Lindblad Expands Fleet, Enhances Partnerships

October 2, 2007

It's big news for a little guy. Lindblad Expeditions, long recognized as the leader in expedition travel, announced a significant expansion of its partnership with National Geographic, including rebranding of the fleet and a jointly operated fund to promote conservation.

In addition, the company announced that it has acquired the Lyngen, a 1982-built ship currently sailing for Hurtigruten (previously known as Norwegian Coastal Voyage). No information has been released yet on plans for the Lyngen; we'll keep you posted as the company announces details for refurbishment and new itineraries next month.

It is no secret that Lindblad has been looking to acquire another ship -- and combined with other acquisitions and charters recently, this is the culmination of a steady but quiet expansion over the last few years. With the line's current largest ship only carrying 110 passengers, the new 6,100-ton, 323-passenger ship will mark a significant increase in capacity.

Some other changes to look forward to include:

Lindblad will rename all of its vessels to include the moniker National Geographic. In fact, Islander and Polaris were relaunched last week in the Galapagos as National Geographic Islander and National Geographic Polaris. The remainder of the fleet will receive similar names over the coming months.

The partnership will expand the number of National Geographic scientists, photographers and explorers traveling with Lindblad and working behind the scenes to craft expeditions. No doubt there will be further enhancement of some of the technology the company currently offers, including bow cameras to see underneath the water, a Remotely Operated Vehicle capable of bringing live images from 500 feet below the surface directly to the ship's lounge, and "critter cams" attached to whales which transmit live images to the ship for study by scientists.

Both organizations also announced the Lindblad/National Geographic Fund that will support conservation, education and sustainable development initiatives around the world, with a focus on areas Lindblad sails. The company spends a great percentage of its revenue promoting and supporting sustainable tourism and local communities, and its previously created Galapagos Conservation Fund and Baja Forever have raised millions of dollars over the years.

Lindblad's roots date back to the 1950's, when founder Lars-Eric Lindblad pioneered adventure cruising and lead the first non-scientific expeditions to Antarctica and the Galapagos. Today, the company offers some of the most adventurous, active and academic cruises available, and you may find passengers kayaking before breakfast or gathering in the lounge after dinner to look at plankton underneath a video microscope. But the top expedition staff in the business, a keen marketing savvy and a stellar reputation can only get you so far, especially when your flagship, no matter how well maintained and comfortable it may be, is a 40-year-old converted fishing trawler.

In order to continue to grow, Lindblad formed a strong partnership with National Geographic in 2004. Current company president Sven Lindblad explained it then by saying, "Our partnership with National Geographic gives us access to a great institution and brings value both commercial and philanthropic ... National Geographic expresses the world through print, and we will be the ones to take people there." Still, without the tremendous financial resources required to purchase a new ship, the company expanded and upgraded its existing fleet by chartering, rather than buying, newer, more luxurious ships.

These recent acquisitions have focused not only on expeditions to remote regions of the earth, but also on new ways to explore places already "discovered." The sybaritic tall ship Sea Cloud II now sails a few months a year for Lindblad in the Caribbean, and chartered ships operate in Scotland and the Nile and Danube rivers to supplement the line's own vessels in the Galapagos, Alaska, Central America and Baja. In August, the company announced the charter of the 41-passenger sailing ship Panorama, which will offer a series of cruises around the Greek Isles and Dalmatian coast from May until October.

Stay tuned for more on Lindblad later this year, including a full report from National Geographic Endeavour in Antarctica (Cruise Critic will be onboard).

--by Ben Lyons, Cruise Critic contributor