Alaska Three Ways: Touring the Last Frontier with Lindblad, Globus, and NCL | Travel Research Online


Alaska Three Ways: Touring the Last Frontier with Lindblad, Globus, and NCL

I’ve been there on a Norwegian cruise; I’ve been there on a Globus coach tour. But when Lindblad Expeditions invited me on their 40th Anniversary sailing to Alaska, I knew I was in for a different kind of experience.

We sailed into the sunset on the National Geographic Venture, Lindblad’s partner since 2004, with about 80 intrepid explorers, most of them enthusiastic return guests. One lady was on her 30th cruise (and only tight finances had prevented more, she said), but most had sailed with Lindblad six or eight times before, to far-flung destinations around the globe. They promised we would experience good service, make friends with the crew, and be educated by the National Geographic scientists who trade their knowledge for free passage to remote locations. It’s a cooperative venture that works for everyone.

Our onboard experts included the author of a book on whales, a NatGeo photographer with cameras and giant lenses he loaned out and showed people how to use, a birder and a naturalist, a marine biologist and octopus expert, a deep sea diver and a sociologist expert in the ways and history of First Nations. They each did a nightly recap from their personal perspective and some gave formal presentations. But more important, they sat with us during meals and rode in our zodiacs and ‘oohed and aahed’ at the sights with us—and we were free to chat or pick their brains all day every day.

If you are wondering who’s the right customer for a Lindblad Expedition, look first to those whose interest is in nature or photography. One guest on our ship was a frequent entrant in photography contests; our trip in Alaska offered her both amazing subjects and expert tips. There were a number of retired college professors, a handful of bird watchers, a few singles happy for the opportunity to pass their days with educated and interesting staff members and fellow travelers.

Of course, while I was interested in much of what the experts had to say, the best part for me was the joy of being on a small ship, with a small crowd of people and a big fleet of zodiacs. Sailing the first week of the Alaska season, and with just 80 guests, we were welcomed as the first visitors of the year in many spots—a reminder of just how important the travel industry is to local economies that always makes me proud that my job has a greater purpose. While news of protests to the hordes of visitors in Europe filtered in, our small group was welcomed by First Nation villagers and local businesses who haven’t seen an outsider in a year or two. We were the first group to visit the Alaska Raptor Center since Covid, and the honored guests at a private potlatch, where we felt welcomed in that special way of small-town people happy to see a new face after a long winter.

A Little Background

National Geographic Venture launched in 2018 as the fourth ship in the Alaska fleet. Lindblad Expeditions and NatGeo have been partners since 2004, when their founders united “based on their shared DNA,” our expedition leader John Mitchell told me. The two original ships, Sea Bird and Sea Lion, hold 63 passengers; Venture and Quest hold 106 each. Two ice-class vessels, Endurance and Resolution, joined in 2020 and sail predominantly in the polar regions.

In a booming season for Alaska—one speaker cited a 40% increase over last year, which itself was a record year—ships and tour groups of all sizes are headed this way, said Mitchell—and with good reason. “I love it here; I’ve been coming since I was a kid. I’m awed by the immensity of this place, tied with the microscopic things, the interconnectivity. It’s the best place to understand how land and ocean are part of one full cycle.” (As a reporter, I’ll just note that’s a sentence I’ve not often heard from a tour guide, even in Alaska.)

While the very best time to visit here is from the last week or two of June through the first week of August, “when the daylight hours are longer, so there is more krill and plankton, and all of the cycles are in overdrive,” global warming is bringing higher temperatures and more sun earlier in the year. “We are seeing Alaska waking up after the winter, before the throngs,” he noted.

Indeed, we sailed and zodiacked in sunshine almost all day every day, past humpback whales and moose, fish and coral, flora and fauna of every sort. We hiked through rainforests covered in moss, watched a bear happily slurp his lunch and a pair of moose wander in the sunset, played with porpoises who surrounded the ship and swam with us for miles. We got into nooks and corners on land and sea, watched the eternal battle for survival between sea lions and halibut a foot or two from our zodiacs, talked with First Nation peoples whose parents had been locked away in boarding schools and forced to give up their native language and heritage.

How is this ship different from other ships?

As every travel advisor knows, every trip has its unique personality and its perfect guest—and, if you’re a traveler like me, there’s never been a trip you didn’t find interesting and fun in some way. While most of the guests onboard Venture pooh-poohed the large ships, I like the choice of restaurants and the show after dinner that comes with 2,000 fellow passengers. I liked riding the gondolas at Icy Strait when we sailed Norwegian (Norwegian Adds Two Alaska Experiences: Wilderness Pier and Ward Cove Join the Encore Itinerary | Travel Research Online); I liked taking the train to Denali and sleeping over, and playing with the Iditarod dog puppies on our Globus tour (North to Alaska: The Rosens Hit the Ground on a Globus Tour of the 49th State | Travel Research Online). For me—and especially in the vast wilderness that is Alaska—every trip has something unique to offer.

Sailing a small ship means roughing it a bit. I thought the food was fresh and delicious and well seasoned, but the menu options were limited to one meat, one fish and one vegan choice (plus the ubiquitous daily strip steak, chicken breast, or pasta). Not every room has a balcony; there is no TV, and internet in the rooms is spotty. Lectures—and of course, the view—are the only entertainment.

But for those who like to paddleboard and hike their way through the rainforest, get up close to the bears and the birds in a zodiac, chat with brilliant scientific minds over lunch, Lindblad’s National Geographic Venture might just be the cruise of a lifetime.

Set against the backdrop of gleaming glaciers and endless forest, with the chance to step into the culture of the peoples who have inhabited and protected these lands from the beginning of time, it’s sure to be a trip you will not soon forget.

Travel advisors who are interested in experiencing a Lindblad expedition and learning how to sell it are welcome to join a fam trip. “As the industry shifts, we see more bookings through travel advisors, and we are doing more fam trips for them fleetwide,” Mitchell said.

(For photos and commentary I posted along the way, please visit my Facebook page (20+) Cheryl Rosen | Facebook)

Cheryl Rosen on cruise

Cheryl’s 40-year career in journalism is bookended by roles in the travel industry, including Executive Editor of Business Travel News in the 1990s, and recently, Editor in Chief of Travel Market Report and admin of Cheryl Rosen’s Group for Travel Professionals, a news and support group on Facebook. As an independent contractor since retiring from the 9-to-5 to travel more, she has written regular articles about the life and business of travel agents for Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent, and Insider Travel Report. She also writes and edits for professional publications in the financial services, business, and technology sectors.

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