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10 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2019
Having made numerous cruises on various lines (20 +) I can honestly say Ponant really misses the mark. Cruise is billed as high end with gourmet dining, luxury cabins and exciting entertainment all to be accompanied with outstanding ... Read More
Having made numerous cruises on various lines (20 +) I can honestly say Ponant really misses the mark. Cruise is billed as high end with gourmet dining, luxury cabins and exciting entertainment all to be accompanied with outstanding French service standards. Rooms are clean, not spacious but such should be expected on a small ship. Toilet is in a separate room from shower making it somewhat inconvenient but tolerable. Plenty of closet storage as well as many drawers. Food was tolerable definitely not gourmet. Food that should be served hot was barely at room temperature, specifically at the buffet. Selections very limited and reservations required for the buffet at dinner. Service standards are hit or miss with the classical French attitude one would hope not to encounter. On a side note, the first evening at the buffet, went thru 4 packages of butter that were moldy, I suppose it can happen, but I was sitting directly next to the cruise director who ignored the issue turning his head the other. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: March 2019
The South Pacific is a bucket-list destination and the back-to-back cruises on Le Soleal hit all the high spots. I generally like expedition-style cruises, but the itinerary captivated me: Cruise #1: Easter Island, Pitcairn, Gambier ... Read More
The South Pacific is a bucket-list destination and the back-to-back cruises on Le Soleal hit all the high spots. I generally like expedition-style cruises, but the itinerary captivated me: Cruise #1: Easter Island, Pitcairn, Gambier Islands, Moorea, Bora Bora and Papeete; Cruise#2: Papeete, Moorea, Tuamotu islands, Marquesa Islands, Hilo, Honolulu This review will cover both cruises. As it turned out, the itienrary had a lot of expedition-style elements: transportation by zodiac, snorkel eqipt. issued, visiting out of the way places (not even listed in Lonely Planet or much on the web about them), an excellent speaker introducing us to the various Polynesian cultures, film programs, some hiking, and excellent local guides. The mix on the ship was about 50% French-speaking and the rest English speaking (consisting of US, Australian/New Zelanders, Europeans) and most programs were offered twice, once for the French speaking, and again for the English speaking audience. Ship announcements were bi-lingual. Food is both restaurants is excellent and I enjoyed the buffet on on the 6th level for most meals as I could "eat and run". Spa services are excellent I liked that the ship had a afternoon reception for those of us traveling on our own so we could meet each other. This is a 5-star ship, with 5-star dining, 5-star services and 5-star amenities (for example, bathroom amenities are from Hermes). Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2019
Antarctica 2019 -What am amazing trip. The ship and the crew where Wonderfull. From the start, Ponant picked us at the airport - took care of all our luggage and bought it right to our room. Friendly greeting by the Captain, and ... Read More
Antarctica 2019 -What am amazing trip. The ship and the crew where Wonderfull. From the start, Ponant picked us at the airport - took care of all our luggage and bought it right to our room. Friendly greeting by the Captain, and cocktails waiting when you arrived on board. The expedition team- was amazing, friendly, knowledgable and top notch. The expedition team is really what made this already amazing trip to Antarctica even better. They where such a great group that made sure every day you knew what you were doing and ran every excursion smoothly. We had a recap every day of what we did, what we saw and what to expect the next day. We had great educational lectures, about the animals, landscape and facts about Antarctica. I just can not say enough about the expedition team we had. Whale Watching - When ever we would spot Whales, the Captain would stop the ship and circle around and whale watch. You felt like you where on a whale watching trip. They Bridge and the expedition team, made sure you had the full Antarctica experience. This is defiantly one of the great perks on being on a small ship. The Ship was lovely, and spotless. The rooms where clean and you had amazing view everyday. The food was fantastic, the desserts where amazing. Wow!! So much great French Cheese. Over all, the ship was run first class, you never had to worry about anything. Everything and anything was taken care of. Tips - Bring extra face cream and variety of creams (my face got very dry and wind blown) Dress Code - I stressed over what to bring for dinners and the 2 Captains dinner. They 2 more formal nights (are optional). Men: Sports Jackets / Suites. Women in cocktail dresses, some more casual dressed then other and some much more formal. The formal night defiantly had a wide range of styles. Some ladies had slacks, and accessorized. I had a nice sweater dress, necklace and earnings. Heals or flats worked. Other nights, I would wear black fitted slacks and pretty blouses. I suggest pack a few nice pieces. Over all the ship was warm and comfortable , so you do not need heavy clothes for dinner. Always nice to have layers and a sweater if you had to run out to the decks to see a whale or an amazing Ice Berg. I would go back on Ponant Cruise and most defiantly go back to Antarctica - it was spectacular. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2019
I enjoyed everything on this cruise. Everything went really well and smoothly, from embarkation to disembarkation, there were no problems, delays or issues with anything. We choose the pre-cruise package and it was great because ... Read More
I enjoyed everything on this cruise. Everything went really well and smoothly, from embarkation to disembarkation, there were no problems, delays or issues with anything. We choose the pre-cruise package and it was great because everything was organised and we were able to meet some of the passengers the day before the cruise started. The ship is very confortable and the common areas and the cabin were in very good conditions, the decor is lovely and looks like new. The cabin was really comfortable, very warm and had everything we needed - it is not very spacious, but had everything needed - the towels were super fluffy! Food and drink were excellent, and there was a lot of variety everyday. The daily schedule was really well organised, and between landings, lectures and briefings we were kept busy. The destination is truly incredible and difficult to describe, and the captain and expedition leader took every opportunity to make the most of it. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2019
