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335 Ponant Cruise Reviews

Day 7 of our Ponant “Luxury” cruise. Today they told us that, because of maintenance, there will be no water on board from 2pm until 5pm. Typical of this remodel cruise. But first things first….DO NOT, EVER TAKE A PONANT RELOCATION ... Read More
Day 7 of our Ponant “Luxury” cruise. Today they told us that, because of maintenance, there will be no water on board from 2pm until 5pm. Typical of this remodel cruise. But first things first….DO NOT, EVER TAKE A PONANT RELOCATION (ie remodel) CRUISE. There are only 88 passengers on this cruise from Ushuaia Argentina to Easter Island instead of the 249 capacity so I guess they thought they could treat us as a cattle cruise, removing all lecturers, most entertainers and probably the first string cooks. The staff that’s left is very nice and doing the best that they can. The hallways are filled with furniture and carpets going in and being removed and stored in the hall way. The first 2 days the main lounge and dining room were closed which, I thought was bad. But little did I know. The 3rd day out they closed the Observatory lounge and the smaller buffet dining room, both on the 6th floor, with good view and an outdoor area with the, unheated, swimming pool (and no hot tub on this boat). They did open the main lounge, 3rd deck and main dining room, 2nd deck and closed everything else. Now the only area with a view or some sun or fresh air is your balcony. And did I mention that the only place to warm up was your stateroom. They seem to keep the boat at an extremely low temperature. Saving money I guess. After being awoken from an afternoon nap by constant pounding on the balcony next door to mine I finally complained to the hotel manager who say I was told there would be remodeling before we bought our tickets. We weren’t and I quizzed a bunch of the other passengers and nobody was warned. Consider this your warning, DO NOT TAKE A PONANT OCEAN CRUISE. Full disclosure: after my complaint to the Hotel Manager my wife and I each received 100 euros as compensation :=) Now for some general complaining, read if you want. A little more on the entertainment. Did I mention that there are 2 pianist on board and they play for about 1 hour each a day. One of the pianist is classically trained and he did one evening show even though the theater is unused most evenings. The Paris Dance Troop is nice enough (teaching Charleston and yoga classes) until they put on their show which was embarrassing enough that I could only sit through the first number, a characturture of ancient Egyptians, complete with side to side head movements. The show was so “good” they repeated it. About the TV. I guess you can watch movies all day, sitting on your bed. No room for a couch or even 2 chairs in the stateroom. There are 64 available movies, maybe 2 of which were made after the year 2000. And the pause and fast forward button doesn’t work with their system. Watching the Goldfinch last night, the movie froze about 45 minutes in and the only option was to start over. And no magazines available except Ponant magazines. And no books for sale or a lending library. And 1 last thing……We’re on a French boat and wine is included. I admit I did not take the premium drink package but it is a French boat so I expected good wines. Some of the wines were good but one night, it’s hard for me to believe but the actually tried to serve a bottle of Emilia Malbec from Argentina. It cost about $2.50US in the Buenos Aires supermarkets, a wine store wouldn’t carry it. And it’s bad. There are good, cheap wines in Argentina but Emilia is about the bottom of the barrel. Now I’ll stop whining. Thanks for listening. Addendum: Just when you think things can’t get any worse, we are in our room packing. It’s the last day and instead of arriving at Easter Island between 9:00AM and 10:00AM we are arriving between 5:00PM and 6:00PM. No problem with a late arrival after an 8 day cruise. Hard to be exact on a boat. So we are in our room packing and, now that the weather has changed to warm and sunny for the first time, looking forward to spending a little time in the sun on our balcony and a workman walk across our balcony from next door. Glad we weren’t undressed or doing things we would like to do in private. Turns out that all the connecting doors on the balcony are open and they are washing and, I suppose getting ready to paint, or something. So our decks are off limits as is our privacy. And the one sun deck off the Observatory Lounge is still closed as they refinished the deck yesterday. I almost forgot, last night when we received out bill we are told what the gratuity rate should be. When I made my reservation I saw and was told tips and drinks were included. I called the desk and they said they didn’t see that on my record but that if we made our reservation through New York they tell people tips are included. I should contact them. Except it’s Sat night and we are getting off on Sunday so, do I count on NY living up to what They told me or no tip the only bright spot of this cruise. Always something with this company. It almost seems that they are going out of their way to make life miserable for us on the remodel cruise. I only hope the landing goes well and I don’t have to report on a capsized Zodiac or similar occurrence. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
Background: We were on Le Soleal for a 20 day cruise that turned out to be 24 days due to a precautionary 14 day CV19 quarantine. Originally scheduled to go from Argentina to Tahiti with stops throughout the South Pacific, we were able ... Read More
Background: We were on Le Soleal for a 20 day cruise that turned out to be 24 days due to a precautionary 14 day CV19 quarantine. Originally scheduled to go from Argentina to Tahiti with stops throughout the South Pacific, we were able to make only one stop due to the CV issue. Fortunately no one on the ship had showed signs of the virus at the time we left on March 24. Many things can be said about the experience, all positive with respect to how Ponant handled the the situation. The standout was Captain David Marionneau-Chatel. Obviously, leadership is everything under these circumstances, and the Captain turned-in a 5 star performance. Regular meetings were held with both passengers and crew members. His tone was one of honesty and compassion; he never attempted to deflect responsibility for any passenger-perceived “errors” to anyone other than himself. He kept his crew motivated; their courtesy and efficiency remained excellent throughout rapidly changing circumstances. . Well done Ponant! We shall return. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
This report includes information on our February 3-19, 2020, “Beyond the Polar Circle” expedition cruise on the Le Soléal with Ponant. Although we had traveled on a “drive by” cruise of the Antarctic Peninsula in 2007 on the ... Read More
This report includes information on our February 3-19, 2020, “Beyond the Polar Circle” expedition cruise on the Le Soléal with Ponant. Although we had traveled on a “drive by” cruise of the Antarctic Peninsula in 2007 on the Golden Princess, this expedition offered the opportunity to experience the Antarctic region in more depth and the possibility of better wildlife sightings. Unfortunately, the number of sites we were scheduled to visit had to be curtailed due to a medical evacuation and there was not enough time to voyage south of the Antarctic Circle. Nevertheless, we saw six types of penguin (Magellanic, king, gentoo, rockhopper, macaroni, chinstrap), five types of seal (fur, elephant, crabeater, Weddell, leopard), three types of whale (fin, humpback, minke) and vast numbers of seabirds including wandering albatross and black-browed albatross. Despite the abbreviated itinerary, this was a fantastic wildlife-viewing experience! Even though the on board ship experience (accommodations, service, food) was excellent, the expedition component was less so. Although the Expedition Leader worked effectively with the Captain to maximize the possible sites we could visit after the medical evacuation, he was very disorganized in other respects. The briefings and recaps were skimpy and added little to the expedition experience. The formal talks were not well-integrated with the expedition program. For example, there were no wildlife presentations before our visit to the Falkland Islands on Day 3, where the wildlife was mainly penguins and seabirds; a talk about seabirds was not given until Day 5 and about penguins on Day 13. To be fair, there were good talks about whales on Day 5 and on pinnipeds on Day 9, prior to encountering those species. Perhaps we were simply spoiled by the outstanding program provided by Quark Expeditions during our Arctic expedition last September. As another example, Quark provided brief biographies of our team prior to the cruise as part of the cruise information packet; Ponant only posted bios on a wall of the ship several days into the cruise and possibly only after it was suggested to them. EXPEDITION ITINERARY: BEYOND THE POLAR CIRCLE (17 DAYS/16 NIGHTS) [Note: This is the itinerary we followed. Each expedition is unique; the actual sites visited depend on the weather and sea conditions during that expedition.] Argentina: Buenos Aires, Ushuaia Falkland Islands: Saunders Island, West Point Island South Georgia: Fortuna Bay, Grytviken, St. Andrews Bay, Cooper Bay Antarctic Peninsula: Portal Point, Neko Harbor, Paradise Bay, Lemaire Channel ABOUT THE REVIEW Our reviews are primarily a journal of what we did each day, including links to tourist sites and maps. However, this was our first cruise with Ponant, so we have included more details about the on board experience (especially the food and wine) and made some comparisons to our Golden Princess cruise and Ocean Adventurer expedition. Prior to the Le Soléal expedition, we spent two days in Buenos Aires. ABOUT US John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our late sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. I already had an Argentinian flag from previous trips but I hoped to obtain a Tierra del Fuego provincial flag, which features an albatross. We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. We have cruised to or toured all seven continents, primarily in the Americas and Europe. On our trips, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, towers, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up for a good view. Previously, we have taken “soft adventures” to the Galapagos Islands on the Celebrity Xpedition (www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=77850) and to Machu Picchu with G Adventures (www.smartertravel.com/short-inca-trail-machu-picchu/). We have also taken an expedition cruise to the Canadian Arctic and West Greenland on the Ocean Adventurer with Quark Expeditions (boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2716812-trip-report-2019-%E2%80%9Cnorthwest-passage-epic-high-arctic%E2%80%9D-on-the-ocean-adventurer-quark-expeditions/). BOOKING WITH PONANT We booked our expedition directly with Ponant (us.ponant.com) by phone 23 months ahead to take advantage of the early booking discount. Our package included the domestic flights between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, transfers in Ushuaia, lunch at the Arakur Hotel, a guided walk through the Cerro Alarkén Natural Reserve, on board gratuities and open bar. As first-time guests, we also received $250 pp on board credit. We could not receive any referral OBC because all our friends who had previously traveled with Ponant had booked through Tauck. We purchased travel insurance through SquareMouth (www.squaremouth.com). Dealing with Ponant is exasperating. The “My Ponant” website is essentially useless: unlike many other cruise lines, it cannot be used to make a partial payment or to enter passenger information. It does have downloadable copies of the required passenger forms; however, they cannot be submitted through the website. When forms are submitted by email (as directed), there is no indication on the website that they have been received and no email acknowledgment is sent. [Note: The day before we started our trip, Ponant launched a marginally improved website.] Emailing Ponant returns a canned reply that promises a personal response within 48 hours; I never received any response at all to most of my inquiries. The only way to get through to Ponant was by telephone. Although partial payments could be made that way, I did not always receive correct information about my booking. For example, two weeks after emailing the required medical forms, I called and was assured that those had been received and all our other paperwork was in order. Shortly after, I received an email that my medical form had been received but my husband’s had not (they were sent as attachments in the same email). I resent John’s form and finally received email confirmation that all was in order. Final documents were not emailed until 23 days before sailing and hard copies were delivered by FedEx a few days later. SUGGESTED RESOURCES Antarctica FAQs antarcticafaqs.boards.net/ Antarctic Adventures Forum www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g1-i12337-Antarctic_Adventures.html “Antarctica: A Guide to the Wildlife (Bradt Travel Guide)” (2018) by Tony Soper (Author), Dafila Scott (Illustrator) www.amazon.com/Antarctica-Guide-Wildlife-Bradt-Travel/dp/1784770914/ “Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent” by Gabrielle Walker www.amazon.com/Antarctica-Intimate-Portrait-Mysterious-Continent/dp/0151015201/ “Wild Sea: A History of the Southern Ocean” by Joy McCann www.amazon.com/Wild-Sea-History-Southern-Ocean/dp/022662238X/ “Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing www.amazon.com/Endurance-Shackletons-Incredible-Alfred-Lansing-ebook/dp/B00IC8VF10/ “Shackleton” (2002) The true story of Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole, and his epic struggle to lead his twenty-eight man crew to safety after his ship, Endurance, was crushed in the pack ice. This two-episode miniseries stars Kenneth Branagh as Shackleton. www.imdb.com/title/tt0272839/ “Chasing Shackleton” (2014) This four-part series follows a modern expedition team as they attempt to duplicate Shackleton's 800-mile boat journey across the Southern Ocean in a replica of the lifeboat James Caird and his mountain crossing of South Georgia, using only the clothing, tools and supplies that Shackleton's team used. www.pbs.org/show/chasing-shackleton/ PRECRUISE IN BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA FRIDAY, JANUARY 31, 2020—RALEIGH/DURHAM (RDU), NC, USA TO BUENOS AIRES (EZE), ARGENTINA We planned to arrive in Buenos Aires two days ahead of the expedition. We chose to connect in Atlanta, rather than Miami, to avoid possible flight delays due to Super Bowl LIV, which would take place in Miami on February 2. Moreover, airplane ticket prices were much higher for a departure on February 1. Our Delta flight encountered turbulence on the way to Atlanta and arrived late, we still had several hours to relax in The Club using our Priority Pass membership. The lounge was crowded when we arrived but John spotted a table and we enjoyed the food and drinks until it was time to head to the gate for our Delta flight to Buenos Aires. With our sleep aids, eye masks, industrial-strength ear plugs and signs asking the flight attendants not to disturb us, we managed to sleep fairly well for most of the 10.5-hour flight. Buenos Aires is only two hours ahead of EST, so we did not have to deal with jet-lag. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2020—BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA We awoke shortly before breakfast was served; the less said about that, the better—we just needed some calories. It was a breakfast sandwich and not very appetizing. Our flight had encountered turbulence and was late; we arrived at about 10:30 a.m. Customs and immigration took about 30 minutes. We made all of our precruise arrangements (airport transfers, hotel tours) through Defrantur (www.defrantur.com.ar/ingles/). This is the third time we have used their services in Argentina and we are still impressed with them; everything was seamless and superb. Our driver, Juan Carlos, handled all of our transportation needs during our visit; he was waiting when we exited customs. The airport is pretty far from the downtown area; it took about 30-40 min, with lots of toll stops, to reach our hotel, the Howard Johnson Plaza Florida Street. Avenida Florida is a pedestrian shopping street but the hotel is easily accessible from a few meters away on Avenida Santa Fe near Plaza General San Martín. That is where Juan Carlos would pick us up for our tours and drop us off afterward. At the hotel, we were greeted by the owner of Defrantur, Ricardo De Franco, who went over our tour program with us and made some suggestions for our stay in Buenos Aires. We paid him the balance owed for our land tour in USD (a deposit had already been made by AmEx credit card). Ricardo also helped us exchange some dollars to pesos and presented us with a nice bottle of Rutini Trumpeter Reserve, Uco Valley, Argentina 2017 (malbec). This four-star Howard Johnson (www.wyndhamhotels.com/hojo/buenos-aires-argentina/howard-johnson-plaza-florida-street/overview/) is in an excellent location, near several of the main attractions in the Retiro neighborhood of Buenos Aires. The economy in Argentina has been doing poorly and there are always touts outside the front entrance offering to exchange money. You enter down a short hall lined with a couple of shops. There is an elevator to the lobby one floor up and there is also an apparently non-working escalator. Our room was quite nice, really spacious, with free wifi and a safe in the room; a good buffet breakfast is included in the room rate. As we expected, there were no washcloths but toiletries included dispensers of hand soap, body lotion, shampoo and conditioner; there was bar soap for the shower. Our room was ready when we arrived so, after a short break to freshen up, we were ready to meet Juan Carlos for our Parana River Delta boat tour. The drive from the hotel to the Terminal Fluvial in the town of Tigre took about 1.25 hours. On the way, we passed through some of the upscale residential neighborhoods of Buenos Aires: Olivos, Martinez, San Isidro, San Fernando. Juan Carlos showed us points of interest, such as Quinta de Olivos (1854), a National Historic Monument and one of the official residences of the president of Argentina. We also drove by the neo-Gothic Catedral de San Isidro (1898). There are several boat companies offering tours of the Delta; Juan Carlos bought tickets for us with Sturla. The one-hour panoramic tour features commentary in English and Spanish plus a snack (coffee and muffin). This is obviously a popular weekend activity for families. We had to wait about half an hour for the tour to start, so we walked along the Tigre River and around the Terminal area. There was an arts and crafts fair, sponsored by the Women Entrepreneurs of Tigre, going on under bright purple tents. We boarded a motor launch and cruised down the Tigre River to the Luján River, one of the many waterways that make up the Delta. Motoring up the Luján, we passed the Museo de Arte de Tigre, housed in an ornate belle-époque building that was formerly a social club. The boat takes you around an area with really nice houses and some older, even abandoned ones. There is a little of everything: weekend houses, brightly-painted wooden shacks, rowing clubs, marinas, schools, churches. There are no roads to the houses so everything (mail delivery, garbage pickup, etc.) is done by boat. It reminded us of the fishing camps along Lake Pontchartrain, outside New Orleans, merged with Venice, Italy. As we returned along the Sarmiento River, we passed Casa Museo Sarmiento, a small house inside a glass enclosure. That was the home of Argentina’s 7th president and is a National Historic Monument. As we approached the dock at the end of the tour, we passed the old fruit market (now a shopping area) and an amusement park. The boat ride is pleasant but not overwhelming. However, it was a nice way to enjoy an afternoon outside of Buenos Aires and fun to see a different way of life! The return drive was on a highway, so it only took about an hour to get back to the hotel. We tried some of the malbec before taking a half-hour nap. Then it was off to a 2.5-hour wine tasting, “Argentina Wine Route,” which was held at La Cava del Querandí (lacavadelquerandi.com.ar) in the San Telmo neighborhood. This was a public tour; in addition to us there were one Russian living in Germany and group of 14 Danes with their guide. We descended to the wine cellar, where we were served three Argentinian wines, each matched with a different food. The Las Arcas de Tolombon “Siete Vacas,” Calchaqui Valley 2018 (torrontes) was served with a beef empanada, the Videla Dorna Calfulen Reserva, Patagonia 2018 (pinot noir) with an onion-mushroom tart and the DiamAndes DiamAndina, Uco Valley 2017 (malbec) with a beef, onion and green pepper skewer. The empanada was oddly good with the torrontes! The presentation of the wines and food was done well, factually accurate and nicely detailed. Back at the hotel, we finished off the malbec and settled in for a good night’s