Travel Agents Relaunch Orient Lines

Helmed by cruise veteran Nierenberg, the line will sail again next April

Marco Polo II // (c) Orient Lines
Marco Polo II

Orient Lines, created by British cruise and tour entrepreneur Gerry Herrod in 1992, is returning, enhanced, under the ownership of Wayne and Judy Heller, whose Orlando-based Cruises Only grew from a 100-square foot room in 1984 to a 200-person staff with revenue in excess of $100 million in 1997. Cruises Only then joined forces with four other companies to form Travel Services International (TSI). When TSI was acquired by Airtours the Hellers sold their remaining shares, established the Origin Cruise Group and sought a quality cruise line of their own.

After Norwegian Cruise Line sold Orient’s only ship, the Marco Polo, the Hellers’ company bought the Orient entity, including its records. The new Orient Cruises opens its books on September 8 for a season that begins April 15 with a maiden voyage from Barcelona. The ship, the Marco Polo II, is the present very successful Maxim Gorky, now in the German market. The owners are making extraordinary efforts to match the traditional ambience of the original Orient vessel, which inspired intense loyalty among its guests.

Orient has retained 35-year cruise veteran Bruce Nierenberg as executive vice president; Nierenberg said September ushers in a field sales blitz with sales calls and presentations. Although the majority of the line’s business will be North American, they also expect to do well in the British, Australia/New Zealand and, eventually, German markets.

“We don’t want to change the culture,” Nierenberg stated. “It’s like a fine hotel; we want to maintain the classical nature of the vessel.”

Heller said the ship will be delivered completely fitted out to conform to the requirements of SOLAS 2010. The multimillion dollar refurbishment will keep the original Marco Polo’s dining and public rooms, adding a few more to meet modern tastes, and it will be more spacious than the original, 20 percent larger, but with 20 percent fewer passengers.

He said the line will honor the agreements agencies had made with the original Orient and, although the first mailing goes out to Loyalty customers (who also retain their former status), if they respond directly and they formerly booked with an agent, the agent of record will receive a commission.

The 650-passenger ship will have single seating in all four restaurants, 12 categories of staterooms, two thirds of them outside, a library, casino, gymnasium with an indoor pool, beauty salon, card room, Intertnet center, four boutiques and an outdoor pool. All but 20 staterooms have bathtubs; all have minibars and tables for dining.
Orient will offer two for one cruise fares, free air from select gateways and loyalty discounts to polo Club members; the single supplement for the 11-37-day sailings ranges from 150 to 175 percent of the per person rate, with the lower percentages on longer cruises.