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9 Night Eastern Mediterranean Cruise from Istanbul

9 Night Eastern Mediterranean Cruise from Istanbul

Le Bougainville (Photo: Ponant)
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    Limnos Island
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    Athens (Piraeus)

Le Bougainville

Le Bougainville - Ponant

Cruise Reviews

We just completed a 2 week cruise on the Ponant ship Le Bouganville to the Seychelle Islands in the Indian Ocean. It was sold to us as a National Geographic Expedition cruise. A summary of my review is as follows: • The ship is ... Read More
We just completed a 2 week cruise on the Ponant ship Le Bouganville to the Seychelle Islands in the Indian Ocean. It was sold to us as a National Geographic Expedition cruise. A summary of my review is as follows: • The ship is clean, modern and has nice layout. • The standard sized cabin was smaller than many cruise lines, but adequate. We found plenty of storage space available for our needs. • The ship was 8 months old, but already had items of deferred maintenance. Patio door handle broken, entry door deadbolt won’t work and broken cabinet door hardware. • The staff work hard and are friendly. • The itinerary was exotic and exciting. It involved visiting numerous uninhabited (or nearly uninhabited) islands in the Seychelles. • Ponant is a French cruise line. Recently they have made a huge investment in six new ships (over $1 billion USD). They have begun marketing worldwide and are attracting non-French speakers from around the world. Communications are in both French and English. The cruise communications in English were poorly done. The daily verbal announcements in English were about 50% understandable. Very heavy French accents, particularly the main woman who made 80% of the announcements. • The written English communications frequently used inappropriate English words. For example, an announcement indicated the National Geographic photographer will be available for “interventions”. We assume they intended to say “consultations”. There were many such errors in the written materials. Sometimes the translations were so bad we were unable to decipher what they were trying to say. The English menu was frequently unintelligible. • The nature of this cruise involved substantial amounts of uncertainty. Many of the stops were at atolls which are only accessible during high tide. Almost all of our landings were wet landings (via Zodiac boats unloading in the shallow water at a beach). The ability to load a Zodiac when the ocean swells are above 4 feet is severely limited and downright dangerous. The timing of tides and the size of the swells affected about 75% of our stops. We had two days where groups of passengers were not able to re-board the ship from Zodiacs and were forced to wait in high seas in Zodiacs until things calmed down. It caused strong feelings and substantial anxiety in some passengers. There is virtually no warning of these risks in the advance materials from Ponant. This type of cruise is NOT appropriate for the elderly or handicapped. People with physical limitations should approach this cruise with caution and be prepared to stay on board the ship when things are too extreme. We can not blame Ponant for the weather, but we can blame them for poor disclosures to potential buyers. Also, these uncertainties leave the passengers with a high level of unknown and uncertainty each day. Ponant could do a much better job with real-time communications. We were left in the dark about things almost every day. • The branding of the cruise as a “National Geographic Expedition” was in name only. Very little daily content was from NG or its experts on board. NG has a huge inventory of TV productions that could have been available on our stateroom TVs. They could have run NG movies in the theater. We booked the cruise because of National Geographic’s involvement. We were very disappointed. This was a standard Ponant cruise with a NG sticker on it. NG should be managing all the activities on the ship • Lots of French pastries, cheese and food preparations. Some of it was very good. • The food was very average, sometimes below average. • The chef and restaurant staff were unable to deal with special dietary needs. Even after many requests, they seemed incapable of providing an interesting variety of vegan, gluten free or dairy free items. They usually had one item that would work and it was the same item every day on the cruise. The wait staff was totally unprepared for requests or complaints about these items. • The scuba operation was woefully understaffed. One dive master and one small zodiac. Demand was 2 or 3 times the available capacity. Very disappointing. • Some people were able to preregister for dives. Others attempted to do so and were told it had to happen on the ship. • The massage services in the Spa were not satisfactory. My wife asked for a deep tissue massage. She received a mild rub down. She was asked to strip completely naked. She did so and covered herself with a towel while laying on her back. The attendant quickly removed the towel and commenced rubbing her stomach. Very unusual and inappropriate in the eyes of many. • Ponant’s internet presence is minimal. The website poorly describes each stop, has little information on what to expect on the cruise and compares very poorly to Ponant’s competitors. • Ponant’s advance information was woefully inadequate. They emailed an 80 page information packet that was 95% pure fluff. • Ponant’s phone app suffers from all the same problems as Ponant’s internet site. • Boarding the ship in Victoria was allowed between 16:00 and 17:00. Most people arrived the day before or the morning of the cruise. Most of the passengers were from France. The Air France flight from Paris arrives at 6:30 in the morning. The ship had arrived the night before and was at the dock unloading the last cruise’s passengers. Ponant could have easily provided a secure storage area outside the ship so people could enjoy the day without hauling their luggage everywhere. If you arrive days before the cruise, you must check out of your hotel in the late morning and you are in the same predicament being bound to your luggage. There are no storage lockers anywhere near the docks. • We were not allowed to exit the ship in time to catch the daily Air France non-stop flight back to Paris that leaves at 8:20 in the morning. We were told by Ponant that we should not book that flight as the connection was too tight. Seems like with so many French passengers