Orion: Good things in small packages

In the shadow of two floating cities the Orion didn’t try to compete, she embodied the expression “it’s not all about size”.

On the day of my on-board walkabout, Auckland’s harbour was dwarfed by two magnificent ships, the Queen Elizabeth and the Sun Princess, docked either side of the ferry terminal. And there, almost indistinct from the Waiheke ferry, I found her. Coy, reserved, and apologising for being petite.

But what the Orion lacks in stature, she more than makes up for in charm. And adventure.

The name Orion comes from Greek mythology and means “the hunter”. It’s also the name of the most recognisable constellation in the night sky, visible all over the world.

Conspicuous and recognisable, she is not. But a hunter, she is. The Orion boasts some of the most exciting and adventurous expeditions in cruising. But she boasts them ever so gently.

And that’s where being small is useful. Orion gets up close and personal to wonders the bigger ships can’t contemplate. It may be a dinky ship, but there’s nothing diminutive about the places it visits.

Dining Room Table

Dining Room Table

Everything else about the Orion is understated and discreet though. In the lounge I was greeted by the sound of tinkling ivories, and even the pianist was inconspicuous. Although, that may have been due to me waving a camera in his face while he was trying to play Moonlight Sonata.

The gentle piano spoke of drama, romance and adventure. It just did it quietly.

They say the Orion takes a “path less travelled” and you get that feeling on-board. You feel like you could slip away into the night, heading for an exotic adventure that will unfold ever so peacefully, but leaving you breathless all the same.

Despite her modest scale, I still struggled to find my way around. Something, I believe, is deliberate. But because this ship is small, the layout is more intriguing than perplexing and the crew were so nice it was worth getting lost just so you could talk to them.

Taking only 100 guests at a time, the Orion stirs with the activity of 75 crew; a ratio with a penchant for the personal touch. They say the barman will know you and your drink by the time you’ve unpacked and had your first tipple.

What surprised me about this little lady was the spacious cabins, pouring scorn on any notion of cabin fever you might have when you look at the ship from a distance. On the Orion, balcony room means Juliette balcony only, so there’s no space for a table and chairs outside. Most cabins can be made up as Queen or Twin, and each has a charming marble bathroom. The Orion seems to have all the splendour of grand cruising, in miniature.

And I like that. But then I like tiny cars, and I can’t resist picking up baby shoes in shops just to marvel at their size. So maybe it’s just me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not Hobbitville or anything, it just doesn’t have the grandeur of the bigger ships. But cabin size hasn’t suffered as a result, which is a huge bonus.

Back Deck

Back Deck

What really matters is that aboard this humble vessel, you will see remarkable things.

From the vast Kimberleys of Australia, to the rainforests of Borneo; from the cultural highlights of Papua New Guinea, to the history of Russia and Japan.

But the star in Orion’s sky has to be THE ICE. Antarctica. In all its splendid glory. Following in the footsteps of ice explorers Mawson, Shackleton, Falcon, and Scott, Orion visits some of the most historically significant landmarks of the heroic age.

Who wouldn’t want to see Shackleton’s signature, scribbled into the bed head of his freezing hut?

But if the huts and the adventure of ice exploration doesn’t tip you over the edge, the promise of wildlife might.

Orion expeditions encounter killer whales, penguins, sealions, brown bears, seals, royal albatross, orangutans, and sun bears. Not all in one expedition I might add. But still, the options are endless and you can get a discount for back-to-back cruising should you be so inclined.

Orion is the only cruise operator permitted to visit Camp Leakey, the famous orangutan sanctuary in Central Borneo. And this is where my dinky radar goes off the scale. Camp Leakey is home to orangutans of all ages; from the adolescents roaming the forest, to toddlers in the playgroup. But ultimate cuteness can be found at the orangutan baby hospital. Stop it! Too much dinkiness could be dangerous, especially if you have a large empty suitcase on-board.

Because Orion ventures to places many operators cannot, they use zodiacs to go ashore which means you will definitely get your feet wet, but someone will be waiting on land to dry them for you. Landings are all on sandy beaches or rocky bays, but this is expedition cruising so I suppose that’s to be expected.

Orion also offers visits to Angkor Wat, the Mekong delta, Hiroshima, and Borobudur, the largest temple in the world.

Eating onboard Orion is with whomever you like, wherever you like. In fine weather meals are served outside on the back deck, which also houses a small spa pool. But if it’s tennis courts and shopping malls you’re after, the Orion won’t meet expectations. Likewise, if you’re after the splendour of grand ballrooms and majestic dining rooms – this ship won’t float your boat.

However, it is charming in its intimacy, and I imagine you would know fellow passengers by name in no time. There’s nowhere to hide or escape other guests, so you need to be open to mixing and mingling.

Although, having said that, the good size of the cabins might make for a safe haven, and on-board lectures are beamed to your flat screen TV if you fancy a night away from the crowd but don’t want to miss out.

Gratuities are included, as are all meals, 24-hour room service, and the use of water sports equipment. That includes the ship’s fishing boat, so you can take a fishing trip and bring back your catch which the chef will prepare for you at dinner that evening. Nice touch.

But you will need spending money for alcohol, which the ship says comes at “city bar prices”, and you also pay extra for laundry, telecoms, email, and shoreside excursions.

I was sorely tempted to stowaway on Orion, but I was discovered wandering on the closed upper deck swishing my hair around in the wind, with my eyes closed and my face turned skyward. After that I think my cards were probably marked and any hope of slinking away into the night was unlikely.

What is it they say? It’s not the size of the ship; it’s the motion of the ocean. Well I’d say you’ll certainly feel the motion of the ocean aboard Orion. But she’ll transport you to places more naturally majestic than any floating super city could compete with.

Story and Photos by Emma Mackie

Ocean View Stateroom

Ocean View Stateroom










Owners Suite Bedroom

Owners Suite Bedroom











Owners Suite Bathroom

Owners Suite Bathroom













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