Most people don’t equate the term “expedition” with “luxury,” admitted Sarina Bratton, founder and managing director of Orion Expedition Cruises.
“But we had to break that mould. The most challenging part for us was to explain to people what we were offering. We are an expedition ship, and we offer experiences that are very different to any other, but we have a luxury element to it.”
Luxury, indeed. The fares aren’t cheap – rack rates for the Bangkok to Vietnam cruise, for example, start from A$5,705 (S$7,305).
And at those prices, guests don’t just have fun – they learn a lot along the way, such as how the tribal villagers in Papua New Guinea live; or how Camp Leakey in Borneo is helping to care for orangutans; or what it was like to be in the Antarctic over 100 years ago.
According to Captain Frank Allica of Orion II: “We don’t really give guests a holiday – we give them an experience. It’s all about the destination, really, taking people to an unusual place in the world, giving them that experience of a particular environment, its history, geography, a bit of background of what really makes up the country.”
He continued: “(After the expedition), Steve (Webber, Orion II’s hotel manager) and Frederic (Cyr, Orion II’s chef) are going to pick them up and dust them off. They get looked after in five-star style on board the ship.”
No expense was spared in turning both ships in the roster – Orion, which plies the southern hemisphere; and sister ship Orion II, which travels the northern hemisphere – into floating five-star establishments. Orion’s hull has also been strengthened to near ice-breaker standards.
Of course, that means it’s not exactly a walk in the park for the crew. When Orion II was in Singapore recently, they only had a few hours to do a turnaround before a new batch of guests came on board. Apart from the usual technical maintenance chores, the stripping and redressing of the suites, the crew had to attend to details – like ensuring that returning guests received their complimentary bottle of champagne.
Meanwhile, in the galley, chef Frederic was busy preparing his menu. Whenever possible, he heads off in the wee hours of the morning to a local market to look for produce.
“Because we are a small ship, we have to go out to get supplies,” said the chef. “And it’s impossible to find, say, 250kg of the same fish in a market, so we get them in small quantities, like 12kg. It’s pretty cool. We are an expedition ship, and for me, I make my little expedition to the market.”