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27 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: February 2016
My husband and I recently returned from a 10 day cruise in February to Antarctica. Le Lyrial is a beautiful ship and given our geographical location handles the rough seas and conditions very well. It was hard to find fault with a ... Read More
My husband and I recently returned from a 10 day cruise in February to Antarctica. Le Lyrial is a beautiful ship and given our geographical location handles the rough seas and conditions very well. It was hard to find fault with a ship that was only 10 months old. Our cabin on deck 5 was more than comfortable with plenty of storage and the cabin stewards took pride in keeping the cabins very clean with plenty of fresh towels and french toiletries. Nothing was ever a problem to them. Our dining experiences on both Level 2 and Level 6 were very enjoyable. There was plenty of choice for both buffet and fine dining with very attentive staff making sure all was okay. As this was an expedition cruise the expedition crew were exceptional and we looked forward to their daily informative talks about the wildlife and the places we would visit. Each day our zodiac excursions whether they be to go ashore or cruise around icebergs or shipwrecks were a highlight. The crew made sure we had plenty of time ashore to look at wildlife or just to take in the scenery. The ease of getting on and off the zodiacs is handled very well with every effort taken to make one feel safe. This is not your normal cruise and cannot be compared to the bigger cruise ships. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience of sailing on a luxury ship in a very isolated part of the world. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2015
We boarded LeSoleal in the Solomon Islands, and cruised southwards through the Coral Sea to the very remote isles of Vanuatu and New Caledonia. We disembarked in Noumea. The ship was spotless, well maintained and operated to ... Read More
We boarded LeSoleal in the Solomon Islands, and cruised southwards through the Coral Sea to the very remote isles of Vanuatu and New Caledonia. We disembarked in Noumea. The ship was spotless, well maintained and operated to perfection. The crew from the captain down were polite and helpful, even though we basically only speak English. The cabins are small but comfortable, and well equipped. We found thefood very varied and tasty. The Expedition Cruising was spectacular, indeed we visited small islands of the Coral Sea that had never experienced a cruise ship visit. Landings were made by the use of 14 zodiacs, hence we never needed any facilities for the ship. The Expedition Crew of 8 extremely knowledgeable & multilingual experts in Marine Biology, Vulcanology, Ornithology etc were brilliant, and accommodated the pax of many languages (but mainly French & English). Mick Fogg was expedition leader, and "burned the midnight" oil to ensure the whole schedule ran like clockwork. Each of the islands staged their own (and very different) island welcome, and the captain was ever willing to modify the itinerary to visit out of the way places of interest to pax. We visited Japan for Cherry Blossom in April 2015 on sister ship L'Austral, and had a wonderful memorable experience. We like small ship cruising. Read Less
14 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2015

Traveled with excellent Tauck group from Buenos Aires on charter flight to Ushuaia. Boarded Le Soleal in the afternoon. Welcomed by captain and officers. Immediately impressed by cleanliness, subtle design and classiness of this new and ... Read More

Traveled with excellent Tauck group from Buenos Aires on charter flight to Ushuaia. Boarded Le Soleal in the afternoon. Welcomed by captain and officers. Immediately impressed by cleanliness, subtle design and classiness of this new and beautiful small ship. Enjoyed smooth Drake passage and great Antarctica weather. 12 zodiac landings led by outstanding team of naturalists. Impressed by safety and care taken by crew and naturalists. Cabin housekeeping excellent. Superb cruise director. Officers friendly and evident. Open bridge policy meant you can observe the ship being maneuvered, navigated and operated. Food good with choice of buffet on level 6 or dining room on level 2. Don't miss the superb steak tartare served at one lunch buffet. Pastry, desserts and baking fabulous. Crew smiling and helpful. Truly a fine voyage on a well run friendly ship.

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20 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2014

I cruised on Le Boreal as part of a chartered Abercrombie and Kent expedition including The Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic peninsula in Dec 14/Jan 15.

There are many reasons to select Le Boreal/A&K for ... Read More

I cruised on Le Boreal as part of a chartered Abercrombie and Kent expedition including The Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic peninsula in Dec 14/Jan 15.

