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9 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2018
This was the first trip away from our young kids and wanted to do Alaska on a small ship. I found out how new this ship was and chased it down. Here are my notes. Quest Sunday - long day to buy time to get on ship at 5:30pm, they ... Read More
This was the first trip away from our young kids and wanted to do Alaska on a small ship. I found out how new this ship was and chased it down. Here are my notes. Quest Sunday - long day to buy time to get on ship at 5:30pm, they mean it and no-one got on before then. Juneau is boring and I wouldn't stay there. Tram was cool and worth it. When we did we got a person to take us to our cabin and desctibe all the features. There was more storage and room in our cabin than in hotel room. Don’t stay at recommended hotel - small rooms, noisy (loud) heaters (boilers) and it is just old. Our cabin on the ship was so much more spacious and has a crazy amount of storage, no way to use all of the drawers and other provided spaces. Pillows and blankets are amazing. Internet doesn’t work - too high latitudes for satellite to work.. I paid and got money back as we did get some cell service in small fishing villages but latency was so high that some applications wouldn’t work. Ship is a shield, so for any coverage you have to be on deck. Tracy Arm (Transit all night) Monday AM, I was pretty excited and woke up at 4am just to look around and saw icebergs out my window and I was on deck by 4:30am - and not only one. It was so crazy pretty that I stayed on deck pretty much to lunch. Food was very good all around. I’m not that picky and I give the food a B+ all around. Something for everyone and after meeting all the guests - no one had a bad thing to say. You get briefings before dinner and after breakfast every day. They over-communicate which seems annoying, but was rather useful. Staff is amazing all around. I can’t say enough good things and I look for those ‘cracks in the crew’ and found none. The respect for the naturalists was crazy high from fellow crew, not to speak of the guests. Monday was Tracy Arm and zodiac tours of the glacier. They take the entire guest list and chop into groups A, B, C and D. They use that to get rid of big lines for activities. We were in group C so they call on the PA to give us a 15 minute notice of when we should head to the mud room to put on Life jacket and board the zodiacs. Max wait was 10 minutes. They clearly have this figured out. Preso’s every day after lunch and dinner by very polished naturalists who know their stuff. I was crazy tired this night and crashed hard.. Speaking to other guests which I now had a chance to socialize with - was the same. Tuesday Morning - hit the zodiacs to go see icebergs that have calved off the glacier. Sounds boring? - look at the pictures and video. Amazing morning - water perfectly still and warm. We all got amazing photo’s - walk on fire trail, banana slugs and bear skat. Then kayaking that wasn’t so interesting but good exercise. Petersburg at lunch - great sleepy fishing village. Could arrange floatplane flights. Or walking (or van) into town or taking a free bicycle which we did. Very nice stay and we had dinner while the ship pulled out of port. This was a real treat. MIT alumni group on board and a professor gave a talk on climate. Very interesting and nice people. weather turned hawaii and we had upper 70’s, sun and heat. crazy. Wish I had more t-shirts. I wore shorts to dinner 4 nights in a row. Wednesday early morning hiking - no so interesting and then kayaking, was cool but not the best. Afternoon (Wednesday) was ok hiking morning, but ‘activity watching in afternoon cruise’ which started out pretty boring, everyone looking but some sea lions. Weather was hot in the sun. Then someone in bridge saw something on the port shore - ship turned too hard and some dishes went flying(turns out that was autopilot accident) - but we found a large group of humpbacks were bubble feeding on the shoreline. They split into 2 different groups and were amazing. We had that all day where I stopped counting at 25 ‘breaches’ of the bubble fishing. Most amazing day ever. Would check most folks bucket list to see 1 or 2, but 25+. You have never seen a more satisfied group of passengers and crew that dinner. Most of us knew that was a ‘1 in a lifetime’ afternoon. I hope I can post a few photo’s. Thursday (Icy Strait) - morning hiking in a great rainforest - like walking on sponges. lots of wild flowers and such. After that taken to ‘kayak beach’ where we kayaked ‘follow the leader’ around the Idaho inlet and it was awesome. Guest MIT lecture on Climate and then zodiac rides (A, B, C & D) with real alaskan weather and saw whales, sea lions, otters, eagles taking fish…. great lunch day (turkey) Afternoon zodiac tour of the Inian islands. Amazing - saw whales, sea lions, otters and a Bald Eagle took a 1/2 fish from a sea lion thirty feet in front of our zodiac. I have a picture of that that Tom caught - amazing. took it easy and let folks take naps and slow down a bit. Great dinner and lecture after about summer solstice, some video of diving around the kayak route and Chelsey talking about seals, sea lions and Otters - awesome. Got cold and folks went to sleep. Alaska part 2 Plan for the best - you have your cold weather gear, but you have crazy storage on the Quest - don’t forget t-shirts and shorts. On my trip I left our walk weather stuff in Florida and regretted it. We had 3 days in a row where it hit upper 70’s and I was hot in the sun. I had only 1 pair of shorts and wish I had more. We had *lots* of empty drawers we could have used. Suitcases fit under the bed (easily) Video and camera My wife brought her DSLR (Canon) and they have free lenses for you to use on the ship. She borrowed a few 600mm lens and got the best whale photo’s of the trip. There are at least 2 professional photographers on the trip who will spend as much 1:1 time as you want. Take advantage of it. Star of the show is my iPhone 10 using 4K 60fps video. You can zoom like crazy and will be able to post-process great video. My MacBook air wasn’t powerful enough to do that and iCloud is setup that I needed WiFi (that doesn’t work at those latitudes - so don’t pay for it) I would let the iPhone take video if the whales are around - if you get it, great. If not - delete and try again. Don’t wait till you see them - will be too late (for bubble fishing). Same for glacier calving - I would record for 3 minutes and delete if nothing happened, but if it does - you will get most or all of it in 4K video. Clothing 1st day was cold and clear. I had bought these wind pants with a thin layer of fleece on the inside and they were killer good. My go to pants when cruising or a colder zodiac ride. Too hot for hiking when in 60 or 70’s, so I used my hiking pants and was ok to be a little cold on zodiac ride (10 minutes) and very comfortable on the hike. Front or side pockets to keep iPhone kept if very handy when something unexpected happened, which seems to be all the time Saturday We signed up for the ‘strenuous hike’ and had a good workout though the rainforest to a lake where the guides were surprised had some salmon already. I used my polarized sunglasses to get some good video on my iPhone. After we hiked back down we put on the low profile