The cruise that’s not a cruise – our voyage on the National Geographic Orion

Ever since our trip aboard the National Geographic Orion so many people have asked us about what it’s really like on a cruise and if we enjoyed it. The short answer is yes, we loved it. But you can’t really call the Orion a cruise. It’s a more like an expedition. Here’s what it’s really like on board.

Mr and Mrs Romance - National Geographic Orion Reviews

Mrs Romance and I have never been keen on the idea of a cruise. I find the thought of being stuck with strangers for any length of time daunting and Mrs R thought she’d feel trapped.

Though I’ve always secretly lusted after the thought of the all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffets.

But what would we know? After all, we were cruise virgins.

Thankfully whatever preconceptions we might have had – from the moment we boarded the National Geographic Orion, we knew we were in for much more.

We were going on an adventure.

This adventure would take us on an expedition through some of the most isolated yet beautiful coastlines of Australia. Billed as ‘The Wild North-West’, this journey starts in Broome – an old pearling town some 2,250km north of Perth, WA. Then for the next 11 days we travel north and then east to Darwin in the Northern Territory.

We were also surprised at how active we were on this trip – another preconception we had gone. We imagined it to be just lots of retirees sitting around waiting for the next dinner bell or being shepherded off to the next over-touristy location.

We pictured twice-daily bingo games, a burnt out club singer and rows of bain-marie buffet trays.

What we got was about as far opposite as you can imagine. Here’s a quick video of our voyage:

What’s it like aboard the National Geographic Orion

National Geographic Orion Reviews - Susan Seubert

What’s the food like?

Probably the most important question, the food onboard is amazing. Especially as the galley is small and how difficult it is keeping fresh produce.

We had 3 square meals every day, plus morning and afternoon tea – and snacks available if you knew where to look!

Breakfast is an extensive buffet with an egg station. It’s at the same level of a top hotel, so no dodgy looking sausages or crusty bowls of burnt baked beans.

Lunch is usually themed – seafood, an Aussie barbecue, Mexican… it’s very cleverly delivered. There’s also a buffet section of salads and other bits and pieces.

Dinner is an a la carte 4-course situation run every night in the dining room. There’s a set menu – different each night – and you can choose to replace each dish with another option or switch options as you wish. The menu was designed by Serge Dansereau and created daily by head chef Lothar Greiner.

Mr and Mrs Romance - National Geographic Orion ReviewsMr and Mrs Romance - National Geographic Orion ReviewsMr and Mrs Romance - National Geographic Orion ReviewsMr and Mrs Romance - National Geographic Orion ReviewsMr and Mrs Romance - National Geographic Orion ReviewsMr and Mrs Romance - National Geographic Orion Reviews

What are the rooms like?

There are three levels of cabin depending on your budget, but all have the same look and similar facilities. The attention to styling detail onboard is very high and this continues in the cabins. Wood paneling and brass fixtures make sure you remember you’re on a ship.

Our bed was insanely comfortable and the bathroom, though small, had everything you’d need.

There’s an open-door policy with the cabins on board, so unless you’re paranoid about theft, you can leave your room unlocked. The daily turndown service will leave your door as you left it.

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Who’s onboard?

The crew – other than the hospitality and engineering staff – consist of a team of National Geographic naturalists with a range of skills and knowledge. Our team had geologists, ornithologists, marine biologists and shark experts, historians, herpetologists, and photographers.

We were also lucky enough to have Susan Seubert on board – an award winning Nat Geo photographer.

In the crew there is also a massage therapist and PTO, an expedition leader and a ship’s doctor.

As for the 101 passengers on board (which is the limit for the Orion), most were of retirement age though there were a couple of families with young children too. There was a mix of mostly North Americans and Australians there, though this could have been because this trip was in Australia.

But the one thing that struck us was that in spite of the age of a lot of the guests, everyone was very intrepid and active. Almost everyone was very well-travelled and was bright, open-minded and well-informed. An interesting bunch of people.

National Geographic Orion guests by Adam CroppMr and Mrs Romance - National Geographic Orion ReviewsNational Geographic Orion Reviews - Susan Seubert

What do you do all day?

There was very little time spent on board the National Geographic Orion during the day. Each night we’d sail to a new anchorage for us to explore the following day.

There were at least 3 excursions every day out on inflatable Zodiac boats, which were piloted by the naturalists. We would explore the coastline looking for wildlife, strange geological formations and marvelling at the beauty of the Kimberley Region.

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Why we loved it

Why we loved being aboard the National Geographic Orion could be a whole posts on it’s own. The things we saw, the stuff we learnt, the people we met, the level of service, the quality of the product… this was without a doubt a lifetime highlight of a trip.

I’m a bit of a nature geek (and so is Mrs Romance with the exception of moths), so the things we saw while we were on the National Geographic Orion blew us away.

We got up close with salt and freshwater crocodiles, turtles, sharks, a sea snake, rock wallabies, an airborne manta ray (which almost landed in our Zodiac) and the most incredible array of birdlife imaginable.

In a nutshell we loved it because it felt like we were really going somewhere no one else had ever been with people who really knew what they were talking about. And at the same time, we were doing all this in the kind of comfort you only get in big luxury hotels in a major city.