onboard, Ponant would arrange for earlier departures from the ship. • It seems illogical to have a adventurous “expedition” to extremely remote uninhabited islands and yet be required to bring along formal night-time attire for dinner. The tradition of formal wear on cruise ships has largely been abandoned by other cruise lines. We are on vacation and don’t want to be required to do such nonsense. Baggage space for a two week journey is already extremely limited. • There were far too many “mandatory” meetings. We are on vacation and would like to relax. We don’t need to be forced to do anything. So many of these mandatory meetings could have been recorded and put on our stateroom TVs to watch at our leisure. • Our expedition leader/manager worked very, very hard. She was up before sunrise and was working late into the night. She launched a Zodiac at dawn to scout every beach and snorkel location. She directed the unloading and loading of every Zodiac on the beach. She presented the next day’s activities every evening. She was involved in almost every activity. I am not sure whether she is unwilling to delegate or Ponant refuses to give her a full-time assistant, but she needs help. Her disposition was pretty unfriendly (maybe because she is overworked). You would expect such a key person to be warm and outgoing. • The Bar manager was super innovative. He and several of his assistants created a floating bar on two surf boards. They stood in chest deep water at the beach for several hours. The day all the passengers where exploring the mangroves in Zodiacs, he used a Zodiac to create a floating bar. He worked very hard and was very engaging. • The photo area on the 6th floor was underutilized. With a National Geographic photographer on board, you would expect he would use it to conduct classes, to review passenger’s personal photos, etc. It sat idle. • I am an avid photographer. There were many other avid photographers on board. I was disappointed that Ponant did not program more photo events (photo walks, personal photo critiques, group photo critiques, photo editing advice, etc). We will not cruise with Ponant again. Read Less
Sail Date December 2019
It has been our 4th cruise with Ponant. We like the concept of "Expedition-cruises". This cruise through the Seychelles-islands was very different. We have spoken to other travellers and the general feedback was as follows: ... Read More
It has been our 4th cruise with Ponant. We like the concept of "Expedition-cruises". This cruise through the Seychelles-islands was very different. We have spoken to other travellers and the general feedback was as follows: Ponant repeaters clearly stated that this was the worst cruise they have done. From "newcomers" we have heard "never again Ponant". Remembering the other excellent cruises with Ponant we felt sorry to listen to these statements. We have been even more disappointed as we convinced some friends to join us on their "first cruise ever"..... The ship is great, the cabins clean, the entire staff absolutely charming and helpful. The food (as usual on Ponant) better than on comparable ships. Someone gets used to the chaotic administration before the cruise (documents arrive one day before departure despite several requests, no answers to mails, etc). But usually the organisation on board is excellent and does not reflect the low performance of the headquarter. Not this time: Obviously the cruise director could not cope with the job: unprofessional announcements...if any.., (although we are French speaking we felt sorry for the English speaking passengers: the badly to understand announcements lead to a number of misunderstandings and frustrations among the passengers.) Further she seemed to be completely lost in unexpected situations. Even he highlight "Visit to La Digue" had been messed up. Due to weather and sea conditions the ship had to anchor in front of Praslin instead of La Digue. Instead of organising one of the frequent fast ferries from the pier to La Digue where the program had been organised and booked already, passengers had been offered to visit an unattractive beach on Praslin. Improvisation had always been the strength of Ponant. Not this time! The captain tried to compensate. His personal involvement made up for certain mishaps. The same has to be said for the entertainer Stephanie and the bar keeper Ludovic....and many others! Both had been absolutely great! Thank you for that! The excursion manager Kathia was literally working around the clock, did an excellent job but was very distant.....(stress?) The "naturalists" had been excellent, too. They finally helped to forget the numerous mishaps. Great! It has also been a "plus" that National Geographic had been involved although there was room for improvement, too. Why does Ponant not make better use of these excellent representatives of NG? The cruise is advertised as a diving event. Only one dive master had to cope with 21 divers! Although he had not been informed before how many passengers wanted to dive he really did his best to cope with this unacceptable situation which resulted in a lot of frustration among the divers. Thank you Marcel! Having experienced a lot of other "wet landings" on other Ponant ships we wonder whether this new ship is really suitable for these kind of excursions. Some disembarkations had to be canceled although the sea conditions were much better than on other cruises. It appears that the new concept of the rear marina looks very good but is not practical at all. In summary: Great ship, excellent staff......Frustration because of lack of management on the ground.....and this time on the ship, as well. Read Less
Sail Date December 2019
We just came back from 2 weeks sailing the Secret Islands of the Seychelles on Le Bougainville, a new ship of Ponant. We had never cruised with Ponant but thought the itinerary and their partnership with National Geographic for this trip ... Read More