life jackets and went kayaking in this amazingly clear water. Most of the folks all agreed this was the best of the Kayaking on the trip. Good workout - back to the ship and ate a good lunch. The rest of the afternoon was cruising and looking for wildlife - most folks were tired and slept or started packing. This part of the cruise there seemed to be otters everywhere and I got my otter photo’s here. Right before dinner I was on the bow with some other folks when we saw porpoises on the bow. They rode the bow for 25 minutes and I got my iPhone out there for 4 minutes until my fingers were too cold to hold the phone. Some amazing video I need to edit when I get home. That night after dinner we did the guest slideshow. Each guest could submit 10 of their best photo’s and it was amazing what people got. Anyone could download it from 2 iMacs they had in the lounge. Was very fun. Lots of folks exchanging email addresses and the like for the rest of the evening. Also having some drinks with the crew as you have gotten to know them pretty well at this point. Last day We anchored outside Sitka. Hit the dock at 6am. 6:30am wake-up call. 7am breakfast and they wanted all bags (tagged) and put outside cabin before 7am. Most of us were on same flight from Sitka to Seattle at 2pm. There were 97 passengers. 13 were under age 18. 3 groups of families Grandparents and kids. Bunch of retirees - good group of folks. I'm 53 with wife 46 and we had a great time. Never felt crowded, but we had insane weather. Ask for tour of engine room and kitchen - very cool. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2018
The NatGeo Lindblad Wild Alaska cruise on the Sea Bird (May 19th embarkation from Sitka) was incredible! We cannot say enough good things about the staff, crew and naturalists who made our 6-day cruise exceptional. In addition, our little ... Read More
The NatGeo Lindblad Wild Alaska cruise on the Sea Bird (May 19th embarkation from Sitka) was incredible! We cannot say enough good things about the staff, crew and naturalists who made our 6-day cruise exceptional. In addition, our little Sea Bird made it possible to get up close and personal to some of the Alaskan inlets and passages that the larger cruise ships cannot (or SHOULD not). [I'll be writing another review to lambaste the "Disney Wonder" monstrosity that barreled through Endicott Arm at 7 knots on its way to Dawes Glacier. It was not allowed to be there AND ignored the speed limit in order to block our view of the glacier.] From the moment we were greeted by the captain and crew at Sitka to disembarkation in Juneau six days later, we were treated like royalty, yet the atmosphere was wonderfully casual and down to earth. We were informed of upcoming talks by the naturalists, expedition choices each day, wild life sightings, wellness/exercise classes and photography workshops. The meals were outstanding and featured local cuisine with locally grown produce and sustainably caught seafood. We were transported by zodiaks (sturdy inflatable rubber boats like the ones Jacques Cousteau used) to remote shorelines where we could continue on by foot on hikes, kayak around the inlets, or hop on a stand-up paddle board! No one fell in! In Haines, Alaska we visited the Klukwan Heritage Center and floated down the Chilkat River, learning about this tribe and the wildlife that lives there. At the end of the trip, we were treated to a wonderful video compiled by the ship's rockin' videographer and we each received our own copy of the video to take home. Our photography expert also compiled our guest photos which we submitted before dinner, and got to see after dinner (when did HE eat dinner?). We came away with wonderful new friends and an appreciation for the indigenous people of southeast Alaska. THANK YOU LINDBLAD and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC for giving us the trip of a life time! We would definitely go again! And remember, do NOT sign up for a "Disney Wonder" cruise - EVER! Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2017
We chose Linblad/National Geographic (Nov. 29th-Dec. 19th, 2017) because of the reputation of National Geographic. Touring Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island (the Serengeti of the Antarctic), South Shetland Islands, South Orkney ... Read More
We chose Linblad/National Geographic (Nov. 29th-Dec. 19th, 2017) because of the reputation of National Geographic. Touring Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island (the Serengeti of the Antarctic), South Shetland Islands, South Orkney Islands, and ultimately Antarctica was truly a trip of a lifetime. Bit of a cliche perhaps but it truly was awe-inspiring and life changing to walk amongst hundreds of thousands of penguins, seals, and sea birds. The crew on the National Geographic Orion, at every level, were friendly, helpful, anticipatory, informative, and a lot of fun! This was a very active cruise on a smaller ship (about 100 passengers) that offered different levels of hikes plus zodiac tours all with a specialist, most of whom had PhDs in their respective fields. Who knew that a lecture on the cryosphere (all things ice) could be so interesting? We learned so much about the flora and fauna of the Antarctic zone and saw so many marine animals, birds, and interesting plants. The food on board was always fresh (how do they do it when at sea for 3 weeks?), every meal different, and the bar a lively spot after a day of hiking and photographing these wonderful Antarctic creatures. We saw both fin whales and humpbacks feeding so close to the ship and even on a zodiac tour! The captain and expedition leader both get a shout-out as they endeavored to find areas of discovery teaming with wildlife while taking advantage of excellent weather conditions. Those few days we transited at sea between the Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica passengers availed themselves of yoga/stretch classes, stationary bikes, treadmills, elliptical machines, and 40 laps on the 6th deck=2 miles! Additional lectures added, during transit days, to our growing knowledge of this unique part of the world. Ultimately seeing these creatures in the wild led us, personally, to a decision to be more proactive in our support both financially and in sending emails to our elected representatives about the importance of this fragile area of our planet. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2017
Every aspect of this expedition exceeded expectations (even though we had travelled with Linblad before). This was a photo expedition and we had full access to a photo instructor and a professional Nat Geo photographer at all times ... Read More
Every aspect of this expedition exceeded expectations (even though we had travelled with Linblad before). This was a photo expedition and we had full access to a photo instructor and a professional Nat Geo photographer at all times throughout the voyage. The captain and crew went above and beyond to provide access to all types of wildlife and scenic landscapes. (Polar bears, walruses, etc. and Norway's fjords and fishing villages) The onboard facilities, service, food and camaraderie were outstanding. Every request was fulfilled quickly and with courtesy and friendliness. The expedition leaders and naturalists were extremely knowledgable and friendly and the photo experts were incredibly helpful with technical as well as artistic advice and support. Every detail from the moment of our arrival in Oslo, to the charter flight to Svalbard, embarkation in Longyearbyen through final disembarkation in Copenhagen was handled professionally and without any stress or problems. I look forward to our next trip with Linblad. Read Less