There are many reasons to select Le Boreal/A&K for this adventure:

* Itinerary: every other expedition in this category and with these stops is 20+ days. This was 17, and was certainly not too short. It hit all the highlights you want to see, and there were plenty of expeditions at each stop.

* Expedition staff: A&K gathered an impressive team led by Dr. Marco Favero, and cruise director Jannie Cloete. There were several PhDs, and many other skilled naturalists, photographers and historians. From my research, only Lindblad/Nat Geo can compare with this level of experienced staff.

* Ship: Le Boreal is new, clean, and incredibly stylish. The cabins are streamlined but comfortable, and the public spaces are subtly beautiful. Look at the Lindblad/NatGeo ships and you'll see old-fashioned, somewhat hokey interiors. I cannot overstate how nice the ship design is. AND, every single cabin has a balcony, which I found incredibly nice.

* The price: Though A&K is by no means known as affordable...the combination of the shorter itinerary and discounts for early bookings resulted in this cruise being several thousand dollars cheaper than the alternatives like Lindblad/NatGeo, SilverSeas, etc. And

* The ship staff: service and professionalism was at the highest level. The captain and crew kept the bridge open to visitors daily, and navigated skillfully through heavy and icy seas...often changing course to see whales, add stops to our itineraries, etc. Bar and Restaurant staff...a mix of French and Filipino...was tremendously friendly and offered great personal service.

You can read the company websites and brochures for day-by-day detailed itineraries so there is no point in repeating those here. Here are some tips/tricks/observations:

* You are at sea for several days at a time with no stops, and there is limited entertainment, so bring books, movies, games, etc. Expedition staff will give lectures that can vary in quality, and there are about 20-25 movies on demand...not alot. The onboard library has a small selection of books, and WiFi is available by satellite, but quite expensive. In short, don't go if you are easily bored and you don't like reading or quiet times.

* Food is overall good, but a bit on the French hotel bland side. The weakest areas are proteins...fish and meats usually overcooked. But, over 3 weeks with no stops to resupply there was always great fresh fruit, salads, and vegetables. Soups were good, desserts as well. And, breads and pastries were always consistently excellent. There is a buffet and a sit-down restaurant, and both were open for all meals. Cookies and tea were served in 2 bars off hours. A brief room service menu was available 24x7 when the restaurants were closed for meals.

* Packing. Everyone but me seemed to ignore the many warnings to limit baggage to a minimum. There were huge suitcases, and about 1/3 of people had packed suits/ties and cocktail dresses for the welcome reception, xmas dinner, new year's eve, and farewell dinner. On this trip, you could rent boots for the onshore expeditions, and I recommend that option rather than bringing them.

* Spa and Fitness Center. The spa was roomy and super comfortable...but I didn't hear anyone rave about the treatments. In France, there are levels of massage...with the highest requiring training and licensing and practiced usually in medical offices This is not what you get on Le Boreal. I heard people say it was usually light Swedish massage that was only passable. I got a facial which I thought was pretty good. The fitness center is nice but VERY small...2 treadmills, 2 bikes and a combination cable/weight machine. The end. It gets understandably crowded.

* Getting to the ship from Buenos Aires. A&K arranged airport pickup which was perfect, and overnight stay at the Sofitel in BA. Ask for a high floor with a view...because I was on floor 3 overlooking an airshaft. Have patience during the trip to Ushuaia. A&K screwed up our tickets...we got boarding passes to the NatGeo charter flight...so all info was wrong. We also waiting in the airport for quite a while. I get that its hard to move 200 people around, but things seemed especially slow and ponderous.

* When to go. We chose the xmas/new year "family" cruise with A&K...and it was a great choice. The demographic was younger than the usual A&K stuffy and pretentious oldsters...which livened up the mood. There were about 30 kids from 7 to 18...and they were all great.

