Orion II

We spent 3 weeks on Orion II in December 2011, sailing from Hanoi to Singapore, via Saigon and Bangkok. I enjoyed the trip, but I am unlikely to travel on Orion II again. Perhaps after wending your way through this monologue, you will understand why.

The 100-passenger Orion II has been leased by Orion as part of a long-term charter agreement. Orion II is a private yacht-like expedition cruise ship built by Cantieri Navale Ferrari of Italy in 1991. She has previously sailed as Clelia II. After a number of years as a private yacht, Orion II was relaunched in 2009 following an extensive technical refit. The 289-foot vessel has 50 passenger cabins and cruises at 15.5 mph. Orion claim that she is fitted with stabilisers (she is but they were broken when we were on board) and the expedition equipment includes Zodiacs. There are 70 officers and crew to serve Orion II's capacity of 100 guests.

Orion II has been beset with problems "Due to a number of latent defects that are adversely affecting our guests' comfort (including air conditioning) and limited availability of suitable technicians and specialists, it has become necessary to cancel the Orion II 10 October and 17 October 2011 sailings" A guest wrote on a web blog "While we were on board there were problems with some air-conditioning systems, a transformer blew between two cabins, the elevator broke down, and one of the ship's industrial washing machines needed repairs. The crew masked these issues well and most did not cause any concern or alarm among guests" I can add that when we were on board in Dec 2011, the air conditioning malfunctioned and a dozen attempts by the crew to sort it failed. The result is that today, a month later, my wife and I are still suffering respiratory problems. The stabilisers packed up after we were on board 2 days and for the next three weeks the ship was without stabilisers - unpleasant.

I also see on the web that Orion II had a "soft grounding into mud" while departing the wharf at Sandakan in Sabah, Borneo, at about 7 p.m. local time on Sept. 18 2011. The company said the grounding resulted " from what appears to be an electronics failure. " No passengers or crew onboard were hurt and the ship did not appear to be damaged. The passengers were taken off overnight, then the ship continued its cruise. The evacuation of the ship went smoothly, according to a travel agent who was onboard. "The Orion crew has been extraordinary," the agent wrote in a Facebook post. "We spent a comfortable night in a lovely hotel while they have tried to sort this out.The passengers reboarded the ship this morning; power and water were working."

So lets look at the individual facets of our trip

Orion II
I would guess that Orion Expeditions are ruing the day that they leased this ship. There is a substantial problem with the electrics - from the "electronics failure" said to be responsible for the ship grounding in Borneo, to the transistor problem which led to no stabilisers in very bad weather, to blown fuses in the electrical equipment for holding food hot in the dining room, to blown fuses in our cabin. The ship was not up front enough with the passengers, sort of hoping we would not notice. I don't know about the rest of the passengers, but I was not happy with this lack of frankness
We experienced 3 weeks of very bad weather, rain ashore and heavy seas afloat. To misquote Lady Bracknell "to have one week of bad weather is unfortunate, to have three weeks of bad weather is careless" Perhaps Orion chose the wrong time to be in this part of the world
This was an "expedition ship" but this itinerary did not play to any of its strengths. Instead we had a "expedition crew" awash with knowledge on "mangrove swamps" or "birds" but nobody with any knowledge of the cultures in Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand that we visited. Instead we had bad, and I mean bad, local guides, who spoke bad English and were unable to impart what knowledge they may have had to us
And the trips ashore themselves were sometimes ill thought out. Koh Samui on Christmas day was a disaster, the phallic rock and the sad monkey should never have passed our eyes. And in Ang Thong Marine Park nobody should have put us into a speed boat for an hour with windows that you could not see out of and engine noise that made conversation impossible, in order to reach a third, nay fourth, rate snorkeling spot.
The ship did have an endemic problem with its funnels.The use of cheap fuel oil and the odd position of the funnels (see photo of ship above) means that the aft deck is constantly swathed in black smuts from the funnels - the net result is that it is not a "smart" ship and will always look a bit jaded no matter how hard the crew try to keep her spruce.

Accommodation
We had one of the cheapest cabins on board (345 for the cognoscenti) and I have nothing but praise for its size, luxury and fittings. It's sitting area had not been properly designed and was not very convivial, but that was not a particular problem.
Our main beef was the icy blast of the air-conditioning, which literally meant that we had to put on sweaters to go to bed and use extra blankets - this was the tropics mind you. We asked reception a dozen times to fix it and in the end little could be done apparently other than to block some of the vents. It was only after we got home that I saw the information about on-going air-conditioning problems. A month later my wife and I are still suffering respiratory problems from this saga

Rooms

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Food

First class, even if the executive chef was a bit grumpy - executive chefs are not paid to be convivial. The meals were all top quality, well cooked and well presented and well served. The Maitre 'D, Gabor, was a man that Orion should be proud of - give him a bonus even. He knew all passengers by name and what their foibles were, from their choice of coffee to their dietary constraints.
We did have a problem in that the bad weather during our three weeks aboard meant that few of the meals could be taken "al fresco"

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Ship's Crew
Virtually all the ships crew went out of their way to be helpful. We did have a problem with the front desk who did not appear to be taking our air-conditioning problem seriously - they may have done, but they never took the trouble to tell us what was happening. The Captain was a personable Irishman who mixed easily with the passengers. I would particularly commend the ship's doctor, Chris Bullstrode, too for his mixing with the passengers - I never had to use his professional services!

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Expedition Staff
The expedition staff were not suitable for this sort of trip. They had knowledge of fish, birds and plants, but the vast majority of our excursions needed historical and cultural knowledge. The expedition staff did nothing to contribute here and we were left to the mercies of local guide whose command of English made my enjoyment of the tours a lot less than it should have been.

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Entertainment Onboard
Orion do not claim to offer entertainment but there is a very good crew show each week. They could do more to organise things like Bridge for interested guests. My wife managed a couple of sessions the first week, but after that it was impossible for her to arrange any more.

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Excursions ashore
The visits in Vietnam , Cambodia and Thailand were very good - apart from the guides. Orion really should have had someone with the knowledge on board
In our final week there were a series of disasters that made this leg forgettable.

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The Weather
We had 3 weeks of really unrelentless bad weather. One can say that was not Orion's fault, which I would accept if there had been one in three weeks bad, but three out of three tends to indicate to me that the ship should not have been in those waters at that time. Our mood went from cheerful acceptance to stoic endurance.

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And Finally
And finally "null points" for Orion with their handling of a sick passenger. A lady suffered medical problems on the leg from Hanoi to Saigon, and had to fly back to Australia from Saigon. Although there were lots of empty cabins, Orion would not either let her keep her cabin (it was booked by an oncoming passenger) nor would they let her stay in an empty cabin. To circumvent the problem, we let her use our cabin for the day. In my opinion the ship should have done this - it would not have cost them anything. Where is your humanity Orion?

So why did I enjoy the trip ?
We saw Hanoi, Saigon, Bangkok and Angkor Wat. Much of the organisation was first class. We saw places in Vietnam like Hue, May Son and Hoi An that were really worth travelling far to see.The food and service was first class. There were lots of receptions on board of one sort or another thrown in. The company was convivial. But in the end I still remember the bad points.
So I would not travel on Orion II again, but I would certainly consider a trip on the other ship Orion. Perhaps Orion Expeditions would have been better advised to call this ship by another name and not link her too closely with their original vessel.

Our trip in Orion II