(12:55 p.m. EDT) -- Last week, the maiden visit of MSC Poesia to Southampton drew attention to the Italian line's plans for ex-UK cruising in 2011. But the French-owned Compagnie du Ponant has also got designs on cruises from and around Britain, having recently announced seven departures in July and August next year.
Compagnie du Ponant is relatively unknown here as, until now, it has catered mainly to the French market. But a sleek new ship, Le Boreal, launched in May and is being promoted to an international audience -- and now, Le Diamant, the line's 226-passenger expedition ship, will be calling Portsmouth home next summer.
Cruise fans will remember this little ship as the Song of Flower, once operated by Radisson (now Regent) Seven Seas with a devoted following, and sold in 2003.
Cruising round Britain and Ireland on such a small vessel should provide a more intimate experience than on the big ships, with some off-the-beaten-track ports featured; in Scotland, for example, the ship calls at Tobermory and Portree, places big ships can't go. There's also a visit to the Isles of Scilly and, interestingly, Whitby in Yorkshire, where Bram Stoker wrote Dracula (and, completely unrelated, the explorer Captain Cook trained as a young seaman).
These cruises are not cheap, though, working out at around £150 a night including wine with dinner. By comparison, posh and quintessentially British Swan Hellenic offers a not dissimilar round-Britain cruise, also from Portsmouth, on the 350-passenger Minerva at around £143 a night, including all the excursions.
Would the French-owned Le Diamant interest you?
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--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
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