The staff on board Le Soleal were fabulous and always available to help. The ship itself was of a high standard with plenty of creature comforts. We were in a PR Deck 6 Cabin which was allocated from a Deluxe Guarantee Cabin and it was the ... Read More
The staff on board Le Soleal were fabulous and always available to help. The ship itself was of a high standard with plenty of creature comforts. We were in a PR Deck 6 Cabin which was allocated from a Deluxe Guarantee Cabin and it was the perfect position on Deck 6 being close by to the casual dining (buffet) area at the front and the bar / lounge at the back, both with observation decks. The cabin itself is spacious with large window doors opening to the balcony, very comfortable for the 11 days. Exceptional service on board from all staff including the expedition crew who were very knowledgeable, each with their own area of expertise. The wildlife and scenery in the Weddell Sea and on the Antarctic Peninsula was incredible and i believe the expedition staff and captain picked great landing spots throughout based on both of these. The only concern i have is that the 'charter' flight are not always chartered. The one from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia was a commercial flight where we had to check ourselves in with no real instructions on if we should just proceed or do this as a group. The airline (AR) was unaware of any group (because it was a commercial flight and not charter) and therefore didn't know anything about the 'voucher' which was provided by Ponant as the info on the flights. The 'voucher' stated luggage was 1pc 23kgs however AR only accept 15kgs so we had to pay for the excess luggage amount from the 15-23kgs which was extremely disappointing since those who had the 'charter' flight earlier that day would have checked in as a group and not had this issue in anyway. Coming back we had the actual charter flight while others would have been on the commercial one where they were not getting their bags transferred together and instead had to do this themselves as well as checking in etc which is disappointing when everyone believes they are paying for charter flights where the cost IS much higher then the normal commercial flights and instead they are on commercial anyway with no real instructions. Otherwise i do highly recommend if you are looking for a deluxe all inclusive Antarctica Cruise that Ponant for the cruising portion is a great option. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2018
I chose Ponant to travel to the Antarctic as it offered the longest amount time that I would be on board. And I really liked the pleasant look and design of the Ponant vessels. I was also impressed with the locations that we were ... Read More
I chose Ponant to travel to the Antarctic as it offered the longest amount time that I would be on board. And I really liked the pleasant look and design of the Ponant vessels. I was also impressed with the locations that we were intending to visit. But unfortunately things happened that was well below satisfactory. And the voyage ended up almost being a total disaster. The ship had been damaged on a previous voyage and basically was not ready for any passenger on the designated time. When we finally boarded at around 2300 hr, nearly one and half days late. And apart from ridiculous hour of the day, the crew were very pleasant and they tried hard to make us all welcome. As the voyage was my second one with Ponant, I was very happy with the cleanliness and décor of the vessel. Both of the restaurants were open so we all could have a meal. But because of the hour I went straight to my cabin. Which was the same as the Le Boreal. Very comfortable, quiet and clean. As I was travelling by myself I found the cabin exceptionally good. So the first night was spent along side the wharf as the ship needed fuel. We finally left the port of Concepcion at just before lunch the following day. So now we all had 4 days travelling down the west coast of Chile instead of leaving from Ushuaia, which is at the bottom of Sth America, where we should have left from. But I have to say the dinning and the choice of food, along with the crew were all fabulous. With the vast majority of the crew being very pleasant and made us all feel very welcome. So I was trying hard to see the glass half full rather than half empty which helped me enjoy the company of some great people from a number of countries around the world. We also enjoyed the enthusiasm of the expedition team with their great lectures on a number of topics. But when we finally arrived at Cape Horn we had basically lost nearly six days of our voyage. And because of this, the time lost had to be made up somewhere else. While we were all offered 35% refund on our fair. That did not replace the hurt and disappointment that we all experienced by firstly only having less than 24 hours at the Falkland Islands. And we also missed out on going to the South Georgia Isl.,all together. But when we finally arrived on the Antarctic Peninsula the weather was perfect for the days we were there. That part of the trip was fabulous and was everything I expected the Antarctic to be like. But then it started going wrong again because of the inexperience of some of the expedition crew, and unfortunately the arrogance of the expedition leader himself. On our first shore landing on the RIB ( zodiac ) which I was on, was nearly tipped over when making the approach to the shore. The inexperience of the RIB driver ( coxswain ) was being directed by the expedition leader on the shore. This stupidity caused the RIB to nearly tip over, and flinging two passengers into the water, one under the zodiac, and the other 8 passengers nearly going in as well. Luckily the 2 men that went into the water managed to recover and scramble out of the water to the shore. But the disbelief didn't stop there. The ships captain and ponant did not conduct any investigation into the near miss drowning. Which they are meant to do under IMO regulation. To our disappointment, they also refused to discuss the incident with anybody. Which we only wanted to contribute something to maybe help them put things in place to help prevent it ever happening again. I am very disappointed in the voyage as a whole and the arrogance of the Ponant. As I have written. The only thing that made my voyage enjoyable. Was the great crew. The very good dinning with a good amount of choice of food in the two very good restaurants. And the fact that we got fantastic weather while we were in the Antarctic Peninsula.The disembarkation for me went perfectly. As I was staying in Ushuaia for an extra two days. I had booked my own private driver. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2018
