I Brought All the Wrong Shoes! A Mini-Expedition Aboard Lindblad’s National Geographic Sea Bird

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[Editor’s Note: Author of this post, Karyn Altman is vp of business development for Landry & Kling and Seasite.com. (See bio below). She’d love to tell you more about her Lindblad Expeditions experience. Give her a call at 305 403-3002/888 713-1371 ext 123; or email: kaltman@seasite.com.]

Admittedly, that title is a slight exaggeration. Of the five pairs of shoes I packed for a 2-night/3-day mini-voyage aboard Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Sea Bird, two (including a pair of sneakers) were perfectly appropriate. And my all-weather coat was exactly what I needed for the crisp, cool, slightly damp, October Oregon weather.


I’ve been fortunate to have visited more ships than I could possibly count, but Lindblad Expeditions was a totally new experience for me. Lindblad, in partnership with National Geographic, offers unique itineraries aboard their intimate expedition-style ships in some of the world’s most exciting and off-the-beaten-track destinations. Therefore, I was delighted to receive an invitation for a two night “Taste of the Pacific Northwest” mini-voyage on the Columbia River aboard the 62-guest National Geographic Sea Bird.

The information provided by Lindblad prior to the program was outstanding, including a 21-page Expedition Guide filled with details about the ship, the itinerary, the region, what to expect, what to pack and much more. Pretty impressive for a 2-night mini-expedition, but a wonderful example of Lindblad’s exceptional service and careful attention to detail.

After conferring with Karen Kuttner-Dimitry, Lindblad’s vp of charter sales, about what to pack and what to expect fashion-wise on board, I packed a few extra options just in case. I didn’t want my inexperience in the expedition world to be too obvious! So when Karen described the evenings on board as “dining with friends in a cozy, casual setting,” I packed outfits that were “casually elegant” as well as “casually comfortable.”  Turns out my “casually elegant” items were absolutely unnecessary. Evening attire seemed to be mostly sweaters and casual pants, with no need (not ever) for heels.

Given my history of sailing on more traditional cruise ships, the cabin was rather surprising. For example, there are no keys for the cabins–something I discovered after searching around for a while and then asking one of the ship’s staff, who happened to walk by at the exact right moment. (Cabins do, however, lock from the inside.)

Cabin décor is simple and practical, and my sea-view room was slightly larger than cozy. Amenities in the very basic bathroom included a small pouch with lip balm, shampoo, conditioner, lotions and soap. My queen sized bed (made from two singles put together) was extremely comfortable. In the small but functional closet I found two different types of life jackets–one for safety and one, as I learned the following day, for use on the Zodiacs.

Instead of a high gloss shipboard magazine, Lindblad provides a full sized National Geographic World Atlas, along with a copy of National Geographic magazine–a nice touch, and not surprising, given the partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.

lindblad expeditions

As this ship is designed for exploration, there’s ample deck space and plenty of areas to view the majestic scenery and wildlife. One of the extraordinary features of a Lindblad Expedition is the team of naturalists and local experts who accompany each voyage to serve as guides and offer a wealth of insight and wisdom. Even during our day cruising on the Columbia River, we were treated to an endless array of stories and antidotes about the region, the original inhabitants and the local history. I now know more about Lewis and Clarke then I ever imagined!

Also on board all Lindblad ships are a Wellness Expert and a National Geographic-certified photo instructor who offered some terrific tips. She even created a montage of everyone’s photos, which was displayed on the plasma screens during the final evening reception.

The National Geographic Sea Bird has one main lounge that accommodates everyone on board, including all of the guides. It serves as a the gathering place, bar and library, and is both comfortable and cozy–feeling more like a living room or family room than a traditional public room on a ship. This is the place where everyone gets together for lectures and afternoon snacks, and where everyone mingled in between events and after dinner.

Lindblad is part of Portland-based Food Alliance
Lindblad is part of Portland-based Food Alliance

First of all, Lindblad’s commitment to sustainability and serving local and organic foods whenever possible is inspiring. They are the only member of the travel industry that is part of the Portland-based Food Alliance, which certifies that food on board is produced by well-treated workers, meat products come from humanely-raised animals, and regional soil, water and wildlife habitat are protected. Guests are requested to select their dinner entrees after breakfast; and while you are encouraged to order more then one item, having an idea ahead of time of how many meals to prepare helps Lindblad reduce waste significantly.

There is an assortment of tables in various sizes in the dining room, where meals are served in one seating–buffet style for breakfast, and table-side service for lunch and dinner. Unlike traditional cruise ships offering an endless array of choices per course, this ship serves the same items to everyone, course by course. However, each course was perfectly prepared, fresh and organic.

Special diets and meal requests were handled with ease. In my case, as I’m not a meat eater, my lunchtime grilled turkey and roasted vegetable panini sandwich was immediately transformed into a vegetarian sandwich. For the few guests who managed to still have room for more, second helpings were served with a smile. Fish was fresh, greens were literally just picked from a garden, and fruits and vegetables were locally grown and delicious.

Although this mini-expedition included only one day of exploration cruising, we experienced a taste of what a longer voyage might be like. We sailed first on Hood River, where we disembarked and were transferred via motor coach to the fascinating Columbia Gorge Discovery Center to learn about the history of the region. Following lunch back on board, our voyage continued down the Columbia River with a stop at the Bonneville Dam. After easily maneuvering into our 14-passenger Zodiacs, we had the amazing opportunity of experiencing a downstream lock transit while still in the Zodiacs, but tethered to the National Geographic Sea Bird.

Wildlife viewing was limited due to seasonal weather, but the experience overall was truly extraordinary. Our expert naturalist guides narrated the entire experience and provided fascinating tidbits and stories about the early settlers, Native Americans, and local wildlife.

Following our day of river cruising “in the wild” (pay no attention to the elegant homes gracing both sides of the Columbia River), we returned to the ship and were treated to a “Taste of Oregon”. The delectable buffet of local treats included smoked fish, local cheeses, dried fruits and nuts–the perfect accompaniment to the delicious Oregon wines that were served during this lovely pre-dinner interlude.

A fascinating group of fellow travelers made for some interesting conversations during our voyage. Travel professionals specializing in small ship cruises; representatives from the Smithsonian and National Audubon Societies; foundation executives and specialty cruise buyers were among the 40 or so passengers I sailed with. While a few guests were experiencing Lindblad for the first time, we all shared the same enthusiasm and excitement about exploration cruising, and everyone came away eagerly anticipating another Lindblad Expeditions adventure.

The flight from Miami to Portland was certainly a long haul for a 2-night cruise, but the travel time was well worth it. My incredible Pacific Northwest voyage with Lindblad Expeditions was unlike any cruise I’ve ever experienced–I can only image how amazing the full 7-night journey must be!

Karyn Altman is a 28-year incentive industry professional, having served as director of sales from 1990-95 at Landry & Kling Cruise Events, trailblazers in cruise program management. She rejoined the company in 2008 as part of the executive team launching Seasite.com, the first, online platform for cruise event sourcing. Previously she worked at Starcite.com as VP, National Accounts and managed her own marketing and event production company, Centerpeace, Inc. She currently serves as VP, Communications for MPI South Florida and is a member of SITE Global.

photos © Lindblad Expeditions


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