sleep. SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2020—BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA This morning we had a good breakfast at the hotel. There was plenty of time before our 12:30 p.m. food tour, so we went for a walk. Only a few blocks from the hotel is Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento (turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar/en/atractivo/basílica-del-santísimo-sacramento). We considered going inside to view the ornate gold and silver decorations but were discouraged by the panhandlers outside. [Note: I had seen several reviews saying that this was Pope Francis’ church when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires; I think they are confusing this Basilica with the Metropolitan Cathedral.] Instead, we walked to the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve (vamospanish.com/discover/ecological-reserve-reserva-ecologica-buenos-aires-argentina/) along the Rio de la Plata. We did a hot and dusty 6 mile (10 k) hike; there were nice views of the river and many pretty blooming lapacho (pink flowers) trees. There were lots of joggers, cyclists and walkers out enjoying a nice day in the park—all within view of the downtown skyscrapers. On the way back to the hotel, we were confronted with the “bird poop scam.” I happened to notice that John had kicked up mud on the back of his pants leg. But wait—there was no mud around! I glanced behind and saw a man gaining on us—he wasn’t even trying to hide the squirt bottle with which he had liberally sprayed black, smelly (like vinegar) liquid all over the back of our shirts and pants. Usually the scammer sprays you surreptitiously and just happens to have tissues and water to help you clean off the “bird poop” while he is cleaning out your pockets. As John quipped later, “What kind of bird was this supposed to be? A condor?” Anyway, I immediately realized what was going down and we moved away quickly. Back at the hotel we had to wash out our pants and shirts in the sink, then dry them using the towel squeeze and hair dryer method. Good thing they are all made of quick-dry fabric. What an aggravation though! Still slightly damp and smelling faintly of vinegar, we went down to meet Juan Carlos to go to the Parrilla Tour (parrillatour.com) in the Las Cañitas section of the Palermo neighborhood. We met our guide, Laura, outside La Cañita. We were the only two people on the three-hour tour today! At La Cañita, Laura introduced us to a popular aperitvo, Gancia Americano Bianco mixed with seltzer water. Americano is an Italian vermouth and has a distinct citrus taste. The food tasting started with berenjenas en escabeche (eggplant ceviche). We love all things eggplant, so it was hard not to eat it all. However, we saw the two choripáns that had appeared and knew we should pace ourselves for a long afternoon of eating. Choripán is an immensely popular street food and was one of my eating goals for this trip. It is a butterflied chorizo sausage grilled and served between slices of crusty bread with two traditional sauces: chimichuri and criollo. Laura talked about food history and flavors and tradition. Chorizo in Argentina is not spicy like Mexican chorizo because of the strong influence of Italian heritage on the food here. OK, we ate every bite; so much for pacing. The next stop was at La Guitarrita, where the walls are covered with futbol (soccer) memorabilia and pictures of futbol stars. They make several kinds of empanadas there but Laura ordered beef for us, which she said are supposed to be eaten in the hand. These are baked and she explained that empanadas are cooked differently in different parts of Argentina: baked, fried or cooked on the grill. Also, the beef is cut into small pieces, not ground. The empanadas were delicious and served with Etchart Cafayate Reserve, Salta, Argentina 2017 (torrontes) poured liberally from a pitcher shaped like a penguin! Laura pointed to the word “Cafayate” and asked how I would pronounce it. When I said cah-fah-YAH-tay, she said in Argentina it is cah-fah-SHAH-tay. She got a menu for us to keep as a souvenir and went through the various items. When she got to the chicken empanadas, she said “pollo” is PO-sho. That is the kind of detail that we love about these tours and Laura was exceptionally informative! Both of those stops were just the warm up for lunch at Las Cholas, parrilla et hornito de campo (grill and field oven). Although we already had had three starters, we had another one: provoleta grillade (also on my “must eat” list). This dish is a large slice of provolone, topped with herbs and spices and grilled in a cast iron skillet. This can be eaten as-is or with bread; we sent the bread away—no sense wasting valuable stomach space. Finally it was showtime: Argentinian beef (on John’s “must eat” list)! Out came two huge platters, each a main course, one piled with bife de chorizo (NY strip sirloin steak) and the other with vacio (flank steak). In addition to chimichuri and criollo, pebre (similar to pico de gallo) accompanied the meat. Not to mention that there were side dishes: mashed roasted pumpkin, rice, piles of French fries (one “a caballo” with a fried egg on top) and grilled onions and peppers. From our previous visits to Argentina, we knew that this staggering amount of food is considered normal for two people to eat. Although we did our best to devour this carnivore’s dream (Laura refused all but one slice of the sirloin) we had to admit defeat because we knew dessert was coming. To help all this go down, we consumed a bottle of Las Perdices, Agrelo, Argentina 2018 (malbec). Somehow, we still had room for ice cream (helado) at Persicco, a local chain of heladerías. John had dulce de leche and I had chocolate suizo. This was a wonderful ending to our food tour! Laura was a fantastic guide and we would highly recommend this tour to anyone who wants the chance to sample the cuisine of Buenos Aires. Juan Carlos picked us up at the heladería. We had originally planned for him to drop us off at the San Telmo Antiques Market, then walk back to the hotel on our own. However, we were stuffed and the market was almost over, so we had him take us back to the hotel. We also realized that we would not be able to eat again later that night at the restaurant where Defrantur had made a reservation for us, so we asked the hotel to cancel our reservation. We can only handle so much food! REVIEW OF THE EXPEDITION DAY 1: MONDAY 3 FEBRUARY 2020—BUENOS AIRES (AEP) TO USHUAIA (USH), ARGENTINA This morning we were still so full from yesterday’s food tour that we didn’t even check to see whether some items might have been available early on the breakfast buffet. Ricardo had told us to wait in the hotel lobby for Juan Carlos and not go outside to our usual meeting point on Santa Fe. We were ready for our 6:30 a.m. pickup and saw a number of homeless people sleeping in doorways. Our Aerolineas Argentina flight to Ushuaia left from the domestic airport, Airport Jorge Newbery (AEP), at 8:55 a.m. We were supposed to check at 6:55 a.m., so we arrived with plenty of time and in advance of most of the crowd. There were two local Ponant contacts with clipboards to check off our names and make sure that we had a Ponant tag with our cabin number on our checked bags. After that, we could join the line to get our boarding passes and check luggage; I was also able to add our Delta SkyMiles numbers to our reservations. Checked luggage was limited to 50 lbs (23 kg) and carry-ons to 22 lbs (10 kg). Our checked bags were 44 lbs (20 kg) and 26 lbs (12 kg)—no problem. Our carry-ons were not weighed. After that, we proceeded to the departures area, which is upstairs on the other end of the airport. There are two security areas: one for flights going north and the other for flights going south. Everyone seemed to be going south, so there was a long line waiting to go through security. Nevertheless, we arrived at the gate about 45 minutes after Juan Carlos dropped us off. There was an earlier flight to Ushuaia and people were still queued up for it. We were traveling the week after the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in China started to make headlines; several cruise ships had already been quarantined because of possible infections aboard. We saw a few people at the airport wearing paper masks, not realizing that a virus is a really tiny thing and the masks don’t keep it out. Like other travel companies, Ponant was scrambling to deal with this issue. We had to fill out two health forms (one on the plane and one on the ship) swearing that we did not have any symptoms and had not been to China recently. The ship’s doctor examined everyone’s passport to look for passport stamps from China. We did have a number of Chinese passengers; I guess they were not running a fever or showing other symptoms as we are not aware that anyone was denied boarding. The flight to Ushuaia, which means means “the bay which looks towards the east” in the Yámana language, took 3.5 hours and a forgettable breakfast was served. Once we arrived, we collected our checked luggage and turned it over to Ponant staff; we would next see it in our cabin. Then we were directed to buses, depending on our language and whether or not we were taking the optional (extra cost) excursion to the Tierra del Fuego National Park (www.argentina.gob.ar/parquesnacionales/tierradelfuego). John and I had visited Ushuaia (turismoushuaia.com/zonas/ciudad-ushuaia/?lang=en_US) twice previously and already toured the national park. We chose the included excursion to a beautiful lodge overlooking the Beagle Channel, the Arakur Ushuaia (arakur.com/en/). Along the way, our local guide gave us a short panoramic tour of the highlights of Ushuaia. Once at the resort, we were served a beautiful buffet lunch in the La Cravia restaurant. The meats from the fabulous grill stole the show (it is Argentina after all!)—rib eye, flank steak, chorizo—all washed down with Zuccardi Serie A, Uco Valley, Argentina 2018 (malbec). The resort is set in the Cerro Alarkén Nature Reserve and after lunch we had the choice of a 30-minute or an hour-long guided walk to various overlooks. Naturally, we picked the longer hike, which first went to a turbal (peat bog) as our guide pointed out the different native trees and plants. Then we climbed to the summit of Cerro Alarkén for a 360° view of Ushuaia Bay, the Beagle Channel and the surrounding Martial and Vinciguerra mountain ranges. We would have liked to hike more of the trails (www.floxie.com.ar/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/cerro-alarken-chico.jpg) on our own but it was time to move on to our ship! [Note: there were no flags in the resort gift shop and there was no time allotted to shop in Ushuaia.] We were bused to the cruise pier at about 4 p.m.; the Seabourn Quest and Scenic Eclipse were also in port. We were welcomed aboard Le Soléal by the crew with a glass of Veuve Cliquot champagne and another health form. We could return the form to Reception later and give an imprint of our credit card. We also received our ID cards, which would be scanned whenever we embarked or disembarked the ship. Because these were also our cabin keys, we had to carry them with us instead of leaving them in the pocket on the left parka sleeve (as we did on the Ocean Adventurer). After that, we went to our cabin to unpack. We had booked a Deluxe Stateroom with balcony, located midships on the port side; it was exactly what we had expected from the photos on the Ponant website. The cabin was larger (198 ft2/18.4 m2, 43 ft2/4 m2 balcony) than our Main Deck Twin Window cabin on the Ocean Adventurer (115 ft2/10.7 m2, no balconies on the OA) but smaller than our minisuite on the Golden Princess (323 ft2/30 m2, balcony included). One side of the cabin has the wardrobe and a long shelf that holds a tray with bottles of water (sparkling and still), the telephone, a lamp and a folio with information on the ship and cabin. There is a mirror above the shelf; beneath it is a hassock and the included minibar. There are a chair and table between the window and the comfortable double bed. There is a small shelf next to each side of the bed but no drawers; the ledge under the window made convenient a storage space for small items, like binoculars. There was a fair amount of room in the wardrobe for our clothing but hanging space was really tight once we added our bulky parkas. There are a shelf (holding full-size life jackets) above the clothing rod and three smaller shelves above the safe; slippers and bathrobes are provided. There are also laundry bags and lists in the wardrobe. We spent most of our OBC on laundry; prices ranged from 1€ for underwear to 12€ for a two-piece suit (washable only—there is no dry cleaning). Items sent out in the morning were returned late the next afternoon. Next to the door are only two hooks, which held umbrellas. I put the umbrellas in the wardrobe so we could hang our parkas, waterproof pants and life vests on them. We really missed the convenient shelf and four hooks next to the door on the Ocean Adventurer, where we could hang those items. There is only one sink in the bathroom, with three small shelves on one side and two drawers underneath. One of the drawers holds vanity kits (cotton pads and sticks), sewing kits and shower caps. Next to the sink are small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion as well as a bar of soap; those toiletries are “Un Jardin sur Le Nil” by Hermès. The shower is roomy and has glass doors. Bath linens are mat, bath towels, hand towels and face cloths. Although there was a sign asking us to reuse towels, there is no place to hang them up to dry. The toilet is in a separate compartment and equipped with scratchy French toilet paper. After inspecting the cabin we toured the ship. That doesn’t take long: the Observatory Lounge and Terrace, Bridge and Medical Center are in the bow; the two restaurants, Library, Studio (ship photographer), Spa, Theater and Main Lounge are in the stern; the Reception and Excursion desks and the Shop are midships. This is definitely an upscale ship with lovely décor. Now it was time for the lifeboat drill. We had to wear our full-size life jackets to the muster station in the Theater, where our ID cards were scanned. Although this is a non-smoking ship, there is a distinct cigarette smoke odor in the Theater, probably residue from the smokers’ clothing. The life vests have weird connectors that we had not encountered before. After a briefing on safety and evacuation procedures, we were directed to the lifeboats so we could see where and how we would board them. Between the lifeboat drill and dinner was a good time to have drinks (Jameson and 3-year-old Havana rum) in the Main Lounge as we sailed away from Ushuaia. There was a nice selection of alcohol included with the open bar and we were wondering why we needed a minibar in the cabin. While in the lounge, a fellow CruiseCritic member (Cruize) recognized me from my profile photo; he and his wife are from New Zealand and would be taking an “Around the Horn” cruise on the Coral Princess after disembarking Le Soléal in Buenos Aires. Nice people! As the sun went down, there was a beautiful rainbow in the east. Open seating dinner is usually served from 7:30-9 p.m., with table service in the L’Eclipse Restaurant and self-service in the Le Pythéas Restaurant (buffet). We had dinner every night in L’Eclipse, sometimes by ourselves and other times sharing a table with another English-speaking couple. Each meal began with an amuse-bouche. The five-course dinners usually included two soups, three starters, three main courses, a cheese course and three desserts or ice cream/sorbet or a sliced fruit plate. Each dish was labeled (gluten free, lactose free, etc.) to assist those with dietary constraints. There were some “always available” items: Caesar salad, green salad, fish, steak, other meat or poultry, hamburger and various vegetable/starch options. Tonight’s amuse-bouche was pumpkin mousse topped by chestnut mousse, which we followed with a savory clafouti of morel mushrooms and asparagus. The haddock in white butter sauce was good and the porcini mushroom risotto was excellent. The cheese plate was undistinguished; a much better selection would prove to be available every day at lunch. John enjoyed one of his favorite desserts, crème brûlée, and I had strawberry profiteroles with raspberry sorbet. Each night there was a different assortment of included wines (almost always French): two whites, a rosé and two reds. Today’s group was Jardin des Charmes, Coteaux de Béziers 2018 (chardonnay), Château Haut-Bellian, AOC Bordeaux 2018 (sauvignon blanc, sémillon), Croix Salans, IGP Pays D’Oc 2017 (grenache, cinsault), La Tête Ailleurs, IGP Pays D’Oc 2018 (grenache, syrah), Guillaume Aurèle, Pays D’Oc 2018 (merlot). There are two sommeliers (Antoine and Bryan) who alternate between the dining room and the buffet. They would be happy to help us choose a premium (starting at about 70€) bottle from the extensive wine list. The included wines were good but young. In general they went well with the food that was served. After dinner, we went to the Theater to be fitted for our red parkas with numerous patches; I felt like a NASCAR driver. Although the parkas are waterproof and quite warm, they are not as nice as the Quark ones, which have larger pockets and a removable liner. They would probably be much too hot to wear during our day in the Falkland Islands and perhaps in South Georgia. There is bad news on the COVID-19 front for the Diamond Princess, which is currently ending a January 20-February 3 cruise roundtrip from Yokohama. (We are booked on this ship for April 2021.) A passenger who embarked in Tokyo and disembarked in Hong Kong tested positive on February 1, so Japanese public health authorities were reviewing the health status of all guests and crew. There were 3,711 persons ( 2,666 passengers and  1,045 crew members) on board. About half the passengers were from Japan. DAY 2: TUESDAY 4 FEBRUARY 2020—AT SEA This was a nice day with air temperatures throughout the day around 50°F (10°C). This morning we saw albatrosses (wandering and black-browed for sure, maybe royal) following the ship and another ship on the horizon. Because Tokyo is 12 hours ahead, we were already hearing that the Diamond Princess’ next voyage was canceled while the health reviews continued. After experiencing a Le Soléal dinner, we realized that we could not maintain our svelte figures if we ate three full meals a day. Fortunately, in addition to a full breakfast with many options in the two restaurants, there is a continental breakfast served in the Main Lounge. Sometimes we indulged in a pastry and decaf cappuccino; other days we just had a decaf cappuccino. Le Soléal being a French ship, announcements are made in both French and English; presentations are given separately in each language. We never were told the exact passenger count or breakdown, but we heard that there were 176 guests, of whom about half were French speakers. From our interactions with other guests, we guessed that there were about a dozen from the USA and maybe twice that many from Australia and New Zealand. Mid-morning, we went to the Theater to be welcomed by Captain Daher and the Expedition Leader, Pierre. They gave an overview of the itinerary and introduced the other 11 members of the Expedition Team. The guides’ specialties included history (2), biology, marine biology (2), marine ecology, entomology, glaciology, ice/climate/geology, plants/geomorphology and birds. I was surprised that the Team was so small: the team on the Ocean Adventurer was twice as large for fewer (118) guests. Most of the Team’s on board presentations were very good, but some were disorganized, especially Pierre’s. Sign-up sheets were available to schedule dinner with the guides and they were always ready to answer questions. Later we had mandatory briefings about IAATO environmental and safety rules and about zodiac safety. Our ID cards were scanned and we had to sign a list verifying that we had attended the briefings. On the way out of the Theater, we were handed our zodiac life vests. Open seating lunch is usually served from 12-2 p.m. and usually has a theme. There is table service in the L’Eclipse Restaurant and self-service in the Le Pythéas Restaurant (buffet). We initially chose to eat lunch in the buffet. However, it is very crowded because it is too cold to eat outside on the deck. Whichever venue you choose, there is an excellent and varied selection of six cheeses (Gorgonzola Dolce, Provolone, Camembert, Chèvre, Comté, Curé Nantais, Saint Nectaire, Elutcha des Cabasses, Marotte de Larzac and many more) available every day. Today lunch was a seafood buffet. We sampled several dishes, some good, some just OK. The seafood au gratin was surprisingly good as was the thinly sliced octopus; the skate wing was OK, not great. The shrimp served with the squid ink risotto were excellent but the risotto itself was gummy. The wine selection was the same as last night except that the Guillaume Aurèle was replaced by a different merlot, Jardin des Charmes, Coteaux de Béziers 2018. We drooled over the dessert display but that way lies madness. In the mid-afternoon, there was a lecture by Mitya on “In the Heart of the Seas: the History of the Falkland Islands.” He is an interesting speaker but maybe runs a touch long. While that lecture was presented in French by Alizée, the English-speakers repaired to the Main Lounge