Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Cruise Weekly: Orion - Headfirst into Adventure


From On Board: Headfirst into Adventure

Vessel: Orion II (formerly Clelia II)

Location: Port of Kagoshima, Japan

As we set sail from this busy port city, the newly re-christened Orion II is altering course to avoid the projected path of Typhoon Muifa, a newly categorised tropical storm threatening to collide with Okinawa, our intended destination. Following an earthquake thrill in the Aleutian Islands last month, we passed the volcano Sakurajima this afternoon as it puffed harmlessly into the air above us. Now we steam for Keelung on the island of Taiwan as Muifa lurks ominously in the waters to the NE of the Philippines.

Captain Frank Allica, an ex-RAN skipper and lifetime sailor, briefed the assembled passengers advising us plainly, “My responsibility is to the safety of you, my passengers, and this vessel. A possible category 5 typhoon? Sorry, we're outta here!”

Just as quickly as the port visits of Okinawa and Iriomote in the Ryuku Islands were cancelled, expedition chief, Justin Friend, manifested a new program for Taiwan, proving that adventure cruising is all about flexibility and preparedness.

“The port arrangements are made and our new itinerary includes a visit to one of the world's tallest buildings,” a surprisingly relaxed Justin told me, clearly pleased with his new plans.

The former Clelia II was delivered to Orion Expeditions earlier this year and immediately underwent an extended technical and cosmetic overhaul. While the technical aspects might be less obvious, the completely rejuvenated suites instantly bring the creature comforts up to a level recognisable to the many repeat passengers aboard. Long time Orion executive chef, Lothar Greiner, is joined by new arrival, Frederick Cyr from Quebec, and the food is indistinguishable from the high quality standards already set aboard Orion.

Launched in 1991, the new Orion II belongs to the well-regarded "Renaissance" class of ships, of which eight were built for the now defunct cruise line of the same name. Other vessels include the new Sea Spirit (formerly Spirit of Oceanus), Corinthian II and Noble Caledonia's Island Sky. At just 88m and a little over 4000 GRT, passenger capacity is a very comfortable 100, with ample public spaces including a club/library, main lounge/lecture space, dining room, boutique, salon, Jacuzzi deck and large reception. Passenger accommodation is in seven classes on five decks with 16 balconies.

While there are a few niggling technical issues, like the non-functioning elevator, the many Orion past-passengers seem perfectly happy with this latest addition to the fleet. True, some programs on Orion's new expanded fleet may be softer in some areas than offered elsewhere, the choice is there and should continue to draw new recruits to the growing Orion family of converted adventure cruisers.

For more on Orion II's new cruises, see www.orionexpeditions.com