9 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: February 2017
My wife and I took the one week Galapogos excursion on the Linblad National Geographic on the ship Islander in mid-February. It was a fantastic experience, exceeded our admittedly high expectations and a trip we can recommend highly. ... Read More
My wife and I took the one week Galapogos excursion on the Linblad National Geographic on the ship Islander in mid-February. It was a fantastic experience, exceeded our admittedly high expectations and a trip we can recommend highly. Here are some further thoughts on the subject. NATURALISTS MATTER. A critical feature of the experience were the three naturalists that guided every hike, boat ride and snorkel. The ability to make a 1 mile hike into an interesting and engaging two hour nature experience is dependent wholly on the naturalists. The three on our trip were extraordinary and well versed in the smallest detail of the geology, history, flora, fauna and culture of every stop. We had been told by others who did the Galapagos (with other providers) that most naturalists who work in the islands aspire to get hired by Linblad/Nat Geo, and therefore, they get the best. While we have nothing to compare it to, our experience was excellent. I would pick Linblad/Nat Geo for that reason alone. ACTIVITY LEVEL. The pace was significantly more active than we imagined, and to our liking. The ship accommodations matter, but we didn’t have as much lounging time as I had thought. We kayaked twice (regulations limit the number of kayaks they can send out), and we took every boat ride, snorkel and hike offered. While that pace was by no means exhausting, some guests opted-out on occasion. The pace of the hikes was leisurely and the terrain well handled by all except a few of the more frail passengers. Even on the more rocky trails, a pair of sturdy hiking sticks for less active folk (supplied by the boat) were all that were needed. Typically, we started before or just after breakfast, got in one or two events before returning to the ship by noon for lunch, lounged or napped, and then resumed excursions at 3:00 to avoid the mid-day heat. SHIP CONDITION. Despite being a slightly older ship and not having been renovated recently, the ship was in excellent condition with beautiful teak accents, shiny brass hardware, nice carpets, and always impeccably clean with three room services per day! There was nothing worn or old about it. CLOTHING. The dress was quite casual, and what I would call “resort casual.” Shorts, t-shirts, polo shirts, bathing suits and casual sun dresses predominated. During mid-February it was quite hot mid-day so wicking active gear, loose shirts and sun protection clothing was key. Air conditioning kept the interior of the ship pleasantly cool. Next day laundry services (at hotel prices) are available. FOOD. The food was really good. It was not fine dining in the metropolitan sense, but it was tasty, varied and plentiful. Alcohol was reasonably priced from $4 for a local (and good) beer to $8 for a glass of decent wine. Tellingly, most passengers felt like they were gaining lots of weight on the trip! GYM. For fitness buffs, there was a small gym with two high quality treadmills, an elliptical and a good spinning class-styled exercise bike. It had some dumbbells up to 25 pounds. The gym has large windows with great views. It was rarely used with most succumbing to a nap or a book in the shade during the siesta break, and therefore getting a machine was never an issue. WATER. Water temps for swimming and snorkeling were in the 70’s on our itinerary (which can vary) in mid-February. The shortie wet suits provided were buoyant and kept us warm enough to be the last out of the water on most snorkel outings. Some guests also wore rash guards or SPF clothing, either in place of, or underneath wetsuits. Some guests and the guides did fine without the wetsuits. The snorkeling gear was good. I have my own gear but left it at home, and was glad I did. Some put an underwater camera or GoPro to good use, but Linblad provided us with a great DVD filmed by a photographer that accompanied us on all our excursions so we all got some great footage to take home! SERVICE. The service was excellent. I think there are 42 crew or so for 46 guests. The entire staff was professional, efficient, accommodating and helpful. It was our first Linblad experience but likely not our last. STATEROOMS. As to which stateroom to pick (level 2-4) there are some considerations. All have excellent cabin level air conditioning, so you could make your stateroom as cold as you pleased. The level 2 and 3 rooms do not have a window or portal directly to the outside, but rather have a small window that looks through an exterior hallway (either the library on side 302-304-306 with less traffic) or the computer lab (301-303-305 with slightly more traffic) which also serves as the entry to the lounge. Those walkways are floor to ceiling glass so lots of light shines through, but we mostly kept the curtain pulled on our porthole for privacy. As to the level 2 staterooms, we were told by guests in 210 and 208 that they were closest to the engines and may have had a bit more engine noise at night. The area between 205 and 208 is where the guests gather to disembark, which is not a problem if you are disembarking with them, but if you are looking to sleep through it, it might have been loud. We thought the best value were staterooms 306 and 305, as those are sized to accommodate three passengers, and if they will give you one of those as a double, the extra room in the form of a day bed/couch is nice. The remaining level 3 staterooms, and the level 4 staterooms (but for 401 and 402, see below) are all about the same size. The difference is that the 4 level rooms have a small enclosed “porch” that some guests used as a place to hang wet clothing, but does have enough room for two people to sit with a book or a drink (it is slightly bigger than it looks in pictures.) The level 4 rooms are more private than the level 3 rooms (no exterior traffic), and had more light due to the window on the door to the deck. Staterooms 401 and 402 (on an older brochure I think those were labeled 501 and 502) were really spectacular with large dramatic windows overlooking the bow and sides of the boat, with the same small but functional enclosed decks like the other level 4 rooms. By comparison to any other staterooms, the light in those rooms was extraordinary. The bathrooms too were larger in those suites. The exterior walkways (rather than internal) offer the great benefit of providing many air conditioned places to lounge on either side of the ship with fantastic exterior views. Of course the lounge to the stern and two upper decks (open but shaded) also provide lots of space. The public spaces are sufficiently varied for socializing, or napping, reading or sunning in relative privacy. Therefore, we used our stateroom mostly to sleep, nap, shower and change, and lounged elsewhere on the boat. So overall, as you consider the class of accommodations, we thought 1) a level 2 stateroom offered a great overall experience because the you spend so little time in your room and this trip is about the outdoors; 2) if you are on level 2, rooms 201-204 might be quieter, but noise was never really an issue; 3) the premium for the extra space of 303-306 was worth it to us; 4) if you want to splurge and the stateroom matters to you the most, splurge on 401 or 402; you won’t be disappointed with the premium space. But regardless of which accommodations you pick, make sure you pick one and go. It is a unique travel experience like none other on the planet. Read Less