We just came back from 2 weeks sailing the Secret Islands of the Seychelles on Le Bougainville, a new ship of Ponant. We had never cruised with Ponant but thought the itinerary and their partnership with National Geographic for this trip was exciting. It was a new ship that had just set sail this year so we tried them out. It had great potential with Nat Geo naturalists and photographer to visit remote exotic islands of the Indian Ocean. Our experience with of our trip is below; - Pre Trip Communication - The information sent ahead of the cruse by Ponant was lengthy but had very little if any content that was useful in preparing for the trip. Some of it was contradictory such as they recommended bring field glasses for viewing. When we arrived on the ship we found complementary Nat Geo field glasses already in your room for use on the trip. There was very little information on the planned shore excursions. Trying to login to their website was difficult. We eventually found out we had to be logged under the country that Ponant had booked your trip in. For us they had booked it through their Australia office so we could not see any information if we logged into their USA website. -Ship - New this year and very beautifully designed. The common area spaces were good however in inclement weather it's a little tight. There is only had one public restroom. There were signs already of deferred maintenance issues that had not been dealt with such as stair handles coming off, doors not working, leak in the pool etc. They often did not set up the less visited upper deck areas with chairs etc. We would go to those decks to find a quiet area and find the chairs stacked and tied up. -Onboard Communication - The English presentation of announcements, printed materials and in group presentations was very poor. The person doing announcing on the PA system was hard to understand and would often give the English speakers misinformation because of bad translation. For example; she announced one day the beach we were going to had no snorkeling. We left our snorkel gear on the ship and went to the beach only to find all the French speakers snorkeling. Upon asking the staff they said "what we meant was the snorkeling was not the best at this beach not that was no snorkeling". This happened often. The printed daily communications were terrible. Some of the translation into English was not understandable, some used configuration of words that was very hard to make any sense out of. Ponant would benefit greatly by having a native English speaker onboard for announcements and review of written materials if they intend to keep trying to attract customers in English speaking markets. -National Geographic Partnership - This was a main feature of why we signed up for this expedition. It appeared that the Nat Geo people had more plans to interact with passengers than Ponant permitted. For example, I am a photographer and the Nat Geo photographer was only scheduled to give 2 presentations and one photo event during the 12 day trip. They have a beautiful photo area with computers that could have been utilized but was not. They did not schedule any photo walk or photo sessions with the Nat Geo photographer which was a huge disappointment. The Nat Geo naturalists were the same, very few presentations and minimal passenger interaction events. The few "nature walks" they did were offered primarily in French with translation into broken English. - Front Desk Staff - They were lovely and always very willing to assist. I had a business transaction that I needed communication with and they were very helpful in quickly getting things copied and sent off. -Daily Operations - There were not set plans for daily activities shared with passengers ahead of time. They held mandatory briefings each night before dinner (they were usually during the sunset so most passengers did not get to enjoy them). The rooms had the tv/video capability for the ship to do a briefing video that would have allowed passengers to view it when they wanted vs. the mandatory meetings every day. For shore excursions they divided the passengers into groups with one being English speaking. They did not always communicate well in English to the English group. They did a good job of rotating which groups went first on excursions etc. The activity staff were not very engaging with passengers i.e. on one open water snorkel excursion, my wife got her finger pinched badly in the ladder climbing into the zodiac. The staff member on the boat commented to her that that ladder was a problem. She did not offer any medical assistance nor did any of them follow up to see if the wound was serious or not. They hosted several onboard activities throughout the cruise but did not communicate them to the passengers. For example you could sign up for a tour of the bridge. We only found out they were offering this by overhearing another passenger talking about it. There were 2 formal nights and a white night. There was no explanation as to what a white night even was. I am still wondering why there are any formal nights on an expedition trip anyways. The cabin stewards were great. - Restaurants and Food - Food was barely average. They were not helpful at all in assist passengers with special dietary needs such as gluten free, vegan etc. Mostly their response was to let the passenger figure out what they could eat from what was being offered that day vs. trying to accommodate them with food they were able to eat. - Dive Center - The Dive master was knowledgeable and as helpful as he could be. He was not given adequate help or equipment to accommodate the number of divers on the cruise. For example he only had staff to take 6 divers per dive and there were 22 people on the ship wanting to dive. He did his best to take all the divers on as many dives as they were interested in but several were unable to complete as many dives as they wished. Some passengers were able to sign up for dive packages in advance and other markets were apparently not able (for example, my market in USA being one that could not). - Ship Store - They had a small but adequate size store for this size of ship. The selection of items offered was poor. They had no toiletries or things like aspirin, suntan lotion, snacks or other practical things one might need on a cruise. The hours of operation were very limited. They would open for an hour or two at a time on random days and you only were able to shop if you happened to walk by when it was open and you had time. Staff was very friendly. - Spa/Exercise Center - They had a nice spa area with an amazing sauna. The staff were very helpful to my wife who had a broken finger nail. We did not use the exercise equipment but there seemed to be a good selection of equipment types for people to work out. Our friends traveling with us got a massage but reported they it was more of a rub down that an actual massage. Overall we felt like this trip fell far short of what an expedition trip with National Geographic experts should have been. Much of that seemed to us to be due to Ponant struggling with how to market worldwide and in multiple languages. Read Less
Sail Date December 2019
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