After waiting more than a year to finally see and experience Orion II I’m strangely reluctant to take the final step to be the first Australian journalist to step on board. That’s because I’m joining the ship in Japan and the weekend in Tokyo has been too perfect to let go.

It was a very Orion sort of weekend – adventurous yet luxurious. A good start is staying at the Peninsula Hotel with perfect service and beautiful views over the Imperial Palace gardens. Some web research led me to the Aritsugu knife shop down by the Tsukiji Fish Markets where I bought two new kitchen knives with a history stretching back to 1560. While we wait for them to be sharpened we lunch in a tiny laneway sushi restaurant where every succulent morsel is a journey of discovery for my tastebuds.

The usual hectic scheduling of Japanese groups in Australia is positively languid in comparison to our 48 hours in Tokyo. Shopping for electronics in futuristic Akihabara, a teppanyaki dinner with friends in a stylish suburban restaurant, shopping for fashion in Ginza, sightseeing in the Peninsula’s gleaming new Mini, a temple visit and a great dinner in a tiny yakitori café in a back lane.

We learned the summer air conditioning in the hotel was set at 28°C to conserve fuel and read in the Tokyo Times that Tokyo’s radiation levels were quite low. We heard how each building in Japan has been asked to reduce energy use by 10 per cent to 25 per cent and office girls are rejoicing as the higher temperature settings finally favour their summer style over the men’s stitched-up woollen suits. Many companies have now abandoned ties and suits in favour of polo shirts as business attire and traditionalists aren’t comfortable with this.

Next, we fly to Sapporo where we meet the Orion team and catch coaches to Otaru. The dockland is a shabby place so the gleaming ship appears quite out of place. Orion II looks a lot like Orion I, except for her two swept out and back funnels that look rather like airfoils or wings. Inside, the most common expression heard is “Oh, this is a bit different” from the dining room to the cabins. Orion II was built in Italy while Orion hails from Germany, yet it’s the original (and newer) Orion that is the more stylish. Orion II is shorter, wider and has a greater displacement – the slightly plainer, heavier older sister in fact. The interior, too, is not as dramatically ornate as the first Orion. There are two similar lounge areas on decks 3 and 4 but no forward bar or presentation room upstairs.

The dining room appears more spacious and some of the cabins may also be larger and are as equally well equipped as Orion I with L’Occitane toiletries, flat screen TVs, DVD players and internet access. They have the same attractive dark wood and deep blue carpets as Orion I.

Most gratifying is to see familiar faces on board – from Captain Mike to Justin, Orion’s expedition planner. Clinton, the maitre d’ is there to greet us as we walk into the dining room and our chef is the very talented Lothar. As we sail away from Japan it seems many Orion past passengers feel that it’s good to be back. It may be a new ship in a new part of the world but now there’s an Orion family of ships.

Words by: David McGonigal