ORION II Joins Orion Expedition Cruises Fleet


Joins Orion Expedition Cruises Fleet


Shawn J. Dake

ORION II, Courtesy of Orion Expedition Cruises

Orion Expedition Cruises has accepted delivery of their second ship the ORION II. The Five-Star expedition cruise line is based in Australia and offers a wide range of fascinating itineraries visiting some of the most remote destinations on earth, stretching from the Russian Far East all the way to Antarctica and points in between. Orion took over the ship in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles following the conclusion of its last voyage for Travel Dynamics which ended on April 11, 2011. The ship underwent a technical and cosmetic refurbishment prior to making its public debut in Los Angeles, California on June 2nd. Following a series of preview events for travel agents and members of the press along the West Coast, the ship will be officially rechristened June 9th in Seattle. Instead of one Godmother, ORION II will have three chosen from among the line’s most traveled past guests. The honors will be done by Jill Bennette, Laurel Norris and Shirley Turtle. The inaugural voyage begins next day from Vancouver, B.C., with a 24-night cruise to ports in Alaska and Russia before concluding in Otaru, Japan.

As a ship, the ORION II is embarking on the third phase of a 20-year career. Originally built in January, 1991, this was the fourth vessel in a quartet of sisters constructed for the now defunct Renaissance Cruises at Cantieri Navale Ferrari in La Spezia, Italy. As the RENAISSANCE IV, it was the last to feature a broad, winged-funnel and a slightly different interior layout than the four additional near-sister ships that subsequently made up their eight vessel fleet. After only five years with Renaissance, the ship was sold, becoming the CLELIA II.

CLELIA II is seen at Piraeus, Greece on April 7, 1997. Photo by Shawn J. Dake, © 1997.

During most of its time under that name it served as a private yacht, with occasional charters to expedition-type companies including Travel Dynamics. The small ship was given an extensive $19 million refit in 2009. The ORION II carries 100 passengers in 50 suites, served by a crew of 70. The 4,077 gross ton ship is 289 feet in length with a beam of 50 feet. Propulsion is supplied by twin MAN B&W Diesel engines producing a cruising speed of 13.5 knots. Important for the environmentally sensitive areas the ship may cruise, the engines have a duel fuel capability allowing the use of light fuels when needed. There are bow thrusters and fin stabilizers for maximum maneuverability and stability.

Bedroom area of Ocean Suite 248 on Deck 2. Photo by Shawn J. Dake, © 2011.
Forward facing sitting area of Deluxe Suite 506, is the largest type of accommodations on the ship but lacks a private balcony. Photo by Shawn J. Dake, © 2011.

There are five decks of cabins and public rooms aboard the ORION II. The seven categories of accommodations are all classed as Suites, and range in size from the Ocean Suites beginning at 215 square feet up to the Deluxe Suites at 285 square feet. The top deck has four Penthouse Suites located midship with a Sun Deck and Jacuzzi tub forward.

Caption: Penthouse Suite 602 is at the top in both price and location. Photo by Shawn J. Dake, © 2011.
The Sun Deck on Deck 6 is a pleasant place to lounge. The ship has a Jacuzzi tub but no swimming pool. Photo by Shawn J. Dake, © 2011.
Caption: The Outdoor Café aft on Deck 5. Photo by Shawn J. Dake, © 2011.

Balcony and Deluxe Suites are one deck lower on Deck 5 in the forward part of the ship with the Spa & Salon and casual outdoor café located aft. The bridge is forward on Deck 4. Junior and Ocean Suites along with the lovely Nautilus Club and Library and a small gymnasium overlooking the stern, complete this deck. A curved staircase connects the Club to the Main Lounge and lecture hall located below.

The Nautilus Club and Library looking aft. Photo by Shawn J. Dake, © 2011
The Main Lounge looking forward. Photo by Shawn J. Dake, © 2011.

