The overarching principle of expedition cruises is that your excursions are part of the price. Some cruise lines take middle ground approach (with some included and some optional) but Lindblad's model has always been that all excursions are included. Having said that, occasionally a special option will arise, like horse riding in Costa Rica, which will be at extra cost but this is a rare exception catering to a niche interest.
A typical shore excursion, whether in tropical or higher latitudes, is by rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) often referred to as Zodiacs. These sturdy craft are widely used throughout the industry as safe, reliable transport for getting ashore where there is no jetty or wharf, landing directly on a beach or shoreline. Quest has eight rigid inflatable boats.
Most days have a morning and afternoon excursion interspersed by meals and each evening has a recap session prior to dinner where the day's discoveries are discussed by the naturalist guides.
Quest also has a fleet of 24 single and double kayaks and stand up paddleboards allowing passengers to explore the coast and coves at their own pace as well as get some exercise. Snorkeling equipment is also supplied for use in warmer waters.
Quest has a well-designed marina just above the waterline where people walk directly onto the rigid inflatable boats with minimal steps. Up to 12 passengers can load into a boat in ideal conditions, but this is more commonly 8 or 10.
In tropical regions, excursions take the form of jungle hikes of varying difficulty, or visits to local villages or research stations like the Smithsonian's Barro Colorado Island in Panama, where you can meet researchers and learn about their studies in tropical ecology.
In Alaska and British Columbia, the cold climate equivalent also includes interpretive forest walks and coastal RIB cruises, where you can often see wildlife up close. Curious seals will frequently come by for a close inspection before going about their business while bears, caribou, elk and whales may be observed from a safe distance.
We found Lindblad's excursions and tours to be among the best we've ever experienced, with naturalist guides accompanying each rigid inflatable boat, offering instantaneous interpretation.
As with all expedition cruising, passenger mobility may have an impact on full enjoyment, but Lindblad has given careful consideration to people not necessarily in the prime of life, so there are always low-stress options when ashore such as scenic cruises on the small rigid inflatable boats or shorter walks highlighting flora and fauna with a naturalist guide.
Wildlife is an important part of many expedition cruises and here is where Lindblad excels. If there is an opportunity to observe wildlife (birds, mammals, fish, etc.) in their natural environment, then Lindblad will have the means to gain maximum benefit from any sightings.
Apart from guides always at hand to help you identify animals and birds, there are binoculars onboard as well as a comprehensive library where you can continue the discussion at the end of the day. It pays to bring your own binoculars and, of course, camera equipment to capture the moment.
Although this equipment was not observed in operation, Quest is billed as having an underwater remote-operated vehicle (ROV), hydrophone, splashcam, underwater video camera as well as a video microscope for detailed observation of marine life, large and small.
As mentioned elsewhere, enrichment is an important part of any expedition cruise, an aspect exemplified on our National Geographic Quest sailing.
Like all vessels in the Lindblad fleet, dedicated photo instructors are on hand to help you gain the full benefit of your equipment -- regardless of whether you are using professional SLR cameras and lenses or even an iPhone. Each instructor is certified to National Geographic standards and able to provide expert tutelage, regardless of your own expertise.
In the evening on shore days, or at any time during sea days, the naturalists or any guest lecturers will conduct specialist enrichment sessions in their area of expertise. These lectures are conducted in Quest's bar/lounge/library using Lindblad's customized setup where the presenter is in the center of the room and surrounded by wall-mounted flat screens. This well-designed layout allows passengers to sit in comfort with a table and still get up for a drink or move around without disturbing other people.
The lounge is where most of this activity takes place. It is here where you'll find the Mac computers for image processing or internet access as well as the reference library and tea/coffee machines.
On the few occasions when the lounge is not used, outdoor interpretation takes place on a specially constructed viewing platform in the bow (front) of the vessel, which sits above the anchor equipment that would otherwise impede access to this prime viewing area. It's here that you might watch passing pods of whales and dolphins or vast glaciers in Alaska.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Aboard National Geographic Quest, as with any Lindblad ships, you can swap out "entertainment" and replace with "enrichment." Instead of sing-alongs and fancy dress evenings, you'll get expert photographic instruction, lectures on seabirds and marine mammals as well as detailed destination briefings and recaps of the day's events. Specialist guides will often have destination-specific expertise like history, politics and explorations.
