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Sail Date: January 2019
(Apologies if this is a bit long, but I know i love to get all the details when I read a review!) Day 1 - Boarding As others have noted Ponant are very strict with their 1 hour boarding window, and even turning up 15 minutes early ... Read More
(Apologies if this is a bit long, but I know i love to get all the details when I read a review!) Day 1 - Boarding As others have noted Ponant are very strict with their 1 hour boarding window, and even turning up 15 minutes early meant we were only able to leave our luggage and head for a beer in the brewery next door! Boarding in Cairns was very straightforward, with no Immigration requirements as this was an Australian cruise. There was a short delay boarding while both the Captain and the Chairman (Sarina Bratton A.M.) greeted every passenger. Once on board we were escorted to our cabin (312 which is about 10m from Reception). First impressions of the cabin were excellent. The light airy décor and general cabin layout were good, and the cabin was spotless. Departure As the next day was a port call at Lizard Island, the programme once aboard was rushed. Just time to grab a welcome drink before at 5pm (as boarding finished) there was an expedition briefing in the theatre and issue of lifejackets for the Zodiacs. Then back to the cabin to retrieve our full lifejackets for lifeboat drill in the theatre at 5:30pm – fortunately nothing is too far from anywhere on Le Laperouse. This was immediately followed by drinks on the rear deck for sailaway at 6pm, then dinner from 7:00pm. Day 2 – Lizard Island Our call at Lizard Island was affected by weather with the preferred anchorage unsuitable due to wind and swell. However the crew had a Plan B and we stopped on the other side of the island (although the captain was unable to anchor and had to drift and reposition the ship all day). This meant a slightly longer 15 minute Zodiac trip to the beach, and no real opportunity for snorkelling although the water was pleasant for swimming. The passengers were split into 4 colour groups for the duration of the cruise, and this determined your activity order and Zodiac boarding time. Generally this process ran pretty efficiently and too schedule. There were a couple of guided walks offered morning and afternoon which weren’t too strenuous and allowed us to become better acquainted with some of the Expedition team. Sailaway preceded the Captains Welcome party on the rear deck and the first of what proved to be many 6-course degustation dinners! Dress was what I describe as ‘semi-formal’ with most men wearing jackets, some wearing a tie as well, but others in long-sleeve shirts and slacks (noting it was 30ºC plus outside). Due to the balmy weather, the Grill on Level 3 was open every meal for those who didn’t wan’t a large extended dinner or wished to dress more casually. Day 3 & 4 – Willis Island Due to the massive complexity of Australian marine regulation (discussed by Sarina Bratton during her Q&A session) the cruise included 2 days at sea to make a “technical stop” at Willis Island. This constitutes ‘leaving Australia’ and avoids coastal-cruising fees which otherwise would be lumped onto the fares. Activities during what were effectively 2 sea days included lectures from the Expedition crew, and Sarina’s Q&A session. Snorkelling equipment was also issued to those so inclined, which you kept for the duration of the reef visits. A highlight was the seafood luncheon prepared by the guest chef, Guillame Brahimi, and the first of his 2 degustation dinners. Worth noting that the degustation dinners took nearly 2.5 hours to get to the final course as everyone was served at once. Day 5 – Hardy Reef The visit to Hardy Reef involves being moved by Zodiac to a moored reef pontoon some 20 minutes away by Zodiac. This is due to the restricted anchorage available for ships of this size. Due to choppy weather conditions, everyone got soaked en-route to the platform – fortunately the water was warm! We had the run of the platform except for between 11am and 4pm when we were joined by day-trippers. This included a ride in a semi-submersible over the reef, an underwater observatory, and snorkelling. Coffee, tea and water and toilets were available on the platforms cruise boat moored at the platform. Day 6 – Percy Island We moored off Percy Island in calmer conditions with a 5-10 minute ride into the beach. The crew had erected beach umbrellas on the sand, and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) and 2-man kayaks were available to tour the small lagoon at the end of the beach during the morning. 