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74 Ponant Le Soleal 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
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
Sail Date May 2019
We sailed from Hawaii to japan 15 days approx. 65 passengers . This Cruise which is about 15th was one of the best . Great Food Great service (with exception to the Butler bad) Fantastic mix of travellers We had 4 days of ... Read More
We sailed from Hawaii to japan 15 days approx. 65 passengers . This Cruise which is about 15th was one of the best . Great Food Great service (with exception to the Butler bad) Fantastic mix of travellers We had 4 days of rough sea's but no one really bothered .I was cruising alone and met a fantastic group of people which we met each day for lunch and Dinner with Cocktails in the Lounge pre dinner .The Crew were fantastic friendly. I had a Butler servicing my suite on Deck 6 he was the only disappointment (you would have thought he had paid to be aboard unfortunately very arrogant.. This was April 2nd.Some of the People I met are all catching up for a Cruise from Boston to Cancun on Le Champlain cant wait ... I highly recommend Ponant from this experience it is a definite cut above large Cruise lines Read Less
Sail Date April 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
Sail Date March 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
Sail Date January 2019
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
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
Sail Date December 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
Sail Date October 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
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
Sail Date August 2018
Totally agree with Baloghpj. We also were on the Ponant Cruise that left from Kangerlussuaq to cruise the Northwest Passage on August 2018. He forgot to mention the debacle with the luggage on the flight from Paris from Copenhagen. We were ... Read More
Totally agree with Baloghpj. We also were on the Ponant Cruise that left from Kangerlussuaq to cruise the Northwest Passage on August 2018. He forgot to mention the debacle with the luggage on the flight from Paris from Copenhagen. We were all jammed into a Fokker 100 - after we boarded, the pilot realised that the plane could not hold all the luggage so it was put into three toilets and the few spare seats that were available - leaving one toilet between us all. This is how our “luxury” trip started. The flight back to Seattle wasn’t much better. We have looked at ice charts since we have returned and believe that Ponant should “reasonably” have known that the passage was blocked before we left. Also a lot of the passengers had either toured Greenland before or another Arctic/Antarctic area and weren’t interested in staying on the cruise to cruise the coastline of a country we had just left. When asked if they could disembark in Pond Inlet (where we had just left from) the Captain was very firm in his ruling that no passengers could leave the cruise till the final date of the cruise. We found the cabin staff and the various “ice specialists” (wildlife/history/geologists ect) employed by Ponant for the cruise to be good and they tried their best under difficult circumstances. However the management of Ponant is abysmal. We got the list of what we needed for the cruise when we boarded the plane for Paris! Spent a lot of time in Paris trying to find mosquitoe nets! Also we feel the cruise was overbooked - it was hard to find a spare seat on the 6th floor restaurant. The maître d would turn a blind eye to ppl wandering around with their trays trying to find a seat! There are a lot of angry, upset passengers who paid a lot of money to cruise the Northwest Passage. Ponant’s offer of a 20% discount on a cruise line that none of the passengers want to cruise with again is pathetic! If you are thinking of cruising with Ponant - think again. Read Less
Sail Date August 2018
This was our first cruise with Ponant - and might I add it will probably be the last - and we were very much looking forward to cruising the North West Passage especially as we had booked two years ago and have read a lot of media about ... Read More
This was our first cruise with Ponant - and might I add it will probably be the last - and we were very much looking forward to cruising the North West Passage especially as we had booked two years ago and have read a lot of media about Ponant, the Company and the special voyages offered. There is no doubt there has been a huge media campaign to encourage Australians to participate in the various itineraries. First of all there was the debacle of the charter flight - or lack of - at the very start. We were made aware of the change in plans just before we left Australia and so we made arrangements to stay an extra night at our hotel in Paris instead of staying at the airport as the flight was scheduled for late afternoon. The fact that Ponant could not organise a direct charter flight Paris/Kangerlussuaq for all passengers beggars belief. Once at the airport we were given to understand that we would be assisted by Ponant representatives to ensure a smooth check-in. This was not the case. The signage at the airport was insignificant and there were two lines in order to have names checked off. One line was for the French passengers and the other for the Australian/English speaking passengers. This was not a good start. Once names were given we were told to go to the check-in counter which we did