National Geographic Endeavour

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This article is a complete re-print of a review by on the Cruise Critic website.  It is the most detailed review I’ve found on the ship, and gives a good idea of what to expect from Lindblad Expeditions while traveling on this vessel.  The Endeavour is the vessel I’ll be sailing on to visit the Falklands and South Georgia.

Main Review

National Geographic Endeavour
National Geographic Endeavour

“If the old adage of “Don’t judge a book by its cover” was ever meant for a ship, then surely it applies to Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour. Launched in 1966 as a North Sea fishing trawler, its decidedly unglamorous appearance is far removed from the modern lines and glassy exterior of today’s cruise ships. Instead, you’ll find the ship is a tough, strong work horse rather than a thin-hulled cruise ship lollygagging in the Caribbean. It’s got a long, tough bow; a pleasing, if somewhat unusual, profile; and numerous cranes for launching kayaks and Zodiacs punctuating her superstructure. Ultimately, N.G. Endeavour is less cruise ship and more of an expedition ship that manages to blend comfort with exploration.

Understanding the differences between an expedition ship and a cruise ship is vital. You won’t find typical cruise ship comforts such as room service, alternative dining venues or even in-cabin TV’s. Forget cabins with balconies, casinos and organized shore excursions as well. Instead, you’ll use N.G. Endeavour as a base camp while voyaging to some of the most beautiful locations on earth, and you’ll find that itineraries are never set in stone. Weather, wildlife and ice conditions might dictate that the afternoon’s plans aren’t decided until, well, the afternoon. Rather than attending a shopping lecture, you’ll spend your trip kayaking amidst Antarctic icebergs or happily waking up at 2 a.m. when you hear a ship-wide announcement saying that a curious polar bear has been spotted ambling over to the ship to take a closer look.

Without all of the regular cruise ship trappings and amenities, how can Lindblad Expeditions get away with fares that are equivalent to the top luxury lines and anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a day? It does so by delivering extraordinary experiences in the most remote regions on earth, a very high degree of comfort, and a healthy dose of excitement, discovery and pure, simple fun. It’s staffed with numerous expert naturalists and equipped with sophisticated toys like a Remote Operated Vehicle that can record remarkable images up to 500 feet below the surface of the ocean.

NG Endeavour
NG Endeavour

As you would expect from the ship’s name, the National Geographic Society now plays an increasingly important role with Lindblad. Initially announced in 2004, the pair strengthened their partnership in 2007, and today photographers from the magazine accompany each sailing, which allows passengers to get personalized instruction from some of the best photographers in the world. The two companies have also created a joint philanthropic fund to support conservation around the world.

Throughout the year, the N.G. Endeavour sails from one end of the earth to the other. The summer months usually find it in Svalbard, way above the Arctic Circle, looking for polar bears. It then winds its way south, often circumnavigating Britain before poking into the Mediterranean for expeditions with a more historical and cultural bent. From November to March, the ship stays in Antarctica before slowly making its way through Atlantic isles like Tristan de Cuhna and St Helena towards Europe. In the early summer, it will visit Norway before finding its way back to Svalbard. Occasionally, it may instead venture to remote Pacific isles, but with its ice-strengthened hull, it is usually deployed to the polar regions.

For those who worry that a former fishing trawler might be a simple, spartan ship with spare decor and minimalist facilities, think again. In 1983, it underwent a thorough conversion for Exploration Cruise Line to become the passenger ship North Star; the conversion left behind no traces of its past except for its robust hull. Purchased by a new owner in 1989, it was significantly refurbished and renamed Caledonian Star. Lindblad then bought the ship in 1996. Two years later, the ship underwent another major refurbishment to prepare it for worldwide cruising and in 2001, was again renamed — this time, Endeavour. Finally, Lindblad renamed the ship National Geographic Endeavour in 2005.

Today, it is an extremely comfortable, well-maintained and attractive ship full of charm and character; it reflects the company’s belief that expedition does not mean deprivation.

The cozy library is one of the most appealing rooms on any ship, and standard cabins, while snug, are attractively furnished. There may be only one dining room (and breakfast and lunch are buffets, rather than served off a menu), but the food is surprisingly tasty and varied. You can’t exactly call this ship luxury, but it is comfortable, pleasing and homey — and it doesn’t take long to feel affectionate towards the sturdy little ship.