 

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6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2013
We enjoyed a two week Central America cruise on Le Boreal, a 2010-built vessel with 264 pax capacity. We had 186 on board. Crew 144. New vessels offer lots of advantages. First, the pluses: Cabins are small but feature a tasteful ... Read More
We enjoyed a two week Central America cruise on Le Boreal, a 2010-built vessel with 264 pax capacity. We had 186 on board. Crew 144. New vessels offer lots of advantages. First, the pluses: Cabins are small but feature a tasteful contemporary design with superb European finishes and fittings. King size bed and bedding was very comfortable. Bathroom is small, but top quality. Toilet is separate. L'Occitaine toiletries are standard. All suites have a small balcony. The food is excellent, as expected of a French vessel. Desserts are superb. There are two dining areas, one more casual, the other light and bright on deck 2. Open seating. Service was terrific, especially from the Philipino and Indonesian staff. The (non-European) French-speaking waiters were somewhat haughty, which we thought unusual. The French maitre de, Christophe, was superb, as was the sommelier, Charles. Young, vibrant and personable. Ship's officers were convivial and Captain Garcia deserves special mention. It is not often you can be on the bridge for a Panama transit. When he said it was an open bridge policy he truly meant it. One treat was an unscheduled stop in the Pacific for a swim from the ship's stern marina deck. Fantastic. Tours were standard, average value and consistent with most cruise ships. Nothing special. The French tour staff were most helpful and convivial. There were only 4 English speaking passengers on our cruise, albeit many French and EU passengers did speak English. This did not concern us but may be a drawback for those seeking more social interaction. One good feature is that in restaurants, bars etc. the French are very quiet. We like this. Overall noise levels are subdued. Now for the not so good points: The alcohol policy on board is outdated. Beer and wine of good qualities are served free during meals, but pouring finishes promptly when the restaurant Is closing. You can buy an 'open bar' ticket for $80 per day per person. Otherwise cocktails are $15 and standard drinks $10. Tea and coffee $3. So you are forever signing chits, even with an open bar provision. My advice is to negotiate an open bar deal when booking if you like to drink out of meal times. The pool is purely for immersion. Not very good. And the smokers congregate here too, especially flocking to the outdoor dining area. Tipping is encouraged on an 'all staff' basis at the end of the cruise. Like most Australians, we consider this a blatant impost to top up the wages of crew so we chose to simply tip those staff individually who provided exceptional service. Le Ponant needs to adopt what is rapidly becoming the market standard, a contemporary all-inclusive policy for drinking, tipping and tours. Cruise passengers are increasingly looking for no-extras once on board. IT services were below average. The in house TV was poor, with a clunky interface and poor graphics for navigation etc. No satellite news on TV, but printed daily news. About 20 movies on line - the usual popular releases. The library is both stylish and comfortable but the choice of books is limited. Internet service was variable and much the same as other ships. Unreliable, slow and expensive. About $20 per hour. Policy is stated as non-smoking, except in designated areas. But there are quite a few of them, including the outdoor dining area and pool surrounds as well as other locations. The French appear to smoke more than most so this is a real negative, especially in the pool and outdoor dining area if you don't like to share your meal with tobacco smoke. And there were pipes too. As we were sailing in equatorial areas, it was more comfortable to dine indoors anyway, but the smoking policy may be a put-off for many. Ponant need to change this should they wish to broaden their passenger base. We did not check out the entertainment at night. It appeared to be a standard cabaret offering with a Paris touch, as well as dancing. The lounge pianist played classical music standards during cocktail hour with much the same playlist every night. Not exciting. The lecturers (two) were both charming and excellent company however English language skills were lacking, as well as the topicality of subjects and depth of knowledge. This was a key issue for us as lectures are so important for our cruising. Before taking another Le Ponant cruise, we would be seeking more details of lecturers and their CVs. Overall, we rated this cruise very highly - the combination of a terrific (new) ship with a number of nooks and crannies to lounge in, coupled with excellent food and restaurant service. This ship is very comfortable in all respects, with great sea-keeping. The friendly officers added to the experience. Captain Garcia is a gem. Read Less
11 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: February 2013
A cruise to Antarctica is pricey, expensive even, but it is absolutely worth it! We saw amazing wildlife and beautiful scenery. It felt as if we were in a nature documentary for two weeks. Having previously cruised on 2500+ passenger ... Read More