Christmas and New Year in Southern Lands From December 20th 2018 to January 05th 2019 After reading information on your site about other travelers' experiences we felt that we should share our experience of traveling with ... Read More
Christmas and New Year in Southern Lands From December 20th 2018 to January 05th 2019 After reading information on your site about other travelers' experiences we felt that we should share our experience of traveling with Ponant. 1. The issues began before we boarded the ship. We live in Perth, West Australia and booked a pre-cruise tour to Patagonia with Ponant and also the cruise to the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic. We left Perth on 9th December 2018 and flew for approximately 20 hours to Buenos Aires. This was 12 days before we were due to board the ship Le Soleal. At 0139 am on Friday 14 December in Buenos Aires we were woken by an sms telling us that there was going to be a "very big itinerary change" to our cruise. Basically the cruise was still going, however after an “issue” a couple of weeks earlier, the ship would be departing from Talcahuano in Chile. Ponant had chartered a flight from Buenos Aires to Concepcion and then a coach transfer to Talcahuano to join the ship. As well, the cruise would miss the stopover in the Falkland Islands on the 22nd December and South Georgia for the 25th to 27th December, would be mainly on the Antarctica Peninsula and would be having the two tours from the ship per day. We were offered a 4 day pro rata refund per person if we continued, or a full refund of the cruise and associated costs if we wanted to come home. After receiving this sms in the middle of the night prior to leaving for Iguazu Falls early that morning, we went on line to try find out the nature of the “issue” with the ship. We discovered that the ship had sustained significant underwater damage a month previously and had only recently arrived at Talcahuano. This meant that the damage to the ship had happened before we had left West Australia. As we had been able to find out some of the details of the incident we were concerned as to the viability of the cruise going forward as originally advertised and so we contacted Ponant in France. The person we spoke to was surprised that we knew about the changes to the ships’ schedule. Ponant’s only advice was that we should keep in touch with our travel agent. We continued with our holiday but at the same time we were in daily communication with our travel agent as we moved to Iguazu Falls and then back to Buenos Aires. Our travel agent was in communication with Ponant in Sydney who had been told that France had been working on developing an enhanced itinerary for guests traveling from Chile to Antarctica. Ponant in Sydney wrote that this would be an expedition cruise so therefore they were assuming that there would be wonderful expedition opportunities in the Chilean Fjords before then spending more time in the Antarctic Peninsula (7-8 Days) and then 3 days cruising back to Ushuaia. We were communicating with our travel agent in West Australia late at night and we began to feel increasingly worried and exhausted on what was meant to be a holiday. On arrival back in Buenos Aires we were hopeful of more direct information from Ponant because we were then on their organised pre-tour. None of their agents in either Buenos Aires or in Patagonia knew anything. The Patagonian pre-tour was wonderful. The agents and the hotels were excellent. On the night of the 17th December we rang Ponant’s office in Sydney, Australia and asked them specifically whether or not the ship was back in the water, had undertaken trials and had been passed back into survey. We were answered “yes” to each of these questions. On the basis of this we decided to continue with the cruise. The confirmation of the ship being in the water ready for embarkation was advised to our travel agent by Ponant’s Sydney office on the 19th December. In Calafate, Patagonia, we were told by the Ponant agent that we would be flying to Buenos Aires on the morning of the 20th December and changing planes for a charter flight to Concepcion where we would be bused to Talcahuno to join the ship. On the charter flight on the 20th December we were advised that we would be landing at Santiago to clear customs and quarantine before continuing the flight to Concepcion where we would now be staying overnight at a hotel as the ship was still in dry dock. The information from Ponant had changed yet again. Clearing customs in Santiago was a nightmare. It was the height of the holiday season, we were a group made up of different nationalities, most of whom did not know one another, and despite the best efforts by a very overwrought young man acting on Ponant’s behalf, most of us managed to get lost in the airport and its seemingly endless and chaotic queues. With the help of airport staff we eventually managed to find each other again and to help each other as much as we could. Most of the group were older, were overwrought, suffering from dehydration and very tired. In circumstances such as these, rumours abound and in this situation it was no different. No one really knew what was happening but everyone had an opinion. On arrival at Concepcion buses were provided to ferry us to the hotels. We were in the group to stay at the Aton and on our bus a local courier with no English attempted to advise us of the procedures on arrival at the hotel. One of the group who understood some Spanish relayed the basics of what was happening to the rest of us, but the English speakers did not really know what was going on. If a representative from Ponant had met us at the airport and explained what was happening so that everyone could understand, the ensuing chaos, at the end of a trying day, could have been prevented. The buses pulled up in a street near the entrance to the hotel. Unfortunately the street was on a hill and the passengers had to take their luggage themselves and carry or wheel it across the road, along an entrance driveway which was cobbled and up steps into the hotel entrance. A number of the passengers were elderly or incapacitated. Some of the able bodied passengers helped those who were not. Others just walked away and did not help. The bus driver and the courier