Cruise: National Geographic Orion Plans Global Expeditions

Celebrity Cruises

Teresa Machan, The Daily Telegraph, March 13, 2013

Orion, the Australian-owned expedition cruising company popular for its voyages around Australia’s Kimberley region, the South Pacific and Borneo, has been bought by American-owned Lindblad Expeditions.

Lindblad, which owns five National Geographic-branded ships and charters another five, partners with the NGS for small-ship expedition cruises to the Galapagos, the Amazon, New Zealand, Arctic Svalbard, Antarctica, Alaska, Baja California and Africa among other destinations.

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The expedition arm is an offshoot off Lindblad Travel – an adventure company founded in the late 50s that made its first forays into Antarctica in 1966. Orion was founded in 2004 by Australian business woman Sarina Bratton and has a loyal following among Australian and British cruisers seeking soft-adventure in off-the-beaten-path destinations. Of the two Lindblad is regarded as the more expeditionary.

For Orion the sale means access to global expedition cruising. Ships will continue to cruise in the Kimberley, Borneo and the South Pacific with slight modifications to itineraries but they will also cross the Pacific to previously unchartered territory for Orion, including Easter Island and down to Antarctica on the peninsula side, and not the Ross Sea and Commonwealth Bay as Orion does. Some itineraries, including the Kimberley, won't be offered for sale in the US.

While this makes the merger a very exciting proposition for Orion’s highly trained expedition team it may not suit Orion’s loyal following of largely Australia retirees. Lindblad is not concerned however, about sidelining some of Orion's luxury-seeking clientele. "There's a huge market for credible expedition travel," he said. "We'd like to broaden the market - some of Orion’s customers may find that more appealing."

According to Lindblad founder and president Sven Lindblad, the aim is to create a blend of cruise product that will appeal to both Americans, Australians and to a lesser degree, Britons. “Orion is more focused on luxury; less so on the expedition side. We want to reverse that."

Passengers will be “comfortable, well served and eat well,” he says, but the ships will feature far more in the way of expedition-style features. Alongside kayaking, scuba facilities for 24 divers and ROV exploration every sailing will carry a National Geographic photographer on board.

Depending on location the ships will also be used as a base for carrying out scientific research. "We've noticed huge and growing interest in photography. There'll also be a video chronicler on board so that everyone leaves with their own unique film," said Lindblad.

And the price of this beefed-up expedition cruising? "If we send prices through the roof that's not a good formula,” says Lindblad. “We enjoy 95 per cent occupancy across our fleet with little discounting but we are fully aware that we need to fill our ships without pricing ourselves out of the market.”

Orion I will be renamed National Geographic Orion when it joins the fleet in March 2014. An administrative office will continue to operate out of Sydney.

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