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29 Ponant Asia Cruise Reviews

We were expecting the best ever cruise and our personal experience is as follows: The good things: - The ship is beautiful, fairly new and nicely appointed. - The dining and room staff are great and will do anything for you. - ... Read More
We were expecting the best ever cruise and our personal experience is as follows: The good things: - The ship is beautiful, fairly new and nicely appointed. - The dining and room staff are great and will do anything for you. - The itinerary of our 17 day cruise from Bali to Hong Kong was well thought out and perfect for us. - The whole ship is clean and tidy. - The rooms are well sound proofed. - the bathroom and seperate toilet are small but adequate. - The Blue Lagoon bar is an unusual and nice experience. - The captain is great, very available/approachable and down to earth. - The cruise director is great. - The singers and dancers are great although lacked live music support. - The bridge is accessible for most of the time which is a nice experience. - The number of passengers, max of about 180, means you get to know a lot of people. - Free style dining is good in two dining areas. - A good variety of shore excursions. - The included drinks are acceptable. The not so good things: - gratuities are not including which is a surprise given the cost of the cruise. - Whilst the Blue lagoon bar is a good experience, don’t expect to see sea life through the windows as this seems highly unlikely. - Our stateroom was a bit on the small size. - Our dress mirror was held on by duct tape, fixed 2 days later. - Poor information about dress code. - Poor shore excursion information. - Prize for winning the quizzes, a free bottle of champagne, the same as is freely available to everyone at the bar so not a prize at all. - The food choice is limited and is definitely hit and miss. Much of the French cuisine really didn’t suit us. The bacon was hard and absolutely dreadful. I still have sore gums from chewing it. - Nylon brush bristles in mushroom soup one evening, our table and the adjacent table and another diner who ate the bristles thinking it was celery - no apology or offer of an alternative. - The shore excursion Ponant staff that accompany the trips seem oblivious to their inaptitude and need some serious training in hospitality. Some examples: - a single long bench seat with shade at a view point fully occupied by Ponant staff and elderly guests left to stand out in the sun. - on a boat tour to a beach, the tour operator asks us to swim ashore or use a canoe because there were other boats filling the available beach space. The boat was full of elderly people but the Ponant staff member said and did nothing. I refused several times on behalf of the passengers and eventually got them to move another boat on shore to make way for us. 15 mins out of our 45 mins stop wasted. - another boat’s passengers were told that the canoes at a stop had to be paid for and the Ponant staff didn’t know that they were included. That boat voted to go somewhere else and they missed out on a visit by canoe to the most beautiful hidden lagoon. - on two occasions we had to wait for the Ponant staff at the end of a tour stop as they were too busy chatting to their friends. Everyone was there but the Ponant staff. There was much talk about the poor performance of these staff amongst a number of the passengers. - we heard various stories of rude bar staff and experienced directly one occasion where the staff were outside at the handrail on entry to Hong Kong and my wife asked them to make a little space for her and she was rudely told this area was not for guests. In fact it was usually not for guests but opened up for guests during the harbour entry and was full of guests. Eventually they went off in a huff. - Where was the piano player? A beautiful grand piano with no one playing it. Not good and was really needed to support the singers. - We were rudely awoken with room service breakfast ordered by another cabin. The passenger had mistakenly written our cabin number on their order but their correct name. Surely the hospitality staff should cross check names. Not good. Out of 14 cruises and 8 cruise companies this was close to being our worst experience. That’s not to say we didn’t have a good time, we did, but it should have been so much better. Sorry to say, 5 out of 10. Read Less
Sail Date September 2019
Having made numerous cruises on various lines (20 +) I can honestly say Ponant really misses the mark. Cruise is billed as high end with gourmet dining, luxury cabins and exciting entertainment all to be accompanied with outstanding ... Read More
Having made numerous cruises on various lines (20 +) I can honestly say Ponant really misses the mark. Cruise is billed as high end with gourmet dining, luxury cabins and exciting entertainment all to be accompanied with outstanding French service standards. Rooms are clean, not spacious but such should be expected on a small ship. Toilet is in a separate room from shower making it somewhat inconvenient but tolerable. Plenty of closet storage as well as many drawers. Food was tolerable definitely not gourmet. Food that should be served hot was barely at room temperature, specifically at the buffet. Selections very limited and reservations required for the buffet at dinner. Service standards are hit or miss with the classical French attitude one would hope not to encounter. On a side note, the first evening at the buffet, went thru 4 packages of butter that were moldy, I suppose it can happen, but I was sitting directly next to the cruise director who ignored the issue turning his head the other. Read Less
Sail Date May 2019
We spent two days in Bali before embarking. We chose this cruise for the remote expedition excursions, and we were not disappointed. Mick, the expedition director, created some wonderful and unusual experiences on fairly isolated ... Read More
We spent two days in Bali before embarking. We chose this cruise for the remote expedition excursions, and we were not disappointed. Mick, the expedition director, created some wonderful and unusual experiences on fairly isolated Indonesian islands. Expedition staff was excellent. Lectures were excellent. Weather was hot and muggy, but we expected that. Two of our excursions had to be dropped because of bad weather. Cabin service was fine, no complaints. We are Ponant "Yacht Club" members and receive free laundry service which is an exceptional benefit, especially on a trip this long. Restaurant staff was friendly and helpful, but service was slow and uneven. The food was excellent. Reception staff was snooty, but got things done when asked. Ship was about 30% English speaking (American, Australian, English-speaking Europeans), the rest were French. We did not attend any of the entertainment activities. Fitness room was fine, but small. Embarkation was chaotic. Everyone crowded the entrance at one time and got a little pushy on the way onto the ship. We were surprised they didn't create lines or some better system. Luggage arrived reasonably promptly. Debarkation was smooth and easy. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
After nearly 14 days tour in Sri Lanka time to enjoy the newest ship in the Ponant fleet, Le Laperouse. The time fit perfect in school holidays and single travel appealed. I was fortunate to have the disabilty cabin on deck 4, which made ... Read More
