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A kayaker paddles in front of National Geographic Resolution in the Arctic. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

Why Lindblad is the Expedition Cruise Line for You

A kayaker paddles in front of National Geographic Resolution in the Arctic. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)
Colleen McDaniel

Sep 13, 2023

Read time
7 min read

Lindblad Expeditions might well be the first name you think of when you hear the phrase “expedition cruising.” Launched in 1966 when founder Lars-Eric Lindblad led the first commercial expedition to Antarctica, the company since has built a reputation around sustainably visiting remote destinations around the world.

It’s grown by leaps and bounds since that first trip, building a well-rounded expedition fleet and even partnering with National Geographic. The expedition cruise fleet stands at 16, and with each new ship, the line is finding a way to blend expedition with luxury while putting travelers into exotic destinations.

If you’re looking for an expedition experience that puts you in the heart of some wild and untamed places, a cruise with Lindblad Expeditions may be right for you. Here’s what it’s like to sail with Lindblad and why this type of expedition might fit your style.

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1. The Destinations it Visits are Tough to See Any Other Way

National Geographic Resolution cuts through the ice in the Arctic. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

Many of the line's cruise ships visit destinations only accessible by ship. Highlights include cold-weather destinations such as the Arctic and Antarctica. For example, Cruise Critic sailed on National Geographic Resolution on an itinerary that crossed the Arctic Circle, spent time in the high Arctic, saw the fabulous east coast of Greenland and skated along the coast of Iceland. This ship will also traverse the famous Northwest Passage, sail through Patagonia, and explore Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

The ship and its twin sister, National Geographic Endurance, have a Polar Class 5 rating, meaning they can crash through the annual ice sheets that form at the top and bottom of the world. This puts passengers closer to wildlife (it’s the best way to see polar bears in the wild) and deep into fjords. National Geographic Explorer also visits icy destinations.

You cannot see these destinations in any other way.

These ships also operate relatively smoothly even in the shakiest of destinations (I’m looking at you, Drake Passage) thanks to their X-Bow design, which also results in better fuel efficiency and fewer emissions.

Beyond cruises to the poles, Lindblad also offers sailings to memorable destinations including Alaska, Patagonia, the Galapagos and Baja California. These spots are best seen by cruise ship, which can access spots otherwise inaccessible.

2. The Ship is Made for Expedition

The captain of National Geographic Resolution watches the landscape from the bridge. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

Lindblad builds its vessels with the expedition traveler in mind. It's most obvious with its approach to outdoor spaces, especially on its newer ships: You can get outdoors easily from almost every one of the passenger decks. That means you can always quickly grab your binoculars and be outside watching anything that might pop up – a humpback whale, penguins, blue-footed boobies or a polar bear, for example.

If you want to stay inside, you still won’t miss out on the views, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows in virtually all public spaces. The company understands that, for its cruisers, seeing the scenery and wildlife is far more important than what's actually on the ship, (though that's nice, too).

Even better, the company has a 24/7 open-bridge policy, so you can visit the bridge at any time and see what the captain sees, while talking to him or her about ship navigation or pretty much anything else. (Watching the ship cut through ice on a polar expedition from the bridge is an experience like nothing else.)

The line's newer ships offer changing and storages areas for guests to get ready for the day's excursions, putting on and taking off gear and storing wet (or stinky!) clothing and accessories. On our cruise on National Geographic Resolution, we appreciated the ship's mudroom, which had individual lockers for storing boots and the like. Called Base Camp, this served as the launching point for every tour, as passengers moved from the mudroom onto Zodiacs, then off to adventure.

3. The Expedition Team Will Greatly Influence Your Experience

Passengers go ashore in Zodiacs from National Geographic Resolution. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

With this kind of cruising, the expedition team makes or breaks your experience. A good expedition team will have you wishing your trip would never end; a bad one has you wondering if the cruise was worth the expensive price you paid. 

We sailed a two-week cruise on National Geographic Resolution, and our team of expedition guides helped us learn more about the Arctic, both onboard and ashore. We had more than 15 guides, with specialties ranging from geologists to general naturalists and professional photographers. The diversity of the group and depth of knowledge was strong, and most of the team could quickly answer specific questions around the wildlife and sights we were seeing.