16 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2017
National Geographic “Explorer” to Antarctica…… we will never be able to top this spectacular vacation. The ship is an example of impeccable attention to detail. Everything about this ship is designed to make this a perfect trip for ... Read More
National Geographic “Explorer” to Antarctica…… we will never be able to top this spectacular vacation. The ship is an example of impeccable attention to detail. Everything about this ship is designed to make this a perfect trip for the guests on board. The crew is exceptional. Every single member of the team on board this ship was friendly, knowledgeable, attentive to our needs, and always put our safety first. Our cabin was perfect. Plenty of room for two people, spotless, all the amenities we could possibly need. The food on board was as good as any restaurant we go to in our hometown of Chicago. There is a library on board and a small dining area for afternoon tea, plus a huge lounge that was used for cocktails and lectures by the scientists on board. The scenery is nothing short of spectacular, and the wildlife is amazing. My husband and I travel for work and travel for pleasure and nothing has ever compared to this trip. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2017
Chose this cruise because we did the same cruise 10 years earlier and were anxious to return to Antarctica. The Explorer carries 148 passengers; our earlier trip was on Endeavor, which carried 105. Chose Lindblad Expeditions because we ... Read More
Chose this cruise because we did the same cruise 10 years earlier and were anxious to return to Antarctica. The Explorer carries 148 passengers; our earlier trip was on Endeavor, which carried 105. Chose Lindblad Expeditions because we were so pleased with the earlier cruise and we were not disappointed with this one. We liked the informality; no dressing up or coats and ties required. Breakfast and lunch is buffet but guests are invited to order something specially prepared if they prefer. Dinners are served and seating is open, which gives passengers the opportunity to meet each other. Meat, fish, and vegetarian entrees available every day. Alcoholic beverages are not included except at Captain's cocktail reception, farewell cocktail party, and special dinners in a private dining room with ship's naturalists, historians, or photographer. The fitness center is well equipped and there's nothing like walking the treadmill while the ship navigates sea ice! Kayaking, cruising in the Zodiacs, and walks among the penguin colonies are handled efficiently, with emphasis on safety. Educational talks by scientists, naturalists, and historians on board bring meaning to the experience. Very good trip! Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2016
For many reasons, to explore the landscape of the many islands, to swim and snorkel with the fish, and finally to hike the volcanic rocks. I simply loved the trip. I am an artist and I had the time to watercolor all the new landscapes that ... Read More
For many reasons, to explore the landscape of the many islands, to swim and snorkel with the fish, and finally to hike the volcanic rocks. I simply loved the trip. I am an artist and I had the time to watercolor all the new landscapes that I observed. The unusual rock formations and gorgeous beaches took my breath away. We had the freedom to choose the activities of the day, and I choose to do the hikes, climbing the large volcanic rocks and drawing the landscapes.We saw dolphins on the first day, a variety of whales, and on the final day was entertained by a spectacular show by the humpback whales. We kayaked, snorkeling with sea lions and fish, and had a beautiful sunset barbecue dinner at the beach. Each morning you had the option to do yoga with Michelle, beautiful wake up exercises watching the sun rise from the horizon. All the staff was kind and so knowledgeable, experts in their field. Each night the professional staff gave a brief talk about the animals that we observed that day. The sessions given by the professional photographer, Linda Burbank was invaluable! All the scientists were outstanding, all sharing their wealth of information to us all. The food was outstanding always fresh fruit and vegetables all cooked beautifully, so many healthy selections to choose from. All of our needs were met, and beyond. The ship was spotless, everything was well thought out and ran smoothly. An outstanding trip that I would definitely consider traveling with Lindblad again, and highly recommend to all my colleagues and friends. Thankyou all for such showing me the wonders of the Sea of Cortez. I have recently retired from teaching art at a public high school , and would love to teach drawing/ watercolor journal making on one of your beautiful boats. Since nothing can be removed from the many islands wouldn't it be lovely to draw on the beaches what we observe that day. A beautiful memory to be taken home and cherished. Thankyou for my memories. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2016
This was our 4th trip on a Lindblad/National Geographic ship, and the 4th great experience we've had with them. Our journey started with a 3 day shore extension to the cloud forest in Costa Rica with a Lindblad Naturalist (Fico) ... Read More
This was our 4th trip on a Lindblad/National Geographic ship, and the 4th great experience we've had with them. Our journey started with a 3 day shore extension to the cloud forest in Costa Rica with a Lindblad Naturalist (Fico) and driver (German). Normally 10 to 20 guests participate in the extension but this time it was just the 4 people in our family. Not only did Fico and Herman take us to see everything on the itinerary but along the way we stopped to watch howler monkey in trees on the roadside, stopped at some road-side fruit stands to pick up some in-season treats, and others that made the drive to the Cloud Forest part of the adventure. At each destination Fico would talk about the animals or plants we were seeing or hearing which turned every stop from a sightseeing experience to a learning experience. Since there were only 4 of us, they allowed us to deviate from the planned destinations and activities because the smaller group size gave us more flexibility. For example guests normally had to pick between a zip-line through the forest canopy, and a walk through it on suspended bridges - but my daughter really wanted to do both so they made it happen. The accommodations were great (we saw an armadillo, parrots, and other wildlife on the grounds of the lodge we stayed without much effort). The restaurants for all good, and we generally at whatever German (the driver) suggested because he knew every restaurants