This is my second time cruising with Lindblad Expeditions on the National Geographic Explorer. The first time was in Antarctica, and this time was in Svalbard. Overall, I would recommend taking these two cruises, as the shipboard experience is fantastic, and I reckon second to none. However, their weak customer service pre-cruise and post-cruise remains a material negative, which accounts for my 4 out of 5 stars rating.
The reasons why I feel that the shipboard experience is fantastic include: (1) for a relatively small ship, it is very stable and comfortable; (2) the ship's crew is very diligent and caring, with great attention to details, and service is first class in every aspect; (3) the meals are delicious and there is sufficient variety, with different themes for lunch and dinner; (4) the wine list is decent, and on this latest cruise, complimentary as well; (5) the expedition staff are so passionate, knowledgeable, and capable that it is easy to forget that they are tourist industry professionals and instead mistake them for full-time scientists and explorers; (6) the itinerary is full of opportunities to get off the ship and explore the awesome surroundings; (7) the guest speakers, which includes one NatGeo photographer, deliver on making the overall experience even more memorable; and (8) even the gift shop is nice!
On the other hand, my pre-cruise and post-cruise experience with them have been disappointing. Pre-cruise, their customer service team is inconsistent in responding to queries, choosing to address only what is convenient, and ignoring even the slightest complication in questions and requests. They sometimes even drop the ball, and have to be reminded to complete agreed upon tasks. For example, I had some credits which I wanted to apply to my latest cruise, but it took three reminders before they were reflected in the bill.
Post-cruise, I dislike the absence of their staff at the final departure point. For example, on this latest cruise, they took on luggage from the ship, and loaded them directly on to trucks to be transported directly to the airport's departure hall, separately from the coaches we were on. When we reached the airport, their staff on the coaches gave us final instructions on collecting our luggage and boarding the flight, and went on their way. I then went to collect my luggage and discovered that it was damaged, but couldn't find any of their staff to report this problem, albeit a member of their expedition team who was on the same flight went out of her way to help us. When I returned home, I filed a claim against my travel insurance, who requested for proof that I was on this cruise. I sent an email to their customer service team requesting for the final receipt and a letter confirming that I was on this cruise. They only sent me a final receipt. They did not apologize for the inconvenience I suffered as a result of this problem; it is irritating that I had to ask them for a final receipt when it should have been sent to me after I made full payment; and they ignored my request for the letter confirming that I was on the cruise.
Overall, the cruise experience was sufficiently positive to negate the frustrating pre-cruise and post-cruise customer service experience.
My cabin had a spacious balcony, which was great for taking photographs of the magnificent views outside, as well as for drying my damp boots and other gear. Inside, the space was sufficient, and I appreciated that the bed and pillows were of high quality. Also, I appreciated that there were ample storage amenities and power points, as well as a small desk on which I was able to use my laptop. The toilet was small but not unusually so, and the toiletries supplied were of high quality. And the speaker inside was of high quality, as I have been on cruises where it is difficult to make out the public-broadcast announcements.