did their best. It was chaotic, with runaway luggage heading down the hill and panicking owners trying to control their bags. On entering the foyer of the hotel we found the Ponant Expedition Team waiting for our arrival. Their welcoming assistance would have been far more appreciated had they waited for us at the kerbside or at the airport. The hotel was unaccustomed to such an influx of guests at one time but rose to the occasion magnificently and continued their amazingly high level of service throughout our stay. I can thoroughly recommend the Aton Hotel in Concepcion, Chile. That night at dinner we were told by the Captain that the ship would come out of dry dock in the early hours of the morning, would undertake trials, and would be ready for us to join after breakfast in the morning. This was certainly different information than we had been told by Ponant in Sydney thee days earlier. They had told us that the ship was in the water and ready to go. We were asked to hand in our passports to the Cruise Director but by now a number of people had decided not to continue with the cruise. As a result of the dissatisfaction being shown by the passengers the Cruise Director became increasingly frustrated and was increasingly failing to keep a pleasant demeanour towards the passengers. By the time my husband and I reached the head of the queue, we were told in no uncertain terms we had to make up our mind there and then whether of not we were going to continue with the cruise because once we had handed our passports in, we would not be getting them back. Of course he could not do this, but it made for a rather uncomfortable situation and an unsettled night’s sleep. We were worried by what appeared to be an unprofessional attitude projected by an inexperienced and disorganised staff. At breakfast we were advised of a city tour in the morning, followed by lunch at the hotel and to have our bags ready after that in order to join the ship. A small group of us, three Australians and five French, decided to order two taxis and go down to the docks in Talcahuana to see over the 19th century iron clad ship the Huascar. To our surprise we could see the Ponant ship Le Soleal still in the dock. This was certainly not what we had been lead to believe the night before. At lunch, back in the hotel, we were again told to have our bags ready to be taken down to the ship and that this would happen while we were taken on a coach tour of the area before joining the ship at around 7 pm that evening. We were told that the ship was going to conduct sea trials that night while we were all on board, that it would sail in the early hours of the morning and that they were planning on 5 and a half days sea time to the Antarctic traveling at 15 knots. By now the gossip and rumour had started about the different compensation packages that people had been offered. Each "offer" seemed to be different. On the afternoon tour we visited a beach, a museum and the museum garden. It was interesting, well organised and handled professionally by a very good driver and an excellent courier. However as it stretched into the evening we became increasingly worried about what was happening and were becoming tired and hungry. We stopped at a café where one of the Expedition Team used his own money to buy us food and drinks, and then later we all queued at a service station near the docks in order to use the toilets. We finally embarked at 9.30pm. During the course of this day a number of people decided to leave the cruise and people were still deciding to leave right up to the time that we arrived at the dock gates. As a result, by the time we embarked the cruise was by no means full. After sea trials that night we returned to the dockside and were alongside when we woke. We fueled in morning and finally sailed at 11am on the 22nd of December, two days late. By this time what had begun as a wonderful holiday in South America and the Antarctic was rapidly turning into a nightmare of exhaustion and uncertainty. We had decided to stay with the cruise because we were a long way from home and to get back we would have had to go across South America to Buenos Aires at the height of the holiday season and then fly back to the west coast of Australia right on Christmas. We had made and paid for all the arrangements for the care of our home, garden and animals. We had invested in the appropriate clothing for Antarctic, clothing which would never be worn in our home town. One of my dreams had been to visit the Antarctic and we had been promised that we would be sailing straight down to spend as much time there as possible. 2. The Cruise The problem now was that we were not only two days late sailing, but also that we were sailing from Talcahuana, half way up the coast of Chile, and not from Ushuaia at the tip of South America. Quite obviously this meant that we could not complete our original cruise, but what it did mean was continued discussion and the spreading of rumours about exactly where we were going. It became increasingly apparent that the information we had been given about sailing from Chile to Antarctica (approximately 4 – 5 days) and optimising our time in the Antarctic (7 – 8 days) was not going to happen. But by the time this became apparent we were on board and steaming down the coast of Chile. Two days into the cruise our itinerary was confirmed as being to the Falklands and then to the Antarctic. It was a great pity that we had only one afternoon and one morning in the Falklands, and that we had only 4 days in Antarctica. All the rest were at sea. This was not what we had hoped for when we planned this holiday. Also, this was not what we thought we had accepted on the basis of maximising our time in Antarctica on what ended up being 14 full days on board ship. We could have had 8 meaningful days in Antarctica, but we did not. However it was fortunate that we had excellent weather throughout enabling full use to be made of the time that we did have in the Falklands and in Antarctica. 