I was fortunate to experience one of the Lindblad Expeditions’ West Coast itineraries. We left San Francisco's Pier 40 on October 12, 2008 for a four-night cruise around San Francisco's 3 bays and a trip up the Napa River to the Napa’s wine country. (We just happened to be in San Francisco on the weekend of the Air Show on Columbus Day Weekend and saw these jets put on such a spectacular show.) While not an exotic itinerary, this itinerary did provide insights into expedition cruises.
We boarded The Sea Bird on Sunday and set anchor in San Francisco Bay as we watched the flaming orange sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge. A perfect time of year to visit Northern California. We had approx 54 passengers on this 80-passenger ship. Lindblad offers three decks with three different type of accommodations.
Monday morning we were to land on Angel Island, but we woke to a terrible fire on the Island. We were unable to kayak or get on the island, but our Historian/Naturalist, Jim, and our botanist, William, gave us such a wonderful lecture on the history of the island and early California.
The island is often mistaken for the West Coast Ellis Island. Ellis Island was a welcoming haven for immigrants, where Angel Island was the first place the Japanese, Chinese and other Pacific Rim immigrants were processed. The process was only supposed to take days and a couple of weeks at the most, but some Chinese were held there for up to almost 2 years, until their paperwork was cleared for them to enter the country. Beautiful old building still remain and is now a State Park. Although we missed our stop, our day was spent with lectures, morning yoga stretches, spa treatments and just getting to know our fellow passengers. That afternoon we docked in Sausalito for a hike of the Muir Woods. Three different hikes were offered from a very slow pace hike through the woods with much commentary to a fast paced hike for the more energetic. Some strolled the shops of Sausalito.
Tuesday we sailed through Suisin Bay and the Napa River. We cruised up close and personal to the "Moth Ball Fleet". This is where the World War II battleships are anchored. Lindblad Expeditions is the only way to see these ships up close. The proper name is "The Ready Reserve Fleet". If needed, they can be ready to go into duty within 5 months. Some ships have been sold to small countries or sunk as artificial reefs. It is debated they are polluting the bay, and they probably are. To dismantle them would cause a greater threat to the ecology. We just stood in awe of the service and lives that were sacrificed to defend our country. What impact these ships have in our history.
That afternoon we took kayaks or zodiacs through the Napa River and spotted Blue Herons, Great Egrets and Snow Egrets, swallows and river otters. It is so peaceful gliding through the river learning about our California ecosystem.
Our day ended with a well renowned San Francisco Chef and author, Joyce Epstein and her son Evan, a Master Sommelier. Evan demonstrated wine and food pairings and Joyce prepared a gourmet dinner for us.
Wednesday we started our day with the optional Hot Air Balloon Ride over the Napa Valley. We met our fellow passengers after breakfast at the Ox Bow Market. We had an exclusive cooking demonstration by our own Executive Chef and a Master Sommelier on grilling. Very apropos for California cooking. We had lunch at the Copia Center at Julia's (named after Julia Child). We visited two wineries, Paradux and Quintessa. We had exclusive tastings at each winery, which is not normally done for a group of our size. (We were divided into two groups, each visiting one winery while the other group was at the other. ) Thursday we disembarked after breakfast with great memories and a better knowledge of California history and taste.
This product is for the well-travelled and the cerebral type. There is not a lot to do while you are sailing which is nice and relaxing. No T.V, no radio or entertainment. The accommodations are small but very comfortable. The bathrooms are yacht style. The food was home style, simple and very good. The service is excellent. The staff is young and very accommodating and offer personal service. They knew us by name on the second day.
Expedition travel is very unpretentious. Our captain would come to the dining room and would sit at any table with an open seat. It's a very informal environment. One gentleman had taken 39 National Geographic/Lindblad itineraries! The majority of the passengers were repeat guests. Some would think that $1,700.00-$1,900.00 per person for a 4 night cruise is expensive, but when you factor in all the inclusions, it is very well priced. Three meals a day and appetizers in the afternoon and snacks on the motor coaches when we are on land. There are always snacks at the bar and cold drinks, tea and coffee. All tours are included. The only optional excursion was the hot air balloon ride. Kayaks, zodiacs and bicycles are all included.
The gourmet dinner and wine and food pairing by a master chef and master sommelier, trip to Copia and the cooking demonstration, two private wine tastings were also included in the price of the cruise. The speakers (naturalist, historian and botanist and video-chronicler are all licensed with multiple degrees). Lindblad will mail you a portfolio of your trip after your return home.
Many passengers added a couple nights prior in San Francisco and 2 or 3 days after in Napa to make a week’s vacation. I would recommend a couple days pre or post. This is a great compliment to the cruise experience. It offers our client more time to explore the Napa Valley or San Francisco. We will be offering 4 Lindblad Expeditions West Coast departures again in 2009, as well as all their itineraries. I’m happy to assist anyone and advise of what extras might be involved.