"A Path Less Traveled"
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Orion Expedition Cruise Highlights
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Bratton, with 25 years in the Australian travel industry -- including terms as vice president and general manager (Asia Pacific) for Cunard, and founder and managing director of Norwegian Capricorn Line -- has a passion for both the waters around Australia and the development of a local cruise industry. Her geographical expertise led her to the conclusion that, given the reefs and shallows, the off the beaten track inlets, the abundance of natural assets, the wildlife, and the unique opportunity for cultural encounters with indigenous peoples, the region was inappropriate for large cruise ships, but perfectly suited to expedition cruising. A trip on a friend's super-yacht gave her the idea for a new approach to Australian cruising -- combining expeditionary exploring with five-star luxury.
The result was M.V. Orion, the first ship in the Orion fleet. The ship was built on spec by Germany's Cassens Shipyard as a model to promote the building of similar vessels by other cruise lines. Bratton saw the completed ship at the yards, and concluded that it was purpose-built for just the market and expeditionary cruising conditions that she foresaw for her fledgling company. She negotiated a sale, allowing for a 2003 launch for Orion, the same year the ship had been completed. Now, when Cassens has customers who seek to have ships of a similar stripe built to order, they send them to Australia to check out Orion.
Orion has added a second ship to the fleet via long-term charter. Orion II commenced expedition voyages under the Orion Expedition Cruises banner in May 2011.
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Editor's Note: Now-defunct Orion Expedition Cruises was acquired by Lindblad Expeditions in 2013. Read more in our Lindblad Expeditions profile.
Life onboard is casual. Sport jackets with or without ties are rare to nonexistent. The key players in the ship's staff are the expedition team, including one or more accredited experts in the sciences, history or culture, who provide background lectures, briefings, daily recaps and lead exploration trips ashore.
Dining is buffet for breakfast and lunch, and a la carte dinners served open seating. Entertainment is limited to one or two musicians.
Eighty percent of Orion's passengers come from Australia, though the ship and itineraries draw the same passenger demographic whether Aussie or American. They tend to be well traveled, mature, adventurous and tolerant of unexpected events and mild discomfort. We found them an unpretentious, intelligent, convivial lot with loads of interesting stories and insights to share.
Orion Expedition Fleet
4,000-ton M.V. Orion, carries 106 passengers on expeditionary cruises in luxury and comfort, combining excellent cuisine, spacious cabins and a pampering spa with an ice-strengthened hull (for Antarctic sailings), a fleet of 10 heavy-duty fast Zodiacs, a near-waterline transom platform from which to board them, and a covey of kayaks for passenger use.
The 100-passenger Orion II joined the Orion fleet in May 2011, after $19 million of refurbishments. However, after a series of incidents including technical problems, and an episode in September 2011 when the 20-year-old vessel ran aground in Borneo, Orion has decided to return it in mid-November 2012. Orion owner Serina Bratton has said she will make an announcement regarding a replacement vessel joining the fleet "very soon".
M.V. Orion spends the year in season-driven itineraries circling the Australian continent, including voyages to Tasmania and Antarctica, various portions of the Great Barrier Reef, the Islands of the Torres Strait (extending along the Great Barrier Reef from Northern Australia to the edge of Papua New Guinea), Papua New Guinea itself, the Solomon Islands, East Timor and Australia's northern coast.
Orion II plies the waters of South Asia, visiting Vietnam, Cambodia and Borneo.