A cruise to Antarctica is pricey, expensive even, but it is absolutely worth it! We saw amazing wildlife and beautiful scenery. It felt as if we were in a nature documentary for two weeks. Having previously cruised on 2500+ passenger cruise ships, the atmosphere and the level of service on this 200 passenger mega-yacht was very different. No lines, for instance. Also, crew was very approachable. The captain welcomed everyone in person and he was present at several dinners. The naturalists/guides were always available to answer questions. Even though French is the primary language on board, all announcements and briefings were in English as well. There was never a language barrier, nor were non-French speakers treated differently. Our stateroom was very nice, with good size beds and all the comforts you would expect. Lots of storage space. Bath room with separate toilet and shower. Housekeeping staff was excellent. Always friendly, always able to help with requests. Compared to the big cruise lines like Carnival and NCL, the food on l'Austral is certainly better. However, don't expect Michelin star or Steak house quality. It's upscale restaurant food. I was surprised by the freshness of the ingredients, even after two weeks cruising. Also, there was good amount of variety, some days with exotic dishes like kangaroo and skate. The desserts were absolutely delicious! We had a very rough Drake Passage, but once in Antarctica the skies were clear and the weather stayed remarkable friendly. Expeditions were spectacular. There had been lectures by the naturalists to inform us about the wildlife we'd see, but seeing (and smelling) a penguin colony for yourself is very special indeed. We saw more wildlife then we'd ever imagined. In the Antarctic Peninsula, we visited Paradise Bay, Neko Harbor, Wilhelmina Bay, Port Lockroy, Port Charcot, the Lemaire Channel, Dallmann Bay, Deception Island, Hannah Point, Gourdin Island and Brown Bluff. We then went back North via Elephant Island to the Falkland Islands for another four stops: Stanley, Volunteer Point, Saunders Island and New Island. After the Falklands we had three sea days and we finished the cruise in Montevideo, Uruguay. (for a more detailed review, including photos, visit the Antarctica section in Forums > Ports of Call) http://boards.cruisecritic.com/forumdisplay.php?f=475 Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2012
We took L'Austral to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands from Ushuaia, Argentina. This is an expedition cruise on a boat with less than 200 passengers, so a different experience from your usual cruise. The boat is armed ... Read More
We took L'Austral to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands from Ushuaia, Argentina. This is an expedition cruise on a boat with less than 200 passengers, so a different experience from your usual cruise. The boat is armed with a fleet of 8 zodiacs, staffed with several naturalists, all the things you'd get on a more rugged cruise, except you got plush accommodations and good food. BOOKING - Booking was easy over email, Lisa was very helpful. It was a bit disorganized at the end when we were suddenly asked for all the documentation that we'd already provided, just days before the cruise, and we actually had to write and ask for our boarding passes the day before the cruise because they hadn't been sent. Other than that, all was fine with the booking. LANGUAGE - The boat is French, and so the main language on board is French, but they always spoke in English too, and worked hard to ensure that English speakers were together on the expeditions, also at meals, so that there wasn't a language problem. There was also one German speaking naturalist for the German contingent, though they weren't as well catered to as the French and English speakers. We didn't find the language to be any problem, it was well dealt with by the ship crew. EMBARKATION - This was well handled except we didn't appreciate having to drag our luggage all the way down the cruise port with no assistance. SHIP - The ship is brand new and very nice. Well climate controlled with everything you need. There are three lounges, though the outside bar was rarely open. It handled the 18-20 foot seas of Drake Passage very well, even though waves were smashing over the sixth deck. STATEROOMS - We had the Prestige Cabins on the 5th floor. They were quite spacious for a ship - about the size of a normal hotel room, very new and well appointed with flatscreen TV (movies only, no reception for TV), Nespresso machine, Nice shower and separate toilet, a desk, and a balcony with two chairs and a table. The only problem we had was the balcony door first creaked very loudly and also was very drafty. Bed was comfortable. Telephone in the room, also wi-fi (exorbitantly expensive). SERVICES - There is a spa onboard, and a very nice fitness center which has a view of the ocean. There is wi-fi, but it is massively, ridiculously expensive, horribly slow, and intermittent (three days at a time without access at all). They sell it by the time block, with no refunds if you don't use it all. There are three computers that can't print, and the internet rarely worked on them. There is no TV signal (one day we had CNN) but a few movies to watch. There is a Wii and a few board games. Three lounges. FOOD - The food was a real surprise. The ala carte restaurant was a gem, with an amazing variety for the 16 day cruise, always fresh, always well presented and creative. It wasn't always good (mostly though), but they get an A for effort. There were always 2-3 choices of each of the 4 courses, with some other things you can get every day. You can also eat at the buffet restaurant which at least when we were there was of poor quality for dinner. It was better for breakfast and lunch though. Also a good variety considering no ports of call for restocking for 16 days - amazing we could still get fresh fruit at the end of the trip, for example. Unfortunately, except for the meals, there was no food available except peanuts in the bar. With lunch at noon and dinner at 8:30 PM, everyone starved all afternoon with nothing but room service possible, not even a croissant (there was an afternoon tea with a few cookies). STAFF - The staff was surprisingly friendly and nice. Everyone was very pleasant and tried hard, even at the end of a very long cruise. The cruise director had a great sense of humor and kept things light. The Expedition leader was also funny and very nice and professional. The naturalists were all pleasant