The deck layouts
The deck layouts

Inflatable rubber Zodiacs are an integral part of the expedition experience; they enable you to land just about anywhere (and occasionally require you to wade through the surf to reach land.) You’ll also take rides on the Zodiacs where you’ll get right up against rocky coasts or circle beautiful ice formations. Endeavour also carries 24 double person, inflatable kayaks, and anyone (including beginners) can paddle these comfortably, safely and easily.

Other clever tools include a video microscope in the main lounge that magnifies images up to 400 times, meaning you can get more up close and personal with the body of a krill than you ever expected. Hydrophones are on hand to record whales singing underwater, and a high definition “Splash Cam” allows the undersea specialist to film the underwater life whenever he dives. (Diving in the polar regions isn’t for those with weak constitutions, and Lindblad’s naturalists have literally written the book on diving and filming along the Antarctica peninsula.) Equally impressive is the Remote Operated Vehicle. Unique to Lindblad, it records astonishingly beautiful color video and offers sea views that go far deeper than any diver could.

While the technology is a great asset, it doesn’t compare to the role that the 11 onboard naturalists will play on a trip. It goes without saying that these veteran guides, many with advanced degrees, are very knowledgeable. Happily, they are also accessible, friendly and enthusiastic. You’ll bond with them on guided walks ashore, over meals, and in the bar at night, and with each one having a different knowledge base (geology, biology, etc), we just about guarantee you won’t be able to stump all of them with any question.

Saving the Explorer
Saving the Explorer

Lindblad and National Geographic’s joint motto of “Inspiring people to travel and care about the planet” emphasizes their strong belief in giving back to the areas in which they sail. Don’t be surprised to partake in a forum on climate change, and you’ll hear plenty of talk from the naturalists about company-supported conservation efforts. In typically clever Lindblad marketing, passengers are encouraged to support a conservation fund by deducting up to $500 off the next cruise in exchange for donating $500 towards the fund. (In Antarctica, for instance, the money goes towards Oceanites, a research group that conducts studies on penguin populations from the N.G. Endeavour.)

In the end, you choose Lindblad for its excellent enrichment program, the sense of enjoyment and fun it delivers and the knowledge that the Captain and crew go out of their way to deliver an exciting, unique expedition every time. Lindblad traces its roots back to Lindblad Travel, which lead the first cruises to Antarctica and the Galapagos and helped create the industry now known as eco-tourism. The company works hard to keep that pioneering, adventurous spirit alive, and while you’re ensconced in snug surroundings, you’ll venture to places that even other small ships don’t go.

Editor’s note: The National Geographic Endeavour has stabilizers and is a superb sea-keeping ship. Many of the routes it sails, however, may take it over rough weather, and being small, the ship may move around far more than any large cruise ship sailing the Caribbean ever will.”

Dining

“Lindblad’s environmental commitment extends to the food it serves, and company chefs seek local and fresh products that are grown or caught in an environmentally sustainable method. For instance, a fleet-wide policy prevents the serving of shrimp because of the large amount of marine life killed as a byproduct of shrimp harvesting.

Heading back after an Expedition
Heading back after an Expedition

Breakfast and lunch are buffets, usually with four choices of appetizers and entrees, and one dessert. Dinner is served by friendly Filipino waiters off a menu and includes three appetizers, three entrees (one seafood, one meat and one vegetarian) and one dessert. For instance, options on my Antarctic voyage included Ballottine of Argentine Flounder and Salmon, Indian Style Butter Chicken Stew, Penne Pasta in Creamy Blue Mussel Sauce, Roasted Breast of Ostrich, Vegetarian Curry, Vegetarian Laksa with Noodles and Crispy Tofu, and straightforward choices like beef tenderloin. Sample desserts included pannacotta with vanilla and cardamom, or chocolate sponge cake with coconut. Fresh, flavorful breads were baked for each dinner.

All meals are served in the ship’s bright and attractive dining room located forward. With no assigned seating, it becomes part of the social fun to sit with new people, or join the naturalists, every day. If you want to get away from everyone, a few tables for two do exist, but most tables are for six or eight.

