Orion Expedition Cruise's Orion by Mark Savage Australia August 9, 2005
I sailed onboard Orion Expedition Cruises’ new ship, Orion. This is an expedition-type ship that sails itineraries mostly in Australian waters.
Our cabin, #402, was excellent in all respects -- well furnished, large enough for the two of us, and providing ample closet space, a marble bathroom, five-star treats plus a large window and blackout curtain. The zip king-size bed was comfy and the cabin was quiet. The TV provided some satellite channels, a track map and information on the cruise, including a webcam view ahead and a webcam of the 90-seat theatre for those playing hidey in their cabins.
The suites were similar but larger, with the Owner's Suites offering a bathtub and Juliette Balcony, and a living room large enough for a party of 12 (we had one!). The mini-bar is restocked with bottled water by daily room service and while there is no coffee/tea making equipment, the 24-hour room service more than makes up for it.
The Orion is less than two years old, but with the fastidious level of maintenance will always look perfect; timber cap rails on the deck are re-varnished every two weeks, the brass/stainless railings every day, and the engine room is so clean you could eat off the floor - truly!
So you can imagine what the restaurants and everything else is like – just perfect, and meeting the highest expectations of clients.
The Management is all Australian/European and did a great job making everyone feel relaxed and happy. Their service level and attention to detail was first class with few exceptions. The only serious complaint I heard of concerned a wheelchair passenger on a previous cruise who shouldn't have been on board in the first place and made life hell for everyone trying to help her.
The captain and chief engineer are full-on professionals and amiable characters who delight in showing off their fine ship with organized inspections. The engine room crew is Ukrainian -- a very capable and friendly bunch who also serve as fully qualified Zodiac operators. For the record, the ship has a single variable-pitch screw; power is diesel electric with a main engine and several smaller backups.
State-of-the-art stabilizers (extendable horizontal fins) minimize roll in heavy seas; but as on any ship, the lower decks and rear cabins would always be the best for clients who get seasick. The Orion would be the safest ship cruising in Australian waters at any time -- probably in the world -- with a reinforced hull and the best navigational aids. And it gets even better! The crew is constantly analyzing the channels as they go, taking new readings from the Zodiacs of the changing depths and not relying on the maritime charts, to build up their own navigation data bases. This allows the ship to go to places normally accessed only by smaller ships with a higher level of safety to boot!
The housekeeping, galley, restaurant and bar staffers are all Filipino and are absolutely the best in all respects; they all speak English well, and their presentation, uniforms and manners etc. are excellent.
These went to well-chosen and excellent destinations, falling into two categories:
"Included" excursions - these use their top-of-the-range Zodiac inflatables, very safe and comfortable (but lacking in shade) and powered by 35 HP outboards. For short trips to the beach, passengers sit on the side; on longer expeditions, rows of seats are installed. Generally the guided walks are included, but for anything involving vehicles they are often extra. The exceptions for us were the minibus to Baucau in East Timor and the coach transfers into Wyndham and Kununnurra, which we thought were great!
"Optional" excursions - these are provided by independent shore-based operators – via motor coach, light aircraft, seaplane, helicopter etc. The destinations were well chosen and very interesting but too much to go into here.
The resident musicians, Hal and Jay, are professional and very talented, working together for the first time on our cruise. They were really great.
The Orion offers a unique opportunity to visit the best of Australian waters in the highest level of comfort, safety and service - no doubt. At the brochure rates it is not for everyone's budget, but then they are not trying to be. I felt they had it about 98% right.