but not very proactive - they spent most of the time on shore taking their own photos or wandering around making sure people didn't get too close to the animals, rather than proactively interacting with the guests. They were there to answer questions if you had some, but other than a quick 1 minute briefing when you got to shore, they weren't proactive about it at all, which was a suprise. EXPEDITIONS - The expeditions were professional and well organized. The parkas were of high quality, and nobody was cold. The naturalists were good about keeping everyone where they were supposed to be, and the landings were spectacular. One million adele penguins at one landing at Heroine Island was absolutely stunning. Another in South Georgia with 400,000 King Penguins, elephant seals, fur seals was spectacular. Zodiac cruising through the ice in Antarctica was magnificent, even though it was raining and snowing. Another day we sailed inside one of only three navigable calderas in the world, very cool. The hikes were marginal, and we would have liked to do one more day of ice and one less day in the Shetland Islands, but otherwise very, very good. We did an average of 2 landings each day that we had calls, with two days of sea in between areas. We were very pleased overall. The photgrapher and videographer did a stunning job - wow. We bought both CDs. Incredible work. ENTERTAINMENT - The entertainment schedule was lacking in imagination - by day you had a couple of naturalist briefings, which were really boring for the most part. Good subject matter, just dry presentation (reading off a paper like presenting a research paper rather than entertaining tourists). There was fitness and streching each day, and that was pretty much it. A couple of days there was Wii but with no kids and most people over 60, I don't think that was a big hit. By night it was better with a couple of relevant movies, a talented dance crew, and very good lounge singing. It wasn't a big variety at all, but by then most people were tired anyway and went to bed. They could really have done more fun things with the daytime entertainment though, not just fitness, streching and dancing. Card tournaments, cooking classes, wine tastings, and things like that would have been more age-appropriate for the guests I think. Overall, we had a very good cruise on L'Austral. Many people complained of boredom during sea days, and about the quality of the lectures and the bad internet, some about the food and the naturalists not being proactively engaging with the guests, but mostly I think people were satisfied. The expeditions that we all came for were great, with the only complaint being only one morning in the ice. There should have been one more. When you consider the alternative accommodations to Antarctica, L'Austral is way above any of the others, except Silver Explorer which is double the price. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2011
Hotel before the cruise: 2 nights at the Tierra del Leyendas in Ushuaia. What a wonderful little hotel! Warm, inviting with great service and food. It is hard to imagine a better start to an Antarctic trip than a stay at this little ... Read More
Hotel before the cruise: 2 nights at the Tierra del Leyendas in Ushuaia. What a wonderful little hotel! Warm, inviting with great service and food. It is hard to imagine a better start to an Antarctic trip than a stay at this little gem. Highly recommended! The cruise: Before getting into the cruise, I have to make a few points about Ponant Customer Relations. We and our TA found it lacking and the communication very poor. Very shortly before departure (3 weeks), the company informed our agent they needed medical forms - and that we would be denied boarding if we did not have them signed by a physician and submitted. While the requirement of the form is not surprising, none of us had heard about the requirement since the cruise was booked (almost a year before sailing). In addition, no one had asked us about sizes for the parka we were to receive or how they were to be distributed. By comparison, Silversea asked our size for an Arctic cruise last year on the PA II (now the Silver Explorer) and had them for us when we boarded. Different procedures for different companies is certainly understandable, but a lack of communication and poor organization is not. As an aside, we were told the Ponant agent with whom our travel agent booked the cruise is no longer with them. Not exactly a surprise! On the dock before the cruise: Ponant unfortunately continued to provide a less than expected experience when we had to pull our own luggage all the way to the end of the dock to the gangway. I have never had to pull my own bags (not just my carry-on) all the way to the ship. Surely there was some way to take baggage from passengers and convey it to the ship. By the way, once on board we had to go back to reception to bring 2 of the 4 bags to the cabin since they were left standing there. Very disorganized and somewhat weird. The cruise: OK, enough of the bad stuff (just a little more to come). I am sure you think I am going to slam the cruise, but that is definitely not the case. I just felt it was necessary to share the bad with the good. The ship is beautiful and very comfortable. The last bit of bad stuff is that there is a design flaw in the balcony doors on Deck 3. On the first morning in the Drake Channel (25-30 foot seas) our cabin flooded twice in the space of 3 hours. The flaw lets water in under the sill of the door as well as around the seal. Until the ship makes a technical stop (their term) it cannot be corrected. As a result, at least 7 cabins on Deck 3 had the water problem and we were all moved to unsold cabins on Deck 6. Thank goodness they had them available. Service: Excellent. The cabin staff was tremendous and the dining room staff was superb. Food: This has been a hot topic of debate on the reviews. The quality of the food and preparation was