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18 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2018
We chose this cruise because of our prior good experience on Ponant’s Le Lyrial, as well as the promise of an expedition cruise in the exotic Amazon on a new, small ship. We were not disappointed. Le Champlain is a beautiful boat, ... Read More
We chose this cruise because of our prior good experience on Ponant’s Le Lyrial, as well as the promise of an expedition cruise in the exotic Amazon on a new, small ship. We were not disappointed. Le Champlain is a beautiful boat, elegantly finished in light woods and simple decor. There is no bling, a huge positive for us. There is ample seating inside and out, and even below water in the Blue Eye lounge. The crew, including the very approachable captain, are always about and eager to meet each passenger’s needs. Special kudos to the cruise director and the main lounge barmen — Richie and Jay Jay — who were outstanding. Food and wines were ample and very good throughout. I would have liked to see local ingredients and dishes start to appear on the menu (as one does on, say, Seabourn), but the chef clearly sticks with more traditional French preparations. Towards the end of our 12 days, we were ready for more menu variation. Table service is generally attentive, with occasional lapses. But this cruise was really about the Zodiac excursions to see the flora and fauna in the inlets and lakes that abut the Amazon, and here Ponant earns every available star! The excursion team was truly amazing, with the naturalists representing a wide array of specialties and interests. The outings were memorable, and the accompanying lectures informative and highly interesting. This is a French cruise line and I’d guess 3/4 of the passengers were French speakers, but the English speakers were fully served with several naturalists whose first language is English (several didn’t even speak French!). Maria, Dani and John, you were all fabulous! Separate English and French Zodiacs and lectures avoided the need for translations, maximizing the info that could be shared on the available time. It became clear to me that successful Zodiac outings require the full cooperation of the captain, and his willingness to move the ship to the best location for the day’s conditions. On Le Champlain, this collaboration was noticeable and fantastic. In fact, a highlight of the trip was the captain’s decision for an extra, surprise Zodiac outing on the narrow Strait of Breves, where passengers joined locals on river, to gawk as the beautiful Le Champlain came around a bend in the waterway. Although Ponant is a French cruise line and attracts a majority of French-speaking guests, in my experience English-speaking passengers (Americans, Australians, Japanese and non-French Europeans on this cruise) are equally well served in every respect. English may even be an advantage when speaking to the non-officer crew members, who are largely from the Philippines and seem more comfortable with English. I’ve read other English-speaking reviewers of Ponant cruises, who complained about getting 2nd-rate treatment, and even heard some grumblings from passengers on this cruise. In my view, such comments are totally off base and reflect the biases of the passenger, not of Ponant. I would highly recommend Ponant, and Le Champlain specifically, to English speakers seeking a rich, international experience, and a wonderful cruise experience. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: November 2018
Pretty well everything about this voyage was great. The only concern I had was the obvious lack of experience from some of the expedition crew in their lack of ability and skill in operating the RIB's ( zodiac ). In saying that ... Read More
Pretty well everything about this voyage was great. The only concern I had was the obvious lack of experience from some of the expedition crew in their lack of ability and skill in operating the RIB's ( zodiac ). In saying that I was just a bit careful who I travelled with. But all of their lectures were great. And they were quite passionate in what they did in regards to the preservation of the environment and passing on information to the passengers. I think the captain certainly did his best along with the crew to make our experience the best ever. Which they achieved. The Patagonian coast with the Andes in the distance made for fabulous scenery every day while aboard. I felt the food was more than adequate and their was plenty of it. Travelling as a single person I also had no problems in meeting a lot of great people. Not only from Australia, but from a number of other countries. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2018
Chilean Fjords were on my wish list for several years. I chose Ponant because it seemed that the cruise would fulfil my wishes and because there was a special price offer due to a jubilee year and no single supplement. As a lone traveller ... Read More