for our boot fitting and zodiac group assignment. The boots ran much larger than we expected from our running shoe sizes; I got a 39 and John got a 40. The boots are stored on a mat outside the cabin door. There were four zodiac groups (Red, Blue, Green, Yellow) of roughly equal size; we were put in the Red group and a red sticker was placed on our ID card. Disembarkation rotates among the groups, so there is really no advantage to being in any particular one. Afternoon tea with treats is served at 4 p.m. everyday in the Main Lounge. That is the same time that the Observatory Lounge opens, so we usually went there for a more stimulating beverage. The bar steward, Wayan, quickly learned our names and preference for an extra-dirty vodka martini. On other days, I had a Bloody Mary, mojito or glass of house champagne (Charles Heidsieck Brut). A very nice place to read and watch the ocean go by! Tonight was the first of three “formal” nights—the Captain’s Gala Evening. A large number of people dressed up but many others stuck with casual dress. We were somewhere in the middle: white silk shirt, pearls and black travel pants for me; white travel shirt, tie, cream sweater vest and black travel pants for John. Nobody looks at anybody’s feet (well, maybe some of the women do) so we wore our black running shoes with black socks. There were too many clothes to pack for this trip to waste weight on extra shoes! The evening started with welcome cocktails (Veuve Cliquot) and hors d’oeuvres with Captain Daher in the Theater. After the Captain spoke a few words, we all proceeded to the L’Eclipse restaurant, where the gala fixed menu was served to everyone at the same time. The two menu choices were classic or vegetarian. Tonight’s amuse-bouche was halibut, avocado and cilantro jelly topped with sweet potato chips. The classic menu featured both a cold starter (salmon gravlax with caviar) and a hot starter (duck foie gras), a main course of lobster in a casserole with artichokes and potatoes, a crispy pistachio dessert and mignardises (sweet treats: tiny chocolate tarts and flavored marshmallows). The meal was very good, especially the lobster dish; the amuse-bouche was again excellent. The wines offered were La Chablisienne, AOC Chablis 2015 (chardonnay); Croix Salans, IGP Pays D’Oc 2017 (grenache, cinsault); Château Siaurac, AOC Lalande de Pomerol 2013 (merlot, cabernet sauvignon). A special wine pairing was offered tonight. We and our table mates (two Australian physicians) wanted to do the pairing but the minimum number needed was not met. In the Main Lounge after dinner, there was a short show, “Love, Love, Love,” by the ship’s five-member dance troupe, Paris C’Show. The production was small but spirited and good. Other entertainment options included live music by the Le Soléal musicians in the Main Lounge and a pianist in the Observatory Lounge. DAY 3: WEDNESDAY 5 FEBRUARY 2020—SAUNDERS ISLAND & WEST POINT ISLAND, FALKLAND ISLANDS Bad news about the Diamond Princess: 10 cases of COVID-19 were detected and the ship will remain in quarantine in Yokohama Harbor until February 19. The forecast for today was partly cloudy with air temperatures throughout the day around 50°F (10°C). Despite being quite windy, it turned out to be a wonderful day for our first expeditions. We have previously made two port calls to Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands (www.falklandislands.com), which is on East Falkland. On those visits, we had seen Commerson’s dolphins, flightless steamer ducks and Magellanic, gentoo and king penguins. Today we would visit two islands to the northwest of West Falkland. For our early (7:30 a.m.) morning excursion, we wore our basic underwear, light long underwear bottoms, a base layer LS shirt, liner socks and wool blend mid-weight socks. That was topped with the Ponant parka, life vest and waterproof pants (not insulated). We also wore hats and fleece glove liners under waterproof gloves. We did not use backpacks or waterproof bags—John put his camera and the hiking Garmin in the pockets of his parka. I had brought collapsible hiking poles but ended up not using them for any of the landings. We were supposed to carry our boots to the Main Lounge and don them there. We walked to the lounge in our socks but a few people wore their shoes or slippers and left them in the lounge. From the lounge, we walked over to the top of the stairs leading down to the Marina and our ID cards were scanned. The dancers helped line us up to go ashore. After descending the stairs, we walked through a trough of disinfectant solution before descending a few more steps to the zodiac landing platform. This was definitely easier than taking the steep metal stairs down to the tiny metal loading platform on the Ocean Adventurer! Red was the first group and we were in the first zodiac ashore on Saunders Island (www.falklandislands.com/explore/the-islands/saunders-island). The ride over was somewhat rough and I got a good splashing. Rubber mats were placed on the rocky landing site to give us better footing; there were two crew members in dry suits to pull in the zodiacs and help us ashore. We landed near the South Beach of “The Neck”, an isthmus connecting two parts of the island. We walked independently up a slight rise and then above the beach, following the red flags set out by the Expedition Team. We saw gentoo penguins everywhere and many seabirds (brown and south polar skuas, kelp gulls, oyster catchers, Falkland steamer ducks, imperial shags). At one end of the beach was a rusted trypot, used by sealers to render oil from penguins and seals. We then turned inland across The Neck to the North Beach, where we saw upland geese and even more penguins. Rockhopper, gentoo and a small group of king penguins stood closer to the water and Magellanic penguins milled around near their burrows on the hillside. Saunders Island is a working sheep farm and we saw a number of those as we climbed up the slopes of Mt. Richards to reach two black-browed albatross colonies. Along the way, we saw the bleached bones of a whale skeleton. In the colonies there were many fluffy gray albatross chicks, maybe a month from fledging, sitting on their volcano-like mud nests. There were also striated caracaras looking to prey on weak or injured chicks. Before we walked back over The Neck to the landing site, we walked out on North Beach, keeping an eye out for fur seals (we didn’t see any) that might be lounging in the tussock grass. The walk this morning was supposed to be 2 km (1.2 mi) but we measured 2.1 miles (3.4 km) on the Garmin; the elevation gain was 181 feet (55 m). As we expected, the parkas were much too warm even with just a base layer underneath. Back on the ship, we had to scrub and disinfect our boots before removing them to enter the ship. The dancers again helped out by checking our boots and blasting them with high pressure water if they are not clean enough. Lunch was a Mediterranean buffet with pissaladière (onion, black olive and anchovy tart) and eggplant Parmigiana. John discovered the ice cream station—bad for our waistline but great ice cream. Lunch wines were Moulin de Gassac, IGP Pays D’Hérault 2018 (carignan, terret); Château Mas Neuf, AOC Costières de Nîmes 2017 (roussanne, grenache); and Moulin de Gassac, IGP Pays D’Hérault 2018 (syrah, grenache). The Croix Salans (grenache, cinsault) and Guillaume Aurèle (merlot) were back again. In the afternoon we landed at West Point Island (www.falklandislands.com/explore/the-islands/west-point-island), another privately-owned farm. The zodiac ride was less rough this time. We landed at the farm dock and the Red group was first ashore again. This was another self-guided hike across open, rolling countryside with wonderful scenery. There was a four-wheel drive vehicle to transport the mobility-challenged. John and I were the first to hike to the end of the trail at the Devil’s Nose, a rocky promontory with dramatic sandstone cliffs, but the people in the 4WD got there first. There were muddy trails down to two black-browed albatross colonies; rockhopper penguins were also nesting on the rocky ledges and areas of tussock grass. Skuas and turkey vultures were eating dead chicks. The caracaras here were not happy about the large red creatures wandering about and dive bombed several in the group. On the way back to the dock, we stopped at the old (1880) farmhouse for tea and an impressive assortment of cookies and cakes. We enjoyed our treats at a picnic table in the pretty garden, full of flowers. The walk this afternoon was supposed to be 4 km (2.5 mi) but we measured 3.2 miles (5.1 km) on the Garmin, with an elevation gain of 265 feet (81 m). Before dinner there was a rather skimpy recap of the day’s events. The recap included information on the history of the farm and Lars-Eric Lindblad (founder of Lindblad Expeditions and a pioneer of ecotourism); some of Lindblad’s ashes are buried in the garden at the farm. It would have been nice to have been told about that ahead of our visit. Dinner tonight again had a great amuse-bouche: pea puree with topped with mushroom mousse and a mushroom chip. That was followed by an amazing escargot dish: the snails and garlic butter were inside small pastry cups that were floating in a cream sauce. The herb-crusted lamb loin was perfect. John finished with the cheese plate and lemon tiramisu; I had a chocolate-caramel dessert. Wines were the same as at lunch. ”Soleil,” the show in the Theater, was good but long: it started at 9:35 p.m. and ended at 10:25. That was rather late for us given this morning’s early start and a busy day of excursions. The dancers did an amazing job considering that we were rocking and rolling in the Southern Ocean. Tonight we received a feedback survey about our experience on the ship thus far. We thought this was an excellent idea to correct any problems early! We noted the excellent food, service and accommodations. However, we expressed disappointment that we had not had any wildlife lectures yet. Quark prepared us much better before our landings so we could appreciate what we might see. On our drive-by cruise, Princess had also provided lectures ahead of time so that we could know what to expect as far as wildlife sightings. We also mentioned that it would be nice to have a list of the names of the Expedition Team and their specialties so we would know who best to pester with our questions. Whether it was because of such critiques or Ponant planning, we soon had wildlife lectures. DAY 4: THURSDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2020—AT SEA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 10 new cases, 20 total. The forecast for today was cloudy to partly cloudy skies and windy, with slightly lower air temperatures throughout the day around 45°F (7°C). It would take two days to reach South Georgia, which many reviews claim is the highlight of an expedition like this. The wildlife is supposed to be amazing and we were eagerly anticipating our arrival and the three days there. We slept in a little this morning. Later there was a good talk on “Shackleton” given by Cécile. We have read so much and watched so many movies and TV programs about Sir Ernest that we probably could have given the talk ourselves. Nevertheless, it was a nice recap. Today’s lunch theme was “Bistrot.” We have thus far avoided soups because—well we're not sure but it seems like we shouldn't eat everything! However, I had to try the gratinéed French onion soup. One main dish was duck confit parmentier (under a layer of mashed potatoes) and the daily special was freshly-prepared beef (and salmon) tartare. Those were amazing! And of course, there was the mandatory cheese selection. By cruise end, they may have to pry us away from the cheese tray but we'll fight them off with the wine bottles we have emptied. Four of the lunch wines were repeats: two whites (Château Mas Neuf and Jardin des Charmes) and two reds (Jardin des Charmes and Moulin de Gassac). The new rosé was Château Mas Neuf, Les Conviviales, AOC Costières de Nîmes 2016 (cinsault). In the afternoon, there was another mandatory briefing, this time about biosecurity, environment and safety in South Georgia and Antarctica. The IAATO rules are more stringent there than for the Falkland Islands. In order to reduce bird strikes, all windows on the ship would now be covered from sunset to sunrise. After the briefing we had a mandatory decontamination session. We had to bring any outerwear or gear that we planned to use on our landings for inspection and vacuuming. Velcro and pockets are especially susceptible to collecting seeds and other contraband; I did have one seed (shame!) caught in a Velcro strap on my pants. As if we had not had enough wine for lunch, we next went to a wine tasting (45€ pp) with the theme “Inside the French Vineyard.” This was a real tasting with knowledgeable sommeliers, unlike Princess’ Grapevine or Maitre d’ tastings. It was limited to 12 people; besides us there were three Australians and the rest were French. The tasting was excellent with nice tidbits to match with the wines. The wine pairings included Côtes de Provence Clos Mireille, Domaine Ott 2015 with asparagus and salmon; Pouilly-Fuissé “Les Courtelongs,” Domaine Saumaize 2017 with squid ink risotto; Château Marquis d’Alesme, AOC Margaux 2012 with tartare Italiane; Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Clos Saint Michel 2011 with rare roast beef and potato salad; and Minervois La Livinière “Le Viala,” Gérard Bertrand 2011 with a chocolate tart and meringue cookie. One of the wines was corked and it was interesting to find out how that defect smells and tastes. The amuse-bouche tonight was the same smoked salmon/asparagus combo that we had at the wine tasting. We started with roasted quail breasts followed by the duck breast with pink peppercorns as our main course. For dessert, I had the apple tart with vanilla ice cream; I think John had the panna cotta. The wines were the same as at lunch; we enjoyed the rosé with the duck. We are definitely eating too much! We need to get ashore and do some hiking to burn calories! Tonight the clocks would be set ahead one hour to be on South Georgia time. This was announced in tomorrow’s (!) daily program, which we got late this evening. Fortunately the cabin steward left a notice on the bed. The ship is rolling a bit more as we approach the Antarctic Convergence. There are barf bags in the elevator and tucked into the railings along the passageways. We later learned that the highest temperature ever measured on the continental Antarctic peninsula was recorded today at Argentina’s Esperanza research station—18.3°C (64.9°F). DAY 5: FRIDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2020—AT SEA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 41 new cases, 61 total. The forecast for today was cloudy and windy, with slightly lower air temperatures throughout the day around 42°F (6°C). The ship was rolling quite a bit and this was probably the roughest day of the cruise. This morning Danielle (Dani) gave a good talk on “The Lives of Whales and Dolphins.” Finally a wildlife talk with information on what we might see and how to tell what it was! The lunch theme today was “Caribbean.” We enjoyed the jerk chicken and roasted pork belly with pineapple (and of course more cheese). Usually there are wine glasses on the tables but not today due to the rolling. We still got wine, thank goodness! Two of the wines were the white and red Jardin des Charmes that we had seen before; the rosé was Jardin des Charmes, IGP Coteaux de Béziers 2018 (cinsault, grenache). A new white was Passe Colline, AOC Ventoux 2018 (grenache, vermentino, clairette) and a new red was Château Thomas Laurent, AOC Bordeaux 2016 (merlot, cabernet sauvignon). This afternoon we had an uneven talk on “Birds of the Voyage” by Rao. He is not an ornithologist, just interested in birds, but at least it was something pertinent. Later we noticed that photos and biographies of the Expedition Team had been posted near the Expedition Desk. Maybe they read our survey responses or maybe it was planned already. Before dinner we had a briefing on tomorrow’s planned activities. However, the weather was supposed to be iffy, with high winds and a good chance of snow; high air temperatures were only expected to be around freezing (32°F, 0°C). In the morning, we would attempt a landing at Salisbury Plain (www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Visitors/Visitor%20Management%20Plans/2015/Salisbury%20Plain.pdf), South Georgia’s second-largest king penguin colony. In the mid-afternoon we had two options: make a landing at Whistle Cove to see king penguins or join the walking group (limited to 90) to make the 6 km (3.7 mi) Shackleton walk (www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Visitors/Visitor%20Management%20Plans/2015/Shackleton%20Walk%20revised%20070115.pdf) from Fortuna Bay to the Stromness Whaling Station. Although Pierre emphasized the difficulty of the walk and that it would likely be miserable in the snow, we signed up for it anyway. We were not about to miss the chance to replicate the last leg of Shackleton’s trek across South Georgia! The ship was really rolling this evening as we passed Shag Rocks, six small uninhabited islands on a seamount of the Scotia Ridge. As suggested by the name, there are lots of shags (cormorants), prions, petrels and other seabirds there and following the ship. During dinner, the ship had a severe roll as Captain Daher pulled in the stabilizers and maneuvered to avoid a pod of whales. Wine and water glasses and eating utensils all slid over, but we responded quickly enough to avoid spilling anything (especially the wine). Later we found that all the water bottles in our cabin had fallen over! Dinner included another excellent amuse-bouche, followed by foie gras. John had a tuna steak with an Asian touch; I had beef Stroganoff. John again enjoyed one of his favorite desserts, crème brûlée, and I had the “Chocolate 3 Ways.” The wines served were the same as at lunch; we chose the Bordeaux. Tonight a movie was shown in the Theater but we did not attend. DAY 6: SATURDAY 8 FEBRUARY 2020—AT SEA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 3 new cases, 64 total. It is a straight, 2-day shot from the Falkland Islands to South Georgia, so John had not bothered to chart it with the Garmin. However he set it up before we went to bed last night to record the arrival in South Georgia. When we got up this morning though, he thought there was something wrong with it because it showed us heading northeast. There were no South Georgia fjords outside the window and the ship was making top speed, 16 knots instead of the previous 12. There were large waves and high winds, making it a rocky ride during the night and this morning. The higher speed probably affected the motion too. The Captain soon announced that there was a life-threatening medical emergency and he had turned the ship around at 11 p.m. last night to return to the closest place where a medical evacuation would be possible—the Falkland Islands—36 hours away. This explained the direction and speed of the ship. This morning we had a hastily-arranged presentation by Mitya on “The Forgotten Expedition: Bellingshausen and Lazarev in Antarctica 1819-1821.” This was the first Russian expedition to the Antarctic and confirmed the existence of the seventh continent. Again, this was an interesting topic but the talk was a bit too long. The lunch theme today was “Italian.” John had some good Sicilian-style sole and I had the veal saltimbocca. There was decent vegetarian pizza too. However, the highlight was the fantastic antipasto table. The sous-chef was carving thin slices of prosciutto from a whole hog leg. There was a huge assortment of great roasted/marinated vegetables: eggplant, peppers, zucchini. In addition there were green and black olive tapenades, green and black olives, thinly-sliced octopus, bresaola and salami. John was complaining that he needed to start cutting back; his pants were getting tight. Nevertheless, he was able to put away some tiramisu. Three of the lunch wines were repeats: the Passe Colline white, the Jardin des Charmes rosé and the Moulin de Gassac red. A new white was Muscadet Chéreau Carré 2018 (melon de bourgogne, folle blanche) and a new red was Le Pas de la Beaume, CDR 2018 (grenache, syrah, cinsault). New plans were announced by the Captain this afternoon: take the ship to within 200 NM of the Falkland Islands, evacuate the patient by helicopter, head back to South Georgia and spend two days there instead of three. Then the ship would proceed on to the Antarctic Peninsula, where we would have only 1.5-2 days instead of three. He expected to reach the rendezvous point tomorrow morning before noon. Of course, that all would depend on the seas and the weather. Currently, the skies are clear, with strong wind from south. There are high waves and spray over the bow occasionally. It was disappointing to hear that we would lose 2-3 days of expeditions but we were thankful that neither of us was the person who would be dangling from a helicopter (no place for it to land) tomorrow morning. The person was stable right now but no telling what effect the evacuation would have on him/her. After that we skipped a lecture on climate change and headed up to the Observatory Lounge to revive our spirits with some extra-dirty vodka martinis. Tonight’s amuse-bouche was Caesar salad with pearl couscous. I followed that by asparagus with seafood; John had beetroot carpaccio. We both opted for beef Rossini (with a nice slab of foie gras on top). I had pear Helene for dessert. The lunch wines made another appearance at dinner. We had an after-dinner Jameson while waiting for the show, which was supposed to be inspired by Picasso. Instead we got passengers showing off the moves they were learning from the dance classes; we did not stick around for that. DAY 7: SUNDAY 9 FEBRUARY 2020—RESCUE AT SEA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 6 new cases, 70 total. This morning we abandoned the pretense that we are concerned about our caloric intake: we had breakfast in L’Eclipse. There were good pastries and a variety of juices. However, our focus was on Eggs Benedict, cooked to order. The requisite poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce were perched on bacon and toast—a novelty to us, but delicious nonetheless. This was setting a very bad precedent. This morning we skipped Dani’s presentation on “Of Whales and Man: From Whaling to Watching.” Reading “Wild Sea: A History of the Southern Ocean” had given us more than enough information about the whaling industry. Overnight it had been decided to get our ship to within 150 miles of Stanley to give the helicopter less distance to travel and more time on station. When the ship reached the rendezvous point, the Captain asked all of us to stay off the outside decks. Many of us gathered in the Observatory Lounge where we could keep watch for the helicopter, an AgustaWestland AW189. It arrived at 10:40 a.m. and hovered over the pool deck while (we later learned) it lowered a doctor down to the ship. After 15 minutes, the helicopter took off and began making wide circles around the ship while the doctor and the ship’s medical staff prepared the patient for evacuation. After 25 minutes, the helicopter returned and hauled up the doctor and the patient. Of course, we could only see the helicopter hovering over the edge of the ship and do not know whether a stretcher basket was used or whether the patient’s companion was able to accompany him/her. The helicopter departed for the Falkland Islands at 11:35 a.m.