3. Other Issues: An accident at a landing site in the Antarctic meant that two men fell out of and underneath a zodiac. They were freezing cold, wet, battered, bruised and shocked but were not injured in a serious way, perhaps because they were more run over by the zodiac than dunked in the water, their lifejackets did not deploy. Before the next trip by zodiac the crew, upon request, demonstrated that the lifejackets would inflate when immersed in water. It was unfortunate that the two men in the accident felt that their efforts to express their dismay to the Captain were not recognised in a serious and professional manner. This lead to more gossip, rumours and unease amongst the passengers. It was disconcerting to find on the third to last day of the cruise that when the fast rescue boat had been retrieved on board, the brake control wire had left its drum and overwrapped the main falls. This situation could impede safe launching if not noticed beforehand. The situation was pointed out to ship’s staff but the wires were still in the same condition when we arrived in Ushuaia. Some passengers had looked forward to sea kayaking in the Antarctic. There were kayaks stored on board and the opportunity to kayak had been advertised as part of the cruise. The interested passengers were told that there was no one on board qualified to supervise the use of the kayaks and that therefore they would not be launched. This did not make people feel any happier with Ponant. The attitude of the Cruise Director was patronising and unhelpful. He appeared to be out of his depth. The Expedition Director was capable but arrogant and did not cater for those of us who were interested in the overall history of the area although there was one excellent lecture by one of the team on Shackelton’s Expedition. Personally I was deeply disappointed at being unable to visit South Georgia. Despite being advertised as a luxury cruise, it was not. Our cabin was one which could be combined with another to make a suite. The door between the two was locked but unfortunately there was a hole through which wind whistled. The ship was not full and there was no one on either side of us, so we were not overly concerned. The entry passage in the cabin was so narrow that if the wardrobe doors were open the bathroom door could not be opened and vice versa. It made for uncomfortable clashes from time to time. The cabins were definitely not large. We had no trouble with our toilet, but others did have issues with sewage backing up. From talking with other passengers it soon became apparent that different people had been offered different compensation packages. This did not make for a contented group of people. The charter flight at the end from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires was cramped and extremely uncomfortable. 4. Good points. The accommodation and the ship in general was extremely comfortable. The beds were large, the linen of good quality and changed regularly. There was a plentiful supply of clean, fluffy towels at least twice a day. There was a plentiful supply of Hermes cosmetics. The complimentary bar fridge in the cabin was fully restocked every day. The cabin staff, the bar staff and the restaurant staff were excellent. They could not do enough for us. Nothing seemed to upset them. Nothing was too much trouble. They did everything they could to accommodate our needs and our wishes. They were professionals. They should be proud of their work on this cruise. Having an open bridge was interesting, specially when navigating in confined areas. The members of the multinational Expedition Team were very good, very helpful and very kind. The one time that I fell over on the ice they were there in an instant to help. When I had trouble walking down a steep track in the ice, one of them walked down backwards in front of me, encouraging me to have confidence and to keep going by myself, instead of being manually helped down. There was an excellent classically trained pianist on the staff. The food was very good indeed in both restaurants although I preferred the informality and open ambiance of the restaurant on Deck 6. Although embarkation had been a nightmare, disembarkation was swift and efficient. 5. Conclusion There were three distinct groups of passengers on the ship, divided by ethnicity, and there seemed to be no one in the hierarchy on board skilled enough to bring these three small groups of people together. There was some cross-over communication and we made friends in each group, but on the whole this did not happen. This lead to a certain amount of suspicion and gossip that one group was being offered a better “deal” than the others and unfortunately did not make for a collegial atmosphere. This is perhaps the crux of the whole issue with the cruise. Everyone was in some way disappointed. The group as a whole did not “gel”. The hierarchy on board did not seem to have the skills to make it all work. Throughout there was continued discussion amongst the passengers about their dissatisfaction with the cruise and with Ponant. It was not a happy ship. From our personal point of view the main issue was the disconnect between the reality of what had happened with the ship and the communications we received from Ponant. Openess and transparency in communication would have been appreciated and would have enabled each of us to have made more informed decisions. On the 24th of December we were all offered a refund of 35% of the price of our cruise, an on board credit of Euros 500 per cabin, 25% off our next trip with Ponant and 50% off any Ponant cruise calling at South Georgia and departing within the next 3 years. This is a fair and generous offer. It is unfortuate that we are still being told of people having been offered and having accepted more generous offers. I returned home and immediately came down with shingles which is why I have only now been able to write this report. At this moment I find it hard to imagine ever planning another holiday that in any way involved Ponant. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2018
we chose this cruise because it was an Expedition Cruise in an area we had not yet been to and we had had good experiences with both Ponant in general and Expedition Cruises in particular. Unfortunately Ponant were not up to scratch with ... Read More
we chose this cruise because it was an Expedition Cruise in an area we had not yet been to and we had had good experiences with both Ponant in general and Expedition Cruises in particular. Unfortunately Ponant were not up to scratch with this one. Things started badly when we discovered that the cabin we had been allocated, ( the one for the physically disabled), was not the one we believed we had booked. After a while our concerns were noted that afternoon and we were reallocated a normal cabin. The cruise was in association with a magazine "Paris Match' whic we soon came to discover to be the reason why there were 80% French passengers and that lectures etc were scewed towards the benifit of the French. Organisation of tours and trips seemed to somewhat haphazard, compared with our previous experences. While 'laid back' is good but only in controlled moderation. Luckily all other activities, including crew, were up to the usual high standandards that we have come to expect. The fitness programmes are excellent and as used by only the few healthy ones likes us there was never ever overcrowding.. Exercise was important in order to try and minimalize the ourmet food experiences match with the unlimited alcohol consumption. Read Less
