Lindblad elevates expedition cruising with its new Venture

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The National Geographic Venture in San Francisco. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

ONBOARD THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE -- The second of a pair of 100-passenger expedition ships bring Lindblad Expeditions into the 21st century in terms of ship design and ambience.

The Venture and its sister ship, the National Geographic Quest, were built to sail Lindblad's itineraries in the Americas, from Alaska down the West Coast into Mexico and Central America.

Previously, those itineraries had been assigned to the National Geographic Sea Lion and Sea Bird, 35-year-old ships that Lindblad acquired when another operator went out of business. Compared with those ships, the Venture has a couple of distinct advantages.

To start with, the Venture has cabins with private balconies -- 22 of them. This is an amenity that many cruisers have come to take for granted. The older Lindblad ships have cabins with doors that open onto the decks, but no balconies.

The public areas are also a step up on the Venture. With a design that features four passenger decks rather than three, the lounge and dining room are higher up on the Venture. Each is lined with uninterrupted glass windows. That arrangement provided spectacular views of San Francisco Bay on our two-night preview cruise.

If the Sea Bird and Sea Lion are cozy throwbacks, the Venture has a sort of clean, cheery, contemporary feel. The color scheme of tan, blue and green seems appropriate for an expedition vessel. The interiors are mildly Scandinavian Modern, with simple, wood cabinetry and a practical set of fold-down hooks on the wall for hanging clothes, hats, binoculars or what have you.

Wall decor is composed of vivid nature photography, as one might expect on a National Geographic vessel. Photos in my cabin included a close-up of a tropical heliconia bloom, a family of monkeys perched in a jungle tree and a spectacular photo of a scarlet macaw in flight.

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One of eight Zodiacs on the National Geographic Venture readies for launch. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

Separating the lounge forward from the dining room aft are a small gym, an even smaller spa-treatment room and the Global Gallery, a shop predominantly stocked with gift items from artisans supported by National Geographic.

One deck up, there is an expansive, shaded sun deck on the aft and eight suite cabins that open directly onto the deck. These have convertible sofa beds and are the only cabins that can accommodate up to three guests.

The Venture has an elevator to connect its four decks. There's a sturdy, elevated observation area on the bow that provides a second tier for wildlife viewing and photography.

There you'll find another amenity I haven't seen elsewhere: a pair of centrifugal swimsuit dryers. A nice addition.

As an expedition ship, the Venture exists in part to be a platform for exploration, chiefly with semi-rigid Zodiac boats. The roof of the sun deck cabins is a storage area for the ship's eight Zodiacs, plus a complement of one- and two-person kayaks and standup paddleboards.

Lowered over the side by crane, the Zodiacs are driven by guides to the stern of the Venture, where there is a boarding platform, a pair of stairs to the waterline and a mudroom with small gear lockers for each cabin.

Breakfast is self-serve from a buffet in the dining room. Lunch is a combination of buffet and action stations for cooked pasta or carved meats, along with two tureens of soup.

Dinner is a three-course menu served at the table by staff. The fish dishes on the Venture were a cut above most fish I see on cruise ships. The servers were agreeably friendly and attentive, and the room is a good size that isn't crowded but feels convivial.

The lounge on the Venture has a sort of circular orientation that facilitates the Recap, a Lindblad pre-dinner tradition where the expedition team talks more about what passengers and guides saw during the day. There is a small library in the corner of the lounge with a first-rate collection of expedition-oriented books.

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