The remainder of Deck 3 is given over to more Ocean Suites, the Reception lobby and a gift shop. The largest category of Ocean Suites, 275 square feet, are actually found on the lowest level, Deck 2, and have two traditional portholes instead of windows. Like all of the suites they feature pleasing faux dark wood paneling accented with blue carpeting. Also on this deck is a small medical center and the very attractive Restaurant. Decorated in earth tones, highlighted by red and gold carpet underfoot with direct and indirect lighting overhead, this will surely be a favorite place to enjoy up to six course meals, exquisitely prepared.

Sarina Bratton, Founder and Managing Director of Orion Expedition Cruises, raises the first, of what are sure to be many toasts, to the newest ship ORION II. Photo by Shawn J. Dake, © 2011.

Orion Expedition Cruises was founded in 2004 by Sarina Bratton who remains the CEO and Managing Director. Her background includes 14 years with Cunard Line, rising to vice-president and general manager for their Asia-Pacific operations. Orion is Ms. Bratton’s second start-up in the cruise industry having previously founded Norwegian Capricorn Line in 1997 as a joint venture between Norwegian Cruise Line and Australian interests. She has skillfully guided Orion Expedition Cruises to achieve recognition for not only their fascinating itineraries to some of the most remote places and cultures on earth, but to do it with a high level of style and comfort aboard small luxury ships. Her hands-on approach extends to members of her expedition team and crew, and she was there to properly introduce the new ship at the inaugural events. In her opening remarks during the Los Angeles visit, she stated “Our destinations represent 60% of what we are; the ship is 40% and the experience is 100%.” It nicely summed up her philosophy for this company that is looking to become better known in North America and throughout the world.

A section of the Restaurant on Deck 2. Photo by Shawn J. Dake, © .2011.
An entrée selection of lamb, beautifully prepared and fresh from New Zealand. Photo © Shawn J. Dake,

The luncheon on June 2nd was the first meal ever served to guests of the ORION II. The ship had only arrived in Los Angeles at 6:00pm the night before and it was a close call to have the galley fully stocked by noon the next day. But Chef Lothar Greiner and his staff pulled it off, flawlessly serving a wonderful three course meal, accompanied by Australian Chardonnay or a 2008 New Zealand Pinot Noir. Crab salad with exotic mushrooms and noodles in a lime and ginger dressing started things off nicely. For the main course, guests had a choice of herb crusted cod fillet or fresh, slow-roasted New Zealand lamb. For dessert, vanilla panna cotta with pistachio nuts, mint, and strawberries drizzled with sugar cane syrup made for a beautiful finish. Sarina Bratton and the chef both came around to the tables to make sure that everyone had enjoyed the meal and the ship. The chef indicated that although guests are free to order anything they want a la carte, 80% choose to stay with the daily menu, with its small, high-quality servings spread over six courses to create a full dining experience. After a full day ashore in the wilds of Borneo or Papua, New Guinea, who could ask for anything more.

The attractive Reception Lobby greets guests. Photo by Shawn J. Dake, © 2011.

The ORION II now joins the similarly sized ORION in offering exotic voyages to destinations throughout Southeast Asia, the inland sea of Japan, Borneo, the Kimberley region of Australia, and Micronesia to name just a few. Places with storied names like Kota Kinabalu and Rabaul only hint at what life-changing experiences await the traveler. The ORION II is a welcome addition to the world of expedition ships visiting places that few westerners have ever seen.

Orion Expedition Cruises are booked by travel agents. More information can be found at their website www.orionexpeditions.com

The Orion logo on the starboard funnel-wing. Photo by Shawn J. Dake, © 2011.

Orion Expedition Cruises fleet

ORION   Built 2003   4,050 tons   338’ x 46’   106 passengers.

ORION II   Built 1991   4,077 tons   289’ x 50’   100 passengers.


Shawn Dake

Shawn Dake

Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years.  A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary.  A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs.  Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America.  With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
Shawn Dake

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