Le Commandant Charcot Activities

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Jayne Clark
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Entertainment & Activities

Expedition experiences on Le Commandant Charcot

An expedition voyage is very different than a traditional cruise -- in many ways, this is your chance to be a present-day explorer. And trips on Le Commandant Charcot are often truly unique, because the ship is so special and distinct, taking guests to true terra incognita, right off the map. Giving you a chance to see and experience places that, perhaps, no other human being has encountered. It’s a very cool thing.

But this kind of exploration does come with its own responsibilities. On all expedition ships heading to the polar regions, guests must attend mandatory briefings, then signing off that they've attended and understand the rules. In the Arctic, that’s governed by AECO (the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) and in the Antarctic, IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators).

So much of that initial sea day (crossing the Drake Passage, for Antarctica, or the Denmark Strait if headed to East Greenland) will be spent in the main theater, and busy around the ship. You'll find yourself being fitted you for the hardy gum boots you'll wear on shore excursions, exchanging sizes on your complimentary parka (if the one they left in your room doesn't quite fit right), and making other preparations for the big adventures ahead.

But once you arrive in Antarctica, or Svalbard, or Greenland, or the Canadian Far North, or wherever—just, wow. Every day will hold a new and unexpected and unbelievable experience. Be prepared for constant change. Everything in the polar regions is subject to the weather and sea conditions and a variety of other factors, so the official plan for landings and excursions could change multiple times, even within a single day.

But whatever you do -- you’re going to love it. With its extraordinary ice-breaking abilities, Le Commandant Charcot will take you far and wide, and often a great distance from the waters plied by other ships. Common daily activities include zodiac cruises, where you sit on a pontoon and zoom around in search of interesting landscapes and wildlife. (My voyage included one sunny zodiac trip further brightened by surprise Champagne.) The ship comes equipped with 16 zodiacs -- more than most -- meaning you'll never have to wait long for a ride.

Landings are a staple of expedition cruises. Here, you will go ashore and follow a marked route through, for example, penguin colonies, with naturalist interpreters answering questions and providing information along the way. Be prepared for "wet landings," where you'll step out into shallow water -- the gum boots provide good warmth and protection, and don’t forget to pack your waterproof pants.

Le Commandant Charcot can, and often does, ensconce itself into fast ice or an ice floe. Crew will lower the gangway right onto the snow-covered ice and invite guests to explore, either self-guided within a marked perimeter, or on guided tours (more on those below). And, always a highlight, the polar plunge. Staff set up a platform on the edge of the ice and invite the brave to leap into frigid waters. Copious amounts of caviar, vodka, and champagne await plungers once they towel off.

By default, you will be placed into a "color group." These ensure the smooth flow of guests onto zodiacs, and onto landings and other activities that require no prior sign-up, with the total number of those on board divided into green, orange, white, and so on. Make sure to inform crew if you’re traveling with friends and family, so they can keep you together in the same color group.

Kayaking

The ship is outfitted with several double-size kayaks, and getting out on the water is a special way to see the polar regions. You'll glide past the silent, majestic monoliths of icebergs and, if you're lucky, get close to seals and other wildlife. While no particular prior skills are required, you should be comfortable around water and physically able to paddle. (Make sure to attend the activity briefing so you can ask the two kayak guides any questions you may have.) Also: you'll need to be able to squeeze into a wetsuit and wind skirt, and be prepared for anything from wind to rain and snow. (Staff will cancel if conditions are in any way extreme or unsafe.)

What wildlife are you likely to see?

It all depends on where you'll be cruising. On our voyage in East Greenland, we spotted a total of 13 polar bears over the span of two weeks, as well as killer whales, humpbacks, a scattering of seals, and one big toothy walrus. In Antarctica, in addition to whales and seals and abundant bird life, you will encounter many, many penguins. Gentoos, chinstraps, macaronis, Adelies, even kings. And if you make it to Snow Hill Island -- which many voyages on the Le Commandant Charcot do -- you'll encounter the fabled emperor penguin, the largest and most celebrated penguin on earth. Late December and early January form the heart of the season, when rookeries are at their chattering busiest best.

Theater and Shows on Le Commandant Charcot

This is a polar exploration ship with active scientific research being undertaken onboard, so it’s not surprising that activities revolve more around enrichment than blockbuster entertainment.

Our East Greenland voyage included a limited number of evening shows in theater, with two dancers, a production singer and various on-board musicians contributing. Themes included jazz, Hollywood, and "French songs." On the penultimate night of the voyage they also performed a crew show, where housekeepers and helicopter pilots alike showcased their singing and dancing skills -- it brought the house down.

Daily Things to Do on Le Commandant Charcot

Lectures by naturalists on topics related to the surroundings are on the daily schedule. Several “tastings” were convened during our sailing. They included olive oil and chocolate (free) and caviar and rum (for a fee). The captain has a mostly open-door policy for the Navigation Bridge, so it’s possible to just drop in.

