stand by the status board. In Baja, the ship carries fins, masks, shorty wetsuits and snorkels for passenger use.
You won't find a pool or hot tub onboard, but there are some outdoor lounge chairs with padded cushions and wooden tables with chairs on the top deck.