2 walks were available, which were a bit more strenuous than Lizard Island, although a few wilting passengers were kindly transported by ute and quadbike by the residents (all 5 of them). Percy Island’s highlight is the “Yacht Club”, a large A-frame building covered in plaques and memorabilia from passing yachts (and cruise ships) – you could spend hours looking through them all. A pleasant surprise in the afternoon was a ‘cocktail party’ on the beach with rum punch, champagne and beer and a game of boules! Followed by another degustation dinner… Day 7 – Lady Musgrave Island Ponant arranges with the Lady Musgrave Experience tour boat for access to its facilities at Lady Musgrave Island. This includes snorkelling of their large reef boat, a glass-bottom boat tour and a walk around Lady Musgrave Island to see the turtle rookeries and bird colonies. However, rough weather made it impossible for the Zodiacs to be loaded, although the captain to his credit tried everything. Ultimately, to our amazement, they arranged to try a direct boat-to-boat transfer to the large reef boat! Some great seamanship on both sides saw 110 passengers taken to the reef to get a shortened experience for 2-3 hours. The snorkelling was excellent, and the guided walk (although necessarily short) was well done. All credit must go to the captains and crews for making it possible – lots of other cruises ships would have called it off hours earlier. Days 8 & 9 – At sea The next two days saw us cruise in increasingly better weather down the Australian east coast. An advantage of a ship with no casino, and smaller size, means they travel closer to the coast and there is more to see. One morning it was our colour groups turn at a Wine and Cheese Tasting hosted by the Sommelier, a chance to try some of the wines on the wine list paired with some excellent French cheeses (a step up from those on the buffet). Another degustation dinner… Day 10 – Newcastle Newcastle is a former steel making town that is re-inventing itself as a tourist destination based on its beaches and proximity to the Hunter Valley winery region. Ponant had organised an included tour, with each colour group boarding a coach to visit three of four wineries in the Hunter (so no 2 groups were at the same place at the same time), with all coaches converging on one winery for a 2-course lunch with some excellent local wine. A good day capped off with another degustation dinner… Day 11 – Sydney Our visit to Sydney highlighted the crisis the iconic harbour suffers with insufficient cruise ship capacity (particularly for large ships). We were unable to moor at the Overseas Passenger Terminal until 7pm due to another ship being port, and no other berth being available. The day started very well with the ship pulling into Broken Bay at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River. Zodiac tours ended up at a “surprise” location on a local tourist boat where we had an oyster shucking and testing session with some nice local wines – I sat among a group of non-oyster eaters and had a great time! The oysters were wonderful. About 30 passengers disembarked (mainly due to early flights the following day), and the remainder were allowed off from about 8pm to wander around The Rocks and Opera House precinct. Day 12 – Sydney Disembarkation was a nightmare – although it wasn’t particularly Ponant’s fault. At 4am Le Laperouse had to leave the OPT and moor at a mid-harbour anchorage so a large Carnival ship could berth. Passengers baggage was taken off and left at the OPT. The remaining passengers had to disembark by tender from 7am. This involved a bumpy 20 minute tender ride to the steps of the Opera House, very difficult for passengers with reduced mobility. That’s where the fun started… We were then herded across the Opera House forecourt by rude Security staff and loaded onto small buses to be taken to the OPT to clear Border Force formalities and get our baggage. This trip took nearly 20 minutes to cover what would be a 5-10 minute walk… Once at the terminal (about 8:15) we were forced to sit in the terminal (unless you joined the escorted tours to the toilets) until nearly 9:30 while Border Force finished with the Carnival ship. After all that, the actual Border Force process involved handing over the Incoming Passenger card and walking through… they would have processed all the passengers in less than 5 minutes. We could have dropped the cards in a box and been just as thoroughly processed. A very ordinary introduction to Sydney for our international visitors (although perhaps no great surprise to those of us locals who put up with their bureaucratic nonsense on a regular basis!). Overall Impression The Cabin Main Area – The bed and pillows were very comfortable, and the air-conditioning well controlled. The only real issue is the very narrow space at the foot of the bed requires the occasional pas-de-deux with your companion. Storage – shallow draws beneath the bedside tables (wide on one side of the bed, narrow on the other) with some space below. Good cupboards under the bench below the TV (although draws might have been better). Main wardrobe had good hanging space and plenty of hangers, with a shelf above (occupied by life jackets) and 4 storage shelves full-height on the side. Another cupboard to the side held the coffee/tea facilities (including a Nespresso machine and a kettle) and the mini-bar fridge (stocked with gin, vodka, scotch and bourbon along with beer, sparkling water, Coke, Coke no-sugar, tonic and fruit juice). The under-bed space was sufficient to store suitcases, although larger cases would need to be ‘butterflied’. Bathroom - The separate toilet and shower are a good idea, although the toilet cubicle is very small! The shower recess is quite roomy for a ship. All products were Hermes (a tie up with a parent company). There is a single large draw and 2 shelves and some bench space around the sink for storage. The only issue was that you can’t plug the sink to shave. Entertainment A large flat-screen TV has about 15 channels of mixed French/English entertainment and news channels, as well as channel for the front webcam and another for an underwater camera. There is a wide selection of new and old movies (although “Titanic” and “Lifeboat” may be odd choices for a cruise ship!). The only sport was mainly soccer (EPL etc), although watching the Super Bowl in French was novel! The Ship The ship generally has everything you want. Social life focusses around the main lounge and bar and the Grill area outside in fine weather, and in the Panorama Bar/Lounge above the Bridge. The much vaunted Blue Eye lounge is only open a few hours a day, and was rarely used. A short “Blue Eye Experience” was interesting, but otherwise it wasn’t open when you wanted it to be… The medical centre is staffed by a doctor and nurse, and a couple of people who had need of their services said they were helpful but expensive! The shop sells a lot of clothing and a few souvenirs, but doesn’t really stock any forgotten necessities. The Spa was well customised, the Sauna is beautiful (but not much used when it was already 30 plus outside!) and I believe there was a gym ! The theatre is comfortable and spacious, and can seat all passengers at once. It is used for daily recaps and briefings on Excursion cruises, and shows with the ships dancers on roughly alternate nights, weather permitting. The open-bridge policy is nice, and the crew are happy to answer questions. Once per cruise you can attend a bridge visit with the Captain who spent nearly an hour talking about the ship and it’s equipment and answering questions. The marina dock at the rear of the ship made boarding the Zodiacs relatively simple, and it can be raised to serve as a stage for the Captain’s welcome. Watching it unfurl itself from under the rear deck is a piece of theatre in itself! The Crew In a word, outstanding. Always friendly, quick to learn who you were and very visible and available – particularly the Captain who would frequently be on hand at the Marina as you boarded the Zodiacs. The opportunity was presented a couple of times during the cruise to ‘dine with an officer’ via a sign-up list at the Reception desk. We had two very pleasant dinners with crew, one hosted by the Reef Pilot and his wife, and once by the Cruise Director and the Shore Tours Manager. We were also joined by one of the Expedition team for a celebration dinner for my birthday. The waiters were generally engaging and efficient, and the bar staff quick to learn your preferences and anticipate your requirements! The Expedition team were all very friendly and engaged with the passengers frequently. When manning Zodiacs or taking guided walks they were well informed on the locations and wildlife. Our cabin steward was highly efficient but must have abseiled into the cabin ninja-like, as I think I saw him twice in 11 days for about 30 seconds each time. I never even found out his name… The Food… the food… the food… I guess that on a Food and Wine theme cruise, I shouldn’t have been surprised but there was SO MUCH FOOD…! Breakfasts were served either in the Nautilus Restaurant or the Grille, and were largely self-serve although egg dishes were available to order. A good range of juices, cereals, pastries, bread and hot food were available at the buffets. Lunch was similar, with one themed lunch run by the guest chef apart from the on-shore lunch arranged in Newcastle. Afternoon ‘tea’ food was available in the Main Lounge if you couldn’t hold out until dinner. Due to the theme, the normal 3 ‘Gala’ nights were supplemented by 2 others run by the guest chef, hence there were 5 six-course degustation dinners over 11 nights which was too much! To cap it off on the guest chef nights, you returned to your cabin to find a box of caramels or nougat on the bed… There was always a small treat left by the steward every night at turn-down, although many went uneaten as we couldn’t face any more food… The food itself was extremely good, and some of the dishes produced by the guest chef were sublime. There was a strong seafood content, although alternatives were always available, and a full vegetarian degustation was always offered in parallel on Gala nights. Room service was also available and included, but unused in my case. Drinks There was an ‘open’ bar including the in-cabin minibar, however there were a variety of extra-cost items and an extensive wine list with wines up to €900+ per bottle. There was also the option to purchase a €20 Euro/day (full duration only) package on the first 2 days that added more premium spirits and cocktails, and additional wines, to the package. Oddly, any premium spirit was charged at full cost despite the cost differential to the standard spirit being small (e.g. Johnnie Walker Red was included but Johnnie Walker Black was an extra €8 per serve, despite the cost differential between whole bottles being only roughly €10 in Australia or about €0.75 per serve – the same thing with Gordons vs Bombay Sapphire gin). The Itinerary The itinerary was as interesting as you would like an Expedition on the Great Barrier Reef to be. A pity that the local regulations forced the 2 sea days for the ‘technical stop’ as it would have been good to visit another part of the Great Barrier Reef (or one of the coastal towns). As a first time visitor, all the locations were interesting however they were all unsurprisingly to the same theme (swimming, snorkelling, beach) except Newcastle. In Summary Summing up this was a really excellent cruise despite the weather and the intervention of the Australian rules and regulations. Ponant have an excellent product and their crew