After nearly 14 days tour in Sri Lanka time to enjoy the newest ship in the Ponant fleet, Le Laperouse. The time fit perfect in school holidays and single travel appealed. I was fortunate to have the disabilty cabin on deck 4, which made the time on board comfortable. As always, the French flair in dining was great, and the bistro style on deck 3 always had surprises, but you needed to find seats here for lunch quickly. Evenings in the dining room were relaxed, and a beautiful Christmas Eve meal, as well as New Year’s Eve. The special degastation evening I enkoyed gave an opportunity to taste some very special Food and French wines. Luck was with us in spotting whales on the Sri Lankan coast on the way to Trincomale, a late afternoon special. Christmas Day was in Chennai and the shore excusion to Kanchipurum and the Kailasananthar temple and sari silk weavers was an intersting day. Boxing Day was in Mamallapura looking at temples carved out of the granite bedrock. Who knew that Chennai had such a long and wide natural beach, and not far from the Chennai cricket stadium! The Bay of Bengal was kind to us and the days at sea were relatively calm. The time in the Andaman Islands was weather and tide dependant. The swim behind La Laperouse in the sea was terrific and we did experience the idyllic beach on one day. As always nature has no consideration for tourists, The special part of the ship is the Blue Eye. what an amzing space! While in the port of Galle and in the Blue Eye we managed to see fish swim past the window. I even have a photo! I can see how this space would be in the areas with corals and when stationery in the polar waters. The ship is special and I look forward to be on board again. Read Less
Sail Date December 2018
We chose this particular trip to Japan because the ship was small and the itinerary was part land and part sea.While the ship itself was adequate- the small room was comfortable, clean, and well attended, the restaurants and food left much ... Read More
We chose this particular trip to Japan because the ship was small and the itinerary was part land and part sea.While the ship itself was adequate- the small room was comfortable, clean, and well attended, the restaurants and food left much to be desired. We are not "foodies", but were quite displeased with the food. The more "formal" dining room seemed to be understaffed, and the staff that was there seemed rushed, impatient, and sometimes a bit discourteous. The more casual dining room required an advance reservation, something we felt a bit odd. It was buffet,also understaffed, with a rather boring selection of food that hardly ever changed. Perhaps, in general, our biggest complaint was the lack of almost anything that gave you the feeling you were traveling in Japan: not a Japanese dinner, a few pieces of the same sushi at the buffet, no Japanese "entertainment", and very limited Japanese culture and the like. We were very fortunate to be traveling with groups that provided excellent speakers- unfortunately, this ship does not have the system allowing you to listen or watch the speakers from your cabin, if you wished to do so. Furthermore, the ship has a peculiar lay-out, lacking rest rooms near the restaurants and no "quiet area"- the "library" is part of a lounge - we tried to sit there, but were driven out by the noisy card players .We are "seasoned" travelers having taking many, many land and sea trips and would definitely not travel on this line again nor could we recommend it to others. Read Less
Sail Date June 2018
Itinerary, service standards and inclusions were very good. Food was excellent and the cabins are spacious and comfortable. The crew overall were very friendly and helpful and really are a highlight. Ponant also provide some very ... Read More
Itinerary, service standards and inclusions were very good. Food was excellent and the cabins are spacious and comfortable. The crew overall were very friendly and helpful and really are a highlight. Ponant also provide some very effective fares for single travellers using sole-occupancy. My only disappointments were: 1. the quality and value of some of the shore excursions. One in particular was rated moderate difficulty, but many able-bodied guests really struggled with it. 2. the poor satellite TV system which failed to automatically recover from the inevitable signal losses - it was necessary every time to change channels and back again when the satellite signal resumed. 3. the very expensive internet packages. Past guests get varying levels of free minutes (based on their status - but even the top level does not receive an "unlimited" package. Beyond the free minutes, additional packages are VERY expensive compared to competitors - and no "unlimited" packages are offered at all. Read Less
Sail Date June 2018
Our previous experience in 2017 on Le Boreal gave us confidence in the offerings of Ponant. In addition, this voyage had interesting Pre Voyage offerings, which we purchased, as the chance to use the 4 day tour of Osaka and Nara was really ... Read More
Our previous experience in 2017 on Le Boreal gave us confidence in the offerings of Ponant. In addition, this voyage had interesting Pre Voyage offerings, which we purchased, as the chance to use the 4 day tour of Osaka and Nara was really attractive to us as mature travellers. Of particular note was the quality of the Kyoto Hotel Okura, which dazzled us completely! The provision of an interpreter during this experience was of great value throughout our land voyage. As were the transfers included. Our rating of the Pre offering is a full 5 stars for value and content. The opportunity to then visit the ports of Hiroshima, Yakushima, Naha, ishigaki and Hualien-Taiwan on the way to Manila worked as a bonus to us. We ventured on Ponant excursions at all ports, and found the organisation, equipment and locations outstanding in all cases. The transport supplied, and the fact that all excursion groups were fully escorted worked really well at all times. Where excursions included catering, this was provided at great establishments, and the food and drink included were excellent. We have now completed 7 voyage sectors with Ponant, and are so content with the offerings that we have 4 more sectors under deposit, and looking at others! For us, the small ship experience is the way to go, always! Read Less
Sail Date June 2018
We were very interested in the destination Japan. The Ship for this round trip should not be too big and exclusive. There is not much choice. That's why we decided to LÁustral. The price would be reasonable if service and quality ... Read More
We were very interested in the destination Japan. The Ship for this round trip should not be too big and exclusive. There is not much choice. That's why we decided to LÁustral. The price would be reasonable if service and quality were to be correct. It's not like that. The quality of the food was very different. The selection was partly not very large. Seafood as you know it from Silversea or Hapag Lloyd, there is little. My wife had a stomach upset and wanted a clear broth for lunch. This could not be realized. Every kitchen actually holds a broth! For dinner there was a broth... The trips were partly catastrophic. The guides were not always as qualified as you could expect. The temporal organization was not satisfactory. We complained about the cleanliness of our suite. The suite was not clean, instead we received a bottle of champagne as compensation. This was our so far most expensive cruise with more than €20,000 cost and unfortunately the worst of so far about 40 cruises in terms of value for money. For guests like us with high standards and willingness to pay a lot for this service unfortunately no recommendation. Read Less
Sail Date May 2018
I did back-to back cruises on L'Austral with the first being 10 days in Australia's Kimberly. It was excellent in every way -- itinerary, activities, cabin, food, and especially the expedition team. They worked together ... Read More
