Whales are a common sighting on Lindblad’s Alaska cruises. // © 2013 Peter Knego
Midway through a recent Alaska cruise, Lindblad Expeditions' 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Lion altered course toward a pod of humpback whales in the dusky waters of Chatham Strait. Passengers converged near the bow, cameras and binoculars poised to capture a blow or an elusive fluke. Meanwhile, a massive cruise liner, fiber optic lights blazing, sped obliviously across the horizon. Mere yards away from a whale’s spout, an excited fellow guest mused, “They have no idea what they are missing.”
During the course of a week, aside from Juneau and Sitka, the only familiar places visited by the Sea Lion were Glacier Bay National Park and the tiny fishing town of Petersburg on Mitkof Island. Otherwise, Sea Lion sought out remote anchorages and pristine coves where it would launch a quartet of Zodiacs on naturalist-hosted tours or beach landings where guests could further explore on foot or via kayaks.
Among the journey’s many highlights were a sunny afternoon sailing through the Tracy Arm Fjord underneath glistening, 2,000-foot basalt cliffs, buzzing via Zodiac through the ice fields of the frequently calving South Sawyer Glacier and a Zodiac ride into the nutrient-rich seas of Inian Pass, where Steller sea lions and bald eagles dive for their prey. There were daily kayak excursions and hikes of varying lengths and fitness levels through muddy forests and along bear trails. In addition to the humpbacks, wildlife sightings included orcas, porpoises, bald eagles, brown bears, harbor seals, sea otters, numerous bird species and even minks.
With seven National Geographic-vetted naturalists onboard, there was no shortage of experts on cetaceans, bears, indigenous plants, glaciers and geology. In addition to detailed educational presentations, there were also photo courses offering tips on how best to digitally capture the indigenous flora and fauna.
The 152-foot ship features three passenger decks with plenty of open observation space, three categories of ocean-view cabins ranging from 94 to 112 square feet, a lounge and dining room. There is a tiny spa and a workout area as well.
Service in the dining room and throughout the ship, while not stuffy and heel-clicking, was impeccable. The friendly crew was intuitive, engaging, courteous and quick to remember guests’ names, dietary and beverage preferences.
Meals are open seating and casual, with lunch and dinner featuring freshly baked breads, an appetizer (either a soup or salad) and a choice of three entrees (fresh fish, meat or vegetarian) and dessert. Breakfast is buffet-style with fresh fruits, cereals, yogurt, bacon and an egg dish. The cuisine is excellent and, one night per Alaska cruise, there is an all-you-can-eat crab feast with fresh Dungeness caught earlier that day. Lindblad sources ingredients that are environmentally sustainable and, whenever possible, farmed locally.
National Geographic Sea Lion and sistership National Geographic Sea Bird sail year-round in the eastern Pacific region, venturing to Panama, Costa Rica and the Sea of Cortez in the winter and the Columbia River and Alaska in the summer.