specialties. After returning from the cloud forest we boarded ship in Costa Rica. We'd previously sailed on the Sea Lions sister ship, the Sea Bird, so we knew what to expect. The ship was in good shape. My wife, daughter, and I stayed in a triple and my brother had a single. The cabin was well maintained and clean with enough storage space for the 3 of us (largely because the bed was raised high enough we could stash our luggage under it easily). In our first trip on the Sea Bird we found the 'shoilet' (small toilet area that doubled as the shower) a bit disconcerting but time around it didn't seem as odd. With 3 of us cabin space was tight, but we spent so little time in the cabin it really didn't matter. Almost the entire day was spent on excursions, in the lounge debriefing with other guest or looking at the photos we got (or didn't) on the computers, or on the partially covered sun deck either enjoying sun, or shade, as we wanted. Food was served in the dining room. It's all 'open seating' and we tried to sit with different guests at each meal. Breakfast was a buffet and generally included fresh fruit, yogurt, cereals, breads, bacon and/or sausage, some type of egg, sometimes crepes, waffles, or pancakes. Lunch was similarly buffet with salad, soup, and fruit always there with different choices each day like burgers and dogs, tacos, thai chicken, and veggie medleys, Dinner was served with soup and fresh bread, with a choice between a meat dish (flank steak, rack of lamb, prime rib, etc.), a seafood dish (sea bass, etc.), and a vegetarian option (portabella risotto, etc.). If none of those sounded good a full size salad or chicken breast was also always offered. Dinner was followed by a desert like flan, fruit crisps, and the like. My daughter had a bit of motion sickness and the hospitality manager (Anna Marie) noticed her not eating and each morning would inquire if she wanted one of the items on the days menu or if she'd prefer some more kid-friendly fare like chicken tenders, pasta, a hot dog, or mac-and-cheese. Most of the time my daughter was good with the normal menu items but a few times she did take Anna Marie up on her offer and got a custom dish just for her. Most meals the natural history staff and some of the ships officers would join us at meals, and we'd learn about them and (since they were from the local area) we'd hear about the culture of the area and what it is like to live and have grown up there. As my review title says, the real high point of the trip was the activities - the shore excursions with the natural history staff. Every day had at least 1 multi-hour activity in the morning and a second in the afternoon. We'd generally take a zodiac from the ship to shore (most often making a wet landing, so shorts and shoes/footwear you are ok getting soaked is mandatory) followed by walk into the forest or along the coast with a naturalist and/or photo instructor. Those guys were amazing, With their naked eyes they spotted sloths in the trees (if you've never seen a sloth in a tree, from the ground it looks like a brown blob in the branches of a tree, and you don't have motion to draw attention to them), howler monkey, spider monkeys, white face monkeys, parrots, toucans, macaws, hummingbirds, alligators, tarantulas, bats, and mountains of other types of birds and animals. They pointed out plants and type of plants, talked about the life cycle of the forest and how gaps in the canopy result in pioneer plants which eventually end up with the forest terminal state foliage. They could identify birds by call alone, and in most cases then find the birds. The photo instructor (Jose) was great. In addition to being a naturalist and point out the animals and plants, walks with him always included hints and tips on how to photograph them more effectively, the right types of light, moving to better angles to capture the life better, camera settings so you could get the effect you wanted from stop-motion (real cool for birds in flight, or dolphins jumping from the bow or in the wake of the ship) to blurred (great for the some of the waterfalls we visited). A clear highlight was seeing a sloth in a tree on the start of a walk, and on the way back seeing that same sloth with it's new born baby. The videographer that accompanied us everywhere even got some real "National Geographic" quality video of the sloth eating the placenta after giving birth. A real 'once in a lifetime moment' even for our naturalists who spent decades in the rain forest! The last two days of the trip, when we traversed the Panama Canal, was a bit slower than the previous days but that was because we had to defer to the canal authority to decide when we could cross. We entered the canal in the evening (passenger ships as 2nd priority, the big cargo ships go first) which gave us a great chance to photograph the canal and operations at night. Jose, our trusty photo instructor, seemed to be everywhere helping guest capture the night canal night crossing in pictures the way they wanted. We spent the night in the canal itself (Lindblad is the only cruise that stops mid-way) and visited the Smithsonian Institutes tropical research center on Barro Colorado Island at first night, which included a talk from a long-time researcher from the island (I suppose spending 30 years as a researcher on that island counts as a long time). We were then lucky enough to traverse the 2nd set of locks in the day; so we could see lock operations both at night and in the say. As crazy as it sounds, another highlight for me was the last night which we spent in the container port on the Caribbean side of the canal. We were moored right along side some Panamax and post-Panamax contain ships and from the sun deck we could watch the loading and unloading of those ships up-close and personal. The Sea Lion seems like a little minnow tied-up along those mega-behemoths. The trip concluded with our Lindblad representatives taking us to the airport in Panama City for our flight how. Along the way we stopped at the Mira Flores Locks (the ones we traversed at night) so we could see them from the day from the visitors center; it really made us appreciate the experience of having crossed through the locks as well. We were sorry to see it end, and are already thinking about what Lindblad voyage to take next. If only I could wrangle a month off (and I could con Lindblad into giving me a break on the price!) it'd probably be Antarctic and South Georgia island. I'm not sure it could top the sloth giving birth but I'm willing to let them try! Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2016
National Geographic to Norway and the Arctic..It was the nicest ship with the most amazing crew ever to sail the seas... The food was outstanding and varied every day..The bar, hot tub, bridge, bow and observation room/library were top ... Read More