While you’re aboard the National Geographic Orion, although you know you’re there as a tourist, you do feel part of a serious scientific journey exploring new places. The crew are always looking for something different to do – a new path to tread.

We also felt like we were surrounded by fairly like-minded people. Yes, they might have been a lot older than us, but almost everyone was up for an adventure, to learn about and experience a new place and to appreciate the beauty of it.

And of course, the Kimberley Region is full of natural beauty. Here are some of our favourite shots while we were on excursion:

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Who would we recommend the Orion to?

Anyone who enjoys an active holiday (we were exhausted each night) but likes a good dose of luxury while they’re on the move. If you prefer a beach or poolside holiday where you do nothing but relax (nothing wrong with that by the way), this isn’t for you.

This isn’t a cruise. Not by a long shot. It’s just as National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions call it: an expedition – or ‘voyage’ if you prefer.

As far as age groups go, yes, this is popular with the over-60s, but that doesn’t mean it was like a floating old people’s home. The characters we met were all able-bodied, sharp–minded and eager for adventure.

National Geographic Orion by Adam Cropp

Where else does the Orion travel to?

National Geographic Lindlbald Expeditions go all over the world and have some amazing sounding destinations. We’ve got our eye on the voyage to Antarctica next and we love the sound of the South American trips like the Galapagos and the Upper Amazon.

But although the Kimberley is only one of the expeditions the National Geographic Orion travels to, staff and regular guests told us this was one of the most unique and isolated expeditions.

There are also other ships in the National Geographic Lindblad Expeditions fleet (though we think the Orion is the best one!).

This really was the trip of a lifetime. But I don’t think this will be the only National Geographic expedition we’ll ever do. I’ve got a feeling we’ll be back on the Orion at some point again. And I’d recommend you do the same!

Mr and Mrs Romance - National Geographic Orion Reviews

Do you think this style of holiday is for you? Have you ever been on a cruise? What did you think of it? Tell us in the comments!

Images by Mrs Romance using an Olympus OM-D E-M10 camera. Other images by Susan Seubert and Adam Cropp.

8 Comments

  • Reply February 6, 2016

    Alana wimmer

    This looks incredible guys! I would love something like this as a traveler and science/nature buff too. Amazing.

    • Reply February 7, 2016

      Mr Romance

      It was absolutely incredible, Alana! Really something special – and a great way to travel. The experts on board really know their stuff and the rest of the crew are so professional. If you get the chance, you should definitely keep this in mind!
      Jxx

  • Reply February 9, 2016

    Nicole

    I’m looking at making a trip to Antarctica too, but I also wouldn’t consider myself a ‘cruise person’. While the Kimberley trip sounds great because you were hopping off the boat all the time, I imagine there would be a couple of days crossing open ocean to Antarctica. Do they have on board activities? (Please don’t say bingo!)

    • Reply February 9, 2016

      Mr Romance

      Ha ha! No, Nicole. There’s no bingo involved on the Nat Geo ships – though I think the resident ornithologist would’ve loved a game of bird bingo! We had 2 days at sea at the end of the Kimberley trip (a technical stop off in East Timor) and it wasn’t a problem. There were lots of talks by the various experts, they played loops of different nature shows on the TV in our room too. There’s a full library in the observation deck so there’s that to keep you entertained as well.
      We were quite happy to sit back and relax actually. The previous 10 days had been so active we were a bit tired!
      There’s also a gym and massage therapist on board if you feel like a bit of pampering. Oh and let’s not forget the bar!
      We’d LOVE to do the Antarctic on a Nat Geo ship. I think it’d be amazing. Our friend works for them and has been there a few times now. He’s now developed a somewhat unhealthy obsession with penguins as a result!
      Safe travels
      Jxx

  • Reply February 9, 2016

    Jean | Holy Smithereens

    Now this is a “cruise” for the real adventurers! Those photos were amazing..that shark!
    I’m curious why they would have an open door policy? Is it for safety?
    I would love to do the Galapagos Islands on this type of expedition.

    • Reply February 18, 2016

      Mr Romance

      It was just the best, Jean! Absolutely the best. That shark was just one of many we saw. It was a tawny nurse shark, which isn’t one of the dangerous ones thankfully. There were loads of tiger sharks about too though. Not nice. Not friendly.
      We were a bit confused by the open door policy too. I think it’s a way of trying to build a feeling of camaraderie among the passengers… also the key card locks and unlocks the door, so lots of people kept locking themselves out by accident and complaining the card had broken!
      A trip to the Galapagos with Nat Geo would be unbelievable. The amount of things we learned from the naturalists in the Kimberley was amazing, but I think you’d need them in somewhere as strange as the Galapagos!
      Jxx

  • I love that the food was good. That’s always the issue for me! And hehe all cruise ships cabins all look the same it seems! But I have also found the beds to be super comfortable.

    • Reply February 18, 2016

      Mr Romance

      Too right, Lorraine. I was very worried the food would all be gross. But we were pleasantly surprised. Probably because there were only 100 of us – made it easier for the kitchens. I have very little to compare our room against – apart from the Manly ferry and the Spirit of Tasmania! I thought all the wood and brass made the room look pretty swish!
      Jxx

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