are determined to make sure you enjoy your holiday. The cruise, even when hampered by weather, was conducted in good spirits and the small number of passengers made it very social as you ended up dining with nearly everyone at least once. As a first time Ponant cruiser, it was interesting to see the number of repeat cruisers with many following Sarina Bratton from her former Orion line. There was a definite French ‘touch’ to the ship, mainly in the décor, food and entertainment, but with 70% of the passengers being Australian the cruise was conducted entirely in English with all the crew bi- (or tri) lingual. I heard very few complaints (one woman was outraged she couldn’t order Eggs Benedict one day when it wasn’t the ‘egg of the day’) apart from the general concern about the disembarkation. A few passengers were amazed that they wouldn’t be able to disembark and make an 11am international flight – however their stupidity in booking a flight that required them to be at the airport (30 minutes from the terminal), an hour before the scheduled disembarkation time can hardly be laid at Ponant’s door, despite the passengers best efforts. All in all, highly recommended. We cruise again on Le Laperouse in 2 weeks to the Sub-Antarctic Islands and I can’t wait! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2019
Antarctica 2019 -What am amazing trip. The ship and the crew where Wonderfull. From the start, Ponant picked us at the airport - took care of all our luggage and bought it right to our room. Friendly greeting by the Captain, and ... Read More
Antarctica 2019 -What am amazing trip. The ship and the crew where Wonderfull. From the start, Ponant picked us at the airport - took care of all our luggage and bought it right to our room. Friendly greeting by the Captain, and cocktails waiting when you arrived on board. The expedition team- was amazing, friendly, knowledgable and top notch. The expedition team is really what made this already amazing trip to Antarctica even better. They where such a great group that made sure every day you knew what you were doing and ran every excursion smoothly. We had a recap every day of what we did, what we saw and what to expect the next day. We had great educational lectures, about the animals, landscape and facts about Antarctica. I just can not say enough about the expedition team we had. Whale Watching - When ever we would spot Whales, the Captain would stop the ship and circle around and whale watch. You felt like you where on a whale watching trip. They Bridge and the expedition team, made sure you had the full Antarctica experience. This is defiantly one of the great perks on being on a small ship. The Ship was lovely, and spotless. The rooms where clean and you had amazing view everyday. The food was fantastic, the desserts where amazing. Wow!! So much great French Cheese. Over all, the ship was run first class, you never had to worry about anything. Everything and anything was taken care of. Tips - Bring extra face cream and variety of creams (my face got very dry and wind blown) Dress Code - I stressed over what to bring for dinners and the 2 Captains dinner. They 2 more formal nights (are optional). Men: Sports Jackets / Suites. Women in cocktail dresses, some more casual dressed then other and some much more formal. The formal night defiantly had a wide range of styles. Some ladies had slacks, and accessorized. I had a nice sweater dress, necklace and earnings. Heals or flats worked. Other nights, I would wear black fitted slacks and pretty blouses. I suggest pack a few nice pieces. Over all the ship was warm and comfortable , so you do not need heavy clothes for dinner. Always nice to have layers and a sweater if you had to run out to the decks to see a whale or an amazing Ice Berg. I would go back on Ponant Cruise and most defiantly go back to Antarctica - it was spectacular. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2019
This is going to be the most difficult review of a ship I have written, I was on Le Ponant for 6 days as part of a Tauck sponsored People to People tour in Cuba which is one of the few ways Americans can visit Cuba. I searched in vein ... Read More
This is going to be the most difficult review of a ship I have written, I was on Le Ponant for 6 days as part of a Tauck sponsored People to People tour in Cuba which is one of the few ways Americans can visit Cuba. I searched in vein for in-depth comments on Le Ponant on Cruise Critic and there really isn't anything that proved helpful. So I decided to provide one. Le Ponant is primarily a sailing ship, its 3 masts having an acre or so of sail. It has an engine for backup. I believe it is the last cruise ship afloat that relies mostly on its sails. It is a beautiful ship, gorgeous to look at, like a sleek modern yacht. I carries a maximum of about 60 passengers in its 30 or so cabins. Its decor is art-deco, its blue white and mahogany furnishings are a throwback to years gone by. It has three large public spaces an art deco restaurant, again elegant, a large lounge where all enrichment lectures and briefings are held, and another largish area that is outside and covered where breakfast and lunch buffets are served. The restaurant serves all passengers at a fixed time 7:30 pm. ( a couple of times at 7:00) Some passengers might not like the fixed hours. All cabins except 1-5 are off a single long corridor. All are approximately 130 square feet. More on this