Among the team was a cultural specialist from Greenland (sailing his first cruise!) who spoke on history, mythology and traditions of the Inuit. This approach sets Lindblad apart, as it helped passengers form a tighter connection with Greenland when we visited. In fact, Lindblad has done a solid job of hiring guides who have connections to the places they visit. (Several guides on our trip called Iceland home, for example.)

Yes, lectures are interesting, and you’ll have many of them during your cruise, but the smaller-group time you have with guides in Zodiacs and ashore is even more valuable. This is your chance to ask questions and learn more about the specialties and passions of the guides.

Guides also value the company’s approach to sustainability. Many are vegans or vegetarians who spend their off time devoted to causes like Greenpeace or animal welfare. Lindblad also allows lecturers to speak on topics like climate change. (This approach might not be for every guest, as politics can emerge, and passions get sparked.)

Lindblad encourages its guides to be friendly and approachable, so you might have them join you for lunch or dinner, for example.

4. You Can’t Find a Better Photography Program at Sea

Passengers on National Geographic Resolution spot two polar bears in the distance in the Arctic. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

Don’t get us wrong: Virtually all expedition cruise lines have great photo programming onboard. But Lindblad’s approach to photography is simply a step above everyone else, thanks in part to its key partnerships with National Geographic and OM System (formerly Olympus).

For starters, there’s a field-testing program, where guests on National Geographic Resolution can try out new lenses or cameras from the Gear Locker – for free! (Though if you break it, well, you buy it.) For shutterbugs, this is a chance to try out new equipment in a real-world environment. It comes with a discount on future purchases, too.

Onboard photographers are big names in the photo industry, with both embedded photo instructors and guest photo lecturers. The combination means even guests with a passing interest in photography will learn something from professionals who have had their work appear in the biggest outlets on the planet.

Some shore excursions are billed as “photo tours,” where a photographer will join, do some shooting of their own and give tips, like, “You’re going to want to watch your exposure with these birds, as they have white feathers, which can cause over or under exposing.” They’ll even get hands on to help you meter correctly, as the photo experts are trained on multiple cameras and even smartphones.

Even if a photo tour isn’t offered in a port, the photographers will probably give you tips, directing you to shots and angles you might not have considered.

Lectures onboard help you learn to be a better shooter and how to fix or improve photos in applications like Photoshop and Lightroom. On our sailing, a popular lecture had the photographers critiquing guest photos and giving advice on how to edit them.

Finally, guests share photos with each other via a photo studio – an area in one of the lounges that houses several iMacs. The photos make up the end-of-sailing slideshow, a bit of a departure from what other cruise lines do. (Most expedition lines we’ve been on showcase photos the professional photographers or staff took of the landscapes, critters and people.)

5. Shore Tours Are Not Dumbed Down But Offer Opportunity for Most Travelers

Passengers take on a hike while National Geographic Resolution sits off of an island in Svalbard. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

With more cruise lines entering into expedition cruising, we have seen the emergence of adventure light – a taste of adventure but nothing too terribly difficult or strenuous, or adventure with slightly more handholding.

Lindblad Expeditions is not that.

Tours can be downright strenuous – if you choose to participate in that kind of excursion. Most days, you’ll make two landings at two different ports. Excursions might be Zodiac tours, hikes, photo walks, snorkeling or kayaking. In Antarctica, you might snowshoe or cross-country ski. Guides will describe the tours in terms of length and elevation gain, adding phrases like “hard” or “medium” so people will know what to expect. When they say hard, expect hard. You might scramble up slippery rocks or take on a long hike that is 5 miles or more.

All guests will find tours that fit their abilities, and most will pick appropriate options that they can comfortably do. Even though the passenger base is 65-plus, don’t be surprised to see septuagenarians passing those decades younger on even the hardest expeditions.

You’ll also be making the most of your time in any destination, with very few days or even mornings or afternoons off. On our 14-day sailing, we had only three sea days where we didn’t visit land, and this was only because we were booking it to get from Norway to Greenland or Greenland to Iceland. And on sea days, you probably will be busy attending lectures and watching wildlife.

Updated September 13, 2023
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