and after that we went to the departure gate to await the flight. No one assisted us and no one made themselves known or ensured everyone was content which is surely what a Rep would do if only for the PR exercise. Once the flight was called we were herded onto a bus - French passengers went somewhere else. The bus took us to the aircraft but instead of disembarking we were kept closed up in the bus with no air on a very hot afternoon for quite some time. Several passengers became irate and demanded that the doors be opened. Once on the aircraft we were told that not all baggage could be loaded so the Captain asked if we would agree to him placing the bags in a locked toilet, which meant that only one toilet was operational during the flight. Other bags were placed in empty seats with seatbelts around them! This is hardly what is expected on a very expensive 5 star trip. Once in Copenhagen, again, we were not met but told we had to collect bags and re-check for the flight to Kangerlussuaq. I finally found a Ponant representative hiding under a stairwell with a small sign and asked which gate we had to go to. No assistance whatsoever was given to any of us. It appeared that French passengers were given priority on the aircraft (they were in business class) and on arrival in Greenland they were the first off and onto a bus to the port. The rest of us managed - again without advice or assistance - and found our own way to one of the waiting buses. There was then a long wait (in the dark and it was cold) for the tender to make several trips. We finally boarded the ship around midnight which was equivalent to 4 am in Paris where we started. Throughout the cruise there was a definite feeling of separation between the French speaking and English speaking passengers. It was almost a feeling of resentment on the part of the French that they were not in the majority. I personally felt sad about this as I speak French and have many French friends having lived in the country years ago. The reality that we could not go through the Northwest Passage caused a lot of dismay. There were a lot of disgruntled people. I am now aware of the fact that the Canadian Coastguard posted a warning about the ice conditions and the fact that the Northwest Passage was impassable on 18th August – nine days before our departure from Paris. It defies logic that we were not told about this and at least given the option of either continuing the cruise – albeit to areas in and around Greenland - or cancelling the holiday. On board we were all under the impression that this ice development and weather conditions were sudden and unavoidable and under this misconception, Captain Marchesseau did his best to ensure that we had great experiences nonetheless. A comment I must make is that the ship does not seem ideally designed for a Polar cruise as outdoor areas cannot be utilized. Deck 7 was closed obviously because of the cold and the Pool area (deck 6) could not be used, thus the dining out by the pool was only utilised on about two occasions at lunch time when the wind dropped and the sun was out. This meant that the Restaurant on Deck 6 was always crowded and people had to go to the other Restaurant which was not the first choice. The Observation lounge on Deck 6 was also always crowded and the only other option was the Main Lounge which had entertainment in the afternoons (and sometimes during the morning) so it was impossible to sit quietly and read or write. It was too cold to sit in the outside lounge - which I imagine would be very pleasant on a warm weather cruise. A word about the food - it was not the gastronomic experience we had been led to believe it would be and the house wines were often unpalatable. The crew were all very friendly and did their best under the circumstances. The expedition team - led by Florence - were very good and we had some interesting lectures before and after the excursions. Finally, when flights from Kangerlussuaq to either Paris or Seattle were announced we were told that we would be going via Toronto to Seattle. It was not until we received boarding passes that we discovered we were, in fact, going to Buffalo for a refuelling stop. We had to stay on the aircraft for almost two hours before taking off for Seattle. This was understandable because of Customs formalities but why were we told we were going to Toronto? As with much of the trip. The information flow from Ponant to guests was anything but efficient. To summarise, I regret to say that I would not give Ponant or this cruise the 5 star luxury experience it purports to be. There were many frustrations and in speaking to both French and English speaking passengers over the three week period, it seems generally guests’ dissatisfaction was across the board. Personally, I really disliked the fact that the French were given priority over everyone else to the extent that the atmosphere on board became toxic at times, and I doubt we would ever choose Ponant again in spite of the fact that I am a Francophile. Read Less
Sail Date August 2018
My wife & I chose Ponant on the recommendation of our travel agent as the preferred cruise line to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary with a transit of the North West Passage. Unfortunately, Ponant failed dismally to deliver ... Read More