—the whole evacuation took less than an hour. We later learned that the patient was taken by air ambulance from the Falkland Islands to Punta Arenas, Chile, and from there to France. Lunch today was “Barbecue” with Argentine-style grilled steak and shrimp/sausage skewers. That looked really good but we had had breakfast and there were no seats—people who had finished lunch were sitting around talking and not leaving. We made up for it by having champagne and martinis. While we were relaxing, three beaked whales were spotted but we only saw their spouts. Later we went to a good lecture on “Life in the Abyss” by Rachel. The amuse-bouche tonight was tomato carpaccio with chick peas, followed by pâté en croûte. For our main, we had shrimp sautéed with garlic and parsley, with a side of the truffle risotto. The whites tonight were Benjamin Nieto Senetiner 2018 (chardonnay) from Argentina (!) and Le Pas de la Beaume, CDR 2018 (grenache, roussanne, clairette). The rosé was again Jardin des Charmes. The reds were also repeats: Le Pas de la Beaume and Guillaume Aurèle. Tonight’s entertainment was karaoke—not for us! We later learned that a new high temperature record was logged today by Brazilian scientists at Seymour Island off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula—20.75°C (69.35°F). Sigh. DAY 8: MONDAY 10 FEBRUARY 2020—AT SEA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 65 new cases, 135 total. Mid-morning we went to a coffee break with Rachel and Katia. It was interesting to hear about how they got involved in marine science and about results from their doctoral research. The buffet restaurant had been so crowded that we decided to start having lunch in the L’Eclipse dining room and get pampered. The first course, dessert and cheeses are served buffet-style and the main course is ordered from the waiter. The lunch theme was “Oriental” but it should have been “Moroccan.” I had lamb kefta with bulghur; John had delicious chicken tagine. After lunch, we went to another wine tasting (45€ pp). The theme was “Duel;”we would taste two wines side by side and compare them. This time John and I were the only non-French-speakers. Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre 2018 (sauvignon blanc) was matched against a wine from New Zealand—Dog Point Vineyard, Marlborough 2016 (sauvignon blanc). Château la Verrerie Grand Deffand, AOP Luberon 2018 (syrah) was matched against a wine from Spain—Les Terrasses Laderas de Pizarra, Priorat 2016 (grenache, carignan, cabernet sauvignon). Finally we had a blind tasting of two wines that had been decanted. These were eventually revealed to be Pauillac de Latour (third wine of Château Latour) 2011 (merlot, cabernet sauvignon) and Ornellaia, DOC Bolgheri 2011 (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot). John was pleased that he identified the Pauillac as a Bordeaux blend, vintage 2010-2012, and guessed the correct vintage of the Ornellaia; nobody else came close. We had also signed up for a third tasting with the theme “Great Wines of Our Cellar.” However, it was 95€ pp and it did not attract the required minimum number. A bit later, we had a briefing about our landings tomorrow. There would no longer be time for the long walk from Fortuna Bay to Stromness. Instead, we would have landings at Fortuna Bay and Grytviken. We would be able to do a shorter walk at Grytviken. Before dinner, John had a martini, a margarita and a kir royale along with nuts and snacks; I had a mojito and a margarita. We still have some self-control but we are sliding into decadence. Dinner tonight was just okay. As usual, the amuse-bouche (salmon mousse topped with smoked salmon and cucumber) was outstanding. John’s starter was salmon tartare and mine was grilled vegetables with pine nuts. We both had the beef Bourguignon with mashed potatoes, which was not as good as it sounded. For dessert, John had the apple tart and I had a chocolate tart with coffee ice cream. The wines were all repeats: Château Haut-Bellian, Le Pas de la Beaume, Jardin des Charmes, Moulin de Gassac and Guillaume Aurèle. The entertainment tonight was bingo; again, not our style. DAY 9: TUESDAY 11 FEBRUARY 2020—FORTUNA BAY & GRYTVIKEN, SOUTH GEORGIA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: no new cases reported. We finally touched land today! The forecast was for partly cloudy skies with air temperatures in the morning around 42°F (6°C) and in the afternoon around 40°F (5°C). We decided to stick with the unlined waterproof pants for the two landings. South Georgia was intensely green at this time of year, with jagged mountain peaks and impressive glaciers. This was a 4:30 a.m. start and the Red group was the second to land on the wide pebble beach. Fortuna Bay has a small colony of king penguins, “only” about ten thousand breeding pairs. There were many fur seal pups—incredibly cute, rambunctious and curious. Don’t mess with the adult females though because they bite! There were also some juvenile elephant seals, which are much larger than the fur seals. They were not cute and rambunctious. In fact, except for the occasional glance in our direction, they seemed dead! It was only a short walk this morning, about 1.25 miles (2 km) with an elevation gain of 59 feet (18 m), to some overlooks. We had spectacular views of the whole colony with the Konig Glacier and snow-capped mountains in the background. (www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Visitors/Visitor%20Management%20Plans/2015/Fortuna.pdf) We had a light lunch after our after our morning on beach. John had calamari Provençale plus some charcuterie and cheeses. I also had some of the squid, salad with tuna and some vegetarian lasagna. After lunch, there was a briefing about tomorrow’s activities. In the afternoon, we visited Grytviken (www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Visitors/Visitor%20Management%20Plans/2019/GRY01%20-%20Grytviken.pdf), formerly the largest whaling station on South Georgia. Today it is only inhabited in the summer by the staff of the South Georgia Museum, housed in the former residence of the station manager. The British Scientific Station at King Edward Point sits at the entrance to King Edward Cove. For a change, we disembarked using the ship’s tenders instead of the zodiacs, so we did not have to wear our life vests. Again the Red group was the second one taken ashore. There were several activities planned but first we wanted to make a pilgrimage to the small cemetery south of town to pay our respects at the grave of “the Boss,” Sir Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton died here in 1922, the day after arriving on the Quest for his final expedition to Antarctica. Next to the grave is a plot where the ashes of his right-hand man, Frank Wild, were interred in 2011. Other graves are those of whalers who died here and that of an Argentinean sailor who was killed during the 1982 Falklands War, when it was mistakenly thought that he was trying to scuttle the captured submarine Santa Fe. The walk to the cemetery passed by a large number of fur seals and their pups cavorting near the water. Farther inland, groups of elephant seals were resting side-by-side and still looking dead. A funeral service for Shackleton was held at the tiny Whalers Church, which is still in use today. Inside the church are a bust of Shackleton, a number of memorials to him and memorabilia from other expeditions. The town is encircled by steep rugged mountains and we were offered a 1.5 hour guided hike from the church north to the Maiviken viewpoint. This hike was described as “moderately easy;” it was about 2.25 miles (3.6 km) round trip with an elevation gain of 595 feet (181 m). Climbing in the Ponant boots is not all that easy, although the footing was fairly good. One of the guests did slip on some of the loose rocks and got a bloody nose. The hike climbs along a pretty stream and there are great views of the surrounding mountains. We moved away from the stream as we got higher, eventually reaching the overlook with views of two freshwater lakes, Lancetes Lake and Maivatn, and Maiviken, a cove at the north end of Thatcher Peninsula. The weather was spectacular and the guides made a point of telling us that they could not recall ever seeing the mountains that surrounded us. We were indeed fortunate! [Map of walk: www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Visitors/Visitor%20Management%20Plans/2015/Maiviken%20Walk_extended%20walk.pdf] Back in town, we had enough time to visit the Post Office, the Shop and the South Georgia Museum. The museum was originally devoted to the whaling industry but was later expanded with exhibits about the wildlife of the area, the discovery of the island, the sealing industry, Shackleton and the Falklands war. The building next door houses a life-sized (22.5 feet or 6.9 m) replica of the “James Caird”, the open boat in which Shackleton and five of his crew sailed from Elephant Island to South Georgia. The Post Office has a nice exhibition, “Enduring Eye,” which includes 10 replica glass photographic plates, with associated images, and 12 original lantern slides from Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. These plates and slides were taken by the expedition photographer, Frank Hurley, and are on loan from the Royal Geographical Society (www.rgs.org/about/our-collections/enduring-eye/). Lastly, we had a guided tour of the whaling station, led by a member of the museum staff, Sarah. The name Grytviken means “Pot Bay” and refers to the trypots left here by early sealers; there is one in front of the museum. The town is strewn with the remnants of rusty oil tanks, oil processing plants and the beached wrecks of whaling vessels. Sarah explained the various steps involved in processing whales, from hunting to the myriad resulting products; every part of the whale was used. There are a number of informational signs throughout the site, so it is also possible to explore the town on your own. Back on the ship, we had views of some interesting cloud formations, including lenticular clouds, tinged with gorgeous colors by the setting sun. Dinner tonight was especially delicious. The amuse-bouche was a salad of tomato, chick peas, mint and feta; we followed that with scallop ceviche and hake fillet with mustard sauce. John enjoyed panna cotta for dessert and I had Pavlova with berries. We paired dinner with the Muscadet Chéreau Carré; the other white was the Moulin de Gassac. The rosé was the Croix Salans. The two reds were Château Thomas Laurent and Moulin de Gassac. We retired to the Observatory Lounge for a nightcap. Tonight we had clear skies for a change. Even though it was a couple of nights past the full “snow” supermoon, we saw a great moonrise. We also saw two north/south satellites passing overhead. Much later, there was a presentation by scientists from The British Scientific Station at King Edward Point about their research. We did not stay up for that. DAY 10: WEDNESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2020—ST ANDREWS BAY & COOPER BAY, SOUTH GEORGIA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 39 new cases, 174 total39 more on DP 174 total. This was an incredible morning at St. Andrews Bay (www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Visitors/Visitor%20Management%20Plans/2015/St%20Andrews%20Bay.pdf). We heard the anchor drop around 4 a.m. and looked out to see a beautiful clear day and a giant king penguin colony in front of the Heaney and Cook Glaciers. Giant is an understatement: this is the largest king penguin colony on South Georgia with 250,000 breeding pairs, so there are at least a half-million birds here. The weather in South Georgia has been fantastic—lots of sun. It wasn’t so windy this morning but the air temperature was lower than yesterday, about 38°F (3°C) Dani said. We decided to dress in insulated pants and mid-layer plus base layer top because of the wind and the half-hour zodiac ride. The Green group left at 4:15 a.m., followed by the Yellow group; the Blue and Red groups could not disembark until first two started coming back. John and I were in the last group off at 6:20 a.m. We just missed a zodiac going out but then no one was behind us for some reason. Maybe they were waiting to be called but we have learned to go to the lounge a few minutes before our scheduled time to gear up. Anyway, the result was that the two of us had a private zodiac ride along the beach, watching king penguins and fur seals fish and swim as southern giant petrels bobbed in the water. Fur seal pups were frolicking in the water. Year-old chicks (oakum boys) in their fuzzy brown coats were everywhere. Here and there were groups of elephant seals lounging on the beach. The landing site had four crew in dry suits to pull in the zodiac and help us negotiate the surf to get ashore. Penguins were everywhere at the landing site, making it hard to maintain the requisite 5 meter buffer zone. We were given 1.5 hours to hike 1 km (0.6 mi) to an overlook of the colony. (We measured 0.8 miles (1.4 km) with an elevation gain of 64 feet (19.6 m).) As before, we could follow the trail of red flags at our own pace. We thought we had seen a lot of birds on the beach but the vast expanse of them visible from the overlook was incredible. We even saw some new gray-downed chicks snuggled under their parents’ belly flaps and many oakum boys molting their down to reveal their adult diving suits. This is not even to mention the stupendous mountain background and two huge glaciers glistening in the sunlight. Plenty of elephant seals and fur seals had hauled out a good distance from the beach. We also saw some south polar skuas. Today there was a special brunch buffet from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. to accommodate the timing of the excursions. There was not enough room inside the Le Pytheas, so we found a table outside (fortunately there were blankets!) on the pool deck. There were many other dishes but we concentrated on the foie gras and beef tartare. We also sampled the roasted rib eye and lamb, grilled salmon and grilled chicken skewers. We skipped the flambéed bananas for dessert. The bananas are getting old so this was good use for them. During lunch, the ship re-positioned to Cooper Bay (www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Visitors/Visitor%20Management%20Plans/2015/Cooper%20Bay.pdf), dropping anchor around noon. We would take a 1.5 hour cruise here with no landing. So that we could enjoy the commentary during the zodiac cruise, we were divided into language groups this time. We headed out with Cécile in the first English-speaking group at 12:30 p.m. The zodiac cruised in and out of coves to observe wildlife. We saw macaroni penguins going up and downhill; it’s surprising how high they climb! There were chin strap, gentoo and king penguins and lots of fur and elephant seals. There were plenty of seabirds too—pale-faced sheathbills, petrels, terns, cormorants. Our outboard motor developed a problem and we had to move over to a new zodiac; fortunately no one went overboard during this maneuver! As the afternoon went on, it became progressively cloudier, and light rain was falling at the end of the cruise. By 4 p.m. all of the zodiacs were raised and the Le Soléal headed off to Antarctica. Back aboard the ship, we had some drinks (mojito, martini, champagne), then settled in for a nap. That didn’t last long because whales interrupted. Two fin whales came really close to the ship; we saw one humpback nearby and several in the distance. John got some good video from our balcony. Later, there was a recap of our day before dinner. Despite the filling lunch, we still managed to go to dinner. Tonight’s amuse-bouche was curry and coriander cream soup. John followed that with a crab cake and I had tuna tartare. His main was duck leg confit, while I chose sea bream with bouillabaisse sauce. I had the pecan brownie with vanilla ice cream for dessert. The wines were all repeats: Moulin de Gassac and Muscadet Chéreau Carré for the whites, Croix Salans for the rosé and Moulin de Gassac and Château Thomas Laurent for the reds. We skipped tonight’s classical piano concert. DAY 11: THURSDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2020—AT SEA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 44 new cases, 218 total. It would take two days for us to reach the Antarctic Peninsula with nothing to do but sleep, read, eat and imbibe. We got a start with cappuccino in Observatory Lounge, a good place to read while trying to conjure up whales. John saw whale spouts far away, probably humpbacks, but no tails. There was a good talk on “Pinnepeds of the Great White” by Dani; it should be helpful when identifying them. It is unlikely that we will see Ross seals, but we have already seen fur seals and elephant seals; we should see the other three (Weddell, crabeater, leopard) once we get to the Peninsula. The lunch theme was “Asian.” Starters included dim sum (two kinds of dumplings) and sushi. John had seared halibut with Asian seasonings; I had beef stir-fry that was hardly any beef, all noodles. As usual, there were great cheeses for dessert. The wines were all ones we had had before: Jardin des Charmes (white and red), Château Haut-Bellian, Croix Salans, Le Pas de la Beaume. We skipped the afternoon lecture on “Movement, Beauty and Change in the Cryosphere - Part 1” by Julien; we had heard similar lectures in the Arctic and went for drinks instead. We saw more whale spouts later in the afternoon. Tonight was the second of three “formal” nights—the All White Gala Evening or “Soíree Blanche” (it sounds more elegant in French). Everyone was asked to wear a white (or black and white) outfit. Again, all sorts of attire were on display, from very dressy to casual. As on the last formal night, we were all asked to show up at the same time in the dining room, so we shared a table with an Australian couple. The husband is an actual tanner, the first one we have ever met. The classic menu (the other was vegetarian) was fantastic! Tonight’s amuse-bouche was a creamy potato and truffle velouté with a port-flavored biscuit. The cold starter was a celery and langostino remoulade and the hot starter was Oeuf 65°, a sous vide egg with vichyssoise foam and Iberian ham. The only misstep was the beef Wellington, which was only so-so (too mustardy). Dessert was dark chocolate cake with cherries. We enjoyed the La Chablisienne Chablis with the seafood dishes and the Château Tauzinat L’Hermitage, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2012 (merlot, cabernet sauvignon) with the rest. The rosé was the Croix Salans again. The clocks were set back one hour at midnight tonight. Again this was not mentioned until tomorrow’s daily program. Thank goodness for the reminder from the cabin steward! DAY 12: FRIDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2020—AT SEA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: no new cases reported. The ship sailed past the South Orkney Islands this morning. It was very foggy almost all day and windy. We went to a good lecture on “The Plankton” by Rachel. Confusingly, lunches do not always match the theme listed in the daily program. Today’s was “Argentinian” but was mostly Italian dishes and had a pasta station. We didn’t