Orion to be renamed as Lindblad takes control

Orion to be renamed as Lindblad takes control
By admin

The new owner of Orion Expedition Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions, has outlined its plans for the Orion with the vessel to be renamed, supplied with new marine equipment and embarking on fresh itineraries.

The Orion – which will become the National Geographic Orion from March 2014 – will be equipped with an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV), capacity for up to 24 scuba divers and ocean going kayaks, while cruises will be accompanied by a National Geographic photographer.

Lindblad has an alliance with the National Geographic Society for its expedition cruises and operates five National Geographic-branded ships that are owned by Lindblad. It also charters five other vessels.

Speaking to Travel Today from Lindblad's head office in New York, founder and president Sven Lindblad, pictured, confirmed it will continue to operate cruises to Orion's destination mainstays of Indonesia, Borneo, Papua New Guinea and the Kimberleys.

But from March 2014 it will also take the ship to "remote Pacific islands" and head "further east than where Orion has perhaps been before".

"We don't want to take away in any way, shape or form what works here in Australia but we will have a new set of itineraries that hopefully will be of great appeal to Americans and Australians," Lindblad said.

The acquisition of Orion by Lindblad emerged yesterday, with Orion founder and managing director Sarina Bratton set to leave the business next month.

While acknowledging the 100-passenger Orion as a "wonderful ship" and "comfortable", Lindblad said he wanted to introduce more expedition-style features and under-water technology to the vessel.

"I'm not sure hardcore is the right word but the concept of expedition cruises is paramount for us," he told Travel Today. "We want the Orion to be the sister ship of the National Geographic Explorer which has been extremely well received internationally.

"We don't want our past guests and new guests to think there is a fundamental philosophical difference between the two ships."

The Explorer has been described by Lindblad as the "world's ultimate expedition ship and the embodiment of the Lindblad-National Geographic alliance".

Features on Explorer that will be added to Orion will include the ROV, which is capable of going to depths of 1000 feet. "We are very deep into underwater technology," Lindblad said.

But he denied it was making fundamental changes to the Orion product, just "adding value".

"We very much respect what the Orion has done but we want to add some stuff that is primarily rooted in our deep expedition heritage that goes back decades," Lindblad said. "We believe and hope that it will be a welcome idea in Australia."

Itineraries will be released shortly.

Meanwhile, it emerged that Lindblad turned down an opportunity to buy Orion earlier last year after the financials failed to stack up.

"It didn't seem to make sense at the time," Lindblad revealed. "My only concern was economically orientated. A 100-passenger ocean going ship is not the easiest thing in the world to make money out of."

But negotiations resumed late last year which led to the deal, for an undisclosed sum.

Lindblad declined to reveal whether Orion's previous owners – KSL Capital Partners – dropped the price or whether the Orion was making money.

"I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on that," he said, adding that the "economics of the transaction got better" during its second look at Orion.

"And at the end of the day, in 2012 our 10 ships [five owned and five charters] had occupancy of 94% so it was time to expand," Lindblad said. "By joining a fleet that is maxed out in terms of availability, it kind of makes sense."




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