My wife & I chose Ponant on the recommendation of our travel agent as the preferred cruise line to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary with a transit of the North West Passage. Unfortunately, Ponant failed dismally to deliver & in our opinion, were misleading & deceptive in their decision to proceed with the cruise in view of the forecast sea ice conditions. We believe that Ponant should have known that the NWP was or was likely to be impassable prior to embarcation on le Soleal (& le Boreal) as reported by the Canadian Ice Service & Canadian Coast Guard. I need not repeat the reviews of other Cruise Critic members on the the saga of the connecting air charters, the second class treatment of non-French passengers, the shortage of restaurant staff, food & drinks or the amount of time spent needlessly sailing around Greenland so as to use up the number of cruise days. These comments are consistent with our experience & that of other passengers, including a number of French passengers who were equally unimpressed - "luxury" it was not! While these issues have been formally raised with Ponant by a number of passengers, no adequate response has yet been provided. The cabin, a “deluxe stateroom” was clean & comfortable but included only one chair in the room & we had to bring a chair from the verandah to sit in the room as a couple. Dining was a disaster as the ship was full to capacity & there was insufficient capacity in the 2 dining rooms – one of which required bookings & was usually full. Further, both restaurants were understaffed, the food selection was limited & definitely not “heute cusine”. Embarcation of the Australians & some other nationalities was after midnight from a tender after a long, economy charter flight from Paris via Copenhagen that was so full that some of the baggage had to be stored in a bathroom (against aircraft regulations?). At the end of the “cruise” we suffered another economy charter from Kangerlussaq to Seattle (over 10 hours) with an unexpected stop in Buffallo NY where we were not permitted to leave the aircraft. We understand that many of the French passengers were flown business class from & to Paris by Ponant at no extra cost. Apart from a daily bulletin (which contained mis-information about le Boreal supposedly transiting the Bellot Strait) that was informative & a couple of very helpful & friendly room service, bar & excursion staff, the rest of the le Soleal crew had arrogant & dismissive attitudes & would have difficulty obtaining work on a quality cruise line. Communications with passengers was poor & we were misled about the sea ice conditions preventing the transit of the North West Passage. As mentioned above, the on-board experience was very disappointing & many passengers were looking forward to leaving the ship rather than floating around Greenland killing time for a large proportion of the cruise. This was a very expensive cruise at more than AUD53000 for a couple but I would feel even more aggrieved if I had paid significantly more to travel as part of the Captain’s Choice group on le Soleal or on the Abercrombie & Kent charter of le Boreal. To compound the situation, Ponant declined to refund any of the cruise costs (unlike another cruise line similarly impacted by the sea ice) & their "offer" of modest discounts on future Ponant cruises is useless as all of the passengers we have contacted will NEVER sail with Ponant again. Read Less
Sail Date August 2018
The cruise was to sail through the Northwest Passage, however there was too much ice so spent the majority of the time on the west coast of Greenland with some time in Canadian waters. The captain made the correct call about not proceeding ... Read More
The cruise was to sail through the Northwest Passage, however there was too much ice so spent the majority of the time on the west coast of Greenland with some time in Canadian waters. The captain made the correct call about not proceeding through the Passage judging by the ice in Bellot Strait and the ice maps for Alaska, so no problem with this. The Canadian icebreaker service was very good, but unfortunately the US does not provide such a service in their waters. The main problems were that some food types ran out after about a week into the cruise, such as no french fries! Also the meals tended to become somewhat repetitious and the lack of variety in vegetables was telling. OK we were in Arctic waters but the provisioning left a bit to be desired. The wine selection was better than we experienced on our Antarctica cruise on the same ship in February-March 2018, but the cheese selection was worse; much better earlier in the year. A lot of the supposedly soft cheeses on this cruise were not "ripe" and were dry in the middle. Also they ran out of draft beer plus some liqueurs. Some provisions were able to be topped up in Greenland but probably to the detriment of the locals as the supermarket was "raided" in a small community. Service in the main restaurant depended on where you sat as some staff were excellent whereas others were barely average, so didn't appear to be able to cope with a busy restaurant. Overall the cruise was better than average, but not good enough to rate as very good due to the onboard problems. The ship's officers were very good as were the expedition staff, the problem was more with the catering and restaurant area. Read Less
Sail Date August 2018
Although the expected itinerary was not respected, due to the ice conditions, the exploration crew always found nice alternatives to discover new sites, and interesting contacts with the local population. The exploration crew is very ... Read More