Movies are screened in the theater on some days, and occasionally in the evening, and tend toward polar-themed documentaries. There’s a daily tea service at 4 p.m. A daily program is delivered nightly to staterooms for a heads-up of what’s to come.

Nightlife on Le Commandant Charcot

Nightlife is more refined than raucous. On some nights, there’s dancing to live music in the Main Lounge. Others retire to the low-key atmosphere of the Observation Lounge for after-dinner drinks and to listen to live piano or violin music.

While many guests simply retire to their state rooms after all that fresh air (followed up by a hearty dinner filled with delicious French butter and cream), crew do offer some evening entertainment. On our voyage, a highlight was the "parka party." Out by the Blue Lagoon, the cruise director -- a former cabaret dancer -- led a fun night of dancing, while bartenders brought hot toddies under falling snow.

Le Commandant Charcot Cruise Ship Bars and Lounges

Top-shelf liquors and delightful French wines (Veuve Clicquot Champagne is the house pour) are included in the fare. But super-premium sips, like Grand Cru vintages, cost extra.

As on other small ships, the lounges serve multiple functions, including bar service.

The Main Lounge on Deck 5 is a large U-shaped space divided into discreet seating areas. At the far end is contemporary fireplace. Pre-dinner drinks here might be accompanied by a singing duo or a violinist. There’s also a dancefloor; if nightlife were to really get hopping (as it did on a couple of evenings on our cruise), this is where it’d happen.

The other main gathering space serving libations is the Observation Lounge on Deck 9. On the walls are black-and-white photos depicting early polar exploration. Cream-colored sofas and barrel shaped chairs make for comfy spots to linger. The bar and main seating area faces floor-to-ceiling windows. A small entertainment space on one side hosts a baby grand piano. Beyond it is a sleek wall-inset fireplace that emits a cozy crackling sound. There’s a nice selection of board games and books.

The outdoor Blue Lagoon pool bar on Deck 9 features comfy chairs around a huge firepit. Also on Deck 9 is the Detox Bar (by the indoor pool in the spa area), which, as the name implies, serves non-alcoholic drinks.

The Cigar Lounge on Deck 5 is open by request and sports clubby leather chairs and specialty spirits such as Japanese whiskies and French liquers (not included in the base fare). Libations here start at 9 euros.  If you’re feeling flush, you can light up an €80 H. Upmann Magnum 56 cigar and sip a rare 1904 Vieil Armagnac (€330).

Pools and Hot Tubs on Le Commandant Charcot

It’s rare to find an indoor pool on a small expedition ship, but there’s one here on Deck 9 in a glass-ceilinged winter garden. It’s open 24/7, is heated to 95 degrees and has a resistance option. Chaise longues face panoramic windows on one side of the room.

Two shallow outdoor Blue Lagoon pools, heated from recycled energy, curve around the ship’s rear on Deck 9.

Sundecks on Le Commandant Charcot

Sunbathing isn’t really a thing on polar navigation ships, but this one has a few places ideal for soaking up the midnight sun. Comfy lounge chairs surround a firepit at the rear of Deck 9 by the outdoor restaurant and pool.

The helipad on Deck 6 also acts as a wildlife viewing space, though there’s no seating. The promenade deck is the place to go for a stroll. When you get tired, take five on heated benches. Or get a close-up view of the seascape via on-deck telescopes.

Services and Wi-Fi on Le Commandant Charcot

WiFi is included in the fare but is limited to one device per cabin. Connections can be temperamental -- no surprise given the remote waters in which the ship sails.

A small boutique on Deck 5 sells jewelry and clothing. Most of the gift items are French-made.

Books in the Main and Observation lounges can be borrowed on the honor system.

A photo shop off the ship’s lobby near the reception desk allows passengers to view computer images of shots they might want to purchase at voyage’s end.

Spa & Fitness

Ponant Yacht Spa and Thermal Suite on Le Commandant Charcot

The relatively compact spa area has three treatment rooms and a single-chair hair salon. Services include the usual massages, scrubs and facials employing something called the “Second Skin” system.

Tip: Book spa appointments before sailing. With only three treatment rooms, slots can fill fast.

The spa area has a roomy sauna (no appointment necessary, but wear a robe or swimsuit). After a stint in the sauna, race over to the snow room – brace yourself -- and rub some of the cold, wet stuff into your body. Repeat three times, according to instructions for the ritual.

Fitness and Gym on Le Commandant Charcot

The gym packs a lot into a compact space. With a wall of windows looking out to sea it’s bright and airy. Aerobic equipment includes a rowing machine, two stationary bikes, a cross trainer and three treadmills. In addition, there’s a TechnoGym system, a pully-based weight machine that guides you through workouts via video. Other equipment includes some free weights, mats, stability ball and yoga gear.  It’s open 24/7.

Free group exercise classes – yoga, pilates, water fitness etc. – are offered on some days, but require advance signup.

For Kids

Is Le Commendant Charcot Cruise Ship Family Friendly?

Children must be at least 8 years old and there is no dedicated youth program or facilities.

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