Quest does not have a conventional theater as such and most of the formal lectures, presentations and discussions are held in the threefold bar/lounge/library.
For traditionalists, you can also find various popular board games and cards in the library.
There is a sun deck that has barbecue facilities (though it was not used on our sailing), a bar and space for outdoor activities when operating.
Lounge (Lounge Deck): The main (unnamed) lounge occupies the forward portion of the Lounge Deck, with the aft space dedicated to the separate dining room. It also serves the dual purpose of theater and library.
Seating is a mix of low tables and fixed, swivel lounge chairs with booth-style benches. Decor is light and bright with restrained, pastel tones of blues, greens and timber. There's plenty of room to move about, even in busy times, although getting your favorite seat every time might be a challenge.
Lindblad vessels are not typically the sort of ships where people frequently congregate in the bars for the express purpose of drinking. Drinks are usually enjoyed as a complement to other activity such as lectures or dining. That said, the main bar in the lounge is more than capable of turning out your favorite cocktail or pour you a satisfactory wine.
Outdoor Sun Deck (Observation Deck): Located at the top of the ship, this occasional bar is also part of the aft sun deck for use during barbecue and outdoor meal events.
Bar service is also available in the dining room during meal service.
Quest has no pool or hot tub, so any swimming or snorkeling you want to do during your cruise will be during shore excursions in warm water locations like Panama and Costa Rica.
The sun deck is essentially a partly shaded outdoor dining and relaxation area with sun loungers and tables and chairs used occasionally for meal service. It's an excellent quiet area for reading a book or napping in the fresh air.
While it is not quite correct to call it a jogging track, you can take yourself for a walk around the Observation Deck if you choose your time carefully and not try to power stroll while folks are spotting whales from in front of the bridge.
The stern marina is typically for rigid inflatable boat loading only, although kayaks can also be launched from there. However, kayaks are mainly taken ashore and launched from the beach to keep the dock free for rigid inflatable boat use.
Just like any regular cruise ship, there is a busy hotel manager looking after the comfort of passengers, so there is always someone ready to answer your inevitable cabin and service queries.
As mentioned elsewhere, the combined lounge/theater/bar/library is the most popular public space and that's where you will find the board games and card tables. This is right next to the compact reference and reading library and also part of the space occupied by the photo computer stations.
Wi-Fi is shipwide and while not blazing fast, is solid and steady. As on most ships, internet connectivity comes at a premium, starting at 40 cents per minute. You buy minutes online and they are charged to your shipboard account. It's just fine for checking important emails and social media gloating.
Quest carries a dedicated massage and body treatment therapist aboard all departures. The LEXspa is located on the Lounge Deck along with the dining room, boutique and lounge. The small treatment room is where massages, body treatments, natural facials and hand and foot treatments are dispensed. The therapist also holds morning exercise sessions, typically on the sun deck at 7 a.m.
You enter the spa through the gym, which is fitted out with two treadmills, exercise bikes, elliptical machines and exercise bands as well as sets of small hand weights. You'll find the gym is well used, so be prepared to wait, especially for the treadmills.
As mentioned elsewhere, you can burn calories in the kayaks, on the stand up paddleboards or by taking the longer hikes during shore excursions.
School age children aboard Lindblad ships are not common, but not unusual either. The Alaska, Galapagos and Baja itineraries frequently attract families on vacation and it's often a chance for grandparents to give their grandchildren a special "smart fun" and memorable experience. To this end, Lindblad has launched the National Geographic Global Explorers in these locations. With the program, young passengers are under the tutelage of one of the senior naturalists and learn all kinds of things about the ecology of the destination (and how to preserve it) as well as the environment in general. Activities include such things as learning to drive a rigid inflatable boat, or beachcombing for shells, mollusks and critters -- and then examining specimens back aboard under the video microscope. Young explorers are encouraged to utilize "field notebooks" to mimic the research scientists conduct in the field, maps to keep track of the itinerary, wildlife checklists and more. Additionally, "storytelling challenges" help them share their experiences from the day -- independently or collaboratively -- and via different mediums, including photos, videos, journaling, music and maps.
On the ship there is no dedicated kids' club, although there might be pizza and movies in the lounge some nights.
While all cabins aboard Quest are either twin or queen, Category 5 suite cabins can accommodate a third person on a convertible sofa bed.