I did back-to back cruises on L'Austral with the first being 10 days in Australia's Kimberly. It was excellent in every way -- itinerary, activities, cabin, food, and especially the expedition team. They worked together beautifully., gave wonderful presentations and were always available for questions. The passenger makeup was mostly Australians, though about 20 French-speaking. I continued on the next cruise - Darwin to Bali - and the atmosphere changed a bit - now it was half English-speaking and half French-speaking. This was more of a cultural cruise as we made several stops in a few little-visited eastern islands of Indonesia. The island tours were well-organized. It was still active as we had several snorkeling opportunities. It is important to know that these were expedition-style cruises, and agility and balance are needed to board the zodiacs. It is active, with snorkeling and hiking opportunities. Everything is described in advance and passengers can self-select if they want to participate in the excursion. Ponant thinks of everything. For those of us continuing on, they provided a very nice half-day tour of Darwin with a good guide and a comfortable bus. I chose L'Austral for its reputation. I like the atmosphere and size of the ship.The fact that it is a fairly new ship (only 6 years old), and has continental food and service is a plus also. The back-to-back cruises were an excellent combination - with the first being all nature with a few visits to Aboriginal rock art; and the second more cultural. With such long flights to this part of the world, it made sense to do a back-to-back. Read Less
Sail Date April 2018
We chose this cruise on L'Austral as the pre and post cruise land tours gave us the opportunity to visit both the amazing Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Bagan in Myanmar. Both of these tours were fantastic and we saw so much. We ... Read More
We chose this cruise on L'Austral as the pre and post cruise land tours gave us the opportunity to visit both the amazing Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Bagan in Myanmar. Both of these tours were fantastic and we saw so much. We very much enjoy travelling on the small ships these days, we find Ponant suits our taste and you do get to know the crew and many of the other passengers on such a small ship. With the choice of the casual buffet on Deck 6 where you can dine inside or out,or the more formal restaurant on Deck 2, you have the best of both worlds. Cabins are very tastefully decorated in muted tones and there is a seperate toilet to the bathroom which proves far more convenient. Whilst you do not have the selection of entertainment found on the larger ships, we find the smaller production shows quite adequate. The shore excursions offered onboard are usually very good and Ponant quite often provide some of the excursions free of charge. Overall we would definitely recommend Ponant especially the expedition cruises. Read Less
Sail Date October 2017
I chose this cruise because of the "no single supplement". Ponant is the only luxury cruise with this option and I really think it is a good marketing option for the company. More and more you have a lot of women traveling and ... Read More
I chose this cruise because of the "no single supplement". Ponant is the only luxury cruise with this option and I really think it is a good marketing option for the company. More and more you have a lot of women traveling and exploring the world by themselves. At the beginning of my cruise Ponant had a get together for all the people traveling alone, so we could meet each other. I also selected Ponant because I wanted to speak French and eat French! I was not disappointed! We visited some very remote islands in Indonesia and met fabulous ethnies: the Torajans for example. Ponant went out of its way to find an event so we could observe first hand the Torajan Funeral rites (we even went there with two live pigs we could offer to the family!). It was superb! The conferences were always of great interest: the naturalists were experienced on board and we were lucky to have Jean Marie Rouart from the Academie française in a panel Paris Match (a great addition for this cruise)! I am now a fan of Ponant! Read Less
Sail Date September 2017
We chose the cruise because of a great experience in 2016 Istanbul to Venice aboard Le Lyrial. The ship and crew were excellent.Kamel was full of energy and fun. The food was excellent although some of the menu selections were odd ... Read More
We chose the cruise because of a great experience in 2016 Istanbul to Venice aboard Le Lyrial. The ship and crew were excellent.Kamel was full of energy and fun. The food was excellent although some of the menu selections were odd for an asian cruise. I would like to have been offered some Asian European fusion options. Our prestige stateroom was clean and well appointed but uncomfortably smaller than we had on Le Lyrial. No larger options were available when we booked. The entertainment was very good. Shore excursions were disappointing; millions of busy people on motor bikes are amusing for only so long. Ha Long Bay and Hoi An were the pick of locations visited. The reality does not measure up to the travel brochure pictures and descriptions. Guides were obviosly very knowledgable and proud of their country but commentaries generally too detailed to the extent of being tedious. Better to cover more ground, see more and hear less statistics , data and dates. Embarcation in HK was terrible; mind you the contrast between the clean and welcoming ship and the drab grubby waiting area ashore may have been a cunning ploy. Internet services were poor. Read Less
Sail Date June 2017
Choose your cruise mates the way you choose your food. That’s because chances are the people you cruise with will determine the kind of food served on the ship. And, of course, the kind of companionship and conversation you will ... Read More
Choose your cruise mates the way you choose your food. That’s because chances are the people you cruise with will determine the kind of food served on the ship. And, of course, the kind of companionship and conversation you will enjoy. For example, when up-market travel specialists Abercrombie & Kent USA chartered Ponant’s L’Austral for a Ryukyu Islands cruise from Osaka to Taiwan and Hong Kong, most of those A&K passengers came from the U.S. So A&K arranged with the ship to provide menus and food items that would appeal to Americans – even though some people on that cruise came from other countries. If you had been expecting rich French food and strong cheeses, you might have been disappointed with the more U.S. style of food items on offer – though, of course, their quality and quantity were what you would expect on a good cruise ship. Still, most cruise ship kitchens will respond to reasonable special requests if, in the above case, you had asked for more French style food…or for a strong cheese. Presumably that sort of cuisine was regularly served to at least the senior officers. Re-provisioning on this trip took place whenever the opportunity presented itself – taking on local seafood or fruit, for example. So that was always a treat. While the cruise ship provides the base for all the action – both on the water and on land – people who travel with A&K are looking for adventure experiences. This president's cruise (which turned into a chairman's cruise, reflecting former A&K USA president Phil Otterson's promotion to chairman of the board) certainly delivered – and, as a bonus, included a captain who had been captured along with his crew and ship by Somali pirates. But more about that later. This is an ideal expedition style ship, with just 134 passenger