The Lindblad Difference

Columbia River voyage on the Sea Lion

By: Judy M. Zimmerman

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Mount Hood and the Columbia River
In the lobby of the RiverPlace Hotel on Portland’s waterfront, his dark eyes smiled as he approached to welcome me. Framing his tanned, weathered face was a long beard and mane of wiry, white hair. Jerry Igo would be the resident botanist aboard the MV Sea Lion for our week-long Columbia River expedition, “In The Wake of Lewis and Clark.”

“The Sea Lion has encountered bad weather in the Pacific, causing our embarkation to be delayed,” Jerry explained. “Dinner will be at the hotel instead of aboard ship as scheduled.”

At dinner that night Jerry reinforced his ancient mariner image.

“I have lived on the Columbia River for 75 years, canoed and kayaked 400 miles of it,” he said.

In the coming week, Jerry’s many other talents and professional achievements also surfaced. Indeed, it’s the expertise of all the cruise company’s naturalists, historians and researchers that makes a Lindblad voyage unique. The Lindblad “difference,” as stated by its founder, Sven-Olof Lindblad, is to enrich the lives of passengers through encounters with beauty, wildness and the seldom-seen. Junius Rochester, the Sea Lion’s highly qualified historian, believes that Lindblad passengers are also different.

“The joy of experiential learning is their greatest entertainment,” he said. “They also tend to be slightly younger than other small ship cruise lines, probably because of the Zodiacs, kayaks, short hikes and other outdoor activities.”

Highlights of our Lewis and Clark itinerary included an imposing view of Mount Hood; a Snake River jetboat in Hell’s Canyon, one of the country’s deepest gorges; a Zodiac exploration of the Palouse River mouth and dramatic Palouse Falls; natural and cultural history exhibits at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center; and in Astoria, Ore., a visit to Fort Clapsop, where Lewis and Clark spent a dismal winter.

Aboard ship I noticed the familiar National Geographic Society emblem prominently placed beside Lindblad’s own blue-and-white logo. In 2004, the two formed a partnership to support a better understanding of the unique and pristine places around the world.

“Within the next several years, National Geographic researchers will be aboard all six Lindblad ships,” said Expedition leader Larry Prussin. “Our partnership promotes many conservation solutions, including a ‘seafood for thought’ philosophy. We serve only species that are not overfished or caught by practices that have serious negative environmental impact. For example, shrimp are not served because they are not reproducing at a proper rate,” said Prussin.

In keeping with Lindblad’s focus on education and responsible travel practices, all 31 outside cabins are utilitarian and small (95-110 square feet), but well-maintained with adequate storage and twin or double beds. Except for six cabins on the main deck, they all have a picture window and a door that opens onto a common exterior deck. In the tiny bathroom, the shower nozzle is opposite the toilet. There is a no-key policy, no cabin service, no safety deposit boxes (jewelry is discouraged), no ship’s doctor or laundry service. Public areas on the 25-year-old ship are basic, but improvements are made in dry dock every year.

Amenities include a satellite Internet computer kiosk, as well as a library, full-service bar, and 24-hour self-service beverage station in the lounge, which also serves as a lecture room. Each evening, guests gather there to recap the day and hear about the next day’s activities. It is a lively forum for questions and answers.

Early risers can brave the chilly morning mist to attend Susan Weber’s popular stretching and exercise sessions on the Bridge Deck, part of the ship’s new wellness program. Later in the day, Susan’s appointment schedule fills up fast for those booking a “sea lion relaxation massage” or “a hummingbird body cream polish,” to name a few of the nature-inspired offerings.

Massages, tips to the shipboard staff, alcoholic drinks and an occasional “free time” on the itinerary are extra, but all shore excursions are included in the cost of the cruise.

For those who travel to seek a better appreciation of the culture and wildlife, a Lindblad voyage is a great value.