ONBOARD THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE -- When Lindblad Expeditions said it was building two of the most advanced polar-class expedition cruise ships, it came as a wave of cruise lines, some established and some new, decided to dip their toes into the expedition segment.
Some of the vessels were dubbed the most luxurious in the expedition category; others made headlines with high-end toys, including submarines and helicopters.
The Endurance, launched in 2021 as the first of the two 128-passenger vessels, has its fair share of amenities. Yes, the ship features a glass-walled yoga studio, two saunas -- Nordic and tropical -- with sea views, infinity-edge hot tubs and the first "igloos" at sea, i.e., igloo-shaped sleeping pods on the top deck.
But it was very purposefully designed to enable Lindblad to do what it has been doing for more than 50 years: Offer the best in expedition cruising.
What really sets apart the Endurance and its sister vessel, the Resolution, is some of the most advanced technology among polar ships and the highest-rated ice class of a passenger vessel.
The ship's observation lounge, called the Den, has a combination of public spaces, including a library and the Science Hub. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill
Lindblad said that the X-bow design on the Endurance and Resolution affords "the smoothest, most comfortable ride imaginable, in all sea behavior," along with greater fuel efficiency and fewer emissions. On this Arctic sailing, an exploration of Svalbard called Land of the Ice Bears, if there were rough seas we never felt them. I asked an expedition leader who was on the ship in Antarctica how it performed during what was probably its toughest test: the Drake Passage. The difference was amazing, he said, in how smooth it was compared to other ships he's crossed on. And fast: The Drake takes about two days on other Lindblad vessels, the naturalist said, and only a day and a half on this one.
The extra-strong hull's ability to cut through thick sea ice is also impressive, something passengers on this ship lined the decks to witness. That power enabled our ship to be the first of the season to get through ice in order to visit one of the Norwegian archipelago's most famous sites, the bird cliffs of Alkefjellet.
A suite on the Endurance.
When discussing the Endurance and the Resolution before they debuted, CEO Sven Lindblad said that many of their design elements came from the gathering of collective wisdom from the company's expedition leaders, captains and members from the hotel side. That process has enabled a ship where everything works very smoothly and, as several passengers pointed out, where there is almost no waiting.
When called for hikes, kayaking or Zodiac excursions, there was never any bottleneck in Deck 3's spacious Base Camp, from where excursions launch. Guests can leave muck boots and other gear in their cubbies there, reducing the amount of gear needed to be carried up and down from cabins. There are launch platforms on either side of the Endurance, enabling kayaks and Zodiacs to head out at the same time. A platform can be set up off the ship's side, so a polar plunge off the ship can be followed directly by a sprint to the hot tub or sauna.
The ship's many creature comforts are appreciated on itineraries in the Arctic or Antarctica, where a lot of time is spent onboard, even if there are two excursions a day. There is daily stretching in the yoga studio, and a very modern and well-appointed fitness center. A small spa has two treatment rooms and a relaxation area that Lindblad plans to outfit with tables and chairs and offer infused teas to encourage more use.
Lindblad fans will note that the Ice Lounge is the fleet's most state-of-the-art gathering area for daily talks and presentations, with high-definition screens in every seating nook. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill
Room to roam
Given the ship's passenger count, there is a generous amount of public space and places to eat. Lindblad fans will note that the Ice Lounge is the fleet's most state-of-the-art gathering area for daily talks and presentations, with high-definition screens in every seating nook. The daily briefing always starts with cocktails and canapes before a naturalist begins the day's recap. Most guests find the gatherings to be a highlight of the day, a time to connect with the crew and other passengers and be reminded of just how special the expedition's experiences are.
The ship's observation lounge, called the Den, has a combination of public spaces, including a library and the Science Hub, with plenty of lounge chairs and places to observe what's going on outside and a cozy seating area with a gas fireplace.
It is also home to Charlie's Table, where small dinners can be held: On this cruise, every passenger got to sample one eight-course tasting menu. During the day, C. Green's bistro and bar in the Den serves a lighter breakfast and lunch menu.
And while quite a few ships offer bridge access, the Endurance takes its open bridge policy seriously. Announcements about polar bear sightings were always followed with an invitation to "join us on the bridge" for observation, and at any time of day guests could be seen there, using the telescopes and chatting with the crew and officers.