cabins yet with all the comforts and extras you come to expect from a luxury small ship. The balconies are actually wide enough to comfortably fit two chairs and an ottoman. Our itinerary took us to many of the little-known, little-visited Ryukyu Islands stretching away from the southwestern end of Japan’s main islands. The docks could accommodate us, so it was easy to embark and disembark to go ashore to explore the countryside on one of the three excursions A&K offered at each stop. As for the Somali pirate incident, that ship-napping took place in 2008 when Somali pirates fired on and then boarded the sailing ship Le Ponant, under the command of Patrick Marchesseau, now L’Austral’s captain. “It was scary when they came shooting at us with their Kalashnikovs but then it turned into more of a business transaction,” says Marchesseau, who managed to bargain the pirates down to USD$2 million from their original USD$3 million demand. His crew of 30, including seven women who had initially hidden below decks, were released; the captain was held hostage until the money had been paid. French navy helicopters then managed to capture some of the pirates, who had scattered on land, and recovered 20 per cent of the ransom. “When I told my three young daughters about what happened, I said it was like Captain Hook and I was Peter Pan,” said Marchesseau, who lives in Edmonton with his Canadian wife. He was awarded France’s Medal of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and wrote a book about the hijacking. But even if your captain hasn’t been captured by pirates, the bottom line is: think international when you go cruising these days and enjoy more than just your home culture. Read Less
Sail Date June 2017
We wanted a small ship, so 240 passengers and 180 crew fitted. This gave an opportunity for a cabin with a personal balcony. Excellent feature. Cabin was well appointed and everything worked. The trip timetable was constructed around us ... Read More
We wanted a small ship, so 240 passengers and 180 crew fitted. This gave an opportunity for a cabin with a personal balcony. Excellent feature. Cabin was well appointed and everything worked. The trip timetable was constructed around us being on deck for every port berthing, great fun to watch and fascinating to see places we have been from the sea port at entry. Shore excursions were numerous, optional and used all available time in port well. Where we wanted to personalise an excursion this was handled well with onshore arrangements made for us Food was good to sometimes excellent. Restaurant choice, casual or formal worked well. Wine also was good to very good.,Outstanding wine was available for an extra charge. A good idea so we were only charged for the premium level we wanted. Ship activities included lectures (excellent speaker) and fun (quiz, etc) Good gym,small but all equipment types there Electric ship motors meant a smooth and quiet trip. Read Less
Sail Date June 2017
21 cruises and 19 years after we first set sail on Radisson's "Song of Flower", which soon became Ponant's "Le Diamant", we at last experienced L'Austral and French hospitality. In the meantime we have ... Read More
21 cruises and 19 years after we first set sail on Radisson's "Song of Flower", which soon became Ponant's "Le Diamant", we at last experienced L'Austral and French hospitality. In the meantime we have sailed on many Seabourn cruises, some Radisson/Paul Gauguin, several Silversea, and a memorable trans-Atlantic trip on Cunard's QM2. We should have joined Ponant years earlier. As we made our way south along the coast of Vietnam, eventually to reach Brunei and Kota Kinabalu, we were delighted to find we again were back in the golden days of cruising; before the vessels were overrun with some of the grumpy non-travellers who have written some of these reviews. First, we were at last free of the structured, dress coded, regimented approach of Seabourn and (to a lesser extent) Silversea. From captain to repair mechanic, nothing was a problem. The elegant French ladies of reception, the restaurant maitre d's, the superb guest relations staff - all were faultless. Now its true that, with delightful Gallic insouciance, some who thought themselves important and could only converse in demands were put down in that delightful French way - service slowed down for example. With half our passengers French for a start, such delicate responses did not happen to many! The food was exceptional. The chef had the pride and the courage to simply offer his best- none of the "branded" marketing which has in the past been pushed at us that the menu is by some American chef unknown to us but apparently revered in his country. Ponant does not splash out on vast ranges of menu items, but instead provides what you would get in a family hotel in France. Good food, well cooked and presented. The sous chef who spent his night on the baguettes, brioches, pain du chocolate, and croissants made breakfast a delight. For the first time ever, the coffee was always equal to the best in Italy (or New Zealand). The tours were fascinating and left on time. They were excellent value, taking us to parts of Vietnam we could not have experienced by simply going ashore. Disembarkation was the smoothest we have ever experienced. Don't go on Ponant if you want a casino, trivia quiz sessions, or the intrusion on your holiday of attempts at mass jollity. Don't go if you think your cabin should be the size of an American hotel room and you intend to spend your time inside it. The compact cabin suites are, like many European hotel rooms, practical bases from which to have your holiday outside them not in them. Intelligent engaged older children would learn much - on this cruise there were none of any kind. Do go if you want quality entertainment like a ballet group of five, a classical pianist, and a singing duo of ability. A captain and crew tuned to your needs, an entertainment director who is a true professional, and a vision of cruising which seeks to provide what you want, not impose their ideas on your holiday. Read Less
Sail Date June 2017
Chosen for itinerary and was intrigued to try out a small ship. Itineray was great but ship was a disappointment. Suite was nothing more than two standard rooms that adjoined, with the bed taken out of one and a couch and two chairs ... Read More
Chosen for itinerary and was intrigued to try out a small ship. Itineray was great but ship was a disappointment. Suite was nothing more than two standard rooms that adjoined, with the bed taken out of one and a couch and two chairs substituted. That did give us two bathrooms, which was important, since the bathrooms are tiny. the sleeping cabin was small with only about a foot or son between the end of the bed and the dresser. I have had suites on many larger 5 star ships that put this "premiere suite" to shame. The food was also terrible. Buffet breakfast and lunch was basically the same for 8 days. Being a French ship, I expected that at least pasties and deserts would be of high quality but even the croissants were dry, heavy. The best croissants I had on the trip was from a Japanese hotel (Shangri-la)m in Tokyo. Dinners were average at best and poor at worst. Beef steak lacked flavor. Fish was always overcooked and dry. There was no imagination with plating or menu selection. Only 3 entrees offered per night with an option for a steak, hamburger, etc all there time. Worst food we have ever had on a cruise ship. Staff was indifferent at best. Smiles were at the ready but real caring service was lacking. Waiters would walk by at breakfast with a coffee pot and never asked if you wanted more. We always had to flag someone down. Reception desk personnel sometimes acted like you were bothering them if you stopped and asked for something. Admittedly this is a small ship and you should not expect the comforts and activities of larger cruise lines. But the ship never felt comfortable and there are few places to go on board that offer a relaxing atmosphere. We are not mega ship cruisers but are more in the 750-1000 passenger ship category. Our experience on L'Austral convinced us to avoid small ships in the future and particularly Ponant Cruise line, which I feel was a poor representative of the small ship segment of the market. Read Less
