First Call: New Comfort on Lindblad’s National Geographic Islander II : Travel Weekly

When Lindblad Expeditions revealed in 2021 that it was the buyer for the former Crystal Esprit from Crystal Cruises, the expedition specialist seemed an unlikely suitor for a 48-passenger yacht mainly used for high-end charters.

When Lindblad Expeditions revealed in 2021 that it was the buyer for the former Crystal Esprit from Crystal Cruises, the expedition specialist seemed an unlikely suitor for a 48-passenger yacht mainly used for high-end charters.

But what Lindblad saw was an opportunity to upgrade its hardware in the Galapagos, where a range of high-end vessels are being built specifically for the region.

The ship, now named National Geographic Islander II, bears the same number as the Lindblad ship that previously sailed the Galapagos, the National Geographic Islander. But the new Islander is almost three times larger, which means a lot more space per passenger in cabins and public areas and more space overall.

The Patio Café indoor/outdoor. Photo credit: Johanna Jainchill

I had the opportunity to see the ship in its new habitat. Like its predecessor, the Islander II is nothing new. It was built in the 1990s, but after undergoing a second major renovation last year (Crystal did one in 2016), it doesn’t feel old or worn at all, with shiny new fixtures and furniture.

The ship is a big step forward in passenger comfort, with significantly larger cabins than her predecessor, with the smallest entry-level cabin on the Islander II double the size of her predecessor , at 225 square feet. All have sitting areas with full-size sofas, king-size beds that can be separated into two twin beds, large windows, and bathrooms with double-basin marble vanities and spacious walk-in showers. . Sufficient storage space is important for shipping gear and hanging wet items.

Three cabin categories include four Islander Suites which have a separate bedroom, living room with a convertible sofa bed, dining area, master bathroom with large soaking tub, and second bathroom.

The lounge in a standard cabin.

The lounge in a standard cabin. Photo credit: Johanna Jainchill

A very welcome addition is the Patio Café, a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, where I rarely saw anyone inside. Used for breakfast buffets and served lunch, it was my favorite place to eat while enjoying the wildlife, from snorkeling boobies to diving dolphins.

Most dinners are served at the indoor Yacht Club Restaurant, but the Grill on the Observation Deck is used for BBQ night and other outdoor events, like wine tasting.

The viewing platform also has a row of hammocks which have proven popular on warmer afternoons. A small pool was too cool to use in September, but guests still laze around after a day of adventure.

The bathroom of an island suite.

The bathroom of an island suite. Photo credit: Johanna Jainchill

The mission to deliver Galapagos to guests is clear throughout. The walls are adorned with photos of the islands’ wildlife and scenery, many taken by onboard naturalists. Most of the books in the library focus on the archipelago or Charles Darwin, and the gift shop features works by local artisans, much of it on famous wildlife.

The Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Artisan Fund provides training, supplies and workspace in local communities for artisans. On several occasions, the guests were made aware of the program and the artists who are part of it. That was enough for me to come home with quite a few pieces from the shop, including a lycra made from recycled plastic and drinking glasses made from used wine bottles.

Lindblad tries to showcase Ecuadorian culture as best it can, given that most local encounters are of the turtle and sea lion variety.

Hammocks on the observation deck.

Hammocks on the observation deck. Photo credit: Johanna Jainchill

Meal themes included Ecuadorian and Galapaganian menus, and the chef used local ingredients like Andean grains (quinoa, mote and amaranth) and sustainably caught Pacific seafood. The wine tasting included Ecuadorian blends, which most passengers (myself included) didn’t even know existed.

The naturalists are all Ecuadorian and mostly Galapagos, and daily discussions included their stories of growing up on the islands. During our walks on the islands, their deep understanding of the fauna and flora greatly enriched the experience.

Due to its size, the Islander II offers a more intimate experience than Lindblad’s other Galapagos vessel, the 96-passenger National Geographic Endeavor II. Crew and guests quickly became familiar and friendly during our sail, helped by being in a remote location where small groups hike, snorkel and zodiac together.

The bathroom in a standard cabin.

The bathroom in a standard cabin. Photo credit: Johanna Jainchill

Passengers gathered at The Cove for cocktails and canapes during a pre-dinner briefing on the day’s events and what was to come. The cozy space includes several screens integrated into the furniture, allowing everyone to clearly see the visual presentations.

The Islander II offers shorter sailings than the 10-day cruises on the Endeavour: a seven-day Wilderness Galapagos Escape and a 10-day Wilderness Galapagos and Peru Escape, with a land excursion to Cusco, Machu Pichu , Lima and the Sacred Valley .