Lindblad Expeditions' 48-passenger National Geographic Islander II is the company's newest vessel in the Galapagos Islands. Replacing the former National Geographic Islander (a 48-passenger, catamaran-style vessel), Lindblad acquired the former Crystal Esprit in 2021, renaming it National Geographic Islander II after a modest refit. And, in the process, Lindblad elevated its Galapagos offerings substantially.
Built in 1988, National Geographic Islander II doesn't look its age, thanks to a sweeping refit that its former luxury owner put the vessel through in 2015. And while much of the Crystal Cruises décor has stayed the same (why change what isn't broken?) Lindblad Expeditions has put its own distinctive touches on this unique vessel that has found a new lease on life as a year-round luxury ship in the Galapagos.
At just 280 feet, this five-deck passenger ship is easy to find your way around, but still big enough that guests never feel like they can't find a quiet place onboard to relax and reflect.
Islander II is also Lindblad Expeditions' first all-suite ship: each of the 26 suites onboard is decidedly spacious, and just two categories are offered, meaning passengers are treated to a universal level of comfort, not to mention a passenger-crew ratio that is better than 1:1.
It is a large step up from Galapagos fleetmate National Geographic Endeavor II, which caries 96 passengers in accommodations that could best be described as "cozy". It's not a negative; rather, a quantifier: National Geographic Islander II is well suited for those who want an educationally-minded Galapagos cruise, but who don't want to skimp on the creature comforts while onboard, too.
And comforts, there are: nearly all beverages, including local beers and spirits, are complimentary around-the-clock, though some top-shelf wines and spirits can be purchased for an extra cost.
Public rooms are inviting and well-appointed, and suites are lavishly decorated and adorned with local Ecuadorian touches. It's the kind of expedition ship that exudes both class and intimacy at the same time; a welcomed home base to return to after a day of exploring the wonders of the Galapagos Islands.
In addition to hikes ashore guided by the dedicated Ecuadorian expedition team, National Geographic Islander II carries five Zodiac rafts, a glass-bottomed boat, one and two-person kayaks, snorkeling gear, and even stand-up paddleboards for passengers to use when conditions permit.
If anything, that's the ship's only downfall: with so much to do ashore, some of the vessel's luxurious touches and public rooms are lost on passengers who, after a long day of exploration, are simply too exhausted to enjoy nightcaps in the forward observation lounge or peruse the interactive in-room television system's gargantuan array of movies and documentaries. Sleep -- and Islander II's wonderful beds -- call to weary explorers early, and often.
The National Geographic Islander II deck plan is straightforward and easy to learn. Passenger accommodations are located on Decks 2 and 3, while Deck 4 is devoted to dining and lounging. Deck 5, the uppermost Sun Deck, is surprisingly large for a ship of this size, and even offers its own forward swimming pool and hammocks at the back. If you're lost and can't find Deck 5, fear not: while it can't be accessed from the interior of the ship, two spiral external staircases at the back of Deck 3 whisk passengers topside.
An unusual deck plan feature of National Geographic Islander II is the ship's Navigation Bridge on Deck 3 forward, which can be visited by passengers at any time thanks to Lindblad's generous Open Bridge Policy.
A marina platform on Deck 1 at the back allows for zodiac loading right from the shelter of the ship, which is excellent considering the swells that are seemingly ever-present in the Galapagos. Prior to this outdoor area, passengers pass through a Mud Room where snorkeling gear and other items like wetsuits can be stored.
There are also little unexpectedly delightful areas of National Geographic Islander II's deck plan: the ship has a mini outdoor promenade deck that runs along both sides of the ship, connected by a front viewing area located on the roof of the Navigation Bridge. It's an unusual feature for a ship of this size, providing yet more outdoor deck space.
Ditto for the stern area at the back on Deck 2: previously a mooring area, this outdoor space has some different couches to relax on and offers a great vantage point to watch the loading and unloading of the ship's zodiacs. And, because ships in the Galapagos never dock anywhere (all ships are at anchor and ferry passengers to and from land via Zodiacs), this once-working area is available for passengers to enjoy.
Cabins on National Geographic Islander II Are Spacious and Cozy
Unlike larger ships that have a confusing number of accommodations, there are only two kinds of cabins aboard National Geographic Islander II: Suites, and Islander Suites.
These rooms are a huge step up for Lindblad Expeditions. Historically, its older vessels have always offered accommodations that came in on the small side, often with separated beds that could not be pushed together (though this isn't the case on the line's newest ships, like National Geographic Endurance.
Aboard National Geographic Islander II, passengers will not want for space: standard suites start at 280 square feet and offer two picture windows that let in plenty of daylight. Little luxe touches, like elegant headboards and upscale light fixtures, are a leftover from the ship's days as Crystal Esprit, but work well in this environment: nothing seems out of place, and the massive 2015 refit was so well done that, to be honest, there's little reason Lindblad should change any of it.
What Lindblad did do, however, was convert eight smaller rooms into four spacious Islander Suites. These new rooms are 515 square feet and offer their own living and sleeping areas, along with rain shower and tub-equipped bathrooms. And, in keeping with Lindblad's family-friendly nature, one of these large Islander Suites can even be turned into a special Family Suite, thanks to a connecting door with an adjacent regular suite.
Cuisine aboard National Geographic Islander II is, wherever possible, influenced by Ecuadorian and Galapagos ingredients and flavors. From breakfasts in the airy Patio Café aft on Deck 4 (with its enormous outdoor seating area) to multi-course dinners in the elegant Yacht Club Restaurant, passengers will always find a local specialty of the day, paired with dishes that are easily accessible to North American tastes, yet which utilize local ingredients wherever possible.
The result is a culinary odyssey that invites passengers to discover the cuisines of Ecuador and surrounding regions. Local beers from Galapagos and Ecuador are offered onboard, along with a very decent wine list for a ship of this size.
Room service isn't offered, but snacks are available at the coffee stations on Decks 2 and 4 around the clock, and canapes are served at the pre-dinner expedition briefings and cocktail hours held in the forward-facing Cove Lounge.
For the most up-to-date testing, masking, and vaccination requirements aboard National Geographic Islander II, please refer to Lindblad Expeditions' health and safety protocols.
Passengers aboard National Geographic Islander II are predominantly English-speaking Americans who are interested in nature and education. They are well-travelled and affluent (as one might expect from an expedition running just south of $10,000 per person), but down to earth and sociable. Lindblad does an excellent job of catering to families with kids, and multi-generational groups are not an uncommon sight on these expeditions.
Passengers run the gamut of ages, from couples in their forties and fifties looking to explore the bucket-list Galapagos; to retirees who have done multiple expeditions with Lindblad and are impressed with the line's commitment to education, research, and conservation.
Guests aboard National Geographic Islander II are, above all else, curious about the natural world. Many are amateur birders, photographers and wildlife aficionados, and some either have been (or are currently) employed in similar professions. Expect to meet doctors, medical professionals, executives, educators, and more on these sailings.
Also expect a good deal of inclusivity on these sailings: those identifying as LGBTQ+, people of color, and others are welcomed warmly by both passengers and crew.