CRUISING holidays have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years with some of the very largest and most modern vessels afloat now stopping in Brisbane.
But for seasoned travellers looking to do more than go around a loop in the Pacific or Asia, boutique travel company Orion Expedition Cruises offers its pampered clientele a far more personalised selection of seafaring adventures.
Its sleek, blue-hulled flagship Orion, under the charge of French captain Vincent Taillard, has a dedicated crew of 75 catering for 100 guests in five-star luxury to rival many other passenger ships.
With its specially designed and strengthened hull drawing only 3.8 metres, the Orion goes places larger vessels cannot, and at 103m in length, she is more in the super-yacht category than a traditional cruise ship.
Company founder and managing director Sarina Bratton built a strong reputation in the hotel industry before she helped introduce and consolidate the Cunard and Norwegian Capricorn brands to Australian waters.
Ms Bratton said that during her tenure in the mainstream cruise industry, she had recognised a niche market for discerning travellers seeking expedition-style holidays.
"Some passengers who had done the islands were looking for a more adventurous, intimate experience to less well-travelled destinations," she said.
"Orion is a small, self-sufficient vessel with desalination capability, waste management systems and the very best in technical equipment to be able to operate in remote areas.
"This cruising sector is growing exponentially but Orion is still the only international-standard expedition ship in Australian waters."
Ms Bratton spends much of her time on the ship making sure its personalised service is second to none.
She has keel-up knowledge of Orion, from the time of construction at the Emden ship-yard in 2003 and is proud her vessel sets the benchmark for Antarctic and Australian expeditions.
"We go right down to the Antarctic continent into the Ross Sea and Commonwealth Bay," she said.
"It's very exciting this year to mark the centenary of Sir Douglas Mawson's expedition to the South Pole.
"We take our guests by zodiac inflatable from the ship to Mawson's Hut. Fewer people have been there than have climbed Mt Everest."
But if masses of ice is not your passion, Orion has a selection of expedition holidays to the Kimberley coast of Western Australia, Papua New Guinea, Borneo, New Zealand and beyond to out-of-the-way World Heritage-listed sites.
Ms Bratton said that often up to half Orion's passenger list were repeat bookings, whether to see king penguins and sea lions in the south, endangered orang-utans and komodo dragons in Borneo and Indonesia or wreck diving in the pristine waters of Palau.
"For many passengers, it's like their very own David Attenborough adventure," she said.
The 4000-tonne vessel's guest accommodation consists of 53 opulent state rooms and suites in various configurations of plush carpet and fine timberwork.
Other onboard pampering includes a fitness centre, spa, sauna, jacuzzi, beauty salon and hairdresser plus a selection of indoor and outdoor cafes.
There is also a comprehensive library with internet if the need to keep in touch with those back home arises.
Meals in the 107-place dining room, which boasts an exquisite menu overseen by some of Australia's finest chefs and coupled with a superb wine list, are enjoyed in informal elegance.
Further afield, the Orion's sister ship Orion II cruises to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand and the pristine waters of Japan's Inland Sea and Russia's Far East.
For intrepid souls interested in following the path less travelled, Orion Expedition Cruises can open up a whole new world of unique opportunities for the fortunate few.
The writer was invited to tour Orion while she was in Brisbane. Harvey World Travel Caloundra (5491 9111) can assist with tour itineraries and fare specials for Orion Expedition Cruises.
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