Tea is held daily in the lounge (but don’t expect white gloves and table service), and cocktail hour with hot appetizers precedes the nightly, pre-dinner Recap.

When conditions permit, the ship puts on a special event like fresh crepes in the lounge for tea time or hot dogs and beer on the after decks. While alcoholic drinks are available at reasonable prices, there were numerous opportunities and cocktail hours when drinks were on the house. Hot chocolate (with Baileys or Whiskey) is offered from a Zodiac when out kayaking in cold regions or at special events like swimming in Antarctica, and mulled wine was offered on deck when crossing the Antarctic Circle.”

Public Rooms

“With only two public rooms on the ship, most activity takes place in the lounge. Big enough to seat all passengers at once, it is flanked by large windows looking out onto the narrow promenade deck and the sea (or glaciers and mountains) beyond. Here, passengers gather for the many lectures or nightly Recap, and a small bar (with a friendly bartender who has been with the ship for around two decades) keeps the room buzzing during cocktail hours and after dinner. A large plasma screen placed on the bulkhead supplements the presentations with videos or images from the video microscope. Chairs are fixed in location around small cocktail tables, but the actual seat of the chair does swivel. The swiveling chairs enable a fair degree of flexibility if you want to expand your group or talk to the table next to yours.

Kayaking off the Endeavour
Kayaking off the Endeavour

A small section forward of the bar feels somewhat separate from the rest of the room, which is convenient for those that may not want to be as active participants as others but can make it slightly difficult to include the whole room in discussions. Settees run along the side of the room.

One deck above is the ski-lodge-cozy library, where plush leather chairs (secured to the deck in case of adverse ship movement) are situated near floor to ceiling windows. There is a large selection of books and reference material for the many regions the ship sails, along with a National Geographic globe and a screen showing the ship’s position on an electronic chart. Tins of cookies and hot water and coffee are always available, and passengers are asked to treat the library as a “quiet area” and carry on any conversations in the lounge.

The bridge is always open to passengers, and it essentially becomes another public room. It isn’t uncommon to find up to 20 people crowded in the little bridge when navigating through the ice or approaching a berth. Happily, the officers are extremely patient and friendly while still maintaining their concentration.

Internet is available through a wireless network in the public rooms, through a network connection in each cabin and through an internet kiosk with three stations. As on any ship, access is, of course, subject to geographic conditions such as mountain ranges blocking the signal, but we found service was limited only for short periods of times and that it was generally reliable — pretty impressive considering we were in Antarctica! At the gift shop, you can purchase prepaid access debit cards, with three plans offering 30 minutes for $22.50 ($0.75 per minute), 100 minutes for $55 ($0.55 per minute) and 250 minutes for $100 ($0.40 per minute.) Once purchased, the cards are valid onboard any Lindblad owned ship for a period of one year.”

Cabins

“Like most expedition ships, the N.G. Endeavor has fairly small cabins that would fall well short of the modern cruise industry standard. Even the highest priced cabins lack big ship-style extras like balconies, bathtubs and walk-in closets.

Lindblad and National Geographic
Lindblad and National Geographic

Standard cabins are attractively decorated with smart looking wood trim, and all have outside views. Each has individual climate control. Unlike modern ships, the narrow, single beds can only be converted into a queen in six cabins, so book early if you want one. There’s a small writing desk.

Storage space is ample; beyond a nice array of drawers and closets with a good amount of space, there are numerous hooks (most helpful for hanging up your wet parka and waterproof pants). As is the case with all Lindblad Expedition owned ships, there are no keys to the cabins, and you can only lock them from the inside.

Category 1, 2 and 4 cabins vary slightly in their square footage (due to the shape of the hull) and range from around 120 square ft. to up around 160 square ft. The main difference is their deck number and whether there are windows or portholes. The lowest priced Category 1 cabins may feel a bit forgotten at the bottom of the ship, but the furnishings and size are of the same standard as you’ll find elsewhere. (Note that Category 2 cabins 122 and 125 have a window as opposed to the portholes in other Category 2 cabins, although they have a slightly irregular layout.)

