Friday 21 November 2014

Aboard the newly refitted National Geographic Orion


National Geographic Orion in new livery (R Eime)
The 103m, 106-passenger Orion is a ship that grabbed the attention of the public and industry and won many hearts among travelling Australians when she launched under the stewardship of Sarina Bratton almost a decade ago.

I first travelled aboard Orion in 2008 to PNG and as this was my only voyage under the previous configuration, I didn't have the emotional attachment many past passengers built up, some from over a dozen or more repeat voyages.

The change in ship operators has been well-documented elsewhere on this site but now it's my chance to see the structural, cosmetic and operational changes first-hand.

Section of main lounge showing new 'pulpit' for lectures
with new flatscreen TVs 
The most obvious change is to the lounge area, where Lindblad have installed a central 'pulpit' with AV controls for the lecturer whose presentations are streamed to the six flatscreen TVs installed around the expanded space.

“The stage has been removed and the space converted to more seating,” says Tracy Greiner, hotel manager who has been aboard Orion since the beginning, “and as you can see the whole lounge has been transformed to suit Lindblad's style of daily pre-dinner recap and drinks.”

Looking around the lounge, the memories come back despite the alterations. The chairs, tables, carpets, lighting, wall hangings and bar itself have all been changed or modified to ensure the full compliment of passengers can fit into the area with unrestricted viewing of any screen.

The old lecture theatre is currently not in use as the seating was not really adequate if all passengers aboard a full ship wanted to attend. That space is also being considered for repurposing, perhaps to a larger spa or gym facility as the current treatment room is only really a booth off the existing small fitness room.

New chart table in the Deck 6 Observation Lounge
The Observation Lounge on Deck 6 is now the home to the library and now includes a large chart table. The bar has been removed and converted to a self-service refreshment area with tea, coffee, soft drink and snacks. It seems to work well as a quiet space for those wanting to read and perhaps nod off for a bit. Two iMac computers are installed for guest use.

self serve refreshment bar
Dining is largely unchanged with meals served alternatively in the main deck (3) restaurant and outdoor café on the upper deck (4). The Serge Dansereau menu has been updated and rotates daily with the same cheerful service from many of the long-serving Filipino staff including executive chef Lothar.

A dive deck is now on the uppermost level above the unused lecture theatre with storage of vests, tanks and sundry equipment for a maximum of 24 certified divers at a ratio of eight divers per divemaster. Orion is now fully self-sufficient as a live-aboard dive vessel with three compressors including one for Nitrox and several days emergency oxygen if required. A Zodiac is also equipped with ladders for exclusive use of divers.

Divers now fully catered for aboard NG Orion
Of course, not all these changes are to the universal delight of the many past passengers. Several repeat cruisers are aboard for this voyage and the loss of after dinner entertainment and dance floor is one factor cited although the observation deck seems to have gained much wider acceptance.

I will be aboard until Tahiti, so please check back regularly for more news and updates.

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