Exploring Iceland With Lindblad Expeditions' National Geographic Endurance

Lindblad Expeditions created a ship from scratch, with attention to every detail

Lindblad Expeditions National Geographic Endurance photographed from a zodiac raft

Elizabeth Heath

Recently, I was one of the first passengers to sail on Lindblad Expeditions' brand-new ship, National Geographic Endurance. Our itinerary took in northern and western Iceland, where we saw everything from an active volcano to the inside of a glacier, fascinating rock formations, abundant marine mammals, remote islands, and birds, birds, and more birds. The experience of visiting Iceland by sea was incredible—and seeing it from the deck of Endurance was an experience in itself.

The bridge of National Geographic Endurance

Lindblad Expeditions

A Ship with a Purpose

The liner is Lindblad's first purpose-built expedition ship—as is typical with many expedition cruise lines, most of Lindblad's fleet are repurposed icebreakers and research vessels. That means they can access the remote polar regions that expedition cruising is known for and handle rough weather. But it doesn't always make them the most comfortable ships, especially since they're often retrofitted from bare-bones working vessels.

With Endurance, Lindblad Expeditions created a ship from scratch, with attention to every element, including performance, fuel efficiency, safety features, and passenger comforts. Endurance is one of the first passenger ships to incorporate X-Bow technology, an innovative design developed by Norwegian ship-builders Ulstein Group. Besides radically changing the ship's look, the X-Bow design reduces fuel consumption and keeps the ship's hull from slapping against the ocean surface in rough seas.

The ice-class—meaning the strength of the hull and the ability to navigate sea ice—of Endurance is currently the highest-rated among passenger ships. While we didn't encounter sea ice around Iceland, Lindblad Expeditions anticipates that the vessel will be able to reach frozen polar regions earlier in the season, push deeper into the ice, and visit places other ships can't go.

Large balcony suite on National Geographic Endurance

Lindblad Expeditions

Onboard Comforts

Endurance, as well as its newly debuted sister ship, Resolution, are a departure for Lindblad, not just because they're purpose-built but because they're the most luxurious ships they've ever launched. Endurance can hold just 126 passengers maximum, in 69 double and single outside cabins (56 of those cabins are staterooms with 40 of them boasting balconies, while the other 13 are balcony suites). Even the smallest cabins have windows, rather than portholes, as well as sitting areas and desks. The largest suites have balconies with hammocks and sitting areas. Inside, they have separate sleeping and living areas with sofabeds, large bathrooms with walk-in showers and separate tubs, and a roomy walk-in closet.

The ship has two sit-down restaurants and two bars. The latter includes the Ice Lounge, which serves as the central meeting point of the vessel. It's here that we'd gather for pre-dinner happy hour and presentations, which included a recap of the day's explorations and a briefing on what was in store for the next day. Afternoon presentations included photo workshops and discussions of Icelandic history and wildlife, often presented by local experts. The lounge is fitted with several TV monitors so that speakers can present with photos, maps, and videos.

Other common areas include a fireplace lounge, a library and game room, a science center, and ample seating on outdoor observation decks. Luxury perks on the Endurance include two hot tubs, two saunas, a yoga studio, and two spa treatment rooms. There's also a well-equipped fitness room and a relaxation room. A permanent art exhibit, "CHANGE," is installed throughout the ship and examines the beauty and fragility of the world's polar areas. A unique feature is two glass igloos on the back of the Observation Deck. Guests can reserve an igloo—which we did twice—and spend the night in glamping-style comfort, complete with hot water bottles to tuck under the covers.

Puffins in Iceland

Lindblad Expeditions

Built for Exploring

With all expedition cruises, the focus is on what happens off the ship. Because of their small size, expedition vessels can reach places that larger ships can't go, and for passengers, this often allows for wildlife sightings and encounters they wouldn't have otherwise. For us, it meant we were able to access some of Iceland's most remote areas and hidden corners. This usually happened via zodiac raft. We'd don waterproof gear for what was usually a short, choppy, and splashy ride to shore and either go ashore or explore the coastline from the zodiac.

This small-scale type of exploring, and the small size of our entire group, meant we were able to explore some of Iceland's most beautiful places by sea and on foot. For us, personal highlights included Grimsey Island, where we were able to walk to the boundary of the Arctic Circle; getting close to the stunning cliffs and bird colonies of Westman Islands; and navigating the narrow harbor at Heimaey, where lava from a 1973 volcanic eruption nearly closed the channel and cut off the town. We were treated to puffin sightings on almost every excursion—these unofficial mascots of Iceland nest and breed here in the millions from April to September. Along with Arctic Terns, gannets, kittiwakes, and other migratory birds, they created a delightful cacophony of noise and flight—plus lots of bird guano.

Other excursions took us by bus to some of Iceland's incredible inland scenery. We hiked toward the Fagradalsfjall volcano in the Reykjanes peninsula and got close enough to see lava spewing from the volcano's mouth, which started erupting in March of 2021. On another trip, we rode a giant ice truck to the top of the Langjökull glacier and toured an artificial ice cave with Into the Glacier.

Parting Thoughts

I was already a fan of expedition and small-ship cruising before I set foot on Endurance, so I didn't expect to come away disappointed. But unlike big-ship cruises where you're pretty much guaranteed to see certain sights and ports of call, there's a certain element of chance to expedition cruising, usually because of weather conditions or the whims of nature. For example, we were supposed to visit a puffin nesting site with as many as 100,000 birds. Except the puffins didn't get the memo and all decided to leave the night before. It's just like that with expeditions—nature isn't subject to the ship's schedule.

Our experience on Endurance was excellent overall, in large part due to the high staff to passenger ratio, the knowledgeable, enthusiastic team of naturalists and expedition crew, and the deluxe comforts of the ship. Sailing with Lindblad—or any expedition cruise line—is not cheap. But for service, comfort, and access to some of the world's wildest and most pristine and remote places, it's a terrific way to travel.