National Geographic to Norway and the Arctic..It was the nicest ship with the most amazing crew ever to sail the seas... The food was outstanding and varied every day..The bar, hot tub, bridge, bow and observation room/library were top notch. There is not a bad thing to say about the Orion and her crew. The National Geographic Naturalists and Leaders on the ship rated from fair to outstanding..Some seemed bored to be with us...some were so fresh, excited and fun to be around..Some of the time, we felt like we came second to the time they spent promoting the NG product, taking pictures and video with several naturalists while we had to wait our turn for shore and zodiac excursions because the guides were tied up with the "promo" stuff.. For the price we paid, we feel that we should have had more time in kayaks, zodiacs and on shore, instead of waiting for the other group to return...there were 87 passengers...and 8 naturalists..so I think we could have had more time off the ship if they were available to us. The Journey through the fjords and up to Svalbard and beyond was a dream...I cannot wait to do it again on the Orion. The ship and it's crew were amazing and our cabin was like a 5 star hotel.. Read Less
10 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2016
This was our first cruise and we were not interested in boarding a huge vessel with multiple restaurants, cinemas etc. We were interested in being able to disembark and actually experience the landscape rather than just see it. This ship ... Read More
This was our first cruise and we were not interested in boarding a huge vessel with multiple restaurants, cinemas etc. We were interested in being able to disembark and actually experience the landscape rather than just see it. This ship takes a max of 148 passengers. We booked a category 5 cabin which had a verandah - we were lucky enough to stand there and photograph a polar bear walking along the near shoreline, as well as multiple opportunities for viewing the ice pack, glaciers, landscape etc. We were able to disembark most days. This process went very smoothly as we were generally divided into three groups - "long walks", "medium walks" and "short walks". Each walk was described in terms of length, elevation, terrain etc so that you could make an informed choice. "Long walkers" disembarked first via small zodiacs (approx 8-10 people on each), and there was very little waiting required. Those on short walks would have had to wait the longest, but each group was called 15 minutes before disembarkation so you could use your time in other ways, rather than having to hang around the disembarkation room. There was also a couple of opportunities for zodiac excursions for those less inclined to walk or to see specific wildlife (for us that meant a "haul out" of walruses which were sleeping on a beach) or glacier walls. On several days, there were both morning and afternoon "expeditions" (walks, kayaking, zodiac excursions), all optional of course. The ice conditions were such that we actually managed to circumnavigate Spitsbergen and visit some of the outlying islands in the archipelago. We were lucky enough to see 5 polar bears in relatively close proximity to the ship and a couple more at huge distance. Also saw seals, blue whales, narwhales, fin whales, walruses, arctic foxes and more birds than I can label. Although this was marketed as a "Land of the Ice bear" cruise, you are really in the lap of the gods when it comes to wildlife actually appearing. However, even if we had seen nothing but the marvellous birdlife, just the scenery and the sheer exhilaration of walking on one of the remotest spots on the planet would have been enough for me. The ship operates an "open bridge" policy 24 hours a day so you can go and check out the view from there. One night the captain allowed the ship to meander along a wall of cliffs, covered in nesting sea birds. Quite a few of us piled into the bridge to watch this, and were rewarded with the sight of four arctic foxes patrolling the lower reaches of the cliffs, looking for fallen eggs and fledglings. I wish I had used the bridge more often during our time - the atmosphere was great ! Other public spaces were the library - almost fully glassed walls so the views were spectacular, the lounge (for presentations, socialising etc), the bistro (a more casual dining area with the same food as the main restaurant) and the main restaurant. The food was excellent, with plenty of healthy choices. Buffet style for breakfast and lunch (although you could order eggs any way for breakfast), and a la carte for dinner. Table sizes ranged from 4 to 8, and you could choose your own table at any meal. The bistro area had more two seater tables, which appealed to the more introverted. The buffet had two sides to it, so any queues moved very quickly. Alcohol was free on the first night and last night, due to the Captain's welcome cocktail evening and farewell cocktail evening. Otherwise, it was reasonably priced and certainly much cheaper than Norway ! Service was top notch, with all the waiters learning your name within 24 hours. There were a number of presentations on subjects ranging from sustainability, wildlife, photography etc. And there was a daily "recap" in the lounge each evening before dinner, where the day's highlights were presented, together with a selection of photographs and videos. We didn't attend all of these - just according to whim/mood. Passengers were mainly American, with a small handful of international folk (like us !). Demographic mainly older/retired. No tour groups either, which is great as some groups can cause a bit of havoc due to differing cultural values/practices. We were accompanied by half a dozen naturalists, some of whom were also expert photographers. They joined us at mealtimes and were a very diverse but engaging and friendly group of people. Laundry was very reasonably priced, and there was also a retractable washing line in the ensuite bathrooms so you could wash out smalls etc, if you wanted to. The trip officially starts in Oslo and the day before embarkation there were bus trips to a couple of sights in Oslo - we chose to avoid those, not being big fans of escorted bus tours. Similarly, after disembarkation we had a day to kill in Longyearbyen, the port on Spitsbergen, whilst waiting for our charter flight to arrive with the next batch of passengers. The entertainment was a bus tour around the local sights (which are limited !), and a buffet lunch in a hotel which seems to deal mainly with large tour groups - that was a bit of a rugby scrum and something I would normally avoid like the plague. This is a trip I would do again in a heart beat and I think we have now become converts to the cult of Lindblad/national Geographic ! Truly fabulous voyage. Read Less
15 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2015
Some background first: my wife and I are retired and in our mid-60's. She's a retired human resources professional and I'm a retired public servant. She's also a professional gardener for a fine dining restaurant. ... Read More