later. Cabins 1-5 are a deck up and no larger but they afford a greater degree of privacy but are more susceptible to the roll from rougher seas. The crew is predominately French although everyone speaks English. Every member of the crew is helpful, polite, without exception. The captain, David Lemaire clearly loves being at the helm of a sailing ship. He is perhaps the youngest captain of a major cruise ship. So don't be alarmed when you are introduced to the Captain who is probably in his 30's. He does everything, from helping people in and out of zodiacs to having an open bridge which is unheard of. His bridge tour is not to be missed. Also not to be missed is the raising of the sails, a very complicated maneuver which is the high point of the journey. The captain could have a second career as a Hollywood movie star. This voyage was run by Tauck, all the passengers on the ship were Tauck clients. This means that all the enrichment activities and shore excursions were run by Tauck professionals. The tour directors were first rate, a cut above those I sailed with from luxe lines like Silversea and Cunard. I want to single out Laura Nunez and Ronny (?) who made this voyage something very special. They were always there to solve any difficulties. I could not imagine this voyage without them. Le Ponant's small size, around 270 feet enables it visit small ports that larger ships can't navigate. This is a huge plus. But, it is also a problem. And I hope potential passengers take careful notice here. This is not your large ocean liner. In rough seas the ships rolls. As the Captain constantly reminds you "one hand for you, one hand for the vessel". If you are prone to sea seasickness Le Ponant is not the ship for you. Rough seas also prevented us from sailing into Havana which for me would have been a high point of the voyage. But here I have to say the Captain made the absolute right decision, this was the day a huge tornado hit Havana which could have been a disaster. Now for the hard part. First, this review will be totally irrelevant in a year or so, Le Ponant is supposedly going into dry dock for a major retrofit (not confirmed). Which makes this review relevant for only a year or so. The primary purpose of the retrofit is to enlarge some of the cabins. And this is the second problem. Even though the cabins use every inch of possible space they are, after all, only 130 square feet. Hopefully this doesn't sound jaded and elitist but my primary cruise line is Silversea (8 trips) and the size of one of Le Ponant's staterooms is about the size of one of Silverseas closets. Needless to say, Le Ponant doesn't have the amenities of a Siversea, Seabourn, Crystal Regent and the other luxury brands. There are no balconies, no swimming pool, no spa and all the other bells and whistles I have become used to. Le Ponant has a very small sun deck with about a dozen chaises and that is about it. (One major suggestion is for Ponant to put in a whirlpool on the sun deck so you could at least get wet, please) One factor I just don't know about is the quality of Le Ponant's shore excursions. As I noted above, this was a Tauck expedition. The Tauck folks simply could not be any better. Not having sailed with Tauck before I don't know whether Ponant would achieve the same level of excellence. I will write about Cuba in the Trip Advisor forum. It is a time machine, truly fascinating. If Le Ponant is retrofitted with larger cabins and Tauck runs the tour again, it is a trip that seasoned travelers should not miss. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2018
After nearly 14 days tour in Sri Lanka time to enjoy the newest ship in the Ponant fleet, Le Laperouse. The time fit perfect in school holidays and single travel appealed. I was fortunate to have the disabilty cabin on deck 4, which made ... Read More
After nearly 14 days tour in Sri Lanka time to enjoy the newest ship in the Ponant fleet, Le Laperouse. The time fit perfect in school holidays and single travel appealed. I was fortunate to have the disabilty cabin on deck 4, which made the time on board comfortable. As always, the French flair in dining was great, and the bistro style on deck 3 always had surprises, but you needed to find seats here for lunch quickly. Evenings in the dining room were relaxed, and a beautiful Christmas Eve meal, as well as New Year’s Eve. The special degastation evening I enkoyed gave an opportunity to taste some very special Food and French wines. Luck was with us in spotting whales on the Sri Lankan coast on the way to Trincomale, a late afternoon special. Christmas Day was in Chennai and the shore excusion to Kanchipurum and the Kailasananthar temple and sari silk weavers was an intersting day. Boxing Day was in Mamallapura looking at temples carved out of the granite bedrock. Who knew that Chennai had such a long and wide natural beach, and not far from the Chennai cricket stadium! The Bay of Bengal was kind to us and the days at sea were relatively calm. The time in the Andaman Islands was weather and tide dependant. The swim behind La Laperouse in the sea was terrific and we did experience the idyllic beach on one day. As always nature has no consideration for tourists, The special part of the ship is the Blue Eye. what an amzing space! While in the port of Galle and in the Blue Eye we managed to see fish swim past the window. I even have a photo! I can see how this space would be in the areas with corals and when stationery in the polar waters. The ship is special and I look forward to be on board again. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2018