absolutely top-notch. I can understand, however, how some passengers might have been disappointed with only 2 choices of soup, 2 choices of starters, 3 choices of main course (a fish, a meat, and a pasta), and 2 choices of dessert nightly. There were limited choices always available - Caesar Salad, Grilled Ribeye, ice cream, and a cheese plate. For the Captain's Gala Welcome and Farewell Dinners, the menus were fixed - and delicious. For me, there was always an appealing choice and I would rather have fewer selections of excellently prepared, top quality food than a lot of so-so items to pick from. Breakfast was a buffet (plus one featured dish prepared to taste) and lunch was a themed buffet daily. Nice house wines and beer was served with lunch and dinner with extra cost selections available as well. Public Rooms: Very appealing and well laid out. Cabin: Except for the flooding in our first stateroom (325), they were well designed and laid out. There were two quirks, however - 1) There is a panel that can be moved to reveal a fixed window that looks into the bath from the bed area; 2) The toilet is in a small area by itself. You have to exit it and go into the separate area with the shower and sink to wash your hand. Very odd. Entertainment: There were some very talented singers, dancers and musicians on-board. Entertainment was better than expected and made a nice way to end some evenings. In addition, Wii was available (I had never played) in 2 locations and made a nice diversion for the 5 children (and some adults - like us!) on-board. There was also a library (with a couple of tables for card playing or writing), computers (with available Internet packages), etc. In addition there were daily briefings and lectures like you would find on other Expedition cruises. Expedition Staff: Very competent but not as outgoing or sociable as on Silversea. All in all, though, they were dedicated to our safety, making sure we had every opportunity to enjoy Antarctica, to enforcing the rules and regulations. I don't think you could ask for more. I will also include the Videographer and Photographer in this category. They were incredible and very helpful. The video DVD and photo CD (available in US and non-US formats) are fantastic. Antarctica: The scenery and wildlife were amazing. Weather was always a challenge (snow probably half the time and rain others while near or on the continent). We saw the sun perhaps 1 or 2 days in addition to sail away and the day we returned. The tentative itinerary will definitely change due to ice, sea conditions (40 foot waves while fighting north on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula) and weather. Favorite moment? There were 2. Brown Bluff (huge Adele Penguin Rookeries with new chicks and taking zodiacs to get off on an ice flow in Wilhelmina Bay. I can only suggest that you go. You are in for an exhilarating and unique experience. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2011
Booking- We booked directly with Ponant's US office. Office staff were generally poorly responsive. Emails and voicemails were not were not regularly responded to and it was difficult to reach a person when calling. The office also ... Read More
Booking- We booked directly with Ponant's US office. Office staff were generally poorly responsive. Emails and voicemails were not were not regularly responded to and it was difficult to reach a person when calling. The office also apparently neglected to forward information regarding the dietary restrictions of one of our party to the ship. Charter flight to Ushuaia/tour of Tierra del Fuego- We spent several days on our own in Buenos Aries. Since we'd heard flights to Ushuaia can be unreliable, we decided to pay the premium and reserve seats on a LAN flight chartered by Ponant. We were given instructions to be at AEP at 4:30 AM, where we'd be greeted by representatives of the cruise line who would get us our boarding passes and on the plane. We arrived at the airport at 4:20 to find no representatives and no indication what to do. Only the heroic help of the LAN representatives got us to the gate--the plane was half boarded at the time. Since it was a charter flight, there were no published flight times on the LAN web page, and the departure time had been moved up and we received no notice. Once arriving in Ushuaia, we had about a half hour to explore the town before our bus tour of the national park and traditional lamb BBQ. They had a bus specifically for English speaking guests. The bus tour was run by a local agency and we enjoyed it, although it was a pretty whirlwind trip and in retrospect would have enjoyed spending more time in Ushuaia. The cruise: Our big bags met us on the boat. We were happy with our cabin. The divided restroom is a little bit strange--it'd be nice to be able to get to the sink immediately after using the toilet. As mentioned in previous reviews, the shower/sink half of the restroom has a window to the rest of the cabin with a sliding door to close for privacy. It'd be nice to have the control of the privacy screen on the inside rather than outside of the restroom. We also would have appreciated one or two more electrical outlets. The ship itself is very modern and luxurious. Between our balcony and the common areas at the front and rear of the ship there was plenty of space for viewing scenery and wildlife. However, since everyone has a balcony, there isn't really a continuous deck you can use to, say, chase a whale around the boat. Dining-Breakfast and lunch were both buffet style. Lunch had a different ethnic theme (some more successful than others) each day while breakfast was pretty much the same thing every day. The food was good with a lot of options, but salads and desert in particular were pretty repetitive. Most dinners were 4 courses, with two options for each course. There was also an "alternative" salad + steak menu that was always available and a "light" option which was typically a steamed