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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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!