Chilean Fjords were on my wish list for several years. I chose Ponant because it seemed that the cruise would fulfil my wishes and because there was a special price offer due to a jubilee year and no single supplement. As a lone traveller this is important. I liked the fact that everything onboard was included in the price. Service was excellent and the staff discreet and friendly. The expedition leaders were mostly knowledgeable and informative. The captain's enthusiasm was infectious and inspiring. The open bridge policy was also excellent. There was always a good choice of fine meals and the chefs were very good. I liked the cabin layout with a balcony and big windows. Above all, the cruise itself was amazing and the landing at Cape Horn super. Regarding the type of cruise, I have only ever been on expedition type cruises with around 200 passengers or far less (28). I have no interest in any other type of cruise. This was one of the most luxurious cruises I have been on, yet the expedition side was also good. It is nice to be pampered after an adventure! Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2018
We chose Ponant for this trip because we were looking for a more intimate cruise experience. We have been on large cruise ships (3000+ passengers) and felt it was time for a more refined trip. One of the best things about being on a ... Read More
We chose Ponant for this trip because we were looking for a more intimate cruise experience. We have been on large cruise ships (3000+ passengers) and felt it was time for a more refined trip. One of the best things about being on a smaller ship is that the embarkation and disemarkation process. All of the crew members were courteous and professional. Also, there was rarely ever a line. Once we landed at our port or destination, getting off the ship to begin enjoying the tours was a breeze. I must admit that we were a little skeptical about having the shore excursions included in the cost of the cruise. We wondered what the quality of the excursions would be. But, we were not disappointed. Every excursion we joined was very informative and enjoyable. In addition, our days on the uninhabited Caribbean Islands were the best! Being able to take the zodiac boats in for a morning of snorkeling along the coral reefs of the atolls was a once in a lifetime experience. Our cabin was lovely, and very well appointed. Having a balcony where we could enjoy the views and fresh sea air was a great feature. Of course, everything we needed was provided by the stewards, it was as though there were fairies on the ship tending to our every need. Every meal we enjoyed on the ship was perfect. The variety of food, and accommodations for special dietary needs was attended to very well. We were able to enjoy dinner at the captain's table as well. It was nice to see the captain at every dinner, and feel that he was approachable and willing to mingle with the guests. The entertainment and activities on the boat during days at sea and each evening were very enjoyable. We enjoyed everything from educational lectures about our ports of call to spectacular shows each evening from with the on board performers as well as specialty shows from some of our ports. There was never a lack of good entertainment. Overall, it was a wonderful adventure we would recommend to everyone looking for a luxury vacation experience. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2018
30 days all up covering three back to back cruises. What stands out above everything else is the impeccable dedication of the staff from Commandant Regis Daumesnil down to the humblest toiler, who would have to be the people who did ... Read More
30 days all up covering three back to back cruises. What stands out above everything else is the impeccable dedication of the staff from Commandant Regis Daumesnil down to the humblest toiler, who would have to be the people who did the laundry. We never saw them but without them, it would have beeen a very different voyage. The Commandant was exceptional in many ways, in particular the way he interacted with the passengers. Not only was he at the gangway for our arrival but every day we departed for excursions he was there to say Bon Jour and hope you have a good trip. It was an intensely personal touch and, in another example, many times he lunched and talked with passengers at the buffet on deck 6. He seemed genuinely interested in who his passengers were and in their welfare. I found him a fascinating conversationalist on a range of subjects and his commentary on tours of the bridge by passengers in French and English was very informative and absorbing. As usual, the food in both restaurants on decks 2 & 6 was sublime… too much so, as it’s very easy to overindulge. Thank goodness the gym was operational and, on some days, very busy! But I would have preferred a greater range of cuisines, e.g. why were there very few Asian dishes on offer or some Mexican cooking or some hot spicy choices? We need more variety. On the down side, however, Le Boréal, the oldest of the Ponant fleet, is beginning to show its age; little things didn’t work or were inefficient. For example, the left-hand lift between decks 2 & 6 was out of operation for the entire time we were on board. For the latter half of the cruise there was no access to the television channels in the cabins. And for the last ten days as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean the theatre was completely out of action as it was being renovated. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2018
