Orion Expedition Cruises, Australia's only international-standard, five-star expedition cruise line, increases the size of its fleet with the addition of the Orion II, a second specialist expedition ship which will join the line’s existing 106-passenger Orion. The ship, configured to the brand’s exacting requirements, is scheduled to commence expedition voyages under the Orion Expedition Cruises banner in May 2011.

Orion Expedition Cruises announced on Thursday, November 26, the forthcoming long-term charter of Clelia II, a 100-passenger, all-suite luxury expedition cruise ship, to be renamed Orion II. Making the announcement onboard Orion in Sydney Harbour, Orion’s Managing Director, Ms. Sarina Bratton, was enthusiastic about the expansion of the cruise business she started in 2004, referencing a strong existing luxury cruise market – despite tough current worldwide economic conditions – and growing interest from international markets in expedition cruising in this part of the globe.

A loyal Orion past-passenger base, resurgent growth by independent travelers and significant opportunities afforded through charter and incentives markets have provided the platform for the expansion.

Based on thorough research, and following the success of Orion’s recent voyages, Orion II will be based in South East Asia offering a wide range of expeditions that will include Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, the Indonesian archipelago, Japan and Borneo. Details of destinations and itineraries will be released in 2010, once voyage details and expedition team scouting are finalized.

Commenting on the additional range of destinations and itineraries, Sarina said that Orion Expedition Cruises will be able to provide exclusive expeditions from Antarctica to Asia, and the Kimberley to Melanesia and New Zealand, with the two ships offering a balance of onboard service and luxury combined with unique personal experiences in environmentally and culturally sensitive parts of the region. Together, Orion and Orion II will be two of the most modern and capable expedition cruise ships cruising in Australasia.

Recently subject to a €13 million (approximately USD $19 million) refurbishment coordinated by the ship’s current operators, with emphasis on technical enhancements and upgraded environmental systems, Clelia II will also undergo additional cosmetic enhancements to bring her fully into the Orion Expedition Cruises style.

Until April 2011, she will continue to be marketed and operated by Travel Dynamics International, New York, a leading U.S. expedition cruise company serving the American educational and cultural non-profit groups.

Originally launched in late 1990 as Renaissance Four and re-launched in 2009, after extensive technical refurbishment, redecoration and other improvements, the all-suite Clelia II offers fine small-ship cruise travel. In May 2011, the ship will be renamed Orion II.

This private yacht-like cruise ship accommodates only 100 guests in 50 suites, each of which affords ocean views, measuring 215 to 285 square feet, and appointed with a sitting area or separate living room, twin or queen-size beds, spacious closets, and air conditioning.

The vessel complies with the latest international and U.S. Coast Guard safety regulations and is outfitted with the most current navigation and communications technology as well as retractable fin stabilizers for smooth sailing, an ice-strengthened hull for Antarctic voyages and a fleet of heavy duty Zodiacs to enable easy shore access in remote locations.

Taken together with her limited guest capacity, excellence of design, craftsmanship and material, and a high crew-to-guest ratio of more than 1:2, the luxury liner’s spaciousness and intimate ambience combine to make her ideal for distinctive cultural and expedition voyages.

The long term charter of a second purpose built ship able to access remote regions in comfort is a further step to fulfilling the company’s original vision to have Orion Expedition Cruises regarded as the operator of choice in the Asia-Pacific region.