For a long time I have wanted to visit Antarctica and it was a privilege to be one of comparatively few people who have visited the white continent. Friends talked us into taking a cruise which took in South Georgia and its penguin ... Read More
For a long time I have wanted to visit Antarctica and it was a privilege to be one of comparatively few people who have visited the white continent. Friends talked us into taking a cruise which took in South Georgia and its penguin colonies are amazing. We also visited western Falklands but I wouldn't recommend it as has been too heavily farmed and the wildlife compared with South Georgia is not in the same league and it made for additional days at sea. We chose Ponant due to its reputation and competitive price. Le Boreal is a sleek but sturdy ship. The cabin was comfortable and the food excellent. It is mildly annoying to have every announcement in French then English. Luckily I can understand the former so was able to tune out the second time around. Very professional crew and experienced and charming captain. The naturalists were good in their own field of expertise but generally weak on other areas. Other activities such as daily quizzes, yoga and Zumba were well received. When the sea was calm the theatre show was very good and the entertainers in both bars were also accomplished, especially the pianist Asenili. I would visit Antarctica again, but next time with a fly/cruise. If the price and itinerary were right, I would travel with Ponant again. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2018
We first saw Le Lapérouse from above, in port, next to a massive Costa ship - the contrast couldn't have been greater! If you like all the benefits of a small, well-run, brand new ship and enjoy French food and style, then this is ... Read More
We first saw Le Lapérouse from above, in port, next to a massive Costa ship - the contrast couldn't have been greater! If you like all the benefits of a small, well-run, brand new ship and enjoy French food and style, then this is definitely for you. Everything was impeccable - the warm welcome, the incredible ease of embarkation, the super-excellent service, the delicious and very imaginative French food, the pool area (with its glass wall - you can watch the horizon from the pool) the delightful public areas and a back deck that drops down to sea level for trips out on Zodiacs / RIBs - perfect for the kind of adventures you would never get on a bigger ship. We swam in the middle of the Indian Ocean, we snorkelled around an idyllic island in the Maldives that we had to ourselves - a truly unforgettable trip. Highly recommended, but not really suitable for children. Read Less
8 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
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2018
We chose Ponant for our Antactic cruise because of their high reputation for expedition cruises and general high quality reputation for food, service etc. our cruise was excellent in almost every way. The quality of the food, wine and ... Read More
We chose Ponant for our Antactic cruise because of their high reputation for expedition cruises and general high quality reputation for food, service etc. our cruise was excellent in almost every way. The quality of the food, wine and service on board was always of the highest quality. Our balcony cabin was comfortable, although the bathroom is small because the toilet is in a separate compartment. This trade off is quite OK. more seating would be welcome but there is no room. The expedition landings were virtually faultless. The expedition leader, Florence, was incredibly good. She worked tirelessly and endlessly to ensure that landings were interesting and safe. The team leaders were also excellent, very well informed and very enthusiastic. All landings went off perfectly and luckily, our weather was good to excellent. The experience was memorable and sometimes a little overwhelming in the grandeur and isolation. We would highly recommend an Antarctic cruise and highly recommend Ponant. Their organisation is down to a fine art and everything runs smoothly, at least for passengers. No doubt their is a huge effort behind the scenes to get to this level of perfection. The only disappointment with the whole trip was the flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and back. The flight is a charter with Latam and is very poor in every way. The seats are the tightest and most uncomfortable I have ever experienced and the aircraft has one toilet for 180 passengers. There is no galley so you get only a small bag of biscuits and a soft drink for the 4 hour flight. On the return flight, 30 bags were left in Ushuaia ,and arrived 4 hours later. Some people had connecting flights and could not have received their bags in time.This is not Ponant's fault but needs to be fixed. Although Ponant is priced as a luxury line, it is less expensive for Antarctic cruises than many others. The ships are purpose designed for expeditions and yet are still luxury in terms of passenger comfort, amenity and service. They are value for money. We would certainly recommend Ponant for Antarctic cruises. Read Less
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
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