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Dive Review of Lindblad National Geographic Orion in
French Polynesia/Tuamotu and Marquesas

Lindblad National Geographic Orion: "expedition cruise which offers diving, but not a dedicated liveaboard", Oct, 2018,

by Fred Kolo, NY, US ( 2 reports with 3 Helpful votes). Report 10538 has 1 Helpful vote.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 5 stars Food 5 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 5 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling 4 stars
Value for $$ 5 stars
Beginners 3 stars
Advanced 4 stars
Comments I've recently returned from a fine 2 week "expedition cruise" on the National Geographic Orion, an itinerary that included almost exclusively the Tuamotu archipelago and the Marquesas in French Polynesia. Scuba diving was offered on this Lindblad National Geographic Expeditions trip, unlike on most of their many journeys, but it was not a diving trip per se. The big question, and it was mine, is what does this company's travel opportunities offer to the dedicated scuba diver? The Lindblad catalogues and web site only mention diving unobtrusively in their itinerary descriptions. If they use the word dive you will know that it will be offered, but if you don't see that word it will not be offered. Currently their trips on the Orion in the South Pacific do feature diving.

The company demands a full presentation of certification and diving experience as well as a doctor's fitness-to-dive letter. If one has not dived in the past year they ask that one takes a PADI refresher course, (which, it turns out, can be done on the trip itself should that be necessary.)

There were 11 divers among the 80+ passengers on the ship. There was a dive staff of 5: the head of the dive program, the smart, energetic, and skillful Maya, two dive masters that had been there for most of their South Pacific itineraries (Shawn and Christian) and two dive masters from Tahiti (the really excellent Yannis and Baptiste) whose presence on the ship I believe was mandated by its French Polynesian permits. We were told at the beginning that there would probably be 11 dives offered. In the end there were 13 with at least one dive each day except during the 450 mile full day crossing between the Tuamotu and the Marquesas.

Clearly any diver who must have 3 dives daily will not be happy with a trip like this. But there are many other activity choices offered both mornings and afternoons including fairly demanding hikes, specialty hikes for the "birders" (a large contingent was aboard), various island visits, snorkeling, and the like. The ship traveled mostly at night, their expedition specialists would scout out the possibilities at about 7 in the morning, and the day's activities would then be announced. It was very much about what was found early that morning as we visited a number of islands on which the ship had never called before. I would say that divers who travel with an adventurous but non-diving spouse might find these trips of great interest.

On this trip several dives in the Tuamotu which would have been more advantageously scheduled by the tides were of necessity done in either the morning or the afternoon activity slot, so most of them were done on the exterior coral wall fairly near the entrance to the pass. We did, at Rairoa, hit the tide just right and had a thrilling roller coaster ride through a canyon-like pass with a big bend in it. We saw eagle rays, grey reef and white tip sharks, and fairly profuse fish life. The other dives in that region were on Apataki, Fakarava, and Takume, all nice dives in very remote places.

The very long crossing to the Marquesas was across a mirror-flat sea, no swell, no wind, not a cloud in the sky, just deep blue in every direction you could see. With some reference to the ocean bottom topography this led to an inspired stop. Engines were shut down, all 12 zodiacs unloaded, the snorkel platform set up well away from the ship, and all who wanted were given an opportunity to swim in blue water 12,000 feet deep. This was a perfect demonstration of the cruise taking advantage of whatever situation presented itself, and a good break from the routine of a long crossing.

On the magnificently beautiful Marquesas, so green and vertical and so different from the absolutely flat land/sea-scape of the Tuamotu, we spent full days at Nuku Hiva, Ua Huka, Hiva Oa, Fatu Hiva and Tahuata. Each was distinctive and we dove at each. These dives were essentially on submerged rocky cliffs, and very enjoyable. Fish life was profuse but not extravagant. We saw a manta on the first dive, a beautiful, curious pair of spotted eagle rays, who kept coming back around, seemingly to check us out again, a huge green moray guarding the entrance to a cave, though he allowed us to explore it, and various sharks including a hammerhead. But the big news here was 3 separate trips (on two of the islands) to snorkel with manta rays in plankton heavy water. Maya made it a point to photograph as many as possible from below as the markings on their underside are unique to each individual. She photographed 22 different mantas during our visit there. It is one of the few places where one can see both reef and oceanic mantas, and it is at the Eastern extreme of the reef mantas' range.

The return trip to Papeete saw us overnight first at the fascinating Makatea, a classic atoll which has through some geological quirk been thrust up to a height of around 50 feet or so, its surrounding cliff walls not volcanic, but rather exposed coral substrate. It is unique in Polynesia. The unscheduled trip to our safe harbor in Cook's Bay, Moorea, was the first time on the trip that the ship encountered a moderately rough sea (we had successfully ducked some storms at that point and every day had been, well, perfect.) The Orion was built for travel to Antarctica and it had no trouble at all. The day in Moorea did offer a dive outside the pass, and various island tours. This was more like conventional travel to the area.

The Orion is really a splendid small cruise vessel and I can't speak highly enough of the entire staff, the excellent meals, and the general wrangling of the zodiacs to keep everyone on board as busy as they wished to be. This is not budget travel. The next two years each feature a 9-day and a 17-day itinerary on this route. The price per person double occupancy for the 9 day trip ranges from $7,960 to $17,420 depending on accommodation, though most of the stateroom are at the lower end of that range. There are just a few single rooms with prices about 30% over the lower figure. The 17-day itinerary is close to double those amounts. These prices do not include air fare to and from Papeete though Lindblad sometimes includes air credits. Diving is the only activity that entails a surcharge. Each dive will cost you $90 This is a fantastic trip which may or may not have enough diving for you. You can find out more on their web site (www.expeditions.com) which will not say much about diving in their descriptions. The company does not regard the Orion as a "dive boat", and it isn't. But the diving they do offer is of considerable interest. I have already put down a deposit for a booking on the 17-day trip in 2020.

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 251-500 dives
Where else diving Moorea, Rangiroa, Grand Turk, various Bahamas, Sipaden, Loma Loma Fiji, Martinique, Cayman and Little Cayman, Belize, more and not at all in that order
Closest Airport Papeete Getting There This was a well organized Lindblad expedition trip. Fly to Papeete, board the Orion that evening. They provide a day room in Papeete

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny Seas calm, choppy
Water Temp 80-80°F / 27-27°C Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 50-80 Ft/ 15-24 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile no
Enforced diving restrictions This was group diving with generally 2 dive masters. There were 11 divers on the ship out of the 80+ passengers.
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? no

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas Squadrons
Dolphins 1 or 2 Whale Sharks None
Turtles 1 or 2 Whales None
Corals 3 stars Tropical Fish 4 stars
Small Critters 3 stars Large Fish 4 stars
Large Pelagics 4 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 4 stars Boat Facilities N/A
Overall rating for UWP's 2 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments There are no special accommodations for underwater photographers though recharging could happen in one's room. None of the divers on this trip had more than an underwater point-and-shoot. Every dive is from an already crowded zodiac. I would not recommend this trip for serious underwater photography, except for the 3 manta snorkel trips which produced some seriously good video footage from the staff. There is a very professional photography staff and photo workshops for land based photography.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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