The National Geographic Sea Bird and the Pacific Northwest

The National Geographic Sea Bird is a tried and true expedition ship. For Lindblad Expeditions, she plies the waters of Alaska, the Columbia and Snake Rivers, Baja California and the Sea of Cortez. With a shallow draft and small vessel size, the National Geographic Sea Bird can easily reach places inaccessible to larger ships, which made her the perfect host to a team of travel agents for two nights in late April.

I found myself in Seattle for a long weekend with one personal goal in mind: eat as many oysters on the half shell as possible, but the true purpose of this trip was slightly different. It is the intention of Lindblad Expeditions to expand an Alaska itinerary with a stop in the San Juan Islands for summer of 2017. They needed to test the destination and invited a few travel agents onboard to experience the ships amenities and learn about the many exciting additions to the Lindblad portfolio for 2017.

But first, let me share my perspective. I am an outdoor enthusiast. My personal passions fall nicely in line with the ethos of Lindblad: conservation, education, activity. I love exploration, at home and abroad, and the adventure along the way. At the time of embarkation, I was a novice to cruising (luxury and expedition); the closest I’ve been to a cruise has been drift boats on rivers in the American West and kayaks in local lakes. Not only was I in Seattle to learn more about Lindblad and the San Juan Islands, I was there to add a new type of travel experience to my personal portfolio.

As a neophyte to cruising, let’s start with debunking a few of my initial cruise concerns: space, food, and activity.

Space: Confession. . . I travel with more luggage than I should and often find myself concerned about storage. I found the use of space in the cabins onboard the Sea Bird is well thought out. I had more than adequate space to store luggage, toiletries, expedition gear and still get in and out of the cabin and bathroom comfortably. Visually, the cabin seemed on the small side, but had more usable square footage than most studio apartments in New York City. Recently renovated, the Sea Bird is practical, comfortable, and spacious.

Food: Processed food, frozen food, and dare I say, meat, are all things that do not normally fall into my daily diet. I was also traveling with a registered dietitian who borders on the line of eating a vegan diet. Each meal had three or more options, inclusive of meat, seafood, and vegetable. All menus highlighted locally sourced, fresh food. I ate healthier onboard than I typically do at home (perfect for an active vacation).

Activity: It’s a cruise ship. How active are you, really? The answer is very active. For the two nights I spent onboard, I was in my cabin to change and sleep. Each morning began with a stretching/yoga session on the deck that transitioned nicely into breakfast, and then the morning expedition. The ship very much serves as a floating hotel in the sense that it can experience bodies of water otherwise inaccessible by foot or a larger ship. All activities can be adapted (within reason) to the preference of the guest. When kayaking and hiking are both options, but you’d much prefer to do one twice over the other, you have that freedom. If you prefer to sit onboard, enjoy the sea breeze and read, you can do that as well. On any Lindblad departure, you will rarely sit still, of course unless you want to. The level of movement satisfied my active lifestyle.

The San Juan Islands as a destination

This often overlooked corner of Washington State is stunning. This archipelago in the northwest corner of the United States is located between the mainland of Washington and Vancouver Island.  A photographer’s paradise and historian’s delight, there is a lot to be seen and a lot to learn both on land and under the sea. Our departure was staffed with naturalists, certified photographers, and top-notch support staff. I was lucky to have National Geographic photographer Steve Morello, and Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor, Sharon Grainer, during my nature hike along the coast of Sucia Island.

As with many small ships, team members pull double-duty. You might find that a hiking guide and naturalist helps to serve dinner that night, or the photographer is the back-up bartender.

The education and team mentality of the entire staff onboard allows guests to step outside their comfort zone. Hikes with a local botanist allow you to confidently eat what grows free in the woods, and sea kayaking with a trained lifeguard and advanced diver might encourage you to paddle in the sea for the first time. This concept is not unique to the San Juan Islands and is experienced on every Lindblad departure.

During our stay, the door to the Captain’s Bridge was open to guests. A quick visit often provided an educational lesson. Learning to read the passage ways of the seas or that Spiden Island (at that time, to our left), was once used for exotic big game hunting in the 1970’s, and is now owned by the major shareholder of Oakley, James Jannard.

Every need on board was quietly attended to – from a pillow request in the cabin, dietary needs, evening cocktail preferences, geography lessons, or  the ever famous, “how do I use my camera.” It truly was elegant service that I hope to experience for a longer period of time in a new destination.

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