Sail Date April 2017
My husband and I chose to travel on L'Austral with Tauck because we enjoy Tauck's level of service, and liked the idea of the small ship experience. I had done quite a bit of research on Ponant and L'Austral specifically, ... Read More
My husband and I chose to travel on L'Austral with Tauck because we enjoy Tauck's level of service, and liked the idea of the small ship experience. I had done quite a bit of research on Ponant and L'Austral specifically, and felt that we were well-informed on both the pros and the cons for this particular line and ship. I'm going to divide this review into two sections, the first dealing solely with our experiences on L'Austral, and the second touching on aspects that were primarily Tauck-controlled. L'Austral: Embarkation in Osaka was seamless, with our luggage waiting in our cabin. The cabin itself was compact, with space to move around the bed, but not much more. The shower and vanity and separate toilet cubicle were similarly compact, but perfectly adequate. Toiletries were L'Occitane. Beds were comfortable, bedding of good quality but not luxurious. There were several types of bottled water on a tray, and a small refrigerator with an assortment of alcohol and soft drinks. We liked our cabin, were happy that we had the balcony, and thought our room steward was friendly, efficient, and gave great service. There was plenty of room under the beds for our suitcases. For the most part, we used the main dining room. We ate one lunch at the buffet restaurant, but overall preferred coming back to the ship and being served by our (very welcoming)favorite waiters. The dining room decor was quietly elegant, the chairs and banquettes very comfortable, and the noise level low enough that it was easy to converse with your table mates without raising your voice. Breakfast was a combination of buffet and made to order items. The buffet tended to have the same assortment every day, with some variation in the available fresh fruit, and some of the made to order options. The breakfast pastries were very good, and obviously made fresh--we enjoyed those a lot! The lunch and dinner menus had choices for soup, starters, sides and dessert, and for the main course a choice of meat, fish or vegetarian option. The quality of the food ranged from average (some overcooked fish) to very good, with the majority being more towards the "very good" end of the range. However, for people who may have been expecting the variety and selection of some of the larger cruise lines, the food may have been a bit of a disappointment. Having read some of the negative reviews of the food on the Ponant ships, we were frankly surprised and relieved at how good it was. Portion sizes were European rather than American, which also pleased us. We did not go to any of the shows since those started at 9:30, and after a full day of touring, having frequently left the ship by 8:15am, after dinner we usually headed for our cabin to relax and prepare for the next day. We did see the dancers and two of the singers in the lounge during the cocktail hour, and thought that the little mini-shows were entertaining--but not entertaining enough to make us stay up long enough to attend the longer shows! The level of service from the majority of the staff was excellent: the waitstaff and room stewards were warm, friendly, and couldn't do enough for you. As an example, one of the people with whom we usually shared a table had a real weakness for chocolate--I think he had a chocolate dessert for every lunch and dinner--and one evening there was no chocolate dessert on the menu. Without saying a word, our waiter went to the kitchen and came back to the table with a mini-sundae with chocolate ice cream and cookies for our table mate. The women in reception were efficient, but not especially warm or helpful. Their coolness was especially noticeable since everyone else in a customer-facing position was so engaging. L'Austral is a small ship, but the public spaces are very pleasant, especially considering the fact that she is really an expedition ship, not a luxury cruise vessel. We hit some rough weather on our first night at sea, and while there was certainly quite a bit of motion that night, aside from that she was very comfortable, and didn't seem to be doing too much bobbing around. Tauck: For this particular cruise the Tauck passengers were divided into 4 groups of approximately 30-35, for a total of 120-140 total. This meant that the Tauck-ies constituted a majority of the passengers. I did wonder how this impacted the cuising experience of the other passengers, which, as nearly as I can remember, were a mixture of American, Australian, New Zealanders and about 20+/- French. My understanding is that next year Tauck will have 6 groups, which will effectively be the entire ship. There will also be some other changes in the tour, which this year began with 3 days in Kyoto, and next year will be based out of Osaka, with only a single day trip to Kyoto. We were happy that we were able to go this year, since we loved our time in Kyoto, and would hate to have missed it. As always, the Tauck tour director for our group of 30+ was wonderful, and kept us moving while still allowing for individual exploration and experiences. Our local guides were mostly excellent, and provided context and some nice extras, such as teaching us songs, playing counting games using Japanese numbers, and origami. Our hotel in Kyoto was the Granvia, situated on top of Kyoto Station. Two of the tour groups were based here, and the other two were at the Westin, and we had very little contact with them. The Granvia was a wonderful location, with underground shopping and restaurants, a department store, and easy access to both buses and subways which could take you to any part of the city. Kyoto site seeing: Kinkakuji(covered in gold leaf), the Pure Water Temple, Gion, a taiko performance, a calligraphy lesson, and a tea ceremony, Nijo-jo (where we heard the famous "nightingale floors"), a Heian shrine, and a welcome dinner which included a Geisha performance. I'm not sure how much of this will be included next year, but I would have hated to miss any of it. The first port after Osaka/Kobe was Tamano. Our group caught a ferry to Naoshima Island where famous architect Tadao Ando designed Benesse House and where other houses in the village have been incorporated into a living art project. In the afternoon we visited Kurashiki which has many 17th century warehouses built along canals, and the Ohara Museum of Art. The next port was Hiroshima, where we visited the Peace Park Memorial and museum, as well as the iconic A-Bomb Dome. This was a pretty intense and emotional morning, so as a way of shifting gears, we were taken for lunch to an okonomiyake restaurant, which was truly delicious. In the afternoon we visited Miyashima Island to see the Itsukushima shrine with its beautiful red gate surrounded by the ocean, and where the deer are protected and will eat the paper right out of your pockets. Uwajima was next, where we visited a pearl farm, saw a farm where bulls are raised for fighting, and visited the Flying Squirrel