Zodiac Excursion
Zodiac Excursion

Though sacrificing windows for portholes, Category 3 cabins offer the best value per square foot and feature a separate sitting room like the most expensive Category 5 cabins. The Category 5 staterooms, which range from between 180 to 230 square ft., are the most expensive onboard and feature the aforementioned separate sitting area. Other than more space (and a lot more light from larger windows), these cabins have the same amenities as the rest.

The shower-only bathrooms are also small. Water pressure was excellent, although there are curtains rather than glass doors around the showers. While lacking a medicine cabinet behind the mirror, there is ample, but not excessive, storage from two small shelves and a few shelves in the built-in unit below the sink. While the toilet doesn’t form part of the shower stall like some basic expedition ships we’ve seen, there isn’t any chance you’ll be getting two people in the bathroom at the same time. You also won’t find little packages of soap in the bathroom — instead, expect a liquid dispenser for shampoo, shower gel and lotion that helps cut out environmentally wasteful packaging.

Endeavour Travel map for Antarctic Voyages
Endeavour Travel map for Antarctic Voyages

No cabins have TV’s, which helps to preserve the communal atmosphere in the lounge during presentations and cocktail parties by not giving people the option to hole up in their cabins watching a movie though you can listen to lectures through the two-channel radio in your cabin. There are no safes in the cabins, either. Internet access is available in every cabin if you bring your own laptop.

In a nice gesture to passengers traveling on their own, several staterooms are designated single cabins, with corresponding fares only around 25 percent higher than normal double occupancy rates. This is a substantial savings from the usual 50 to 100 percent surcharge many other cruise lines charge. Additionally, Lindblad can arrange cabin shares in the two lowest cabin categories, and several cabins can accommodate a third person at a 50 percent discount.

Vibration from the propellers and noise from the engine is noticeable unless you are in a cabin all the way forward. There isn’t anything that can be done about it, and it isn’t worth complaining about. Bring earplugs if you are particularly sensitive to noise. (The sound of ice going down the side of the hull also makes for some jarring nighttime moments.) Insulation between cabins was very good; I didn’t hear either of my neighbors once during my expedition.”

Entertainment

“On just about any Lindblad expedition, the primary entertainment is the destination itself, and you will remain busy with multiple landings and lectures. Wake-up calls are broadcast throughout the entire ship by the Expedition Leader starting as early as 6:30 a.m. (or earlier, if need be), and usually you’ll be on the go until dinner. Happily, Lindblad usually works in a few hours of downtime during the day for a nap around lunch or before pre-dinner info sessions.

Landings on shore are the main activities, and these can vary tremendously by the region you are sailing in. In Antarctica, passengers are given fairly wide boundaries to explore on the landing site, allowing everyone the opportunity to interact with penguins on a more personal level; while in the Arctic, excursions ashore are more of the tightly controlled “follow the leader” type due to the threat of polar bears. On Mediterranean itineraries, you’ll expect more of an emphasis on the culture and history of lesser-known ports, with walking tours, some Zodiac rides and kayaking trips likely, while the British Isles offer a mix of nature and culture.

Before dinner is the Lindblad tradition of Recap. Just about everyone gathers in the lounge for pre-dinner drinks and hot hors d’oeuvres, and several of the naturalists will give short presentations regarding what you’ve seen that day. There might be video shot by the undersea specialist on his or her dive that morning or a discussion on the feeding pattern of whales. At the end of Recap, the Expedition Leader will announce, as best as possible, the next day’s plans and intended landings.

By the time dinner is done, most everyone heads to bed, although a few hardy souls enjoy some friendly camaraderie with the naturalists in the bar for a few hours. During longer ocean crossings or less intense voyages away from the polar regions, more evening activities or lectures might be scheduled.

For many, photography is a key activity, and there are few better laboratories than the N.G. Endeavour to hone your skills. A National Geographic photographer (in addition to a Lindblad professional photographer) accompanies every sailing and helps you get the perfect shot. There are usually seminars and presentations, which may include showing sample photos taken by passengers during the week in an effort to illustrate what they did right and wrong. Even better are the one-on-one moments on deck or on shore when you can simply walk right up to them and say, “You know, I’m shooting with an ISO of 200 and an F-Stop of 11. What about you?” Many passengers come with serious, professional grade cameras and equipment, and if you want to learn to improve your skills, whether beginner or advanced, you’ll find plenty of time to ask questions.”