18 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2018
I am a USAF military retiree, 20 years active duty (in uniform) and 13 years as a contractor. In effect, 33 years of service to this country’s military. I am at present 67 years old, with a number of health issues including a left knee ... Read More
I am a USAF military retiree, 20 years active duty (in uniform) and 13 years as a contractor. In effect, 33 years of service to this country’s military. I am at present 67 years old, with a number of health issues including a left knee that collapses on me at times and very bad back problems. My wife is 4 years younger, basically in good health with the usual old age ailments. We’re both able to still get around pretty good. Recently, I became interested in the historical search for THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE after watching a cable semi historical series that centered on the British Royal Navy’s Franklin Expedition in the mid 1800’s which tried to find the way through but disappeared and was never heard from again. Amundson finally made it through in the early 1900’s. Some blame “global warming” on causing more ice melt so that a passage exists now in the North American summertime. In more recent years, the historical details of what happened to the 2 Franklin ships and their crews have come to light. I have also watched a number of documentaries on the Franklin Expedition, and my interest began to rise. So, when an opportunity to sail through THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE came up through the French cruise line Ponant, my wife & I booked passage. I was so excited, my wife not so much, but her enthusiasm increased as the cruise drew nearer. The itinerary was: 1)Fly to Paris on Aug 25-26, 2018, overnight in Paris the night of Aug 26th, and then fly on Aug 27th with a Ponant charter fight direct to Kangerlussuag on the west coast of Greenland; 2)Then cruise up the west coast of Greenland, enter THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE at its east entrance; 3)Sail through THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE; 4)Exit at the west exit of THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE, and then sail to Nome, Alaska; 5)Disembark the ship(Le Soleal) at Nome and board a charter flight Ponant had said they arranged to Seattle; 6)From Seattle we were on our own to arrange transportation to our home, which we did with American Airlines, to Dallas, and then connected to El Paso, TX. And, then drive 90 miles to our home in Alamogordo, NM reaching it Sept 19, 2018. Yes, a long trip and it cost a bundle, but we figured we could still do it now because waiting was not a good idea because we’re now at the ages where one can get too sick to go or even die. This was also true of most of the other passengers. The first sign of trouble came about 2 weeks before departure. It was a letter on Ponant letter head stationary dated Aug 6th from someone named Emilie Soulte from Ponants headquarters in Marseille France. It informed us that the Ponant advertised included nonstop flight from Paris to Kangerlussuag Greenland would not be nonstop after all, there would be a stopover in Copenhagen where we were told to get our luggage and go to the 2nd flight. As it turned out, neither flight was a charter; the first one was Air France, and the second Greenland Air. This change not only made the trip more arduous, but now we wouldn’t get to Kangerlussuag Greenland until close to midnight. Originally, we were supposed to board the ship between 6-8 pm. Ponants letter dated Aug 6th blamed the change on the Kangerlussuag Airport authorities. This sounded fishy to me, so I contacted the Kangerlussuag airport directly via email, also sending them a copy of Ponants letter. Eventually, I got an email from the Kangerlussuag Airport Manager saying yes they were a small airport that could only handle 1 jet at a time, but he did not know what Ponant was talking about. He clearly suggested in his email that Ponant had not made the air arrangements soon enough and that was the cause of our stopover in Copenhagen. So, Ponant blames the Kangerlussuag airport. The airport manager blames Ponants tardiness. Whom do I believe? No doubt, I believe the Kangerlussuag Airport Manager!! So, we get off at the Kangerlussuag airport, and get on buses which were supposed to take us to a dock to board the ship Le Soleal. Most of the passengers were ecstatic at this point thinking we’d been through the worst of it and we would soon be aboard a luxury ship, The Le Soleal, & get to our cabins, fall on the beds and sleep for a long time. NOooo! By the way, we had seen no Ponant guides anywhere along the way to help us along and answer questions etc. So, the buses drove for a long time on a road that was mostly not paved. We arrive at the “dock” which was really just a small slab of concrete littered with abandoned cargo containers, and there was a little dock area with a rickety wooden gangplank leading to a small ship of questionable integrity. The Le Soleal was anchored out in the bay. Note: most cruise lines are boarded at regular large docks where they are tied down and passengers walk onto the boat in some comfortable way. Anyway, it’s nearly midnight, it’s very cold and windy, and nearly 250 passengers are dumped out of the buses onto this cold concrete slab, and the buses skedaddled (left). No Ponant people around to direct us and tell us what’s going on. Eventually, the boat, which turned out to be a Le Soleal lifeboat, started loading people and left for the ship. Myself & my wife did not make this first boat and where stranded on this rickety gang plank in the cold not knowing anything. The rest of the passengers were waiting on the concrete slab ”dock” in the cold not knowing anything about what’s going on. You’re thinking at this point: why weren’t the passengers allowed to stay in the warm buses and then called to the life boat when it was their turn to load. Nobody seems to know the answer to this. So, you’ve got a bunch of cold uninformed passengers standing on this concrete slab or rickety gang plank while these slow small lifeboats ferry people to the Le Soleal. Not exactly luxury cruising as Ponant advertised. So, eventually my wife & I board a boat and are ferried to the Le Soleal where we were greeted by Captain Patrick Marchesseau. He and the rest of the crew seemed unaware of the conditions