Temple. Kagoshima--We visited the base of Sakurajima, an active volcano, and the Chiran Kamikaze Museum, where we saw the bunkers that the suicide pilots spent their last night and read their last letters home. We also visited Chiran Samurai village, where there are houses that date back over 250 years, and in some cases still have the original families living in those houses. Nagasaki--In the morning we visited the Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum. The museum was very well done, and we actually preferred it to the Hiroshima Museum. In the afternoon we visited Dejima, which was the enclosed enclave that was the only place Dutch traders were allowed to live during much of the Edo period. We also visited Glover Garden, built in the mid-1800's for a Scottish physician, and containing the oldest Western style house in Japan. The next day took us to Pusan in South Korea where we visited the United Nations cemetery and memorial to the UN troops who died in the Korean War. We also took a trip to the Jagalchi fish market, where we saw fish that looked like something out of an Alien movie. Sakaiminato--In the morning we travelled to the Adachi Museum of Art, which has a wonderful collection of modern art, but where the real attraction are the incredible gardens around the museum. Every window in the museum frames another gorgeous view and viewpoint. In the afternoon we visited the Matsue black castle which is one of only 12 remaining original castles in Japan. Most of us climbed the 8 stories after having our photos taken with a samurai posing front of the castle. The next day we disembarked, which was a very smooth process, and were bused to Kyoto where we had lunch in a restaurant in the Gion district before we were taken to Kyoto Station to catch the bullet train to Tokyo. The bullet train was a great experience, and as a bonus, we got a superb view of Fujiyama on the way. Our Tokyo hotel was the Shangri-La, which was everything luxury hotel should be. We were taken on a brief orientation tour of Ginza, and then set loose to enjoy dinner on our own. Our last day of the tour began with a trip to the Senso-Ji Buddhist temple, a visit to the Edo-Tokyo Museum (which really needed an entire day to itself to do it justice)and was followed by a "salaryman's lunch" at a wonderful restaurant. In the afternoon about half of the group, including my husband and myself, opted out of visiting the scheduled Meiji Shrine and chose to sightsee or shop on our own. That evening was the closing dinner at Happo-en which featured a demonstration by sumo wrestlers. As long as this review is, in terms of the Tauck portion of the cruise, I've really only given the barest outlines of what we did and experienced. Although there was some free time scheduled, for the most part we were kept moving. There seemed to be a larger than usual percentage of people in their mid-70's to mid-80's, and I believe that some of the people on the tour found the pace a bit taxing. My DH and I are in our early 60's and found the pace and activity level to be pretty much what we enjoy. How this compared to what the non-Tauck L'Austral cruisers experienced on their excursions, I have no idea, and I'm afraid I have no information on the quality of the excursions offered by L'Austral. Overall it was an excellent trip. We loved Japan, found the Japanese people to be warm, friendly and very helpful, and wouldn't hesitate to go back. Read Less
Sail Date April 2017
We chose this cruise because of Ports of Call and time of year, and the smaller type of vessel. We were pleased with the choice of the Ports of Call but overall were disappointed in the Quality of the Cruise in a few facets. This is an ... Read More
We chose this cruise because of Ports of Call and time of year, and the smaller type of vessel. We were pleased with the choice of the Ports of Call but overall were disappointed in the Quality of the Cruise in a few facets. This is an expensive ship and we did not fell we received adequate value for the money spent The front desk staff were rude if not nasty, and very officious. The dining was good for Breakfast and Lunch but relatively poor for the evening The seating areas for both were less than comfortable and there were only 2 options for dining. The lack of any Japanese food on board and little attempt to make gala evenings feel gala. The local guides in japan were well meaning but generally incompetent in English and had very little of interest to report. The guide in Bosan was very good however. The tour locations were interesting however. This ship's bookings were dominated by Tauck and as a result we were isolated as a small group of English speakers who were not part of Tauck. Since we had a suite, we would expect a little attention and maybe a perq or two. There were none in evidence.. I think Ponant has a poor sense of customer expectations and I would rate it as much poorer than either AMA Waterways or Viking as well large cruise ships such as NCL. Having made these negative observations, I do want to compliment the service staff including waiters, butlers, and housekeeping. They were always friendly and very responisve Read Less
Sail Date April 2017
Itinerary was good, ship nice and modern, very quiet engines. But the captain, hotel manager and reception are very arrogant ,and not very skilled in handling guests. After a horrible arriving on 5.30am,after waiting 4 hours on ... Read More
Itinerary was good, ship nice and modern, very quiet engines. But the captain, hotel manager and reception are very arrogant ,and not very skilled in handling guests. After a horrible arriving on 5.30am,after waiting 4 hours on gasstation in nowmans land of Batangas, the ship was still in dry dock and no-one was talking to us. We had drill on 11am, despite of having a seaday. . Food was poor for a french ship. fish overcooked, everyday the same salad ,fruits, only 4 kind of cheese the whole 18 days. Only one white wine, one red und sometimes a rose wine, always the same kind and winery never changing. English speaking guests are second class, or third class, if there is a huge Tauck group overcrowding the ship. After 30 cruises with the best ships of the other five star companies,this was a great disappointment. the excursions were average and a lot could have don by yourselves . Seldom we had a shuttles to the town, which sometimes was dangerous running between containers through the harbour to find an exit. Read Less
Sail Date March 2017
It was a last minute decision to go on a cruise and this was the only one available. We booked two days before embarkation and arrived in Hong Kong the night before departure. The ship was beautiful and the staff very friendly. Although it ... Read More