come on a French ship to eat Italian, so we concentrated on the cheeses and accompaniments such as olive tapenade. One of the cheeses (probably Gorgonzola) was so soft that it had to be served with a spoon—it was so good! John had some ice cream that I think was Calisson flavor, a traditional French candy made with ground almonds and candied fruits. In the mid-afternoon, the ship diverted 15 NM to get within 150 m of a large (10 miles wide) tabular iceberg. It was hard to see in the fog (cue the theme song from “Titanic”). Later we went to a depressing lecture on climate change by Julien, “Movement, Beauty and Change in the Cryosphere – Part 2.” We were drinking away our depression in the Observatory Lounge when a barely intelligible announcement directed us to lug all of our outerwear to the Main Lounge for an unscheduled inspection. Why can't these things be listed in the daily program? I'm starting to feel like I'm on a Costa ship, with things happening at random times. Before dinner, we had a briefing on the activities planned for Antarctica. Pierre may be great in planning but he’s not good at presenting—he couldn't get out what he was trying to say. After some disorganized rambling, the Captain had to bail him out and finish the briefing. We don't need hemming and hawing about what we might have done with more time or better weather, just tell us what looks feasible and safe! The comparison with Ali, our Expedition Leader on Quark, is very unfavorable to Pierre. Today was St. Valentine's Day and Executive Chef Seys went all out with special his/her menus (vegetarians had a unisex menu). The “Love Her/Love Him” dinner was unbelievable—creative, great materials, great execution! Even the dinner rolls were heart-shaped. Everyone started with an avocado wrap for the amuse-bouche. After that, there were parallel courses for her or for him, with two versions of the same basic ingredient: two foie gras cold appetizers, two scallop hot appetizers, two roasted veal loin main courses and two delicious desserts (one strawberry, one chocolate). The finishing touch was a rose macaron and raspberry candied fruits. What else to drink on Valentine’s Day but champagne? We started with Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut, followed by Le Pas de la Beaume with the starters and Château Thomas Laurent with the veal loin. The fog lifted somewhat during dinner. The ship passed Elephant and Clarence Islands on the starboard side about 8 p.m. but we could not see them. After the outstanding dinner, we were too stuffed to indulge in a postprandial libation and were not interested in “Dancing with the Le Soléal Stars.” DAY 13: SATURDAY 15 FEBRUARY 2020—PORTAL POINT, ANTARCTICA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 67 new cases, 285 total. This morning, we were cruising in the Bransfield Strait between the South Shetland islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, making good speed (15+ knots). From here the ship would traverse the Croker Passage and enter the Gerlache Strait. Visibility was somewhat better than yesterday and air temperatures were expected to be 23-32°F (-5 to 0°C) today. We saw spouts from our cabin in the morning and throughout the day we would see many icebergs. Rao gave another lecture, this time on “Penguin Habitats.’’ Lunch included orzo risotto with excellent smoked duck breast and morel mushrooms. No new wines appeared. Because we would be arriving so late to Portal Point, the show (“Perhaps”) was presented in the afternoon. Dinner would start later than usual to accommodate the expedition schedule. Starting at 5 p.m., two color groups began cruising Charlotte Bay in the zodiacs for one hour, while the other two were spending 1.5 hours on land; groups would then alternate cruising and landing. There is a requirement in Antarctica that no more than 100 people (cruisers and crew) be ashore at one spot at any one time. The Red group was second in line for the scenic cruising and so we started our zodiac cruise at 5:30 p.m., wending our way among the huge, intricately carved icebergs and admiring the spectacular glacial scenery. The site is called Portal Point (www.ats.aq/devAS/Ats/Guideline/6d7ca336-859f-473e-bd55-3ad8fd4b3edb) because a Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey team built a refuge hut here in 1956 and used nearby glacial tongues to access the Polar Plateau. There are remains of the hut near the landing site and a male fur seal was hauled out on the rocks farther away. There were a few gentoo penguins scattered here and there and some gulls and cormorants. As we approached the landing site, we could see that the snow slopes were tinted pink with “watermelon snow” by an algae that grows on penguin poop (www.atlasobscura.com/articles/why-is-antarctic-ice-red?). Finally we set foot on the White Continent! First we followed the red flags up the snow slope to the right of the landing site, climbing 75 ft (23 m), to a promontory for panoramic views of the bay. After climbing back down to the shore, we climbed up 90 ft (27 m) to the circular peninsula on the left of the landing site. The Team had marked the perimeter of the peninsula with red flags so we could safely circle it for great views in all directions. Then it was back to the landing site for a total walk of 0.7 miles (1.1 km). While waiting to go back to the ship, Céleste showed us some salps (a type of plankton) in the water. During the zodiac ride back to the ship, we got some good views of the male fur seal stretching. Tonight’s amuse-bouche was artichoke soup with bacon mousse and fried onion slivers. The starter was a welcome repeat of the snail dish we enjoyed so much earlier in the cruise. The main course was a casserole of marinated shrimp with potatoes and olives. Dessert was lemon tiramisu for me and dulce de leche ice cream for John. Around sunset, we were enjoying a drink in the Observatory Lounge (seems like a common theme) when humpback whales were spotted. As the ship got closer, we were thrilled to see that a group of at least four whales was bubble-net feeding! In this learned behavior, the whales circle their prey (small fish and krill) while each exhales in turn to create the bubble net. After the prey is corralled, the whales simultaneously swim upwards with their mouths open to engulf the trapped prey. We had never seen this feeding activity in real life before! The water was so clear that we could see the whales (especially their pale pectoral fins) underwater and the exhaled circles of bubbles. Although it was difficult in the fading light, John was able to get some good photos and videos. DAY 14: SUNDAY 16 FEBRUARY 2020—NEKO HARBOR, PARADISE BAY & LEMAIRE CHANNEL, ANTARCTICA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 70 new cases, 355 total. [Note: Several countries were making arrangement to repatriate their citizens from the ship. Charter planes would evacuate US citizens starting tonight and they would be quarantined for 14 days once they arrived back in the USA.] We were up this morning at 4 a.m. for a 4:45 zodiac cruise/landing at Neko Harbor (www.ats.aq/devAS/Ats/Guideline/39864605-7e82-4f8e-a171-49bdb8423e4f) in Andvord Bay. The Blue and Red groups went ashore first; the other two groups did the cruise first while we did the walk. There were many gentoo penguins near the rocky landing site and on the beach by the Deville Glacier. This glacier calves regularly and a calved iceberg might cause a tsunami. We were told, “If you see the penguins running, follow them.” There were two options for a walk. We started with the more strenuous one—climbing about 380 feet (116 m) high, up an icy incline to a rock outcrop with a stunning view of the glacier. The glacier is heavily crevassed; we could hear it cracking but did not see any calving. From the overlook, we had views of the entire area and the bay. As usual, we were overdressed for the hike and the way down was more difficult; John went faster by unintentionally sliding part way. Back down at the penguin colony, we walked along the beach for nice views of the glacier from below. On the way back to the landing site, we saw a very nice pebble nest with a parent guarding a tiny gray chick. The total distance for both hikes was just over a mile (1.6 km). While we were making the walks, we were envious because we could see that the Green and Yellow groups were viewing humpback whales during their zodiac cruise. However, we were equally lucky on our cruise and had many close whale encounters. We even saw a whale do a spyhop. While the other groups were finishing their excursions, we fortified ourselves for the afternoon’s adventure with a breakfast of Eggs Benedict and a short nap. As the ship sailed out of the bay to our next stop, we came upon many more humpbacks, singly or in groups of 2-4. There was plenty of nearby surface activity, such as breaching, more spyhopping and lobtailing (tail slapping). The ship spent at least an hour here, maneuvering to give us better views of the whales. This was an amazing whale encounter! We also saw a fur seal on an iceberg. During repositioning to Paradise Bay, we passed a Chilean scientific station (Gabriel González Videla Base), surrounded by thousands of gentoo penguins. Some of them were climbing high above the beach to a horizontal crack in the glacier. Only a short way farther along, we spotted a leopard seal in the water, looking like a small sea serpent. We spotted crabeater and Weddell seals as well. The ship anchored in Paradise Bay around 11 a.m. Blue and Red again went first, but this time we started with the zodiac cruise. Earlier we had spotted a humpback whale cruising along the base of one of the tidewater glaciers. When we got out in the zodiacs, we could see he was surface feeding. We got many great views of his head emerging to capture a mouth full of krill. Katia was our driver and she provided a great explanation of what we were seeing. The whale really seemed to enjoy the company of the zodiacs and kept following them. We saw crabeater seals on icebergs and Weddell seals on the beach. We motored into another glacier-lined bay with stunning views. The rock cliffs here were teeming with cormorants and Katia pointed out a large vein of malachite. Out in the middle of the bay, she opened an ice chest and served us champagne (or orange juice) to celebrate. The whale had followed us here too! Our landing site was at Argentina’s Almirante Brown Research Station. Here we could walk to an overlook of the bay at an elevation of 250 ft (76 m). The icy climb up was not so bad; we didn't get that hot. The way down was much more treacherous, with both of us slipping and me winding up in my back at one point. We were quite overheated by the time we got back to the landing point. Once back in the ship, we took a well-deserved shower and headed up to the Observatory Lounge for a drink. We saw more humpbacks (ho hum) and seals (leopard, Weddell) on icebergs. We also many huge icebergs, some 230 feet (70 m) high. Dinner was early (6 p.m.) because of the scenic cruising planned for later. The amuse-bouche was a salad of asparagus, red onion, feta and chickpeas. The starter was shrimp with guacamole and salsa; the main course was roasted haddock fillet. John had panna cotta with red fruits for dessert and I had a chocolate treat, 100% Cacao. There were no new wines to try. After dinner we bundled up and went out on the Observatory Terrace for the transit of the Lemaire Channel. The channel is only 6.8 miles (10.9 km) long and one mile (1.6 km) wide at its narrowest point. However, it is renowned for its dramatic scenery that epitomizes Antarctica. There were many icebergs at the entrance and the channel is lined by towering snow-capped cliffs. We saw a whale that Mitya identified as a minke and seals on icebergs. As we exited the channel, the Hurtigruten Midnatsol was entering. This was the first time we had seen another expedition ship since we saw the Seabourn Quest and Scenic Eclipse back in Ushuaia. After exiting the Lemaire Channel, the ship took the French Passage (between Petermann island and the Argentine Islands) out to the Southern Ocean. The French Passage lies at 65°10’S latitude or about 90 NM due north of the Antarctic Circle (66°33’S). Of course, the ship couldn’t go due south, so it would actually be at least 115 NM to get there and thus out of reach for us. There was not even enough time left for the ship to follow the original itinerary along the west side of the Palmer Archipelago and past the South Shetland Islands. Instead, the Captain set a course directly toward Ushuaia. DAY 15: MONDAY 17 FEBRUARY 2020—CROSSING THE DRAKE PASSAGE Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 99 new cases, 454 total [Note: About 380 citizens were airlifted yesterday from the ship to the USA; 14 were found to be infected after they arrived today.] We are now finished with the zodiac life vests, so we were instructed to leave them outside our doors to be picked up along with our boots. I stopped by Reception to get a printout of our on board account and saw that we had been charged 72€ for somebody else’s bottle of wine. That was corrected after the sommeliers checked the bar slips. Later this morning there was a good talk on “Orcas of the Ice” by Rachel. Unfortunately, we did not see any orcas on this voyage. The lunch theme was “Country Style” but “International” would have been more accurate. We started with spanakopita and had seared tuna Thai style as the main. John got crème caramel, another of his favorites, for dessert. The wines were all repeats. We signed up for the wine pairing to accompany tonight’s Gala Dinner but again the minimum number needed was not met. In the afternoon, Mitya gave a talk on “Enchanted by Cape Horn.” This was about the art of Rockwell Kent, who was known for his landscapes, including works based on his travels in and around Tierra del Fuego in the early 1920s. Teatime today was replaced by a caviar tasting! We were served two blinis with generous helpings of Kaviari caviar (starts at 1600€/kg), smoked salmon and smoked trout. We thought it went quite well with the house champagne. Tonight was the last of the three “formal” nights—the Farewell Reception and Gala Dinner. It seemed to me that more people dressed up for this than for the others—we even saw a tux! And Cruize had penguin studs on his shirt! An unusual feature was that the Captain introduced every single crew member (except the Second Officer, who was on the Bridge) and brought them on stage. A nice surprise was the Captain’s announcement that we would be compensated for the loss of landing days with a 30% discount on our next Ponant cruise (booked by the end of 2021) and 300€ pp OBC. We later received a letter detailing the offer and it was also emailed to us after we returned home. Again, a fixed menu, with classic and vegetarian versions, was served. Tonight’s amuse-bouche was duck foie gras, the cold starter was marinated sea bream and the hot starter was seared scallops. The main course was a duck and duck foie gras duet with chanterelles. Dessert was “Le Choco-coco” followed by vanilla madeleines. There was a new white wine tonight: Silex, AOC Sancerre 2018, Domaine Delaporte (sauvignon blanc). The rosé was Château Mas Neuf, Les Conviviales, and the red was the Château Tauzinat L’Hermitage. We found that all the menus were excellent but the fixed menus on the “formal” nights were especially pleasing. The show tonight was “Around the World,” presented in the Main Lounge. DAY 16: TUESDAY 18 FEBRUARY 2020—CROSSING THE DRAKE PASSAGE Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 88 new cases, 542 total. Alas, this morning was the disembarkation talk. Unlike every other ship we have sailed on, we were not given a printed copy of the schedule and procedures ahead of time (John took a photo). Naturally, that resulted in plenty of confusion. Immediately following was a screening of the movie of the cruise. We had debated whether to purchase this because John had taken so many good photos and video. However, after seeing it, we decided it was worth the 70€ price (we still had 32€ OBC to spend). [Note: Quark Expeditions posted a collection of the ship photographer’s photos, and photos shared by other guests, online after the expedition. Those were accessed using our booking number at no charge.] The “Mediterranean” lunch included lamb curry for me and perch fillet for John. No new wines. At 4 p.m., we had the final recap, hosted by Mitya, who was dressed in a penguin suit. He gave a routine about how much he hates penguins before introducing Pierre and the rest of the Expedition Team to say farewell. At 6 p.m., the show “Métropolitain” was presented. This outstanding review was inspired by the various neighborhoods and sights near the Paris subway stations. After the show, an illustrated marine chart of the voyage was raffled to benefit crew welfare. By now, the ship had entered the Beagle Channel and we expected to arrive in Ushuaia around 11 p.m. We were still keeping an eye out for wildlife and were rewarded with the sight of hourglass dolphins leaping near the ship. The last dinner of the cruise began with an amuse-bouche of chestnut mousse with crêpes. My starter was vitello tonnato and John enjoyed an encore of Oeuf 65°. His main was the sea bream and mine the lobster pasta. Dessert for John was baba au rhum; I had chocolate-mint “After Eight” cake. No new wines. During dinner, the Silversea Silver Cloud passed us on her way to Antarctica. Later there was a movie about Ponant’s history. We skipped that to finish packing, set out our bags and turn in early to be ready for our early morning departure. DAY 17: WEDNESDAY 19 FEBRUARY 2020—USHUAIA TO BUENOS AIRES (EZE) Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 79 new cases, 621 total. [Note: Passengers who had tested negative started disembarking from the ship at the end of the 14-day quarantine period.] Our bus did not leave for the airport until 7 a.m., so we had time for one last breakfast of Eggs Benedict. As we disembarked, I noticed that the National Geographic Orion was also in port. At the airport, we found our bags and checked them for the 9 a.m. Aerolineas Argentina flight to Buenos Aires. Because we had not purchased our flights home from Ponant, we were not able to have the bags checked directly through to RDU. I was able to have our Delta SkyMiles numbers added to our reservations though. We were served a snack on the flight and arrived in Buenos Aires around 12:30 p.m. After collecting our luggage, we exited into the Aerolineas Argentina terminal, where local Ponant representatives pointed the way to the Delta check-in counters. Unfortunately, there would not be any Delta agents there until 5:50 p.m. At least we were able to get seats in the terminal near an open door and it was not too hot (no air conditioning). When the Delta agents finally showed up, we had another slight problem: the date I entered Argentina was not legible on the passport stamp. After much consultation with supervisors, it was decided that I must have come in with John on February 1 and we were issued boarding passes and checked our bags. We went through the security screening and proceeded to passport control. The Border agent scowled at my stamp but the computer system must have said it was OK because I got through. By now it was so late that the Star Alliance Lounge, where we had hoped to wait for our flight, was supposed to be closed to Priority Pass cardholders. Luckily, John had the brilliant idea to ask whether we might be admitted anyway and we were allowed to enter! This was an exceptionally nice lounge with comfortable chairs and plenty of good food (empanadas!); there was self-service Salentein wine, beer and liquor. After we had been relaxing for awhile, two other couples from the cruise showed up; they also had had to wait for their airlines’ counters to open. We left the lounge about 30 minutes before boarding time so I could try to spend my leftover pesos. I found a small store with stuffed animals that looked promising. The sales clerk did not speak any English and I don’t speak much Spanish, but she assured me that the canid I was holding was indeed a zorro (fox) and not a perro (dog). I was later relieved to learn that there is such a thing as a South American gray fox, whose range extends to Tierra del Fuego. Neither it or the penguin I also bought look much like real animals but I doubt that our granddaughters will mind. Finally, it was time to leave Argentina behind and catch the flight to Atlanta. Again, we managed to sleep fairly well for most of the flight. The food and wine consumed in the lounge allowed us to sleep through the undoubtedly delicious dinner on the flight. We awoke shortly before the breakfast service started. FEBRUARY 20, 2020—ATLANTA, GA (ATL), TO RALEIGH/DURHAM, NC (RDU), USA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 13 new cases, 634 total, 2 deaths. Our flight arrived at 5:40 a.m. and we intended to use EoA (Enrollment on Arrival) to complete the interview needed to renew our Global Entry membership. Atlanta now has facial recognition, so we only had to have a photo made to get our entry slip and go through the Global Entry line. The Global Entry line was surprisingly long but still much, much shorter than the regular immigration line and it goes fast. When our passports were scanned, we asked about EoA and were directed to the proper counter. There we were asked how much time we had until our next flight because there were three people ahead of us and the computers were down. We had three hours, so it was no problem for us to wait. When we were finally called for the interview, the officer took both of us at the same time. He didn’t even ask us any questions; all we needed to do was have a new photo and set of fingerprints taken. The whole interview took about 10 minutes! EoA taken care of, we proceeded to the baggage carousel to collect our bags and take them through customs. We didn’t have any problem finding the bags because they had been taken from the carousel and grouped with the few others that were still unclaimed from our flight. We quickly passed through customs and re-checked our bags on to RDU. We still had time to relax in the same The Club lounge that we used on the way to Buenos Aires before heading to the gate for our short flight home. We napped a bit during the flight and felt refreshed when we arrived. Although some aspects of this expedition cruise were not as we had hoped, the whale encounters (especially the bubble-net feeding and breaching whales) exceeded our expectations. South Georgia also lived up to its reputation as the place to really see wildlife. We also enjoyed the luxury cruise experience on Ponant. The food was always excellent and sometime absolutely amazing. The included wines were pleasing and better than the included wines we’ve had on a Viking River cruise or on the Ocean Adventurer. The quality of the food was also a step up from Viking and Princess and probably two steps up from our Quark cruise. Overall, we were definitely pleased and will look into using our discount to book another cruise with Ponant in the future. Meanwhile, it’s time to lace up the walking shoes and burn off all those foie gras pounds! Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