his passengers had endured to get from the airport to the ship. I shook his hand and tried to tell him, but he seemed unconcerned and hustled me along, seeming to be more interested in glad handing the next passenger etc. Same was true of the rest of the officer crew who were in a small room behind the captain where they were serving welcoming appetizers and champagne. We went to our cabin, fell on our beds without any unpacking, and slept late into the next morning. The next morning with a good night’s sleep and food in our stomachs the world seemed brighter. We thought now we were through the worst of it. NOooo! At first it seemed all was well. We sailed up the west coast of Greenland making the scheduled stops. Then we crossed Baffin Bay and entered THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE at its eastern entrance. Once inside THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE at first things went well. But then, at 9:30 pm ships time on Sept 3rd, the captain called all the guests together in this little theater they had and announced that we were not going further west into THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE because the western exit into the Beaufort Sea was blocked with ice. He said that no Canadian Ice Breaker Ship could be spared because they were all being used on cargo ships. Does it seem odd that cargo ships took priority over a cruise ship filled with 250 guests, plus whatever the size of the crew was? Might it be that again Ponant had not coordinated soon enough with the Canadian Coast Guard? I don’t know, I guess the Canadian Coast Guard is the only one that can answer that question. The captain further said that we were going to turn around, cross Baffin Bay to the west coast of Greenland, stopping at “new” places and arriving back in Kangerlussuag (where we started) on Sept 18th the same day we were supposed to arrive in Nome. This point/date is significant, so please note them. Well, the passengers were up in arms. Some passengers had to book 2 years ahead of time. The main purpose of most of the passengers was to sail through THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE, not see scenery, wild life, etc. Most of the passengers were in their 60s and older, so this was their one & only chance to go through THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE. One male passenger asked the captain: “Well, if we can’t get through why we don’t just sail straight back to Kangerlussuag instead of floating around Baffin Bay for 15 days?” No, the captain said we’re doing what I said and not arriving in Kangerlussuag until Sept 18th. Another passenger asked: “Why don’t we sail down the east coast of the Canadian Artic where we hadn’t been before?” The Captain said no, we were sailing across Baffin Bay, back to the west coast of Greenland, where we’d just been, and arriving in Kangerlussuag (our point of origin) on Sept 18th. Another passenger asked if there were not any other ice breaker ships available that could get us through, or one that might sail east into the west exit of THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE and then create a passage to get us through to the Beaufort Sea? NO, the captain said. So, we floated around Baffin Bay for 15 days!! Florence, the expedition team’s leader, “invented” places for us to stop over the next 15 days, but they were all the same: barren tundra, made up mostly of large & small rocks, and soft green mossy plants that your foot sank into when stepped on. I fell more than a few times. Another passenger broached a theory to me, which I believe to be correct, that the reason the ship was not going straight back to Kangerlussuag was that if it did then Ponant would have to give us refunds. By floating around Baffin Bay and not arriving back to Kangerlussuag until Sept 18, Ponant could say they gave us the advertised number of days on the ship, and refuse refunds. I believe firmly that this passenger’s theory was correct. And sure enough, a letter arrived to us on Sept 24th from Marseille France (Ponants headquarters) saying there would be no refunds, but they offered a 20% discount on our next sailing with them. What makes them think that we, or most of the other passengers, will ever book with Ponant again??? We will not. I had asked for a full refund. Another female passenger asked if Ponant knew before we left home that we couldn’t get through and just did this charade to prevent giving refunds. Because if they’d done the right & moral thing and cancelled the cruise before we left home, they’d definitely have to give us full refunds. Knowing Ponant the way I do now, I believe this is also a good possibility. As I said Ponant recently sent us a letter denying any (zero) refunds. At the end of this meeting, I was not convinced the captain realized the gravity of the situation of sailing back to Kangerlussuag was for the English speaking passengers—i.e. all the passengers had made plans to go on from Seattle. I was afraid that Ponant would simply book a charter flight back to Paris, dump us all off at the Paris airport, and wash their hands of us. And, yes I believe that is something Ponant would do! Now, flying back to Paris was OK for the French speaking passengers, but it would be terrible for all the English speaking passengers who had made plans to go on from Seattle. I simply wanted to speak with the captain to make sure he understood the plight of the English speaking passengers, but after the announcement he was mobbed and so I decided to wait until the next day. Note: even though this was a French cruise line, only about a third of the passengers were French. Two thirds were English speaking, a lot of Australian and some Americans like my wife & I. So, the first thing I did the next morning was call the customer service desk and ask that an appointment be arranged with me and the captain so I could communicate these concerns. I never got a call back. Later, that day I decided to go up to the bridge and see if I could speak with him there. On the way, I ran into the captain and Florence in a hall way. I told him I wanted to speak to him, but he said he was too busy running the ship and he couldn’t talk to me now. He and Florence literally ran away from me into a restricted part of the ship leading to the bridge where I couldn’t follow. Well, I knew that that day they were allowing ordinary passengers to be on the bridge and watch. Supposedly, there was an ice breaker ship leading us through this part of the trip. So, I entered the passengers’ entrance to the bridge and stood in a place where I could observe everything but not get into the way of the crew. I stood in that