Not all luxury is the same. I hope you enjoy my recent review and comparison between luxury cruise ships and luxury expedition vessels.
Orion Report - Overview
It’s hard to begin telling you all that I saw, all that I experienced and all that I felt by the time this trip was over. I learned so much, not just about these remote locations, but about myself as well. And with someone like me who has been fortunate to experience too many cruises to count, you become a bit jaded thereby making it difficult to impress or surprise me. So, this is what I learned during my time on Orion:
I learned that there is a clear difference between a cruise ship and an expedition vessel. I truly thought I understood the difference and I did to a certain degree. But, I could not fully appreciate those differences until I experienced Orion. Not that one is better or worse, as they are both the best vacation value and experience you can have. I learned that each type of cruise does not exclusively appeal to one type of person. A woman from the US told me she regularly travels on Crystal Cruises in addition to Orion. Two diversely different products, yet appealing to her on different, but equal levels. It’s the variety of experiences that keeps each fresh and exciting.
I learned to better formulate and explain the difference between a cruise ship and an expedition vessel to others. A cruise ship has an orchestrated and rehearsed delivery of popular destinations to their guests, making for a hassle-free and smooth operation that is so necessary when handling 1,000 – 5,000 travelers at a time. An expedition vessel provides an authentic and realistic introduction to remote destinations, cultures and people. While it is clear that the Expedition Team has done their homework on these destinations, they sometimes can’t communicate with these villages and tribes after it has been set up as they have no phones or email. So they advise the passengers that they hope the locals remember we’re coming, with a “let’s go discover this together” attitude that engages everyone equally. The places and people you see are not “sanitized” for the benefit of the tourist and that is not always pretty. But it is reality and it is not hidden, should you choose to see it.
I learned to never under estimate the effect that your fellow passengers can add, or in some cases detract, from your cruise experience. Orion Expeditions Cruises was founded, introduced, marketed and currently run from their Sydney office. So you guessed it,…. Our ship is filled with mostly Australians, maybe a half dozen Americans, and a few other couples from Japan, Finland, Switzerland and New Zealand. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a ship with a few Aussies, you’ll know exactly what I’m going to stay. Forgive the generalization but these passengers are fun-loving, friendly, open and have a generous spirit that welcomes “newbie’s” such as us. This sailing was primarily for past passengers of Orion’s but we were never made to feel as an outsider. No one puts on airs or looks down their nose at you, including those staying in the highest accommodations of Owner’s Suites. So many “luxury” cruise passengers are concerned about status, but not here. The Australians are just interested in learning about and discovering new cultures and destinations, sharing a good meal with friendly people and having fun, fun, fun! Trust me, you can’t help but have a great cruise with our friends from down under as their laughter soon becomes contagious and you just have to jump in.
I learned not to assume that every expedition vessel has mediocre to bad food. The cuisine onboard was excellent, having been created by renowned Chef Serge Dansereau, Owner of Bather’s Pavilion on Balmoral Beach, Sydney. The quality of the ingredients was evident from the freshest herbs, fruits and vegetables to the best grade of meats and fish. Each course was beautifully presented and timed to coincide with each guest’s order at that table. I would put their food up with any of the best I’ve had on land or sea. The flip side of this is that a small 4,000 ton expedition vessel cannot hold the provisions necessary to offer the wide selection of menu choices and wines that a cruise ship offers. From the suggested Serge Dansereau’s menu you have normally a choice of 3 entrees in addition to other simple basics such as steak or fish. The wine menu is not extensive, but has an adequate selection of good wines at reasonable prices. A true wine connoisseur would not be satisfied, but for the majority of passengers with a priority for adventure, it is certainly most acceptable.
I learned that outstanding service is really so subjective based on the type of ship and the expectations of the guest. Everyone who has sailed on a luxury cruise ship understands stellar, white glove service. Orion Expeditions does not strive to provide this type service, nor would it be appropriate in a casual environment. The staff is genuinely friendly, including the lecturers and from the Captain on down. They do not treat you like you’re a stranger; just a friend they’re getting to know. The ambiance is casual, friendly and playful. Something very unusual was that the staff and passengers both welcomed the opportunity to do a little dancing with each other as the Bar Staff were Filipinos with a flair for a little samba here and a little swing there. And the officers did not stay huddled in a corner visiting with each other but rather talked to the passengers. You were treated with dignity and respect, yet also an openness that can only come when the crew is happy and allowed to share in your experience, instead of observing it from afar.
I learned it is important to distinguish between a luxury cruise ship and a luxury expedition vessel. Orion doesn’t want to be called a luxury product as your expectations of a luxury cruise ship may not match the experience. There are no Broadway-style shows, no casino or even Bingo. The staterooms are all quite comfortable, but there are no 1,000 square foot accommodations and there certainly is not a Butler. But applying standard definitions that are used by the cruise lines are not appropriate either. So what do you do? Sarina Bratton, the Founder and Managing Director of Orion Expeditions believes it’s better to under promise and over deliver and I have to agree with her. How can you apply standard categories to such a uniquely devised experience? You can’t. You just have to experience it for yourself. It is a definite “Bucket List” item that you should add to the top of your list, and then check it off your list once you go. I bet you will be adding another Orion destination to your list after experiencing it the first time. I know I did.