Being a small expedition ship, Orion doesn't offer traditional cruise entertainment. There are no shows (apart from a crew show one night), no movies, no casino and, heaven forbid, no bingo. The ship's staff led a few fiercely competitive quizzes, although the general knowledge quiz is geared toward Australians. The ship also has an excellent library and a wide range of free DVDs.
Every night before dinner, the expedition leaders provide a debriefing on the day's activities and a briefing about what's upcoming. On our cruise, the debriefings were particularly good, as we had a world-class photographer, Sue Flood, who has worked on many of the David Attenborough wildlife documentaries, as one of our expedition leaders. Her nightly slideshows got everybody thinking about their own photographic techniques. In addition to providing tips, Sue ran an impromptu photography competition on the last day of the cruise. While a professional photographer isn't always on the list of guest speakers, Orion does host guest lecturers on every cruise, such as historians or naturalists, whose areas of expertise are related to the cruising region. In addition, the line has an impressive range of photography expertise among its own expedition staff, several of whom were carrying huge lenses on the shore excursions and were happy to offer photography tips to passengers.
During sea days, lectures were held in the main lounge. The expedition leaders gave talks on flora and fauna, and an eminent Australian historian, Peter Edwards, delivered some fascinating lectures on Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War.
Almost all excursions are included in the price of these cruises, and almost everybody participates. In southeast Asia, the nature of the ports of call meant that the tours were sightseeing trips with a coach and guide. In some of the more remote areas Orion sails, excursions could be boat trips, guided hikes and sightseeing in small groups with the expedition leaders on the Zodiacs. Some specialty tours, such as bicycle tours or cooking classes, carry a fee.
Some Vietnamese cultural entertainment was included during the shore excursions. In Hue, we were treated to traditional singing and dancing during a splendid buffet lunch while, in Ho Chi Minh City, the whole contingent of passengers went to a riverside hotel for dinner in a beautiful garden, which was accompanied by a fashion show. Orion aims to include more immersive excursions like this on every cruise.
Orion has a mainly open bridge, and passengers were welcomed by Captain Mike Taylor and his officers at any time except during complicated manoeuvres, or when there is a pilot onboard. On one night, we sailed through a huge and moderately alarming storm, which seemed much less frightening once I'd visited the bridge late at night and seen how relaxed the officers were.
Orion II is tiny, so it's not difficult to get orientated. The social hub of the ship (indoors, at least) is the Club Lounge, a comfortable bar/coffee lounge/library combo with restful blue and cream decor and plenty of polished wood, a theme that runs through the ship. This is the place for reading, afternoon tea, music quizzes, aperitifs and, for a hardy few, after-dinner drinks to the strains of easy-listening from the baby grand. There are two Internet stations there, where the charge is AU$30 for 60 minutes and AU$50 for 120 minutes.
One deck down is the Main Lounge, where daily expedition briefings and lectures take place. A dance floor there was only in use once during our voyage, when there was a disco of sorts after the crew show.
Orion II also has a small shop selling essentials and logowear, a beauty room and a doctor's surgery.
The ship has a small beauty treatment room, where two therapists offer massages, facials, and hair and beauty treatments. They also run occasional exercise classes, including early-morning aerobics at 7:30 a.m. Frankly, most people got more than enough exercise out on tour every day, and we didn't get the impression there was much demand for classes.
A small gym aft on Deck 4 features a step machine, a cross-trainer, two bikes and some free weights.
The ship has no swimming pool, but the hot tub on the top deck proved a social hub on sea days once the heat of the day had lessened. One small sunbathing area is located there, with blue- and turquoise-covered loungers, potted plants and a phone, should you wish to call down to the bar for drinks. The area was rarely used when the sun was shining, as Australians tend to avoid sunbathing, and the wooden decking was in need of repairs, thanks to an unsightly warp. It did, however, liven up around sunset, when people gravitated to the hot tub for a soak and a gossip.
These cruises are not suited to young children, and families are not actively encouraged, though they're not banned, either. No children were onboard during our sailing, but passengers spoke of several young teens on the Kimberly Coast voyages on the original Orion. These light expedition cruises would suit well-behaved children, ages 12 and older, who were able to create their own entertainment and function happily on a mainly adult ship. There's no children's facilities or babysitting, and children would be expected to dine with the other passengers and fit in with the activities.