spot observing everything including how really busy the captain was. Here's what I observed with my own eyes and ears: The Captain was sitting in a plush chair with a large circular computer screen in front of him. Two crew members to his left was another officer with an identical computer screen, who I assume was his second in command and between them was a person (not an officer) who actually drove the ship. The driver had a joy stick in front of him which I assume controlled the rudder and thus the direction of the ship. On either side of this joy stick there were 2 levers with handles on them which I think controlled the 2 propellers which when pulled towards the driver slowed down or stopped that propeller, and when pushed forward sped up the propeller up to their maximum at fully forward. I assume that if the captain wasn’t at his post the second officer could control the boat from his station. I also saw the alleged ice breaker ship which looked more like a tug boat and was not breaking any ice anyway because there was none to break. I stood there for a whole hour watching everything and there was no ice to break, just small pieces of sea ice floating by. The bridge was calm and the captain did not seem very busy. There was an exit behind the captain which I assumed lead to his office. My plan was to watch when the captain was attempting to leave his chair and go down this exit to his office, and ask him if he had time now. The captain knew I was watching him, and when I briefly looked away, he got up and ran down the exit. I tried to follow, but 2 members of the crew stopped me. It was obvious to me that the captain did not want to talk to me. Why, I don’t know. SO, I resorted to a little subterfuge to get his attention and grant me an audience. And, it worked. I got a call in my cabin from the captain himself requesting a meeting in his office (which is all I wanted in the first place). He sent the Hotel Manager to our cabin, and he escorted my wife and I to the captain’s office. I sat immediately across the desk from him looking him in the eyes. Also present was the ships doctor, I guess to determine if I was crazy. Well, sitting eye to eye with the captain I simply explained my concerns, which is all I wanted to do from the beginning. He told me that Ponant was arranging to have 2 jets at the Kangerlussuag airport. One would take the French passengers to Paris, and the other to take the English speaking passengers to Seattle in time to make all their connections. He asked me if this reassured me, and I said Yes and No. I told him that if this was Silversea cruise line I would have no doubt that they would take care of us properly. But not so with Ponant. I told him I did not trust Ponant at all. He reassured me that what he told me would happen, and the meeting ended. Wow, talk about having to pull teeth. Note: the communication between the French officer crew of the Le Soleal and the English speaking passengers was terrible, and this was what caused most of the problems, distrust, and anger. Most of the English speaking people I talked to were of the opinion that the French always got preference even though they only made up a third of the passengers. Another odd thing happened during one of these “15 floating” days. Usually, in the late afternoon or early evening there would be a briefing in the theater about the next day’s activities. Florence, the head of the expedition team, would usually start these briefs. One day she started the briefing by accusing some supposedly drunken passengers of both malicious mischief and graffiti. Passenger’s expedition boots were kept outside the cabin on a mat there for that purpose. The idea was that way you don’t drag what’s still on your boots from being ashore into your cabin. So, she said that some passengers, who had too much to drink, took some boots and put them into a crew elevator as a prank. She also said that that night some passengers also did 2 instances of graffiti somewhere on the ship. Now I was skeptical of her opinion that it was the passengers that did these 2 pranks. Remember, most of the passengers were 60 or older, fit old people, but old. Is it likely that this age group would do pranks like this? I thought not. This is the type of thing that younger people do. She was sure it was not the crew. The command & officer parts of the French crew were very young. Captain Marchesseau was probably in his 40s. The rest of the French officers were in their 20’s, and the rest of the crew, both the people you see and the people you don’t regularly see, where also very young. She said they had videos from cameras in the areas and were going to identify the culprits. I decide to volunteer my services to review the videos as a service to both the passengers and the crew. So, at the end of the briefings, I went up to Florence and volunteered my services. Surprisingly, she turned me down, and kept walking away from me as I tried to talk to her more. What does that tell you? You be the judge. So, we floated around Baffin Bay near the west coast of Greenland for 15 days, arrived at Kangerlussuag early on Sept 18th, and then flew a charter aircraft Ponant had arranged from the Kangerlussuag airport to Seattle. When we got off the plane in Seattle we were so happy to be back in our own country, the good old USA. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2018
Ponant markets itself as a luxury expedition cruiseline but it does not meet expectations on either account. Most other cruiselines offer at least similar or better levels of comfort, food and service, apart from the limited open bar. ... Read More
Ponant markets itself as a luxury expedition cruiseline but it does not meet expectations on either account. Most other cruiselines offer at least similar or better levels of comfort, food and service, apart from the limited open bar. Although the overall appearance of the ships is attractive some of the cabins are not particularly well-designed, having for example, only a narrow hanging space for a wardrobe. With only one chair In some, room service is not really an option. As for the expedition claim, Ponant ships carry far more pasengers - over 230 on Le Soleal - than expedtion companies such as Aurora, Coral Expeditions, Orion or True North. Smaller numbers of passengers means easier logistics and a more personal experience. The main drawback with Ponant is its pricing. You are paying a premium for the marketing claims which cannot be justified. If cost is not a concern then by all means go with Ponant. You will have a pleasant trip but it will not be good value for money. Read Less
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