Galapagos-based Eco-Cruise

Serenity at Sea
Standing on the bow of the Galapagos-based M.S. Islander, it's hard to figure out which is more striking: the surrounding towering volcanic peaks or the conspicuous lack of usual cruise trappings. As the ship plies the equator's transparent waters, there's not a fruity umbrella drink in sight. Instead, fellow passengers clutch high-tech binoculars and hang on the expedition leader's every word. "Orcas at two o'clock!" he yells, directing the collective gaze to the surface. Then someone else points to the sky, where a bunch of blue-footed boobies have decided to make an appearance. Such is a day in the life of a Lindblad Expedition cruise. Whereas other lines tout tanning, gambling, drinking, and electric sliding, this one highlights nature's best performances.

But this isn't your typical "Animal Planet"-at-Sea adventure. Taking note of the increasing demand for vacations wrapped in wellness, the cruise line has recently traveled into new territory by introducing spas on each of its six small ships (the largest carry 110 passengers). It's not such a change in course: The company's stock in trade (education-heavy exploration of some of the world's most remote natural environments) remains intact. Rather, spa a la Lindblad is an understated, natural extension of the company's longstanding signature philosophy.

It should be no surprise, then, that the new treatment spaces are anything but glam. The converted 110-squarefoot cabins espouse a sort of Calvin-Klein-gone-eco esthetic. White and spare, though not at all stark, the rooms reflect the natural world outside. Guests find a measure of calm in the stunning photographs of emperor penguins, Weddell seals, and manta rays taken by Lindblad naturalists and National Geographic photographers -- and the artfully arranged displays of aromatic natural oils, salts, and salves that figure into the various treatments.

"Teachable moments" as much as pampering opportunities, the various spa offerings get their names from the creatures regularly encountered on the Lindblad circuit. After all, if guests can find ecological inspiration on the bow of a ship, the rim of a volcano, or during a marine biology lecture, why not on a treatment table, too? So after enjoying the skin-softening benefits of the Marine Iguana Salt Glow, for example, spa-goers will also leave with a bit of information: The namesake Galapagos native, as it turns out, ejects salt through its nostrils.

By this April, Lindblad will also have put "wellness coordinators" on each of its six ships. These ambassadors of LEXwellness (as the program is officially known) teach early-morning stretching and yoga- and tai chi-inspired movement classes to anyone inclined to participate. They also plan soul-engaging, culturally relevant activities in regions that span the globe, like a Scandinavian traditional sauna outing, sea turtle-based meditations in the Galapagos, or an invigorating bone-chilling (and subsequently warming) dip in Antarctica's cold sea and hot springs.

Of course, as the backdrop to all this mind/body rejuvenation, Lindblad continues to offer its traditional gamut of nature-based explorations. In voyages that last anywhere from a week to a month, passengers experience the Arctic, the Atlantic Ridge, the Mediterranean, Baja, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest, partaking in diversions such as wildlife viewing (whales, bears, seals, flying fish); daily hiking, kayaking, swimming, and snorkeling excursions; and lectures on everything from regional anthropology to seabird biology. And now that good-old-fashioned spa relaxation has been added to the mix, longtime eco-cruisers are breathing a deep, rejuvenating sigh of relief.

Getting There
Lindblad's air coordinators can help arrange flights to and from Guayaquil, Ecuador, where the voyage begins. For additional information, visit expeditions.com.

Text by Abbie Kozolchyk

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