Hello: We did not like : * The shore embarkation and disembarkation on the Zodiac : "wet shoes" * The primary school- like disciplin : prohibited to walk out of the flaged pathways, swimming prohibited, etc … * The ... Read More
Hello: We did not like : * The shore embarkation and disembarkation on the Zodiac : "wet shoes" * The primary school- like disciplin : prohibited to walk out of the flaged pathways, swimming prohibited, etc … * The disembarkation timing, compulsatory and early in the morning (sometime departure at 6h30), no other possibility of disembarkation if one miss the departure. * The short time spent on shore. The loud announcements at any time, from the cabin speakers. The lack of Holiday spirit ... permanent stress Kind Regards Jean-Claude and Jeanine in french : On n'a pas aimé : Les débarquements/embarquements en Zodiac « pieds mouillés » La discipline de type maitresse d'école : interdiction de sortir des sentiers balisés, interdiction de se baigner, … Les horaires des débarquements imposés très tôt le matin (certain départ à 6h30), sans aucune possibilité de débarquer si on « rate » le départ. La courte durée des escales. Les annonces haut-parleurs dans la cabine à toute heure Le manque d'esprit de vacances , le stress permanent Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2018
We chose this cruise because we were so pleased with our last year cruise to Antartica. But, our cruise from Ushuaia to Valparaiso was disappointing; The beginning started well with a good excursion at the Cap Horn, but over the ... Read More
We chose this cruise because we were so pleased with our last year cruise to Antartica. But, our cruise from Ushuaia to Valparaiso was disappointing; The beginning started well with a good excursion at the Cap Horn, but over the following 11 days we had few excursions (we expected 1/day or at least 1/two days): only 3 ! Conferences on board were few & not up to the standard we experienced before. On top of that, the Boreal had some issues: - a lift not working - the GPS Map not working - my wife & other female passengers got a virus through the air conditioning system, that obviously was not cleaned; she was prescribed antibiotics after the cruise & needed 4 weeks to recover from a deep lung infection. - The internet/wifi did not work, though we paid Usd180 for connections ! - Dining was fine, but not as refined as what we had before with Ponant, the quality is going down - Our Cabin had a bath stub, but we expected a shower Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2017
I had wanted to visit Chile and the Chilean Fjords since visiting Puerto Montt in 1973. The Fjords can only be visited by ship and it is the easiest way to visit Puerto Natales and the outstanding Torres del Paine national park. ... Read More
I had wanted to visit Chile and the Chilean Fjords since visiting Puerto Montt in 1973. The Fjords can only be visited by ship and it is the easiest way to visit Puerto Natales and the outstanding Torres del Paine national park. Cruising with Ponant is very flexible. If you want to explore ports of call on your own, you don't have to pay for the shore excursions. Since we had visited Osorno before this was important for us. We took a public bus to Ancud instead of going on the organised tours. However the zodiac excursions in the fjords were included in the cruise price and were very well organised. The small number of passengers meant that getting passengers on and off the ship for excursions was quick and easy. One good reason for choosing Ponant is the quality of the food on board. The French take food very seriously and we were not disappointed. Our cabin was very comfortable and the service was excellent. I was initially disappointed by the lack of information about our route through the fjords but since Ponant have an open bridge policy, I soon found out that it was easy to visit the bridge and have a look at the charts (although the bridge is closed from time to time.) In summary, I would recommend this cruise for the magnificent scenery, good food and the flexibility that comes from being with a small number of other passengers. I shall travel with Ponant again. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2017
We chose this cruise as a total getaway from caregiving and because we really needed a break. We wanted a small ship with no casino, no children, no loud cruise director, and a small number of passengers. We flew to Boston from Tampa and ... Read More