After a very disappointing cruise with Ponant to the Seychelles (See my comments Le Bougainville) we had been thoroughly enjoying this cruise to the sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand and Australia. It’s definitely one of the windiest ... Read More
After a very disappointing cruise with Ponant to the Seychelles (See my comments Le Bougainville) we had been thoroughly enjoying this cruise to the sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand and Australia. It’s definitely one of the windiest and choppiest corners of our globe and weather related changes of the itinerary are more than common. The captain and the crew had been outstanding in every respect. Their professional handling of all situations and the talent of improvisation helped to make this a memorable expedition. The entire expedition team and the two representatives of National Geographic had been exceptional, as well. Excellent presentations on board! Thank you, Sandrine (the Expedition Manager) ! We also want to mention the cruise director who did an excellent job, too. We are definitely looking forward to our next expedition with one of the Ponant ships! Finally it all depends on people! This time we had been lucky! Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
It is my second attempt to explore and visit the New Zealand subantarctic islands. 2 years ago, I was on the Spirit of Enderby which I am going to call "SoE". That trip was booked by a travel agent which I trusted. The result ... Read More
It is my second attempt to explore and visit the New Zealand subantarctic islands. 2 years ago, I was on the Spirit of Enderby which I am going to call "SoE". That trip was booked by a travel agent which I trusted. The result however was something I never do again. I can't handle SoE. Sharing a small room, small shower, toilet that isn't allowed to flush toilet paper etc etc.. well, you get the idea. I am 6'10" tall and diabetic and after just 1 day and actually nice weather: Seasickness, hypo's, bad pain in the back, not good. I was able to leave the SoE expedition. If anyone is okay with that ship, that's fine. I find the ship something you can't relax on and that did it for me. So here we go, Le Laperouse which took most of the destinations SoE offered on their voyage. The Le Laperous expedition went way better. You have the room for yourself, no sharing with other travellers, a balcony which is actually great to do some birdwatching and photographing from. In comparison with SoE though... yep, we obviously don't have 50 people on board but 150 on Le Laperouse. That means that when you go on a shore excursion or zodiac cruise, you'll be split into groups. That unfortunately means, less time to actually be out of the ship. Nothing the crew could do about it, but something to think about when choosing a cruise. A ship with 50 people on board (SoE) may be too small for some (including me) but having more then 150 people probably means less excursion time. Excursion time, actually "being out there" is the most important thing for me. I don't really care how diverse the menu is. I go on holiday to watch birds first, and other wildlife / landscape second. Everything else..., yeah it needs to be comfortable so I can: Eat well Sleep well Work on my laptop to download, store and edit pictures which I have just taken. Stay clean (shower and toilet) Everything else, lectures, dancing classes, luxury dinners etc. etc. are a non priority for me. On the cruise itself, yeah it was great that we were able to go to Sandy Bay on Macquarie Island, since the Australian Government shut down the entire island because of Corona virus but through some tough negotiations we were still able to go to Sandy Bay, not to the Adare Station. Unfortunate that we couldn't do zodiac tours around The Snares but being close to the Snares was still very nice. We saw plenty of birds, seals as well as stunning landscape in the Fjords. The crew was excellent. I am certainly looking forward to one's in a few years visit a remote place on a cruise and Ponant's Le Laperouse or the other Exploration vessels do come recommended for certain. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
We had such hopes for this trip. The ship & itinerary fit our needs on paper but in reality we were disappointed with the execution of this cruise. Not only did embarkation change from Puerto Morelos to Cozumel after booking our ... Read More
We had such hopes for this trip. The ship & itinerary fit our needs on paper but in reality we were disappointed with the execution of this cruise. Not only did embarkation change from Puerto Morelos to Cozumel after booking our flights but the trip was advertised to include diving in Honduras. On boarded we learned Puerto Cortes was a dirty shipping port with no diving. The water was green with lots of trash . We didn’t even bother getting off . As the week progressed we hoped things would improve but they didn’t. The ship & cabin were nice but there was absolutely no on board activities during the day & the evening entertainment was minimal. They had 3 girls that danced; accompanied by a singer on 4 nights but the shows only lasted 20 minutes. The best entertainment was a group of local dancers that boarded one evening. Regarding food, we expected French cuisine. However every meal was bland, small proportions and with absolutely no French flair other than the cheese. They even refused to cook my steak rare which ended up full of fat and gristle. We have had better dinners in the general dining rooms on mass market ships. The Blue Eye was even a disappointment. It was open usually 2 hours per day. If the ship is moving, air bubbles over the glass obscure any view. Plus the bar only had limited offerings of wine, champagne & a single signature drink. As seasoned travelers I cannot recommend Ponant and Le Champlain. There are much better cruise companies in this price range. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
Based on the price, we thought Ponant would be a really nice cruise, but we were disappointed in comparison to other top-notch cruise lines we've enjoyed. Many incidents were individually small things that would have been easily ... Read More
Based on the price, we thought Ponant would be a really nice cruise, but we were disappointed in comparison to other top-notch cruise lines we've enjoyed. Many incidents were individually small things that would have been easily overlooked IF the overall cruise or friendliness of the staff would have exceeded (or even MET) our expectations. As our cruise progressed though, the tiny annoyances added up to a point where we felt disappointed overall. Here are just a few examples: The embarkation process was disorganized. It seemed that all passengers were instructed to embark at the same time (4 pm) ... yet we all waited significantly past 4 pm in a very hot, stuffy terminal building - with no idea when we'd actually be able to board, or in what order. Without understanding WHY a big group from Tauck Tours was led ahead of the rest of us who had been waiting longer, and even AFTER they all boarded, there was confusion as to when the rest of us could go. When we finally got to our stateroom, one of our bags wasn't delivered until we went to ask for it, and when disembarking after the cruise, we were told we had to have our suitcases in the hallway at 7 am, but at 8 am when we went to breakfast, our bags hadn't even been picked up. We had a car waiting for us at 8:30 -- we changed it to 8:45 am, but even then our suitcases weren't out on the dock yet, so our taxi had to wait. Another example ... after suddenly learning that the "captain's gala" night would be the night after we boarded, we were dismayed to learn that any clothes we asked to have ironed could not be guaranteed back to us for up to 48 hours. We made a simple request at the reception desk to please have brief access to an iron so our formal wear could be presentable (we'd been traveling for 3 days/nights so our dressier clothes were VERY wrinkled). We were told "for safety reasons" we couldn't use an iron, whether in our room or ANYwhere on the ship in order to make our clothes presentable for the gala. Viking and Crystal ocean cruises are very safe, yet they both have small rooms where guests could take a few moments to iron their clothes before a formal night -- with irons that automatically shut off if left unattended. A few days into the cruise, Ponant left a questionnaire in our stateroom asking for suggestions to make the cruise better, and I took the time to explain how a 24-to-48-hour turnaround for clothes to be washed or pressed was not quickly enough -- given that the first formal evening was in LESS than 24 hours from the time we boarded the ship, AND that we had no access to an iron. They never took the time to speak to us about our concerns -- instead they left what we felt was a rudely worded letter at our stateroom ... restating their "safety reason" argument. Even worse .. their letter included wording along the lines of the fact that THEIR guests don't expect to iron their own clothes. (Guess we weren't considered their guests)! We would have gladly paid what they quoted for our clothes to be ironed IF we could have had them back in time for the gala. Later during the cruise we overheard a guest at the reception desk pleading for her underwear to come back from the laundry because she was completely out - but the receptionist was just as aloof with her, curtly restating their 24-48 hour laundry return policy. Compared to cruise lines where the focus is on accommodating requests from guests, some of the staff on Ponant seemed to have such an unfriendly attitude ... reception desk staff rarely even looked up from their computers, offered a smile, or even a "good morning". Ponant never bothered to address our concern over why the gala night was held so soon after boarding -- when we had no way to get wrinkles out of our clothes, so, I felt it futile to fill out their evaluation form at the end of the cruise. The food was good for the most part, but not exceptional -- and on 3 separate occasions when we ordered a particular meal (i.e., their featured choice of a quinoa dinner) they just delivered a totally different meal (pasta with shrimp) without ANY explanation whatsoever. They just plopped the pasta in front of me and quickly walked away. Only in 1 instance did they offer an explanation (they had run out of one of the featured salmon choice my husband had made). To be fair, some of the staff were VERY friendly and helpful, but more than a few were not, and we found that unusual for this price-range cruise. For example, one evening when we went to the bar at the observation area, we asked the bartender to make us a cocktail with gin, fresh lime juice & a bit of sugar. He told us he didn't have lime juice (we learned the next day that the downstairs bartender DID have lime juice and was happy to make that drink for us). The observation deck bartender who told us he couldn't make anything with lime juice told us he might be able to get lime juice downstairs, BUT that we'd have to pay an extra $1 for it, and we felt that was outrageously petty. Maybe Ponant's focus is to cater to all the Tauck guests, but not the rest of us. We weren't the only people on board who felt this way -- others we met from various places around the world had similar feelings. On several occasions, we were simply chatting with people at our table after "mealtime" (and we were NOT asking to be served anything else) ... but still, we were told we had to leave the table. There aren't many places on Le Laperouse where people can gather and chat (or often the other areas are crowded with no seating available) so we felt it was unfriendly for them to "kick us out" of the dining room when it as obvious we were just talking, AND all our place-settings had already been cleared. Not all the time, but more times than we could count, we had to flag someone down in the morning to bring coffee or in the evening to bring wine -- even after we'd been seated for at least 10 minutes. Also, at bars, instead of the staff offering nuts or snacks with our cocktails, we had to specifically ask if they had a salty snack to have with our cocktails. ONLY then would they reach beneath their counter to give us some nuts! Additionally, we would have appreciated some educational sessions in the theatre each day, with informative information about our next port -- but we only learned a bit about our next port from the daily newsletter left on our beds at night. I mention these examples just to give others an idea of times we didn't feel like appreciated guests. Maybe if this had been our FIRST luxury cruise, we might have had lower expectations and would have nothing to compare it to -- but every other cruise we've been on has been superior with how organized, friendly, and helpful they were. We're easygoing and usually happy with even slightly above average service (especially when it's obvious the staff is eager to go-the-extra-mile on simple requests) but unfortunately, for us, Ponant was disappointing in enough aspects to ever return, or recommend it to others. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
Our recent cruise on Ponant's Le Laperouse around New Zealand went way beyond our expectations. We hadn't sailed with Ponant before, but are avid cruisers, having enjoyed several with Seabourn, Silversea, Regent and Viking, all ... Read More
Our recent cruise on Ponant's Le Laperouse around New Zealand went way beyond our expectations. We hadn't sailed with Ponant before, but are avid cruisers, having enjoyed several with Seabourn, Silversea, Regent and Viking, all of which have been wonderful, but we would have to say that our experience on Le Laperouse has most definitely been the best to date. The ship is stylish, comfortable, and well sized (with only 180 passengers), making it possible to call into every port on our itinerary without the need for tenders. Our beautiful suite was spotlessly clean, spacious, well equipped and extremely comfortable (as were all areas throughout the ship). The service in the restaurant and bar was impeccable, with highly professional and friendly staff and the food was delicious, varied and beautifully presented. One of the highlights of the ship is a unique 'Blue Eye Lounge' in the hull of Le Laperouse, offering a multi sensory underwater viewing experience in a beautiful space-age style bar. Well worth a visit. We also very much enjoyed the entertainment, attending several impressive shows with talented dancers, singers and musicians. Talks on board were offered in both French and English and there were several opportunities during the cruise to participate in quizzes and dance lessons etc. The itinerary was superb, with Le Laperouse journeying us through several of the sounds of the South Island, including the idyllic Milford Sound, Our zodiac adventure into this fjord was just amazing and made very easy with the ability to board the zodiacs directly from the back deck. Our stops at various ports as we journeyed from Dunedin to Auckland included some interesting excursions, with our favourite being a visit to Cape Kidnappers Gannet Colony. We should also mention that our Captain, Fabien Roche, and his crew, did a wonderful job ensuring the passengers enjoyed comfortable sailing throughout the trip and keeping us well informed of the ships whereabouts, schedules, and local conditions. Our original itinerary was to include White Island, but due to the tragic volcanic incident just a few weeks earlier the schedule was changed. But a further issue with high seas in the aftermath of cyclone Tino meant the replacement stop (Gisborne) was also not a possibility. The captain managed the situation perfectly, keeping us all comfortable. We did, as it turned out, sail by White Island, whilst the captain made a fitting tribute, with one minutes silence , for those who had lost their lives in the spirit of adventure there. It was an emotional experience well handled in a surreal landscape. Needless to say, we highly recommended Ponant, if you are considering a cruise. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
Hubby & I chose the cruise because we wanted a short cruise that included a Panama Canal crossing. This cruise was an expedition cruise focusing on national parks in Costa Rica & Panama. Started in Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica and ... Read More