It was a last minute decision to go on a cruise and this was the only one available. We booked two days before embarkation and arrived in Hong Kong the night before departure. The ship was beautiful and the staff very friendly. Although it is a French speaking ship, English was well catered for, with all crew bi-lingual. Announcements were made in French then repeated in English. This being our first cruise, we cant really make a comparison with other lines but we enjoyed the experience. There were other folk that seemed to be cruising experts and had been on many different boats; they had mixed reviews of our ship and line. One common complaint was that the food on board was not really up to standard for a 5 star cruise line; I agree. There were two restaurants, one buffet and one fine dining. The buffet was average and really only cafeteria standard, the choice was limited and food quite unappealing, with pretty much the same every day. The a la carte was naturally French cuisine and also limited. Quality in the fine dining restaurant was better than the buffet and the wine choice ok. The buffet wines were unacceptably poor quality. Entertainment on board was limited but pleasant, with singers and dancers and a piano player. Personally, I was happy with that level of entertainment and really, it was not a large ship, so one would not expect entertainment extravaganzas. Drinks and all food on board was included in the ticket, which was good. Excepting the wines in the buffet, the drinks selection was really good, with beers and quality spirits included; I like scotch and there was a very acceptable single malt in the choices. Any premium spirits or wines were charged for. Passenger demographic was mainly French with about 25 Americans and 15 Aussies on board. Everyone got on fine and we socialized with all groups. There were not many kids on board but they were very well behaved and the crew catered to and entertained them. I would guess the average age on board was around 45 - 50, hence, no disco....thank God. We have discovered that we like cruising, so we will go again soon and would very likely choose a Ponant cruise. Read Less
Sail Date October 2016
The embarkation was delayed because the ship had to relocate due to a imminent cyclone. We had to stay overnight in Kanazawa and travelled by bus to the new port of departure and were welcomed by the Captain and officers, taken to our ... Read More
The embarkation was delayed because the ship had to relocate due to a imminent cyclone. We had to stay overnight in Kanazawa and travelled by bus to the new port of departure and were welcomed by the Captain and officers, taken to our cabin and as we departed, invited to an excellent brunch in the buffet. L'Austral is a small luxury cruise ship which has been designed with beautiful interiors, colours and furnishings both in the general areas and the cabins. The Gastronomic Restaurant was outstanding with wonderful meals and wines and the Grill the place to go for breakfast and lunch. The Main Lounge apart from an excellent bar service, provided evening entertainment, music, and later in the night, dancing after the show. The shows were terrific, with excellent dance, sound and stage performances. Three out of the six excursions we took were well organised, but the others left a lot to be desired. The entertainment provided by locals on the wharf in two of the small ports where L'Austral docked and meeting the ship in Osaka, were outstanding. The service by the cabin boy Christy, the bar staff, the restaurant staff and the Hotel Manager, and the support crew as well as the Captain and officers was excellent. We met some wonderful fellow passengers with whom will maintain contact in the future. Read Less
Sail Date October 2016
Chosen because of itinerary - shore excursions featured in promotional materials. Ponant completed mismanaged all shore activities from arrival at airport through nearly all shore excursions. Ponant rep could not find driver and bus at ... Read More
Chosen because of itinerary - shore excursions featured in promotional materials. Ponant completed mismanaged all shore activities from arrival at airport through nearly all shore excursions. Ponant rep could not find driver and bus at Narita airport keeping us waiting more than an hour causing us to arrive at destination after dark so that we could not see the first featured garden. Most local guides spoke with such thick accents that they could not be understood. In addition, since there was no continuity of guides, many repeated information that had been given to us previously. On one day we waited more than two hours to be processed by Japanese customs because Ponant had not prepared properly for the customs agents. Further Ponant representatives made no attempt to ensure that the queue was maintained in an orderly fashion, allowing cutting in to the line. On that day we were delayed so long that we were too late to enter the Hiroshima peace memorial (another highlight of the trip missed). Further, the PA announcements could not be heard in cabins, it was necessary to open the cabin door to hear the announcements through the corridor PA systems. In addition the details of when and where it was necessary to congregate were often changed at the last minute. On a more positive note, our cabin (a suite) was excellent, although the standard veranda cabins appeared to be too small compared with either Seabourn or Crystal's similar cabins. On board service was excellent. Dining - breakfasts were outstanding, luncheon buffets generally good except for the hot entrees. Dinners suffered from poor quality of the main entrees (tenderloin anything but tender) fish seemed not to be fresh. Read Less
Sail Date October 2016
This was the second cruise on Le Soleal. I would NOT have returned if the second was not already paid for. My experiences.... The management and upper staff onboard were unable /unwilling to address issues such as NO internet for 4 ... Read More
This was the second cruise on Le Soleal. I would NOT have returned if the second was not already paid for. My experiences.... The management and upper staff onboard were unable /unwilling to address issues such as NO internet for 4 days. NO news or current affairs TV for the whole journey. NO wine came aboard in Hong Kong so the included wine was very slim pickings indeed. Food was ok. But French speaking staff preferred the French speaking guests who received priority treatment. The manager claimed that any complaints " were the first time he had had a complaint" NO!! many English speaking guests complained in person about inadequacies and inefficiencies. The first time on Le Soleal was around New Zealand, and was inadequate and not to the standard I expect from "luxury" whatever that may mean. I sent 2 emails at that time about my disappointments before I received a reply. The second trip Hong Kong to Japan was 6 weeks later and had different inadequacies. I sent 2 emails and a text before I received an telephone response from the management in Sydney. Summary for both trips ...amateurish and expensive. Read Less
Sail Date March 2016
This cruise was planned by an affinity group (MIT alumni). I signed up because they always plan great trips with stimulating fellow travelers and my wife and I are mildly addicted eclipse chasers. Also, Australia/Indonesia/Malaysia is a ... Read More
This cruise was planned by an affinity group (MIT alumni). I signed up because they always plan great trips with stimulating fellow travelers and my wife and I are mildly addicted eclipse chasers. Also, Australia/Indonesia/Malaysia is a part of the world that I had long wanted to visit. Le Soleal and Ponant exceeded expectations. The accommodations, crew, amenities, excursions, and food were all first class. We spent a day in Sydney before flying on to Darwin to meet the ship. Sydney was great fun, exactly what we expected from prior reading, surfing and recommendations. Darwin is just a place to meet the ship. Embarkation involved a long, boring wait in a typical but uncrowded, unadorned, unsupported boarding room. Disembarkation was fine. The ship has all the amenties I consider important. No casino but not much time for one. We upgraded to a suite which was a first-time, outstanding luxury to which we may become addicted. The French cuisine was outstanding, despite our various dietary restrictions. The combined MIT and ship's lectures were excellent. Service was impeccable. The shore excursions were interesting, educational, and fun. SCUBA would have been a plus but wasn't offered. However, the snorkeling sites were great. Yes, I would go again. In fact, we did, five months later on the same ship, in the same cabin, to Western Alaska and Siberia. Another great trip, albeit with somewhat lesser excursion quality. Great wildlife photo ops, though. But that's another story... Read Less
