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