fish of the day. We were happy with these dinners. There was also the upper dining room, where a buffet was served. This dining room was really affected by the waves and closed on rougher days. There were 4 more "formal" nights with 5 course, fixed menus where everyone was expected to eat in the main dining room (upstairs was closed). We weren't a big fan of these nights--our companion with dietary restrictions (basically for a low fat/salt heart-healthy diet) wasn't very well accommodated. The alternative menu was available, but not the low fat option. Also, for anyone with a weak stomach, options are nice and the combination of noise and over application of perfume from everyone being in the dining room made these nights a bit nauseating even without the waves. Also, the main dining room had advertised that they took reservations for large parties but it became clear that they took reservations for everyone who wanted one. What ended up happening is that each night (especially the formal nights) ended up having more and more tables reserved. We apparently missed the memo, and had great difficulty getting seated a few nights. It was a weird hybrid combination of open and reserved seating, and we would have been totally happy if they'd just outright assigned everyone's seats on the formal nights in particular. We never took advantage of the breakfast room service, but had room service a few times at night. While there aren't a lot of options, service was pretty fast and the food was good. Entertainment-There wasn't a whole lot to do on the boat on days at sea (which there are plenty of on the S. Georgia loop). There tended to be live music in the lounges most hours of the afternoon and evening. There were also several nights when there were very talented dancers performing. Service-We were really happy with the service in the dining room and our cabin stewards. Our cabin was rapidly serviced when we wanted it to be, and the staff generally very accommodating with our requests in the dining room and elsewhere. The guests-This was a French cruise with English as the second, alternative language. Even among the English speakers, native speakers were only a plurality. Perhaps 1/4 to 1/3 of the boat spoke English, and of these 1/3 were native speakers, while the rest were a mix of Israelis, Spanish speakers, and Germans. Naturalists, lectures, and shore excursions- Not one of the naturalists was a native English speaker, but everyone could speak English and they were happy to talk to you if you had questions. Now, I didn't pay attention to how the French schedules to compared to ours, but the lion's share of our lectures were given by the two naturalists who spoke the best English. Lectures were fit for a general audience and covered mostly the animal life we were seeing, with a few historic/conservation-oriented lectures sprinkled in. The shore excursions are why you are on an Antarctic cruise and we were extremely fortunate with ours. L'Austral is a bigger boat so you generally had between 60-90 minutes on shore at a time. You are assigned a color group (they seemed to put most of the English speakers in one group) and they rotated who went first. There were two opportunities to go on longer hikes for the more physically able (3+ hours on shore), although we missed one of these because of the weather. Our scheduled landings were as follows: Falkland Islands (2): New Island, Grave Cove South Georgia (6): Salisbury Plain (Cancelled) , Fortuna Bay (Shackleton hike to Stromness), St. Andrews Bay, Grytviken, Gold Harbor, Cooper Bay (Zodiac cruise) Antarctica (4): Weddell Sea (Zodiac cruise/Sea Ice Landing), Brown Bluff (cancelled), Neko Harbor, Paradise Bay South Shetland Islands (3): Bailey Head (cancelled, missed hike opportunity), Telephone Bay, Aitcho Island Cape Horn We had a total of 3 landings cancelled due to weather--and for good reason! A few landings were borderline, but the expedition staff always had our safety first and foremost. I also have to commend the staff for doing everything in their power to accommodate low mobility passengers. While you probably won't be able to do every hike and explore as much of the landing site as more fit individuals, the staff will do a great job getting you in and out of the zodiac both from the cruise ship and on shore. Announcements and daily wrap-ups were done both in English and French at the same time. They always said more in French than English, which was a bit frustrating at times (What are they joking about? Etc.) This was really illustrated in the final wrap up, which was split into separate English and French groups, where the French wrap up went over the allotted time (hour and fifteen minutes in total) while the English version went for about a half hour. It was most frustrating when there was a whale sighting. They would go through the whole announcement in French--telling you where it was at, fawning over the majesty of nature--before saying in English where the whale was--I really just wanted to be told where the whales were at as soon as they were seen. Value-Booking the cruise with Ponant and sailing on L Austral was surprisingly affordable compared to other ships. In particular, it was probably 1/3 less than sailing on Le Boreal, the sister ship, which is chartered out by Abercrombie and Kent for most of the season. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2010
I was surprised to read the review by Tilly-Loves-Seabourn, because our experience was nearly identical on a 10-day cruise to Antarctica in December 2010. The saving grace was that our cruise was chartered by Abercrombie & Kent, who ... Read More
I was surprised to read the review by Tilly-Loves-Seabourn, because our experience was nearly identical on a 10-day cruise to Antarctica in December 2010. The saving grace was that our cruise was chartered by Abercrombie & Kent, who supplied all of the on-board lecturers and naturalists who worked hard as our zodiac guides.