Some background first: my wife and I are retired and in our mid-60's. She's a retired human resources professional and I'm a retired public servant. She's also a professional gardener for a fine dining restaurant. She loves natural science and wildlife preservation and I'm an avid amateur historian. Neither of us are heavy drinkers or partiers although we enjoy a good glass of wine, good food and the companionship of others with similar interests. We're first-time cruisers so we searched for a cruise that we thought would match our personalities and interests. After due diligence we decided that a large cruise ship with thousands of passengers probably wasn't for us for a first cruise, so we chose Lindblad's Canadian Maritimes cruise that circumnavigated Newfoundland aboard the National Geographic Explorer, a smaller ship that accommodates 148 passengers. This was to be our "beta" cruise; we hoped to have a great time and to learn if cruising was a desirable lifestyle choice for us. As you read my review, keep in mind that I have no prior cruising experience so my comments are based on my own subjective conclusions and on thoughts and comments from the very experienced fellow travelers I met aboard the National Geographic Explorer. Your mileage may vary! The ship: small by cruise standards with a 148-passenger capacity and about 90 officers and crew. Embarkation, orientation and disembarkation were easy, smooth and fast with no complications. Adjusting to the ship's geography is easy and, although the ship is small compared to many cruise ships, it doesn't feel cramped or crowded and one can always find some solitude on a deck if a little time away from a group is desired. We ran into some rougher seas on a few days during our voyage but the ship was pretty stable. I had one experience of sea sickness one day but I was over it in an hour or so. More experienced fellow travelers told me that overall the seas were mild to moderate on this voyage. Cabin: we were assigned a Category 3 cabin, #317, amidship, starboard side, with a large window. The cabin was well designed and comfortable. The beds were very comfortable with soft comfortable linens. The bathroom was larger than expected with very nice amenities and excellent hot water quantity and pressure. We uncovered the large window at night so awakening to a sea view in the morning was wonderful! There were no power outlets near the beds. The outlets were opposite the beds at the small desk so engineering provided an extension cord to power bedside stuff (I use a CPAP and we had cellphones we wished to keep charged at bedside). Officers, crew and shipboard experts: absolutely the best I can imagine. All from the Captain to the deckhands were friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. I spent some time on various decks just enjoying the sea views when I’d run into a deckhand performing their duties. Each would invariably smile and offer a friendly “Hello!”, “Good morning!” or “Good Afternoon”, as did every other crew member I encountered. Our room steward, Pilar, was cheerful and pleasant and kept our cabin in perfect order, from squaring away the cabin in the morning to turn-down service at night. Dining aboard the Explorer is open seating and the number of passengers is small, so the wait staff quickly learned the names and preferences of each passenger no matter where anyone was seated. Not to take anything away from others, but a big thanks to Joel, Lilo and Rosalie who greeted us at every meal with a smile and a personal greeting (and, from Joel, the “automatic” morning and evening double espressos I came to appreciate so much). An experienced long time Lindblad expert told me that the crew and a few officers are Filipino and some are 2nd generation. Apparently Lindblad is a good cruise crew gig and it shows in the high level of personalized service and hospitality. The onboard historians, naturalists and photographers were excellent, offering lectures about that day’s and upcoming activities that were informative, humorous, lively and entertaining. The experts also hung around the lounge and restaurant and were always available for one-on-one Q & A. I’m not a photographer, but even I hung around for the expert National Geographic photographer seminars. Also a nice expert touch: the daily evening wrapup with undersea videos shot almost every day by the onboard diver/videographer. Fellow Travelers: we were probably among the youngest travelers aboard, although we did discover one or two couples who were our age or younger. I’d guess that most passengers were about ten years older than us and quite a few were older. Most were from the west coast, east coast and southern US, with one or two couples like us from the midwest. All were experienced cruisers. We didn’t run into anyone who hadn’t cruised several times and many had cruised 12+ times, often with Lindblad. Lindblad cruisers are a dedicated lot! Don’t let the age thing fool you on a Lindblad expedition cruise. These folks were enthusiastic and tireless, easily boarding Zodiacs and happily hiking past me on daily shore excursions. I did see one or two couples with mobility issues but they were easily accommodated by the crew and guides and were enthusiastic participants along with everyone else, although some activities weren’t designed for the mobility-impaired (and Lindblad’s website is pretty frank about this). Open seating in the restaurant meant that we had the opportunity to enjoy meals with just about everyone and all were friendly and interesting. Luckily for us, all – and especially the Lindblad veterans – were happy to share their cruising wisdom with us. Because I’m a newbie with no cruising history to draw upon, I’ve incorporated some of their thoughts and comments in this review where I thought appropriate. Food: Dining takes place in the restaurant and adjacent bistro lounge area, and its an open-seating plan that encourages passengers to meet. Breakfasts and lunches are buffet style with plenty of choices and no delays because the buffet stations are thoughtfully arranged and constantly replenished. Dinners are served at the table. It’s a white linen standard throughout. The quality of the food was good but frankly the flavor profiles were often bland, especially the soups and broths. My wife and I are experienced fine diners who aren’t afraid of herbs, spices and forward flavors so perhaps our expectations here were a little high. The beef entrees I occasionally selected off the menu were uniformly excellent and perfectly prepared. All selections were served at appropriate temperatures (no warm salads and no cool entrees). The desserts and pastries were delicious! The standout culinary experience was the day when the ship acquired a boatload of freshly-caught lobster and oysters, straight from the sea to the fishing boat to the Explorer. The oysters were shucked and served in the lounge before dinner after a strenuous day of exploration on shore. A plate of oysters, a pint of Grolsch beer from the bar tap and a view of the sea – it was perfect! Dinner that night featured the fresh lobster which almost everyone ordered and enjoyed. We enjoyed our dinner with a bottle of very good wine ordered from the surprisingly extensive wine list. Itinerary: our itinerary started at St. Johns, then we circumnavigated Newfoundland in a clockwise direction, ending up back at St. Johns. We stopped at the French territory of St. Pierre & Miquelon, fortress Louisbourg, Baddeck NS, Illes de Madeleine, Gros Morne Provincial Park, St. Anthony, L’Anse Aux Meadows (site of a Viking settlement circa 1000 AD), then down the east coast of Newfoundland to St. Johns. Weather prevented a stop at Twillingate on the east coast of Newfoundland. Newfoundland’s historic codfishing economy cratered about two decades ago when the codfish stocks collapsed, so Newfoundland is transitioning their economy to tourism and petroleum production. There are still plenty of fishermen (fisherpersons (?), because many are women), but fishing is apparently no longer the bedrock of the economy. Shore expeditions: this was a short trip and there were shore excursions almost every day. Lindblad’s tariff includes the cost of all