Tag Archives: National Geographic Expeditions

National Geographic Endeavour II: The Apogee of Expedition Cruising

8 Apr
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A larger than average fleet of Zodiacs allows guests on the Endeavour II a great deal of flexibility when choosing daily activities. IRT photo by Rachel Hardy

I spied sea lions while running on the treadmill in the gym, glimpsed manta rays and sea turtles on my walk to the dining room, and ogled schools of flying fish while browsing in the gift shop. Never a dull moment.

National Geographic Endeavour II just began service in the Galápago Islands after undergoing a multi-million dollar refit — and last week, I was lucky enough to be one of the first guests on board.

(To see Ms. Hardy’s report about her Galápagos shore adventures, click here.)

I can now say with confidence that Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic’s latest collaboration is a work of art –and the ideal base from which to explore the famous Galapagos Archipelago.

State-of-the-art equipment and homey surroundings are essential to the Endeavour II, but style plays an important supporting role — evidenced in the rich wood paneling and variegated ocean blues in the upholstery and carpeting.

Suite C

Suite C on the National Geographic Endeavour II.                   Photo by Lindblad Expeditions.

52 cabins, all with large picture window and en-suite facilities, accommodate up to 96 guests. There are nine dedicated single-use cabins, nine cabins with optional space to sleep three (in either a drop-down Murphy bed, or, in the suites, in a sofa bed), and seven sets of connecting cabins that sleep up to four between the two rooms.

Three spacious suites have an extra-large bathroom, extra closet space, and enormous floor-to-ceiling windows. The largest of these, Suite C, is located on the bridge deck and also has a separate sitting area with arm chairs and convertible sofa.

My cabin, #205, was a dedicated single-use room — comfortable and functional in every respect. The designers used every available space for storage, which meant I did not have to do any creative juggling with my things. I could have easily shared the space with another person, but traveling alone, I was able to spread out and live like a queen!

My cabin included two twin beds, short chest of drawers in between beds that doubled as a night stand, desk and chair, leather armchair, two-prong outlets, USB outlets for charging iPhone, iPad, etc., wardrobe for hanging clothes, wall hangers that fold flat when not in use, and many hooks / hangers for wet clothes.

The bathroom was small but perfectly serviceable, with biodegradable shampoo and shower gel installed in handy dispensers in the shower. Hot water and water pressure in my shower tapered off considerably at peak hours — right before lunch and again right before dinner — but this was never so pronounced as to be uncomfortable.

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The “theater-in-the-round”-style lounge on the Endeavour II. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

The social center of the ship, the lounge on the third deck, was designed for a “theater-in-the-round” experience, with a podium in the center of the room, retractable video screens along the walls, and fully rotating armchairs. 360-degree windows allowed beautiful natural light in during the day. We met here for daily “re-caps,” nightly cocktail and appetizer parties before dinner, and fascinating presentations from our naturalists and guides.

The dining room was laid out to encourage mingling — four-, five-, six-, and eight-person tables abounded, with just one or two tables for two. Breakfasts and lunches were buffet-style and featured bountiful fresh produce and Ecuadorean staples like cassava rolls — a real hit. Dinners were also casual, but served at the table.

As a vegetarian, I was very well-looked after. For dinner, the cremini mushroom gnocchi and root vegetable stack were especially memorable — and bountiful salads and produce were always offered for breakfasts and lunches. Any time a meaty soup was served, I received a veggie version without having to ask. Similarly, my lactose-intolerant friend received dairy-free options.

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The lovely top deck of the Endeavour II — site of one festive barbecue dinner, a sunset wine tasting, and numerous animal sightings. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

Other public areas included a library with several computers for guest use, an open-air observation deck with lounge chairs and tables, fully equipped gym, gift shop, and spa.

Finally, an “open bridge” policy allowed guests to wander in and out of the navigational heart of the ship and talk to the captain and officers about the instruments and controls aboard the Endeavour II.

On the last night, the crew led dozens of us crammed into the bridge in a countdown as we approached the equator. Captain, officers, and guests alike burst into exuberant cheering as we finally reached zero degrees latitude on the digital chart. The camaraderie was palpable!

The Endeavour II was a phenomenal home base for my week in the Galapagos — but the ship would be nothing without the Lindblad Expeditions & National Geographic staff who work tirelessly to make each guest’s experience the “trip of a lifetime.”

To see our Lindblad Galapagos Islands cruise itinerary, please click here. For more information or to book, contact me at (502) 897-1725, (800) 478-4881; to email me, click here.

Read more about the Galapagos experience itself in my companion blog here.

(Rachel M. Hardy, travel consultant and marketing associate with The Society of International Railway Travelers, has traveled the world testing out adventures — all the better to inform our guests.)

A Tale of a Sea Cloud Voyage: The Magic Was in the Sailing

19 Sep
The Sea Cloud's distinctive square sails billow against a cloud-filled sky. IRT Photo by R. Fisher

The Sea Cloud’s distinctive square sails billow against a cloud-filled sky. IRT Photo by R. Fisher

When Cathy Jackson entered her Sea Cloud cabin, she burst into tears.

“Don’t you like your room?” implored the steward. “You don’t like the white?”

Quite the contrary, she replied. “I love it! I feel as if I were inside a wedding cake!”

Her husband Clay had surprised her with Cabin No. 1, the lavish personal quarters of none other than Marjorie Merriweather Post.  Cathy said she felt like a princess.