This ship (and its new Ponant owners) may have five-star aspirations but they don't seem to have a clue as to the requisite service levels and cuisine. I am sad to report that both service and cuisine are below the standard of Royal Caribbean mega ships, far below Celebrity, and not even comparable to Seabourn and her real peers. We had bartenders so green that they could not identify brand-name bottles on their shelf or find/mix the drinks on their cocktail list. We had waiter-busboys so inept that they were scraping cleared plates tableside, oblivious to standard clues as to when diners where finished with a course, unable to take accurate non-standard meal requests (e.g., substitutions). And don't get me started about the unsanitary way that I saw cutlery, fruits and straws handled.

There were a few senior people in the dining room who seemed to understand our expectations but when privately pressed were frankly embarrassed that they lacked the new corporate head office support for adequate staffing or quality supplies. That may be true, but they were doing a poor job of training staff and working with what they had.

There also was a certain French indifference to service requests, even though I'm fluent in French. Room service breakfast after 10:00 a.m. (because the restaurant stops serving at 9:30, even on at-sea days) -- impossible (not even toast or a hard-boiled egg). Someone is sick in the cabin and we need sheets changed -- no message passed on to the cabin stewards who arrive 3.5 hours later on their regular rounds.

Except for the A&K Staff, there was virtually no entertainment or activity on board (not even a daily crossword puzzle).

This may be the best looking boat sailing in the Antarctic, but I'll bet that many others offer better service and far better food.

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