shore expeditions so there are no surcharges for daily expeditions. The shore expeditions were a mixed bag. Lindblad’s apparent modus operandi is to contract with local guides to provide shore expeditions. That means disembarking to busses with local guides at almost every stop. The quality varied. All guides were informative and pleasant, and motoring here and there offered some lovely scenic vistas. Some expeditions, however, were better than others (in our opinion and in the expressed opinions of other more experienced Lindblad cruisers). For example, the stop at the French territory of St. Pierre & Miquelon was great; lots of historical and cultural information and a charming little town. The next stop the following morning was Fortress Louisbourg, one of the important historical sites that I was particularly anxious to see. We were scheduled to be bussed to Baddeck NS for lunch and an afternoon visit (and to meet up with the repositioned Explorer) so the morning visit to Louisbourg felt rushed. I should note here that this cruise took place late in the season. Consequently some locations – including Louisbourg – were like ghost towns with few staff (many had apparently been released for the season) and almost no visitors. This became evident at other stops too including Gros Morne Provincial Park, Ille des Madeleine and St. Anthony. The consensus among many including me was that scheduling was, to put it nicely, unbalanced. Several of us would’ve appreciated more time at Fortress Louisbourg and less time at Baddeck. Baddeck is a lovely community and home to Alexander Graham Bell, whose notable scientific, cultural and humanitarian achievements are overshadowed by his invention of the telephone. A very pleasant schooner expedition in Baddeck harbor enabled passengers to see bald eagles and the Bell estate up close. Despite this, more Louisbourg and less Baddeck would’ve been desirable. Another stop was Illes des Madeleine, a small island in the gulf. The vistas were interesting but the Island Landscape Tour shore expedition I took consisted of a bus ride and drop-off at a former fishing village whose fishing shacks have been converted into a string of small gift shops by the sea. We were dropped off at the far end of the line of gift shops, the bus repositioned back at the beginning of the line, and we were told to walk back through “town” to the repositioned bus in about an hour, thus ensuring that all would have to walk past each gift shop. If you’re into gift shops, it was heaven. Skeptical guests could construe this as a culture-free trudge through a shopping mall. The other option was a bike tour of the island which, according to those few who participated, was enjoyable despite the rain. We had a better experience at Gros Morne Provincial Park. We visited a marine research/education station followed by a strenuous but thoroughly enjoyable 5 kilometer hike to an observation point 500 meters up a hill, lead by a very personable and knowledgeable guide. Regarding the marine research/education center: it was interesting and enjoyable, but the director revealed that a) interpretive and research staff had dispersed for the season and weren’t available and b) she herself just learned of our visit that morning and corralled a few staff members to open up the facility for us. It was an experience that would’ve benefited from interactions with interpretive and research staff if they were only there. The next meaningful stop was L’Anse Aux Meadows, the site of the Viking settlement around 1000 AD. Absolutely great! The museum was fascinating as were the reconstructions of Viking dwellings and workshops, complete with knowledgeable reenactors who explained Viking culture and life. Unlike the Louisbourg expedition, sufficient time was allocated for this expedition. One really low point: the “Viking Feast” event after the L’Anse Aux Meadows visit. Participants were bussed to a dismal, dark restaurant designed to resemble a Viking long hall. The “feast” consisted of a buffet steam table of shrimp fried rice, moose stew sans any identifiable moose meat and Jig’s Dinner (boiled cabbage, boiled potatoes and very, very few fatty corned beef chunks). At the conclusion I saw that many plates were untouched, a bad sign in food service. Restaurant staff clothed in faux-Viking wear presented an earnest but embarrassingly corny crowd-participation entertainment program. I heard a comment that this was a “Viking minstrel show” with “wretched” food. That might be bit harsh, but it wasn’t far off. The Explorer then set sail down the east coast of Newfoundland bound for St. Johns. A scheduled stop at Twillingate was cancelled because of weather which gave us a longer day in St. Johns. Lindblad arranged for bus tours of St. Johns which were, for the most part, worthwhile and enjoyable. One bus stop for about two hours was The Rooms, a museum/gallery/meeting space complex. Unfortunately and true to form, parts of the museum were closed as were the galleries (although the gift shop, café and parts of the museum were open). I visited the open portions of the museum (many don’t know of the heroic role Canada played in World Wars I & II) then I struck off on my own for a quick walk around St. Johns while the busses waited for others. Then it was back on the bus to visit Signal Hill and other notable St. Johns sites, then back to the Explorer for dinner, then breakfast and disembarkation the next morning. Wildlife and flora observation: we expected to see some wildlife but, regrettably, we saw almost none. It was late in the season, so no puffins. We saw a black bear and a few moose at Gros Morne, but they were so distant that they were mere dots on the horizon. My wife was able to pet and feed a tame moose during a separate shore excursion in St. Johns. The only sea life we saw (other than underwater videos) occurred when a crew member spotted a humpback whale. The Captain slowed and turned the ship to maximize this viewing opportunity but the whale failed to cooperate. Only a few caught a very brief glimpse of the whale as it barely broke the surface. We did see quite a bit of interesting flora at Gros Morne and other seaside sites. Experienced Lindblad travelers commented that this itinerary wasn’t Lindblad’s best and Lindblad’s European, Baja and Alaska itineraries were far better. I have to agree that this itinerary was only mildly interesting with a few strong exceptions. While all Newfoundlanders I met were very friendly, and while all of the local guides were interesting and pleasant, there was the inescapable aura that the itinerary was cobbled together for a late-season cruise with little vetting of the content of local excursion trips. So – if you’re thinking of visiting Newfoundland, skip this itinerary, fly to St. Johns and rent a car. Want to visit St. Pierre, or Louisbourg, or Illes des Madeleine? Hop a ferry. Summary: we’re very glad we embarked on this cruise and, despite the weak itinerary, we thoroughly enjoyed the cruise, the ship, the officers and crew and our fellow travelers. Will we cruise again? Probably, and it’ll probably be on Lindblad to Alaska or some other destination. We probably won’t become multi-repeat cruisers like many of our fellow travelers, but Lindblad has set a very high standard for us for shipboard quality and service. Read Less
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