Sea Cloud sailors climb the ratlines. IRT Photo by R. Fisher

Sea Cloud sailors climb the ratlines. IRT Photo by R. Fisher

The Sea Cloud is that kind of ship: a one-of-a-kind fairy tale masterpiece of marine design. Built in 1931 and still going strong, the four-masted bark is the world’s last authentic square-rigged luxury sailing yacht.

Since I am an old sailor, I jumped at the chance to sail the Sea Cloud, and arrange for a lively group of Society of International Railway Travelers guests to join us. It was a huge success.

Our route was a dream: from Dubrovnik, Croatia down the Dalmatian Coast to Athens, Greece.  We sailed the Adriatic, the Ionian and the Aegean seas. But it was the ship itself that lured me away from my familiar railway haunts.

As befitting a multi-millionaire’s yacht, the Sea Cloud is a work of art on water. And the 84-year-old, 360-foot sailing ship is surprisingly comfortable as well.

From the smallest cabin to the 8 original “guest cabins” below decks to the two owners’ suites – the aforementioned white-and-gold Mrs. Post confection and the darker, decidedly masculine quarters of Marjorie’s then husband, E.F. Hutton – most were masterpieces of planning as well as décor.

Our twin-bedded room had ample storage space in a variety of lockers, and bureaus and under the beds as well as a large hanging closet — with 22 hangers.

Detail from Sea Cloud Cabin No. 1 — Marjorie Merriweather Post's personal suite. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Detail from Sea Cloud Cabin No. 1 — Marjorie Merriweather Post’s personal suite. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The marble bathroom was small but efficient. It had multiple brass towel racks, pegs and hooks, ample storage space under the sink for toiletries, and a powerful shower that rivaled most on land.

The food also was ample and delicious, reflecting the cuisines of the areas through which we passed: Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece.

Fresh-from-the-seas fish, octopus, calamari, shrimp, scampi and more – not to mention the freshest salads and local cheeses and fruits were staples of the cruise.

A smoked ham, for example, came straight from a smokehouse atop Montenegro’s mountains. The Croatian wines — both whites and reds — were fabulous.

No one possibly could have gone hungry. Nor could they complain about the very well-stocked bar on the lido deck.

“Bebot” Roldan, a 33-year Sea Cloud veteran, is a master “mixologist.” And he’d stocked his bar with many a premium spirit, including “Carlos Primero,” a favorite brandy of IRT’s guests Olga & Orlando Herrera and José and Maria Becerra Martin. Their fame for warm hospitality and friendship quickly spread to our entire group (we were 14 in all).

Sea Cloud crew member cleaning up in the galley after lunch. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Sea Cloud crew member cleaning up in the galley after lunch. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The Orient-Express of the Seas is how I’ve described the Sea Cloud, based on its rich history and stunning décor. But the similarity also can be seen in the professionalism of the personnel.

The Sea Cloud’s captain and crew, coupled with the dedication of the Lindblad team, made for an even more seamless experience.

When the young deck hands weren’t scampering up the rigging to set the sails, they were varnishing, painting and repairing, and doing the thousands of other tasks sailors have done for centuries. And they did it all with smiles and enthusiasm.

Meal and cabin service was equally professional and warm. And it would be hard to find anyone more enthusiastic than Tom O’Brien, the congenial and professional Lindblad expeditions leader, who seemed to live and breathe the romantic life of square-rigged sailing.

The Sea Cloud is a remarkably stable ship. We encountered rough seas one or two times. But her relatively small size – she carries a maximum of just 64 passengers – means she can duck into coves and inlets too shallow for the big cruise ships.

We covered an amazing amount of territory in just 10 days. We visited quaint villages, vibrant harbors and a host of World Heritage Sites from ancient Greek and Roman times. (Click here for our itinerary.)

The Sea Cloud as seen from the ramparts of Dubrovnik's city walls. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

The Sea Cloud as seen from the ramparts of Dubrovnik’s city walls. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Best of all were the voyage’s final two days, which were reserved for “pure sailing.” Captain Sergey Konstantin ordered his men aloft to set our principal square sails. Suddenly, the ship’s auxiliary engines fell silent.

And there we were, much like the square-riggers of old: our bow cutting through the waves, the wake roiling from the stern and the ship’s standards snapping smartly in the stiff breeze.

For the strong-willed few who made it up to catch the sunrise (I did so only once), it was a magical sight to see the dawn come up over the Aegean with the ship under full sail.

The effect was mesmerizing. This was the way it used to be: in Marjorie Merriweather Post’s time – and for much of maritime history.

Reviews from Society of International Railway Travelers guests were raves. They’re not giving up their love of train trips — but they loved this ship.

“What a great trip!” said R. Fisher, of Arlington, Va., in an email earlier this week.

Sea Cloud lines. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Sea Cloud lines. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“I loved the shore excursions, as always…But the thing I’ll remember is being aboard that ship. And watching the sailors unfurl the sails, and the way the sails billowed and flapped. What a sight. It’s one I never expected to experience. All thanks to IRT.”

Comparing notes with others on board, I learned that most passengers booked the Sea Cloud one to two years before departure. We blocked space on the journey two years ago — and we are doing it again for 2017.

If you want to sample this amazing small-ship venue, please call us right away – for 2017. (Some space exists in 2016 for other itineraries.)

To contact us, call 800-478-4881 or 502-897 1725. Or email us:                tourdesk@irtsociety.com. For more photos, click here.

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