Hubby & I chose the cruise because we wanted a short cruise that included a Panama Canal crossing. This cruise was an expedition cruise focusing on national parks in Costa Rica & Panama. Started in Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica and ended I. Panama City, including a Pacific to Atlantic crossing of the Panamá Canal. We’re not naturalists but thought it may be an interesting experience. This review is intended to give others an idea of what to expect. We were first time Ponant cruisers so really weren’t sure how they do things. We arranged our own Pre cruise activities including a private transfer to Puerto Caldera. We showed up at the pier a couple of hours before the 4pm embarkation. Had to transfer from the car that brought us to a shuttle van that took us to the terminal. The driver assisted with loading and unloading luggage from the shuttle van but you have to bring your luggage into the terminal on your own. Nothing to do at the very small terminal other than sit and wait or walk around in circles. At embarkation time, a whole slew of ship crew & staff showed up and helped get luggage and passengers onboard. The Captain & Travel Manager were at the bottom of the ramp greeting all passengers. Nice touch! Once onboard we were directed to present ourselves to the reception staff who took our passports (they kept passports until the day before we disembarked) & pictures, and gave us room card keys. We also got champagne. We then followed the crew with our luggage to our suites. All in all, embarkation was smooth and orderly, no issues. Ponant was offering ‘No Single Supplement’ so we booked a Grand Deluxe Suite on Deck 6 for my hubby & a Deluxe Suite down the hall for me. Our plan was for me to use my suite for showers and a dressing room. Worked out pretty well; nice to have my suite bathroom and walk-in closet all to myself. We spent most of the time onboard in my husband’s suite since it had a lot of space and a great balcony. We did sleep in my suite a couple of times when we were in rough seas since my suite was midship. Both suites were well laid out, clean and comfy. Room stewards kept the suites nice and clean. My suite was always promptly made up (thank you Rose); my husband’s was usually done late morning. AC worked well & was relatively quiet. Toiletries were plentiful. Beds were very comfy. There were on demand movies/docs but thought selections were limited. Some satellite TV channels (sorry, no ESPN or Golf). We watched FoxNews mostly. We liked the ship. It was small, new, clean, comfy & not Las Vegas glitzy. It was also quiet and had practically no engine vibration. We didn’t hear creaking when the ship was underway like we did on prior cruises with other lines. We’ve sailed on Crystal & RSSC and enjoyed those cruises a lot. The experience on Ponant is not high end luxury but very comfortable. Less variety but enough choices to be satisfied. We made some friends during the cruise so we were usually dining with other people most of the time. It seems to us the small ship and casual atmosphere is conducive to connecting with others. Food was very good. We ate in the main restaurant Nautilus mostly because we like the full service dining experience rather than the cafeteria style service at Nemo (the outdoor Grill venue). We even had a usual table for breakfast. Thank you Jim for taking care of us. We liked that there were always several main dish a la carte choices on the menu, as well as a starter & dessert buffet for breakfast & lunch. Unfortunately the buffets were pretty much the same the entire cruise so we got tired of it towards the end. For dinner it was a full a la carte menu. We enjoyed all the meals. Service was pretty good but we thought the Sommelier was stretched too thin. The servers were good about refilling wine glasses if the Sommelier wasn’t around. Inclusive wines were so-so. Hubby & I signed up for Premium Pass. We didn’t realize the wines included in the Premium Pass will NOT be available to us during dining. We could only get them at the bar. We can however get the Premium Pass liquor anywhere. This caused us some consternation when we attempted to order the Premium Pas wines during our first dinner and were told we couldn’t. Needless to say we were not happy. We consequently met with the Hotel Director to talk about it and he apologized but explained it’s a company policy that he could not change. He encouraged us to include the issue in any comments or reviews or surveys because he believes the policy does not make sense. One thing I thought that could be improved were meal schedules. Breakfast at Nautilus ended at 9am. I normally eat breakfast after 9am. Dinner was 7pm to 8:30pm - too short, too early. There is room service but we never tried it. Shore expeditions were by Zodiac & were usually wet landings. (Ship only docked at the start and end; all other stops were at anchor.) Got used to it after the 1st couple of times. True to expedition cruising we were never quite sure what was going to happen the next day until the 6:30pm briefing from our naturalists. This is quite different from our other cruises where we signed up for shore excursions in advance and that’s the activity you did for that port. One of the planned stops didn’t happen because of bureaucratic Costa Rica red tape but the naturalists & ship crew did a great job rearranging plans. They also made sure there were always several expedition options depending on how much energy you want to expend and ability to walk, climb, swim, etc. Saw monkeys, birds, raccoons, lizards, rodents, etc. Fascinating encounter with the Emberas, an indigenous Panamá tribe. I didn’t care much for the Zodiac rides since I don’t like being bounced around. The last 2 days we didn’t leave the ship because the sea was quite rough. The crew were always very conscientious about safety though. The Panama Canal crossing was the highlight of the trip for us. Took almost the entire day to do the crossing from the Pacific side to the Atlantic. Hubby & I agreed the trip was worth it just for that! Entertainment was adequate. A group of 3 female dancers & a singer were the main entertainment group. They were very good, especially the Dance Captain & the singer. Also a guitar player and piano player. Appropriate for a small ship. Crews were friendly (especially the Filipinos) and professional. Everyone spoke English. Majority of the passengers were English speaking so announcements and lectures and briefings were in English. The Captain did use both English and French for important announcements about weather and sea conditions. 3 days before disembarking we were asked to fill out & submit a form with our disembarkation plans. We opted to do the complimentary airport transfer with an old town Panama City tour. Our plan was to leave at the end of the tour and take an Uber to our hotel instead of staying with the bus to the airport. Somehow our form didn’t get to the transfer coordinator even though we turned it in as asked. She did find the form after we told her we were not on the appropriate transfer list and she rectified the omission. Disembarkation was smooth. People waited in the lounge or theater until their group is called. Once our group was called we went down to the terminal, collected our luggage and went to our bus (tour guide didn’t have us on the list but the transfer coordinator was there to smooth things over). We had told them we were leaving the group after the tour instead of going on to the airport so our luggage were loaded last, along with some others passengers’ who were also leaving the tour at the end. Tour of the old town was very general but we enjoyed it. At the end, we got our luggage off the bus (with assistance from the driver) and ordered Uber. The bus waited until our car arrived which was nice, to make sure we were ok. By the way, the Cruise Director did a great job all throughout the cruise. She was always around, coordinating all expedition disembarkations. We found her orientation session at the beginning and the disembarkation session at the end very helpful. Be prepared to actually do the emergency drill after they tell you how it’s done. Fitness room really small. No weights. No mats. 2 treadmills. 1 elliptical. 1 bike (or was it 2?). Spa was ok. Had massage & pedicure. Both good. Our favorite hangout during the cruise was the Observatory Lounge. We went there for Pre and Post dinner drinks. Thanks Ronaldo for the great service! We definitely will cruise Ponant again & are booked on 2 cruises in 2021. We plan to dress down & pack less - more resort casual for dinner rather than cocktail attire. BTW, we had great complimentary laundry service the entire cruise because we already had the 2nd cruise booked before we embarked. Really convenient! No dry cleaning though and no self serve laundry facilities onboard. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
I was totally excited to be going on this trip with Ponant to Costa Rica. Afterall great destination, French wine and french food... what is there not to like. Well was I sorely disappointed. The wine was mediocre and limited variety. At ... Read More
I was totally excited to be going on this trip with Ponant to Costa Rica. Afterall great destination, French wine and french food... what is there not to like. Well was I sorely disappointed. The wine was mediocre and limited variety. At dinner many nights there was only one red or one white. The food was good not great(except for the special nights) and some of the meals were downright poor. I had a series of complaints about the service and met with the president of Ponant North America who was on the cruise. Her repeated response was to say she would forward it to Marseille. Nary an offer of a bottle of wine or a premium drink. Which gets me to my next point. If you purchase the premium drink package, be aware that you cannot have it in the dining room. A number of passengers were incensed at the explanation was that it was a revenue sharing issue between the restaurant and bar. The experience was so poor that I cancelled my next trip with Ponant. I was told by crew members that Americans have higher expectations than the Europeans and that Ponant had learning to do if they want to attract the US market. Well I do not intend to find out if they are learning and hope you wont either. I must say the ship is brand new and gorgeous. Too bad nothing else compared to it. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
The following are my opinions and observations: --LeLyria Chartered by A&K-- Overall, I thought the A&K tour was disorganized and communication was poor. I wasn’t impressed with the A&K staff in Buenos Aires, Ushuaia or ... Read More
The following are my opinions and observations: --LeLyria Chartered by A&K-- Overall, I thought the A&K tour was disorganized and communication was poor. I wasn’t impressed with the A&K staff in Buenos Aires, Ushuaia or on the ship—they appeared not to have much interest in the guests. In my opinion, on several occasions, they were rude and unprofessional (especially the A&K staff in Buenos Aires). On one instance, they told several individuals that they were holding up the bus because they didn’t pick up their charter flight boarding passes. However, there wasn’t any notice that we had to pick them up before boarding the bus. Customer service from the A&K office went downhill after they received your final payment. Often times, they didn’t answer calls or didn’t follow-up with requests for information. Surprisingly, the primary photo coach did respond via e-mail to questions I asked during the photography Webinar. The packing list was not useful. Fortunately, I realized it wasn’t going to be as cold as the list made it sound so didn’t carry numerous layers of cold-weather items like most did. I only wore gloves once on a windy zodiac trip. The sizing of the rental boots and parka was not accurate. Fortunately, you were able to exchange the boots on the ship. I even went and tried on the rental boots at REI at the recommendation of the Ship to Shore Traveler representative, however the boots were not the same. The provided walking poles were useful. You definitely needed more than the recommended 300mm lens. You didn’t need much camera storage or extra batteries (unless your batteries were old and didn’t hold a charge) because the times photographing the wildlife were so short and infrequent. I didn’t have to charge my camera batteries once and I took over 3500 (JPEG/RAW files) photos with a DSLR. A dry bag or professional camera backpack was definitely needed if you are carrying two cameras ashore. A camera with a 300mm or less lens easily fit underneath your parka for protection from splashes. If it didn’t fit underneath, you would need the dry bag or professional camera backpack (e.g., second camera or lens greater than 300mm). The backpack provided by A&K was not sufficient. The buses in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia used for tours and airport transfers did not have air conditioning. You were rushed through every stop on the tour in Buenos Aires. As an example, you had less than five seconds at Eva Peron’s grave. The included meals at the Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires were provided buffet style in a ballroom; certainly not what I expected on a tour at this price point. The Arakur resort in Ushuaia was a glorified banquet hall without A/C. Again, a buffet lunch was provided in a large room. The Ship: Le Lyrial (Ponant) Chartered by Abercrombie and Kent-- Jan 2020 The ship management and reception personnel on Le Lyrial (Ponant) ship were efficient and friendly. Whenever I reported a problem, a repair person was sent to my cabin immediately and they even followed up the next time they saw me asking if the repair was completed. However, I certainly didn’t expect to have repair personnel in my cabin over five times during a 15-night stay. My cabin had stains on the carpet. One vent appeared to have mold or a lot of debris inside it. Water leaked in the balcony door during a bad storm and the remaining three days afterwards. They placed duct tape, but that didn’t stop the water from entering. I had to put towels on the carpet and had a large industrial fan in my room one day. Overall, the décor was showing wear and tear in several public areas. They ran out of Diet Coke and ginger ale six days before the cruise ended. The food usually had to be sent back because it was undercooked. The presentations were not as detailed or informative as I expected. Only basic information was provided. The daily “re caps” were not helpful or interesting. Nothing was said about the next day’s schedule that couldn’t be read in the evening program. Helpful additional information should have included the weather forecast (e.g., temperature) and the type of camera lenses needed. Having the weather provided 15 minutes before boarding the zodiac didn’t help since you had to be dressed and in line almost 45 minutes before your boarding time to ensure the maximum amount of time ashore. The Zodiac excursions were too long. Even the A&K expedition staff member was checking their watch to see if it was time to bring us back to the ship. The wildlife at the landings was amazing; however I did expect to have the A&K staff point out more unique situations than they did. After all, there were over 19 A&K staff on our trip. Instead, as an example, you had to ask where a chick or penguins with an egg were located. With such limited times ashore, I felt this was essential. We did encounter a severe storm crossing the Scotia Sea and missed our stop in the Falkland Islands. According to the Captain, it was the worst in 17 years. (The Drake crossing was the calmest of the season.) No attempt was made to substitute for the missed day in the Falklands, a major stop on the trip and reason for choosing this itinerary. The A&K staff member was very rude when several people asked at the “daily recap” if there would be an additional stop or a tour added in Ushuaia. We also missed stopping at Gold Harbor in South Georgia. Otherwise we had 8 landings and 3 Zodiac tours. I never received a post-expedition log book as stated in the pre-travel documents and numerous times during the journey. Even without the weather complications, I would not travel with or recommend A&K again. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
We selected the Abercrombie and Kent-Ponant cruise to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands for its relatively small size - 170 passengers - and the reputation of the expeditionary staff. The expeditions were excellent and the ... Read More
We selected the Abercrombie and Kent-Ponant cruise to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands for its relatively small size - 170 passengers - and the reputation of the expeditionary staff. The expeditions were excellent and the lectures were quite good with the exception of some inappropriate, disparaging remarks about our president and an Al Gore-glorifying, climate change zealot of a geologist who brooked no dissent and skepticism despite the legions of scientists who believe otherwise. The food was plentiful but uninteresting and repetitive with thin soups, little chicken, lots of pork and unappealing cream-filled desserts. Announcements were typically helpful but during a time of rough seas - 28 hours at 11 Beaufort - little was heard from the crew about conditions and anticipated changes. Mostly, our voyage was quite calm and comfortable and our Drake passage was smooth. What was most surprising for a high-end cruise at this price point (we paid $80,000 for two), was the A & K chartered flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia! Everyone flew round trip coach in a cramped, crowded LATAM jet with abysmal food and no service. There were no other options for either three-hour trip! Also, quite audaciously despite the high prices, passengers were solicited to contribute to an employee emergency fund when A & K should manage this easily from profits. P.S. We were in a suite on the 6th berth in the middle of the ship but I don’t recall the suite number. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
Le Champlain is a lovely ship with only ninety-two cabins, 165 passengers and 115 crew members. We felt the on-board experience was excellent in almost every respect and were impressed that most crew members knew us by name, or at least by ... Read More
Le Champlain is a lovely ship with only ninety-two cabins, 165 passengers and 115 crew members. We felt the on-board experience was excellent in almost every respect and were impressed that most crew members knew us by name, or at least by cabin number and preferences midway through the cruise. Ponant has had difficulties with the local Mexican government and they have been unable to embark from Puerto Morelos. We were notified only a few days in advance that the embarkation had been moved to Cozumel -- too late to change our hotel reservations (and of course of flights). Had we known just a week in advance, we could have booked a hotel in Cozumel and perhaps even flown there, saving us lots of time. On the good side, Le Champlain's crew handled this as well as I would have expected. Ponant had arranged for us to meet at the Playa del Carmen Hyatt and chartered a private ferry to Cozumel. It was clear that the crew members were working hard to make sure this unexpected transfer went well. the ferry let us off at Le Champlain, so we had only a short walk to board. We were adjacent to an RCL ship and that highlighted exactly how small Le Champlain is. On board, Mexican emigration formalities took more than an hour -- but we were plied with Champaign and canapés, so there was little complaining from us. This was a Christmas cruise, so that had its own positives and negatives -- everything on board was festive and Kamel the Cruise Director could be seen everywhere throughout the cruise leading various activities. He occupied all the kids and teens each afternoon with various activities, including working with the ship's dancers to train them to do their own Christmas dance. Our teen loved it and meeting kids from around the world. Activities on board ranged from musical shows, which we thought extremely impressive, given they were performed by three dancers, two singers and one piano player -- to local dance troupes performing Garafuna dances -- to even the crew performing for the Christmas Eve show. In the afternoon, we played trivia and bingo in the main lounge and made Christmas ornaments and cards with Kamel. We thought the food was excellent, for the most part and only noted that the kitchen was perhaps "trying too hard" on the Gala Night and Christmas Eve Dinner and some of the courses felt overly experimental (Christmas Eve was the only evening where the more relaxed outdoor dining room was closed). The restaurant manager may have felt this would be an issue, as he found all of the kids the day before and asked them what they would like to have for dinner. The formal dining room is capable of seating all passengers at once and we were able to eat alone or with others as we chose. We also tried the 24-hour room service -- the menu was limited (basically burger, steak, grilled salmon or salad) but our order was delivered promptly and it tasted good. Drinks at the bar were good. The main bar was open from 6 or 7an until about 11 or midnight. The library lounge and the amazing Blue Eye lounge had a bartender present for an hour at a time for one or two hours each day. For 20 EUR per person more, there was a premium alcohol menu. If I wanted whiskey, it would definitely be worth it. Otherwise, all drinks, including those in the stateroom, were complementary. All announcements were made in French & English. I speak both and noted that the translations weren't exact and interestingly to me (at least), sometimes one language's announcement was much more detailed than the other (but sometimes English was more detailed than French). On the downside, there wasn't necessarily much to do at the ports. High rollers flew to Copan or Tikal for the day and the rest of us either stayed on the ship, took the local excursions or explored locally on our own. Puerto Cortés -- we did not take an excursion here, but reception suggested we take a Taxi into town. It cost $5 and was just a mile away. The town is not at all touristy, but we had a nice walk around "El Centro," enjoyed the Christmas decorations and visited a hardware and grocery store before walking back. Santo Tomás de Castilla -- we took the excursion to the Las Escobas Nature Trail (where some of us swam around the waterfalls), followed by a visit to a local community, where we made tortillas and ate our own tacos). Everyone on the bus was English speaking and it was not full. There were two busses of French passengers on the same tour and it looked as though their busses were more full. Our guide was local, endearing and gave us all small gifts from Guatemala. Livingston -- Christmas Day and pretty much everything was closed. We took a boat ride up the Rio Dulce and experienced the hot springs and caverns. Interesting. The boat picked us up from the back of Le Champlain and the nine of us went on our way with the same guide as the day before. Belize City -- those of us who went scuba diving had a great time with Sea Sports Scuba and Ponant's Divemaster Franck (and Captain Simon, who came with us). The member of our party who went on the river cruise in hopes of seeing the manatees was disappointed -- the boat was full, there was no shade and there was lots of waiting around with no communication. After the dives, we went into Belize City, but aside from the cruise ship terminal, the entire city was completely closed for Boxing Day. The one thing that we did enjoy was there was absolutely no line for the tender back to our ship. RCL was also in town and the line for their tenders were hundreds of passengers deep. Half Moon Cay / Great Blue Hole / Lighthouse Reef -- for those of us diving, this was an awesome day with spectacular diving in the GBH and alone the reef. Our member went snorkeling and thought it was fine. The ship was only there until noon, so it was a very abbreviated beach day for those who wanted that. Overall, we really enjoyed the ship, and felt the crew made every effort to ensure we had a great cruise. We loved that everything was small, that we could meet pretty much every passenger and crew member and that nothing was ever, ever crowded. Read Less
Sail Date December 2019
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
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