We chose this cruise as a total getaway from caregiving and because we really needed a break. We wanted a small ship with no casino, no children, no loud cruise director, and a small number of passengers. We flew to Boston from Tampa and boarded with 35 other passengers - the ship holds about 200 total. As this was a repositioning cruise, the cost was very affordable and we were prepared for 8 days of total relaxation. The crew did a great job of refurbishing one area after another - new carpets, drapes, etc. while keeping enough public space open that we hardly noticed. The catering was less elaborate than ususl, we were told, but the array and quality of the food was superb. We like the occasional gourmet dinner but we also like an option for simple grilled salmon or more country food, which was always an option. This was our first Ponant cruise - we had already booked one next Spring from Martinique to Lisbon (another ocean cruise) - and took the opportunity for a short cruise in advance. We are so glad we did. We met every single other passenger - even the French, who comprised about half of the passengers. As I speak a bit of French, I had no trouble, but neither did those who spoke only English. The passengers were fun and friendly. Only ten of us disembarked in Panama and the rest were joined by others as they went on to Lima over the following week or so. The crew was excellent - only the reception staff were a bit uninterested in being responsive. The Butler, West, attended to all our needs. We had a suite - essentially two staterooms together. Beware, European sizes are small for us Americans, but there was plenty of room. For the most part, we hardly stayed in the stateroom. The public rooms are gorgeous, well cared-for and comfortable. We are going again and we actually booked a Tahiti - Honolulu - Japan trip in 2019. This is a wonderful line and perfect for adults and friends. The entertainment was just fine and much more than we expected given a repositioning cruise. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2017
We like to sail on the smaller ships and had been sailing with Seabourn for 15 years (max. 208 passengers) when they had the 3 small ships. Sailed a couple of times on the larger, newer ships (max. 450 passengers) and did not like it. My ... Read More
We like to sail on the smaller ships and had been sailing with Seabourn for 15 years (max. 208 passengers) when they had the 3 small ships. Sailed a couple of times on the larger, newer ships (max. 450 passengers) and did not like it. My husband found Ponant on line and thought the line looked very interesting. Having got the brochure and saw the type of cruises we like (particularly the repositioning as we like days at sea) we booked the Boston, Mass. to Lima, Peru. Loved every minute and we will certainly book another one as soon as possible (and we have saved some money up!) The staff could not do enough for you and nothing was too much. The food was superb, particularly the wonderful French cheeses and the bread is to die for! (Take clothes that will expand with your waistline!!!!) I would have liked a bit more to do in the daytime, i.e. art and craft classes etc. The only problem was that the majority of the passengers were only French speakers. However, the staff did translate where appropriate (quizzes etc) Our cruise agent informed me that there are going to be some 'all English speaking' cruises in the future and we would be VERY interested in hearing about those. Read Less
16 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2017
We recently completed our 3rd & 4th cruise with Ponant. Our prior experience was 5 years ago and it was excellent. Again, the service and friendliness of the general staff (servers, bartenders, cabin stewards, cooks, entertainers, ... Read More
We recently completed our 3rd & 4th cruise with Ponant. Our prior experience was 5 years ago and it was excellent. Again, the service and friendliness of the general staff (servers, bartenders, cabin stewards, cooks, entertainers, excursion helpers, etc.) were excellent! Open bar was a nice touch. The Le Boreal is very nice, but has some limitations for a "luxury" ship. .The rooms are nice, but only 1 chair (2nd person had to sit on bed), very small table, and a very small bathroom. The TV seldom worked and the Internet was slow and often not available. The “included” red wine, white wine & champagne were terrible; the premium wines were over priced. No decent, reasonably priced wines were available. Meals/food were “just OK”; not excellent. Same things daily, over-cooked, not fresh tasting. The bread & cheeses were excellent. Breakfast (eggs) was the probably the best meal of the day .With the exception of 1 excellent lecturer, there were very few lectures and most were poor. Also, there was a Zodiac accident nearly 2 months ago where people could have died and the passengers lost many valuables; there has been no response from Ponant yet. Ponant has changed hands twice since we first cruised with them and has gone down hill. It had been 4 to 5 stars, now it is 3 stars. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2017