Sail Date March 2016
After enjoying some 20 cruises on Oceania, Cunard, Norwegian, Crystal, Holland-America, and Silver Sea, we think we have a pretty good grasp of the industry and what a paying passenger should expect. Le Soloeal, owned by the French line ... Read More
After enjoying some 20 cruises on Oceania, Cunard, Norwegian, Crystal, Holland-America, and Silver Sea, we think we have a pretty good grasp of the industry and what a paying passenger should expect. Le Soloeal, owned by the French line Le Ponant, is the the worst run cruise ship I have ever seen. Paying for Le Soleal is like throwing your money away. The problems go to the policies (which means the company is horrible as well) as well as the clueless staff (which could be the company’s fault, the fault of the ship’s manager, or both). I hate when people criticize without specifics, so I’m happy to give them. Here we go. 1. This is advertised as an all-inclusive ship and advertises fine wines and spirits as included in the price. Nothing could be further from the truth. The 1 or 2 wines available are cheap and unheard of. There is no single malt scotch. There is no Bourbon. The only Brandy is too cheap to drink. 2. Even when you go to the list available for pay, the prices are jacked up terribly. Usually a ship that is all-inclusive gives you decent prices for upgrading as you get sort of a credit. Not here. Not only is the list overpriced, it features only one American Red and one American White – both from the Robert Mondavi Private Selection line which, while it sounds good and probably fooled the incompetents running this Line, is a low line wine. A comment here: For many of the wines for sale the list has a Parker score. Many are 90 or above, but the Mondavi Chardonnay is 84. Can you imagine having one American wine on the list and bragging about an 84? Stupid. There are others in the mid 80’s. Why have them there at all? 3. This ship has only about 200 passengers and a crew ration of 1:2, which is too low in the first place for a so-called luxury ship. More importantly, most crew members have no idea about anything outside their particular job, and often not then. a. The first afternoon neither the reception desk nor the staff in the 6th floor lounge had any idea if there was shipboard music being played later in the evening. And the poorly put together daily notice said nothing about it. Turned out there were entertainers in both the 6th floor and 3rd floor lounges. b. At the lunch buffet shrimp was offered. We asked the servers about sauce, and none knew what was available and had to go find out. c. Upon check in, we were put in the lounge on the 3rd deck, being told rooms were not ready. About 30 minutes later as friends of ours told us they were in their room I went to the front desk and was told by the hotel manager they would come get us when they started taking people to rooms. As he is telling me this, those boarding were indeed being taken to their cabins right in front of my face. So we just went to ours on our own. It was ready, but no luggage at 4:00 in the afternoon on a ship with only about 100 cabins. I went and found the luggage and brought it in. d. On the night of the captain’s reception they ship’s newsletter said a Gala dinner would begin after the reception and they would not serve until all were seated. There was no indication of what time that would be. The front desk told me I could actually dine at any time after 6. She was shocked when I told her it was now 6:25 and the restaurant was not open yet. She called and told me it would open at 6:45. It actually opened at 6:37. e. Here is a clueless hotel manager story that will make you smile. When we complained that we were told there were fine wine and spirits aboard the ship, he asked us, with a quizzical look on his face, where we heard or read that. He said he only offers wine and spirits. They may not be so fine. Dumb? 4. At dinner on the 3rd night we ordered the lamb on the menu. After about 10 minutes the waiter told us they were out. We had ordered a bottle of wine to go with the lamb, but the staff wasn’t trained well enough to understand any problem with this. So we ordered steak skewers and as we were finishing, out came lamb for the table next to us who ordered well after we did. We asked a captain what happened and he said they did not know they had more lamb and it took the chef 20 minutes to find out. We told him we thought that was incompetent and he sent a higher up who first said the other table ordered first, which was not true, and had so been confirmed by the captain. Caught in a lie, he attempted to say it took 25 minutes to thaw the lamb. No one understood that all they had to say to us was wait a few minutes while they check things out. They are simply incompetent on the ship. IMPORTANTLY, this was the second time this happened. They ran out of baked salmon at lunch and told everyone they had no more only 20 minutes into a 90 minute restaurant opening. As we left, there sat the dish. The host of that room said they convinced the chef to make more. Shouldn’t have run out in the first place. 5. With regard to the ship’s entertainers/musicians, the newsletter never tells you who is entertaining where. So we know nothing about them or where they might be at any given time. This is unfair to the passengers and entertainers, and shows a total lack of understanding on the part of the crew. Every other cruise line gives you this information. 6. The group we were with had many people (over 25) in the 6th floor lounge one evening. We were actually playing the piano, and all were singing. At midnight the bartenders closed down and left. Never seen that on a ship. 7. At the so-called Gala dinner, the server put my salad fork back for me to use again when I finished the salad. I had him get me a new one. Then, someone was not thinking on the mussels curry dish as we had to use our hands to open the mussels. What a mess. The chargers on which this dish sat were naturally covered with shells and liquid from the broth. Were they removed? No. At least not until we requested it. 8. Unbelievably, in both dining rooms there is a table for the ship’s officers, who sit by themselves and ignore all their passengers. I cannot remember such rudeness and obvious lack of thought on any other ship. 9. The ship scheduled a mandatory safety meeting followed by a mandatory life jacket drill at 5:45 and 6:00 respectively the first day. Obviously, people took their life jackets with them. Some of the crew allowed them in the room during the lecture and some made us take them back to our cabin saying we could not bring them until 6:00, of course meaning we all had to leave the lecture, go to the room, get the life jackets, and come right back. You would think this is a comedy, but the people on this ship are just this disconnected. Also, the drill was help at a time we were in port and people were not required to be on board for another 8 hours. Finally, even tho the drill was designed to show us how to put on the life jackets, the notice sent out asked us to come with them already on. 10. They are so cheap on this ship. We have already written about the spirits and wine that fall into this category, and the fact that the bartenders close shop at 12 even when passengers are out. In the morning they advertise fresh squeezes orange, grapefruit, and tomato juice. Think they have this during the day at the two cocktail bars? Nope. Too cheap, as we say. Cruise another line - really. Read Less
Sail Date November 2015
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