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
I chose this so called ‘expedition’ cruise mainly for the Orangutan encounter in Tanjung Puting in Kalimantan. Well, because of the total incompetence of the ‘Expedition Team’ we never got there. The expedition guide totally ... Read More
I chose this so called ‘expedition’ cruise mainly for the Orangutan encounter in Tanjung Puting in Kalimantan. Well, because of the total incompetence of the ‘Expedition Team’ we never got there. The expedition guide totally miscalculated the bearings and took us for one and a half hour, over a very bumpy sea, in totally the wrong direction. How this happened is an enigma to me, as he has already been there the same morning with another group. He also had GPS coordinates for the entrance point to the river, but didn’t use them. In fact he didn’t even turn the GPS on until he realised that he was totally lost, one and a half hours later. Now if that’s not incompetence, what is! We eventually found the river’s entrance but it was by now getting dark and we were very far from the ship, we had to turn back. Very, very disappointing and all this could have been avoided if the expedition guide was better trained. The other “expedition” excursions were very run of the mill i.e what any cheap tour operators offer. When we complained about this to the Ponant Group after our return, we were ignored completely, not only by the public relations department and the Customer care department, but also by the Managing Director himself! The food on board is not bad, however the choices are very limited. The expedition personnel should to my mind give preference to the paying customers, but this was not the case, several times I had to make an alternative choice at the buffet, because the expedition staff swept the serving dishes bare. The service in the restaurants are excellent as is the housekeeping staff. The bar staff are friendly and always ready to assist.The Cruise Director, Simone, was outstanding. He could defuse several heated situations on this particular cruise. This company has certainly seen me and I suggest that anyone thinking about booking a cruise with the Ponant Group, think again and look carefully what the opposition offers, i.e Seaborne. Read Less
Sail Date November 2019
Rarely have I been so disappointed by a cruise. I booked, what was promised to be an "Expedition" cruise through the Indonesian archipelago, from Singapore to Darwin. The supposed highlight of this cruise (and the main ... Read More
Rarely have I been so disappointed by a cruise. I booked, what was promised to be an "Expedition" cruise through the Indonesian archipelago, from Singapore to Darwin. The supposed highlight of this cruise (and the main reason why I booked it) was the exclusive visit to an Orang-utan rehabilitation project in the Tanjung Puting National Park on Borneo. Whilst for most other passengers on the cruise, this highlight became true, unfortunately for me and nine other passengers, the visit to the National Park turned out to be a nightmare. Not only started the incompetent expedition guide the Zodiac from the main ship by 90 degrees at inclement weather for one hour into the wrong direction, but also the most simple safety rules for such an outing where totally ignored and the passengers' life put at risk. To mention but a few: No safety rip-cord around the wrist of the guide of the Zodiac; GPS was not pre-set (or even calibrated) for an ocean crossing of 4.5 kilometers in a thunderstorm, nor was the coordinates-sheet laminated or a least in a plastic folder to protect it from splashing water, etc. Needless to say that we never got to see the Orang-utans, because we did not even reach the place, where they were. Excuse or offer of compensation? Not from Ponant.. (see below) This was the only program item which would have qualified as an expedition feature of the entire cruise - everything else was run-of-the-mill, just like any ordinary cruise. If I would have wanted such a programm, I would have chosen the similar Seabourn cruise instead, notably at half the price. I had the most expensive cabin on the ship (except for suites) and was for three days without air condition, with temperatures of more than 25 degrees at night and even higher during the day. The engineer admitted that this was a common problem on this ship near the equator and started procedures. These resulted in having to sleep with noise, measured at 60 decibels (the noise of a lawnmower 10 meters away). Excuse or compensation offer? Not from Ponant... (see below) In the almost three months since I have come back from the cruise, Ponant disgracefully did not reply to any of my messages: Neither, the president of Ponant, nor the corporate head of communications, nor the customer relations department even acknowledged my complaints. I regard this conduct of Ponant as not only bad, but dishonourable. Having been so substantially defrauded by them, I will not use them again and will advise everybody to steer well clear from them. Read Less
Sail Date November 2019
A brand new ship, 150 other guests, many from France and Belgium as it was a a Opera Cruise. Us Australians were adopted by all and again we could not fault Ponant. The destinations visited, the tours, the food, the wines, the cruise ... Read More
A brand new ship, 150 other guests, many from France and Belgium as it was a a Opera Cruise. Us Australians were adopted by all and again we could not fault Ponant. The destinations visited, the tours, the food, the wines, the cruise companions, the crew..... you name it, all lends for a perfect cruise. We visited Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Jordon. Add that to our Antarctic cruise in late 2017. We are now ready for Patagonia in March 2021 and the Kimberley in 2022. We found the cabins of a good size and the balconies on the new ships perfectly adequate. Very clean and room service, along with alcohol, all included. On this trip the 12 non French speaking people ( although our French is fairly good) were give their own tour coach along with English speaking guide. We have travelled Silversea in the past also however Ponant seems to be more relaxed. Read Less
Sail Date November 2019
Our second cruise with Ponant, this time on their new ship, Le Bougainville. Our cabin on deck 5 was ready as we embarked early in Istanbul.. we found the cabin to be comfortable, enough space for 2, a comfy bed, lovely verandah. The ... Read More
Our second cruise with Ponant, this time on their new ship, Le Bougainville. Our cabin on deck 5 was ready as we embarked early in Istanbul.. we found the cabin to be comfortable, enough space for 2, a comfy bed, lovely verandah. The linen was good quality. The bathroom was ideal, great Hermes products that were replenished daily. An excellent shower. The cabin was cleaned well each day. Turn down at night with a small chocolate or biscuit. Water was topped up daily as was a small mini bar. The cabin was very quiet. Our cruise was around Greek islands and it was very disappointing that we did not celebrate this with a Greek dinner or similar. There was one occasion where a few dips and pita bread were offered and an afternoon tea with Greek pastries. We were hoping for a Greek influence during the cruise, with such a wonderful vital culture perhaps Greek dancing, food etc could have been included. I can only guess - this is a French line and that was very obvious every day. The entertainment was similar to last year, some excellent French dancers. A very talented pianist was a highlight each day. We did not undertake any excursions. We found the limited time on each island was very disappointing. For example the beautiful island of Rhodes should have been a full day at the expense of a less favourable stop. The food was similar to Le Lyrial. Often looking better than it tasted.The outside grill buffet area for lunch was always open to flies. Breakfast was the best meal with a wide variety available. Room service menu was very limited. The Blue Eye is a wonderful concept. Read Less
Sail Date November 2019
Ponant Cruise Line – The Cruise Line from Hell In October my wife and I boarded Ponant Le Champlain at Boston USA for a 2 week cruise to Mexico. My description “the cruise line from hell” relates to the “campylobacter” food ... Read More
Ponant Cruise Line – The Cruise Line from Hell In October my wife and I boarded Ponant Le Champlain at Boston USA for a 2 week cruise to Mexico. My description “the cruise line from hell” relates to the “campylobacter” food poisoning I suffered. Food poisoning/upset stomachs is not necessarily unusual but in this case I became seriously ill. The food poisoning in my case can easily be directed to the “raw” foie gras that was served on top have beef as a main course. Campylobacter bacteria can invade your body system and develop symptoms called “Acute axonal neuropathy (AMAN)/Guillian Barre Syndrome. An illness caused by campylobacter bacteria that attacks the nerve ends of legs, arms and the ability to stand. If it goes to the lungs it can be fatal. On getting home my food poisoning symptoms got worse and I could no longer stand, walk or use my hands. I was admitted to hospital and after extensive tests over two weeks AMAN was diagnosed. We are now almost into March and I still have difficulty walking, standing and very limited use of my hands. It is possible I’ll never walk properly again or have use of my hands. I made contact with Ponant by email and letters to head office (that had to be signed for on receipt) but Ponant have totally ignored my concerns and seem to have shut down any contact with me. Although I have no evidence of other guests being ill the serious effect on my body could not have been an isolated incident. It seriously concerns me that this cruise line could have decimated other passengers on the cruise and what is more important they can easily carry on in the same manner Dining - Being made seriously ill by the food served has a very negative view in my mind. Embarkation - Fortunately we boarded in Boston. The second leg of the cruise was in Mexico. For those passengers boarding then it was total chaos. The original port the ship wasn't allowed to dock and to be honest nobody on board had any idea what was going on. Those guests wanting to board were moved from port to port. Enrichment - There were lectures throughout the cruise - in French. Entertainment - 10 quiz questions and a round of bingo before lunch was the highlight. Fitness - The pool was good. Onboard Experience - This cruise line is something to totally reject. Believe me 2 weeks in hospital is something you really don't want. Public Rooms - These were well furnished and comfortable BUT concerts etc are normally held in the theatre - Not with Ponant they were in the bar. Shore Excursions - The shore tours of the historic Mexico were very good. Although we booked a all day excursion with an English speaking guide. Our guide could not speak a word of English and totally ignored us all day. A very expensive experience. Value for money - putting aside the fact that I ended up in hospital and now have been severely impaired in my mobility was it value for money. Believe me NO. I urge everyone DO NOT, DO NOT go anywhere near this company. We have cruised for over 20 years and this line is not 5Star. Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
We were looking forward to an expedition cruise to the Bijou Peninsular as these are very difficult islands to visit ordinarily. However on approaching the docks unlike other expedition cruises which clearly have signage and generally ... Read More
We were looking forward to an expedition cruise to the Bijou Peninsular as these are very difficult islands to visit ordinarily. However on approaching the docks unlike other expedition cruises which clearly have signage and generally personnel to help passengers, there were no signs to indicate the whereabouts of the ship even though our taxi driver tried very hard to find the entrance of this commercial port. We had to go through a security gate dragging our suitcases over half a mile across dirty terrain, eventually finding the ship. No personnel upon seeing us came to take our cases. The ship is beautiful, the food excellent overseen by the amazing Sebastian fronting the restaurant, the Filipino crew as always amazing. The cruise director was far too young and inexperienced and was heard to say I suppose I have to speak in English! She was utterly clueless. No information given to passengers each day, a total waste of time The expedition director was inexperienced, had poor organisational and communicating skills. Having told us not to put our hands in the water as there were sharks they then proceeded to race each other back to the ship, one mistake and the passengers would have been in the water. Of course getting back to the ship we had to wallow in the ocean waiting for our turn to embark Apart from the geologist the lectures were of poor quality and very few could speak English even though it was clearly stated in the brochure it was a French/English speaking lecture. The French were put in the lovely theatre and the rest of us (about 25%) were confined to a tiny art gallery on hard chairs. For the meals the expedition crew always raced to the front for their food. Absolutely disgraceful On making a complaint the Chief Executive I was told he does not reply to criticism My observations of this company is too Gallic and arrogant. If you are not a fluent French speaker do not use this company opt for an American company who certainly (although not perfect) know about service. Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
Great WiFi and easy to get on and off the boat, great butter and cheese...other than that is was like being on a geriatric prison boat. Same food everyday Extremely minimal service Small Dark rooms with the toilet separate from ... Read More
Great WiFi and easy to get on and off the boat, great butter and cheese...other than that is was like being on a geriatric prison boat. Same food everyday Extremely minimal service Small Dark rooms with the toilet separate from the sink. No bars to sit at No comfortable seating Morose staff Not enough staff 2 hours to eat each meal and then nothing else... Very little to do Nothing is open even when you are at sea Special bar is open for only 3 hours... I’ve had better service and food on carnival. No cocktail service at all beyond the dining rooms...if it’s luxury why am I getting my own drinks? Sub par food...baked goods were sad and they are French! Not a luxury experience at all.. Save your money and upgrade to a suite on any other cruise line. They lure you in with the cool destinations. It isn’t enough. Read Less
Sail Date September 2019
The cruise was titled Fire and Ice in the Arctic and was promoted as "an unforgettable expedition". Unforgettable perhaps but for all the wrong reasons. For some reason Ponant did not publish details of the flights at the start ... Read More
The cruise was titled Fire and Ice in the Arctic and was promoted as "an unforgettable expedition". Unforgettable perhaps but for all the wrong reasons. For some reason Ponant did not publish details of the flights at the start and end of the cruise so we had to add two nights in Seattle for their convenience (at our expense). Boarding the charter flight from Seattle to Nome in Alaska was tedious as the check in was manual not computerized. Ponant even managed to place part of our luggage on the wrong bus when going from the port at Seward to the airport at Anchorage for the return flight. We had less than half the promised excursions with all sorts of excuses such as not having charts for some of the islands visited. Instead we were expected to watch birds on cliffs as the ship cruised past several kilometers out to sea. Although there were plenty of Zodiac inflatable boats these were not used to take us inshore except in harbor. The officers and expedition staff seemed more interested in each other than in their passengers. The Filipino crew and staff were much more helpful. The ship was refitted some years ago after an engine room fire in the southern ocean and is in reasonably good shape but needs a coat of paint on some or the exterior areas. The restaurant was well run but the housekeeping staff seemed disorganized compared with other cruise ships that we have experienced. The entertainment was limited to a few short shows by a small troupe of dancers, pianists at the cocktail hour and a solo singer performing karaoke. The lounges were comfortable and the bars served reasonable drinks and snacks. We did not make use of the gym or spa. The less said about the expedition manager and guides the better with the exception of two Russians who were enthusiastic and well informed and who gave interesting lectures.So if you want a boutique hotel floating around the Mediterranean Ponant is fine. But if you want a well organized and reliable expedition cruise I suggest that you go with professionals such as Quark Expeditions. Read Less
Sail Date September 2019
We were expecting the best ever cruise and our personal experience is as follows: The good things: - The ship is beautiful, fairly new and nicely appointed. - The dining and room staff are great and will do anything for you. - ... Read More
We were expecting the best ever cruise and our personal experience is as follows: The good things: - The ship is beautiful, fairly new and nicely appointed. - The dining and room staff are great and will do anything for you. - The itinerary of our 17 day cruise from Bali to Hong Kong was well thought out and perfect for us. - The whole ship is clean and tidy. - The rooms are well sound proofed. - the bathroom and seperate toilet are small but adequate. - The Blue Lagoon bar is an unusual and nice experience. - The captain is great, very available/approachable and down to earth. - The cruise director is great. - The singers and dancers are great although lacked live music support. - The bridge is accessible for most of the time which is a nice experience. - The number of passengers, max of about 180, means you get to know a lot of people. - Free style dining is good in two dining areas. - A good variety of shore excursions. - The included drinks are acceptable. The not so good things: - gratuities are not including which is a surprise given the cost of the cruise. - Whilst the Blue lagoon bar is a good experience, don’t expect to see sea life through the windows as this seems highly unlikely. - Our stateroom was a bit on the small size. - Our dress mirror was held on by duct tape, fixed 2 days later. - Poor information about dress code. - Poor shore excursion information. - Prize for winning the quizzes, a free bottle of champagne, the same as is freely available to everyone at the bar so not a prize at all. - The food choice is limited and is definitely hit and miss. Much of the French cuisine really didn’t suit us. The bacon was hard and absolutely dreadful. I still have sore gums from chewing it. - Nylon brush bristles in mushroom soup one evening, our table and the adjacent table and another diner who ate the bristles thinking it was celery - no apology or offer of an alternative. - The shore excursion Ponant staff that accompany the trips seem oblivious to their inaptitude and need some serious training in hospitality. Some examples: - a single long bench seat with shade at a view point fully occupied by Ponant staff and elderly guests left to stand out in the sun. - on a boat tour to a beach, the tour operator asks us to swim ashore or use a canoe because there were other boats filling the available beach space. The boat was full of elderly people but the Ponant staff member said and did nothing. I refused several times on behalf of the passengers and eventually got them to move another boat on shore to make way for us. 15 mins out of our 45 mins stop wasted. - another boat’s passengers were told that the canoes at a stop had to be paid for and the Ponant staff didn’t know that they were included. That boat voted to go somewhere else and they missed out on a visit by canoe to the most beautiful hidden lagoon. - on two occasions we had to wait for the Ponant staff at the end of a tour stop as they were too busy chatting to their friends. Everyone was there but the Ponant staff. There was much talk about the poor performance of these staff amongst a number of the passengers. - we heard various stories of rude bar staff and experienced directly one occasion where the staff were outside at the handrail on entry to Hong Kong and my wife asked them to make a little space for her and she was rudely told this area was not for guests. In fact it was usually not for guests but opened up for guests during the harbour entry and was full of guests. Eventually they went off in a huff. - Where was the piano player? A beautiful grand piano with no one playing it. Not good and was really needed to support the singers. - We were rudely awoken with room service breakfast ordered by another cabin. The passenger had mistakenly written our cabin number on their order but their correct name. Surely the hospitality staff should cross check names. Not good. Out of 14 cruises and 8 cruise companies this was close to being our worst experience. That’s not to say we didn’t have a good time, we did, but it should have been so much better. Sorry to say, 5 out of 10. Read Less
Sail Date September 2019
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