I had the good fortune of traveling to the Arctic Circle with Lindblad Expeditions in April aboard the operator’s newest ship, the National Geographic Resolution. The trip was entitled “Spring in Svalbard,” and it was mind-blowing on many levels. Sven Lindblad, founder and chairman of the company, was on board as a special guest.
The National Geographic Resolution is Lindblad’s 10th ship. Because the company had the opportunity to build it from scratch, the company could bring its decades of experience operating expedition cruises to the design. The process actually took place with Lindblad’s ninth ship, the National Geographic Endurance. The Resolution is its identical sister.
The Resolution was christened last October and sailed the Antarctic during the austral summer of ’20-21. At the end of the Antarctic season, it was moved to the Arctic.
The Endurance and Resolution were built in Norway by the shipbuilder Ulstein Verft. “In the past we found ships and rebuilt them,” said Sven. “That worked very well. But when we had an opportunity to build the ship from scratch, we got a team together, captains, expedition leaders, people who worked in the hotel department, engineers, a wide array of people who work in the organization. I said, ‘Let’s have a blank sheet here, and let’s figure out what we want. We’ll put down all of our aspirations and see if we can manage to build that ship.’”
One of the most striking features of the ship is the huge expanse of glass that appears throughout the ship in broad picture windows.
“We wanted to build a ship where there was a connection to the outside, no matter where you are in the ship,” said Sven, “in your cabin, in the dining room, on Deck 8 where the library is, the gym, the sauna. Everything looks out onto the surroundings. To us that was very important, along with viewing areas outside in multiple areas so you could really be connected with the outdoors.”
The Resolution is equipped with an arsenal of scientific gear and underwater cameras. There is an indoor garage for the zodiacs, with doors on both sides of the ship for rapid deployment.
“At the same time, the ship is extraordinarily elegant,” said Lindblad. “I think it’s the most elegant ship I’ve ever been on. It’s very Scandinavian in its influence. The interior is understated. We don’t want the inside jarring too much with the outside. And it’s incredibly comfortable.”
Heidi Norling, the captain of the Resolution, told me that the choice of propulsion systems was an important part of the design discussions. The team chose Azipods, a gearless, electric propulsion system that reduces fuel consumption by up to 20 percent compared to conventional shaftline systems.
“The Azipods are pulling the ship,” she said. “We can actually can turn with them, 360 degrees around its own axis. It’s a very smooth way of maneuvering the ship. There are so many possibilities.”
The bridge was designed to be a large public area where guests are welcome at any time. “The bridge is very high tech,” said Heidi. “There’s a lot of useful equipment there. We have special ice radar, and we have sonar so can enter areas where other ships don’t go.”
The ship carries 126 passengers. It’s fully stabilized and in the highest ice class (PC5) of any purpose-built passenger vessel. It incorporates the patented X-BOW, inverted bow concept, which leans back instead of forward as most ships do, providing a smoother, safer ride.
To put this into context, there is the ship, the trip, the destination and the company—all of which deserve at least passing mention here.
Svalbard, an island group claimed by Norway in the Arctic Circle, has been a favorite destination of Lindblad for many years. Sven first visited in 1972, when you couldn’t sail till July because there was too much ice. Gradually, the melting and the opening of the season moved back to June, then to May.
“A few years ago, I came in March to see what it was like,” he said, “and it was absolutely stunning.” The mountains were draped with sheets of gleaming white snow, which would be gone by the time of regular departures in June.
The first voyage of the National Geographic Endurance, the twin sister to the Resolution, was going to be to Svalbard in April 2020, but it had to be postponed because of COVID.
The spring voyage was the fulfillment of the canceled trip, with the Resolution taking the place of the Endurance. Sven Lindblad joined the departure as a special guest.
Everything about the Resolution is the culmination of a family and industry history that pre-dates Lindblad Expeditions itself.
Lindblad Expeditions was founded in 1979. Its 40-plus-year longevity is remarkable enough in this age, but the history of the company goes back much further. The story has to begin with Lars-Eric Lindblad, the father of Sven-Olof Lindblad, the founder and chairman of Lindblad Expeditions.
Lars Lindblad was born in Sweden and emigrated to the U.S.in the 1950s. Originating from the sea-based culture of Scandinavia, he was an explorer who was the forerunner of modern expedition travel. With his company, Lindblad Travel, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, he became famous for being the first to take travelers to many places that were previously beyond the reach of tourism, such as Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, and the Seychelles. He was one of the first to take travelers into China after the opening in the ‘70s.
Roger Tory Peterson, who wrote the Peterson Field Guides to Birds, traveled with Lindblad on some 40 expeditions. He wrote, “If Lars-Eric Lindblad had lived in the year 1000, he probably would have set foot on the North American continent before Leif Ericson. Or, turning eastward, he might have reached China before Marco Polo. The Viking wanderlust is dominant in his genes.”
The model of travel to Antarctica that he designed is still used on most trips today, departing from Ushuaia, Argentina, crossing the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula, and using zodiac landing craft designed by Jacques Cousteau to make landings ashore.
Lars’s son Sven gravitated to his father’s company in the ‘70s. He started Special Expeditions as a branch of Lindblad Travel, then two years later secured the financing to spin it off as an independent business.
That turned out to be a life saver for Special Expeditions when Lindblad Travel got hit hard by the U.S. government for violating a federal ban on travel to Vietnam. Weakened by the loss of cash to fines and lawyers, the company was vulnerable, and when the Tiananmen Square massacre in China in 1989 crashed the China travel industry, Lindblad Travel was forced out of business. Lar-Eric Lindblad died in 1994.
Sven continued to build Special Expeditions, on his father’s legacy and his own experience. In 2000, Sven renamed his company Lindblad Expeditions.
In 2004, Lindblad Expeditions formed a multi-faceted alliance with National Geographic. And it created an infrastructure for collaboration on several fronts, including scientific research, exploration, education, conservation, and dissemination of geographical knowledge.
Navigating through the turbulent waters of the travel industry, Lindblad Expeditions has continued to build itself, to maintain a strong foundation while continuing to extend its vision of discovery and care of the environment.
The Lindblad enterprise was never only, or even primarily, a business. Sven learned from the misfortunes of his father how treacherous business can be and has been able to keep Lindblad Expeditions going for decades. But it was never about making money.
“I really wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father’s company,” he said, “where we could bring people out to these wild places, or places where there was a cultural or historic interest, and imbue them with a sense of wonder about what these places meant, and then in many cases hopefully participate in what we have to do as human beings, which is to generate greater care for these places. We as human beings need to get more engaged in the fact that this is problematic and activate ourselves to support this wonder that gives us so much. Travelers are very important in that regard. You expose people to the beauty and wonder of these places and it changes how people view our relationship with these kinds of places. I feel very fortunate to be in a position where I can help facilitate that connection between people and these extraordinary places.
“That’s what drives me more than anything else, I really want to provide a platform or an opportunity for people to think differently about this essential relationship: us and the planet, and improve that relationship and constantly find ways to make it a better one.”
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com, and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.