Spa & Fitness

“Fitness facilities are fairly limited, although there is a gym on the top deck with large windows facing aft and two stationary bikes, two treadmills, two stair climbers, one elliptical trainer, a sit up bench and a regular bench. A small sauna open until midnight is adjoining the gym, with set times for men only, women only and mixed sex use.

There is also a masseuse onboard and a “Wellness Program” where you can get treatments such as a “Salt Iguana Body Rub” or “Humpback Whale Deep Tissue Massage.” A small pool is located on the open deck for use in warm climates, and stretching classes are offered in the morning.

Wherever you go, though, you’ll enjoy a fleet of 24 double person kayaks that allow even first time paddlers to get out on the water. (Thanks to Lindblad’s invention of a floating, mobile launching platform, this might even be possible in the middle of the Atlantic!)

Many will get plenty of exercise on shore on walks, and the crew will offer various activity levels (longer walks, shorter walks, etc) depending on fitness ability where appropriate.

A heads up: During voyages to the polar regions, the ship will not tie up at a dock. Instead, everyone goes ashore using the Zodiacs. While crew are on hand to help you in and out, you have to be at least somewhat agile, and some landings on shore are “wet,” which means you’ll have to wade for a few feet in the surf.

There is no elevator onboard.”

Family & Children

“Unlike other expedition companies, Lindblad has seen strong growth in family travel and welcomes children on any of its expeditions. The company realizes that expeditions should be fun, and what kid wouldn’t enjoy sitting with penguins or going for a Zodiac ride through the ice?

While a majority comes during the holidays and summers, of course, families are welcome year round. There are neither special facilities for children nor official organized activities, but we found early teenage kids having a grand time in Antarctica with the wildlife, the kayaks and the naturalists. The staff is very supportive of children that take an interest in what they’re seeing, and an expedition can be a great learning opportunity (as well as great family bonding.) As long as they don’t have to be glued to their iPods every minute and can appreciate their surroundings, they’ll have a great time.

Editor’s note: Children under 18 get $500 off their fare.”

Fellow Passengers

“With expeditions on the N.G. Endeavour costing anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per day, fellow passengers are usually well traveled, well educated and well to do. Taking an active interest in the world, they want to see, do and learn as much as possible. They often choose to be woken up in the middle of the night if the midnight sun is creating beautiful colors for photography and will be in bed by 10 p.m. so that they are ready to be up on deck before breakfast. They are willing to pay the oft-substantial premium for a Lindblad trip in order to get the best expedition possible.

Very few would regularly choose to take a typical large ship cruise, and a large percentage will have traveled with Lindblad before or have traveled on other expedition-oriented trips. The average age tends to be in the 50’s and older, but you will find a few couples in their 30’s and 40’s in addition to families. This age increases on the longer ocean passages and less adventurous cruises, and is somewhat lower when the ship is in the polar regions, as younger, more adventurous passengers sign up for a “trip of a lifetime.” Most everyone onboard is friendly and interesting and enjoys getting to meet like-minded people.”

Dress Code

“Dress onboard is very casual, and during the day, you’ll find people wearing what they need for going ashore or kayaking. After a clean-up shower and a fresh shirt, most evenings are similarly casual, with sweatshirts and jeans common. There are a few nights, however, (such as the Captain’s cocktail party evening) when a large majority, but not all, passengers choose to dress up a bit with a jacket (but rarely a tie), a sweater or a nicer set of slacks. Despite the lack of a formal dress code, few cross the line from casual to sloppy.

Women can leave behind the jewelry and lots of make up, as that level of dressing up is simply not done onboard.

Editor’s note: Not quite sure what clothes to bring on an expedition? On its Web site, Lindblad offers a recommended packing list — and even sells the appropriate items. For ultimate ease, there are packages offered that are geared toward particular destinations. Trust the Lindblad packing list — and buy the clothing packages if you don’t already have what they recommend.”

Gratuity

“Gratuities are recommended at $12 to $15 per day.”

–by Ben Lyons, a New York City-based writer whose contributions to Cruise Critic typically revolve around small ships that travel to offbeat locales.
Last Updated: 08/05/08

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