Virtually all shore excursions are included in your cruise fare -- a very few optional additions are offered for fee in select ports. Most days, you'll have one excursion in the morning and a second in the afternoon, after lunch. Guides explain all the tours in the Lounge the night before they take place. They also give passengers an idea of how difficult each excursion is so they can determine which fits with their abilities.
Most excursions require passengers to leave the ship using Venture's rigid inflatable boats. This is done from the ship's "fantail," a marina off the back. Regular shore excursion options include hiking, kayaking, standup paddle-boarding, snorkeling, RIB tours and biking. Tours are led by naturalists who know the areas the ship visits, including the history, topography and geology. They also are very good at recognizing the abilities of the people in their groups and can adjust their tours based on those factors.
* May require additional fees
Many options are offered simultaneously, so you might have to choose between a RIB tour or kayaking, for example.
The type of wildlife you'll see, of course, depends on where and when the ship is sailing. Along the West Coast of North America, you'll likely see whales, porpoises and sea lions. You'll get up close and personal to a variety of critters thanks to the ship's seven RIBs, which sit low to the water and are manned by experts with keen eyes who can maneuver you safely toward wildlife. In some regions, particularly Baja, you can actually get in the water with the sea lions and fish.
A few techy devices make National Geographic Venture especially interesting for lovers of wildlife. The ship is equipped with a splash cam: a small, underwater video camera that can be attached to a telescoping pole, or lowered into the water on a cable. The camera allows passengers to see shallow reefs or passing marine life. Likewise, Venture has a remotely operated vehicle: an underwater camera protected by a metal cage that can get as deep as 1,000 feet, deploying under icebergs, for example, and other areas where people can't venture. The device is piloted from the Lounge, and footage can be viewed live on the television screens there. Both cameras can only be effectively used where there is clear visibility.
The ship also has a hydrophone, an underwater microphone that can pick up underwater sounds. So if, for example, you are viewing a pod of whales, the hydrophone can be engaged, and the sounds can be broadcast over the ship's audio system. Venture also has a plankton net, a small, mesh net that captures tiny animals, protozoa and algae from the water. Underwater specialists can collect from the net and put them under a microscope, which is connected to the A/V system in the Lounge, allowing passengers to see them on the televisions.
Venture has a limited number of binoculars for passengers to borrow while out on excursions or onboard, but those who are really into birding or other wildlife sighting might want to bring their own. There's also one spotting scope in the Lounge for everyone to use.
National Geographic Venture shines when it comes to enrichment, which can be both self-guided and more formal. Lindblad's partnership with National Geographic means each cabin comes with a fantastic hard-covered atlas, filled with gorgeous photos and maps, detailing the world. The ship's small library, located in the Lounge, also includes a number of Nat Geo guides as well as books from other publishers.
But it's the ship's field staff and naturalists who are responsible for the best of the enrichment onboard. Each person has a specialty, so passengers will learn about the sea and its creatures, land and wildlife, and regional history via a variety of lectures and during shore excursions. The ship also staffs professional photographers who might lead sessions on photography with your mobile phone. They stock a small variety of high-quality B&H camera equipment, so passengers can try out gear before making a large purchase at home. Shutterbugs can check out a camera body and high-end lens for a day or two, and onboard photo specialists will provide instruction.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Traditional entertainment isn't a point of emphasis on National Geographic Venture; instead, the focus is on enrichment. Passengers can find a handful of board games and cards in the library to keep themselves entertained during the cruise.
The only true bar onboard is the aptly named Lounge, found on Deck 3, the Lounge Deck. The space is large, with lots of seating on light brown couches or aqua chairs surrounding small, low tables. (Seats are fixed, which can make squeezing into a spot a bit challenging when the room is bustling.) Virtually all of the action onboard takes place at the Lounge: It serves as the spot for lectures, socializing, grabbing a book, playing games or sipping cocktails.
The bar itself is tucked into the back corner of the lounge. It offers a variety of spirits and cocktails along with a good variety of local beers and wines.
The sun deck, located on Deck 4 aft, occasionally hosts outdoor barbecues with drinks.
You won't find any pools or hot tubs on National Geographic Venture. But there are a lot of areas for viewing scenery and wildlife. The most-impressive space is the sun deck on Deck 4, the Observation Deck. The sun deck is covered by canopies and has ample seating at tables, in lounge chairs or on couches. The Observation Deck also is the only one you can walk around fully; at the front, it takes you directly below the bridge.
The Lounge Deck features a viewing platform and has a tiered bow, which means even at capacity, sightlines are pretty good.
The marina is located on the Main Deck aft. Passengers access the RIBs here; it requires walking down three stairs to board the boats.
Most of the ship's services are located in the Lounge, where you'll find an internet cafe with two computers, a small library and some games. The ship also has a small gift shop, which highlights the work of artisans and craftsmen. You can also buy Lindblad logo items here. Two swimsuit dryers are located on Deck 3, at the front of the ship. Neither laundry nor dry cleaning is available onboard.
Wi-Fi is available shipwide; it's not included in the cost of the cruise and you'll be charged by the minute. Staff are always available throughout the ship to answer questions about anything from shore excursions to payments.
National Geographic Venture has eliminated all single-use plastics onboard, so it provides passengers refillable water bottles to use during the sailing. Bottles can be filled with filtered water at hydration stations located in the Mud Room on Deck 1 or in the fitness center on Deck 3. Public toilets are located on each of the ship's passenger decks.
Passengers can grab their personal floatation devices for use on the inflatable boats or walking sticks in the Mud Room. This is also the spot for storing damp items, like boots and raincoats, safely so they won't take up room in your cabin.
A small massage room is located on the Lounge Deck, accessible through the ship's fitness center. It's just large enough to house a massage table. Massages, facials, and body, hand and foot treatments are offered. Sign up using the sheet outside the fitness center.
National Geographic Venture's fitness center is well-equipped, with cardio machines including treadmills and stationary bikes along with a universal weight machine and some small dumbbells. You'll also find mats and foam rollers.
The ship's wellness specialist, who provides the massages, also leads morning stretch classes on the sun deck each day. Classes are of the gentle variety. These are capped with a fruit smoothie ahead of breakfast.
Families with children are relatively rare when kids are in school, but during the summer and at holiday time, it's not unusual to see children on National Geographic Venture. Kids tend to be mature minded or at least comfortable in an environment where learning and exploring is par for the course. There are no kids club spaces.
When the ship sails in Alaska, it offers Lindblad's Global Explorers programming. This program has a guide committed to exploring with the children onboard. Activities generally focus on learning and fun, with options such as watercolor painting using ice collected from a glacier. There is no minimum (or maximum -- we're told adults like to participate in these, too) age for participating in the program, nor is there a minimum age to sail. The Global Explorers program only runs on Venture during the Alaska season.
While there are no family-specific cabins, suites on the Observation Deck offer convertible sofas, which can accommodate a third passenger. Additionally, cabins on the Upper and Main decks offer connecting cabin options, which also work for families. Cribs are available for use onboard, though they should be reserved ahead of time.