Our reason for choosing this cruise was 2 part. Small Ship & New Horizons. This leg involved joining the ship at Valparaiso, Chile continuing to Guayaquil, Ecuador. French food was an added attraction. As 2 people in our 70's we ... Read More
Our reason for choosing this cruise was 2 part. Small Ship & New Horizons. This leg involved joining the ship at Valparaiso, Chile continuing to Guayaquil, Ecuador. French food was an added attraction. As 2 people in our 70's we do not try to do the impossible, and the excursion choices allowed us to stay within our limits without difficulty. For example, on this leg we chose the Flight over the Nasca Lines excursion, but passed on the Macchu Picchu excursion because of the altitude. The on ship lectures were generally good, as they varied between being delivered in French and English languages, but the slides etc had subtitles, so worked well. Ports and Shore excursions were well organised, and a ship representative travelled on the excursions at all times to smooth the way. Worked well. The small ship also has a benefit at many locations as it berthed at really convenient locations compared to larger ships which we observed along the way. Crew interaction with PAX a all times was really good. For example we had casual coffee with all deck officers at various times. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2017
I had never been to Uruguay. This cruise connected with the Amazon cruise which we very much wanted to go on. I enjoyed Montevideo, but would have liked more time to explore. Very rough weather with very few ports. We were supposed to ... Read More
I had never been to Uruguay. This cruise connected with the Amazon cruise which we very much wanted to go on. I enjoyed Montevideo, but would have liked more time to explore. Very rough weather with very few ports. We were supposed to have 2 full days in Rio, but were very late getting in. We had to really cram in the 2 tours and sightseeing. Very disappointing with very little communication from the crew. Late Embarking and late most of the cruise. Balance of non-French speaking passengers was very low. No effort made to get us together. One couple ate with a table of people who spoke no English. They were very uncomfortable until they connected with other passengers. I have sailed with Ponant before and enjoyed the interaction with all passengers, but this cruise was very different. The passengers were NOT very friendly. 1 from UK, 3 from USA, 2 from Canada, 2 from Hong Kong. The rest were French. We were lucky to meet the English lady at the airport, who was traveling by herself. I would suggest a first night mixer for passengers with languages, other than French. 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. Read Less
21 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 this ... 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.   Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2013
I read reviews and had concerns. I need not have - I could not find fault. My husband and I had cabin 311 - pleasant accommodation with a balcony which we did use ; notwithstanding the destination the weather was wonderful. We were lucky ... Read More
I read reviews and had concerns. I need not have - I could not find fault. My husband and I had cabin 311 - pleasant accommodation with a balcony which we did use ; notwithstanding the destination the weather was wonderful. We were lucky and had calm seas - so much so on the return we went round Cape Horn. The food was excellent as you would expect from a french ship and the restaurant well located o the second deck - there was also self service on the 5th deck. Wine was included and unlimited with meals. The naturalists were outstanding and the entire crew did all they could to provide a memorable experience - every opportunity was seized. The 2 languages were french and english and there was no "short changing" if you were english./english speaking. We were the only English couple on board; mainly french guests as you would expect, a group of about 10 Chinese, a handful of Americans and a mix of Europeans. We had a wonderful concert pianist who gave 2 recitals, 3 singers and 4 dances. For the size of ship it was well provided. Remembering at all times you are on an expedition. Good theater for talks by the naturalists which were many and varied . The marina at the back of the ship makes getting in and out of the zodiacs much more accessible - a very good design. The landings were wonderful and all well organised, informative and respectful of the nature and scenery. You do need something to dress up in for evenings as there are gala dinners and with Christmas and New Year there were a number of formal dinners. All very enjoyable. You will not be disappointed. WE enjoyed it osm uch we have booked another destiantion. Happy sailings 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 ... 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
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