Although the expected itinerary was not respected, due to the ice conditions, the exploration crew always found nice alternatives to discover new sites, and interesting contacts with the local population. The exploration crew is very competent, which is the main point (together with the excellent service) to be able to discover and enjoy experiences in places that are otherwise unreachable for most people. Although a previous cruise to the Antartic was much more interesting, in terms of the variety and richness of the animal life, the present cruise gave us the opportunity to meet with the people leaving in extreme conditions, and how they cope with this. It was also very nice to see that respecting the traditions of the local population (Greenland) leads to a better life, while imposing a different culture as the "right one" leads to a lack of self-respect (Canada) with the related problems. In total, a very enjoyable experience!!! Read Less
Sail Date July 2018
My wife and I recently went on the Le Soliel expedition cruise entitled The Saga of Erick the Red from July 17—29. The trip started in Iceland and spent most of the time combing the Greenland coast up to Kangerlussuaq. We were both ... Read More
My wife and I recently went on the Le Soliel expedition cruise entitled The Saga of Erick the Red from July 17—29. The trip started in Iceland and spent most of the time combing the Greenland coast up to Kangerlussuaq. We were both impressed with the level of service on the ship. The housekeeping as immaculate, the meals were wonderful, and the entertainment was enjoyable, and the ship staff was friendly and helpful. We are looking forward to spending another cruise with Ponant. Unfortunately, one serious drawback to the trip was the quality of the expedition staff (known as naturalist guides). The expedition leader, Florence, was over-matched in her role, and appeared to provide little actual leadership to her guide staff. While all the naturalist guides seemed to be good people, essentially they provided little real guiding. We were usually dumped onto land and were on our own to “use our imagination” as the expedition leader would say. The naturalist guides would simply spread out and watch as passengers walked around, often aimlessly and confused. Here are some examples to illustrate my point: • There was no emphasis on wilderness ethics. The Arctic growing season is short and plant life is precious, yet the expedition leader, Florence, and her staff made very little effort to educate the visitors on how to behave in these wild places and how to best preserve them. Passengers would be wearing big rubber boots designed specifically for mud and muck, yet would trample over delicate flora to avoid wet areas on the trails. • Naturalists were frequently unable to answer the most basic questions about the flora, fauna, geology, or history of a landing site. A naturalist guide should have at least a general knowledge of the natural and human history of an area to be visited, and should have a guidebook to help them answer questions, yet frequently, we got the “I don’t know” response or an outright mis-identification. • One hike we went on was a disaster. My wife and I were one of the first off the ship but we waited over an hour until the all passengers unloaded before the hike started. When it did, nearly 200 passengers all crammed along the same narrow trail, and received no guiding input on the hike. Instead of one enormous group, why not divide the passengers up among the guides and go on more manageable smaller group hikes? • The Viking sites were special but the expedition leader and her naturalist guides were not located at the actual ruins where they could identify the ruins and give historical background. In fact, the first Viking site we landed at, many passengers had no idea where the ruins were located and when we finally saw the 1,000 year-old ruins we had no idea what we were looking at. Passengers even found they had wandered right over one of the Viking long houses, not realizing where the ruin was. • Frequently, naturalist guides were taking pictures as their own personal hobby instead of helping passengers. • The naturalist guides’ PowerPoint presentations on the landing sites were of marginal use. Some of the information presented on the Vikings was superficial and incomplete. We talked to passengers who were on other Ponant expeditions and they said their previous experiences with the naturalists guides was must better. Perhaps we just hit a dud on this expedition. With that said, despite the poor guiding, we enjoyed the rest of the experience enough that we will try another Ponant cruise in the future. Read Less
Sail Date July 2018
Our long awaited and much anticipated Northwest Passage trip has ended and will long be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Inputing required information into Ponant’s website before the trip was frustratingly difficult and ... Read More
Our long awaited and much anticipated Northwest Passage trip has ended and will long be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Inputing required information into Ponant’s website before the trip was frustratingly difficult and generally only remedied by Sydney’s staff. Thank you to all who assisted. The required medical information was widely regarded by GPs and fellow travellers as an invasion of privacy. Our travels to Antarctica onboard MV Orion in 2007 and a previous 42-day Arctic expedition cruise aboard MV Silver Explorer in 2013 did not require such detailed information, simply evidence of travel insurance that included repatriation from remote areas. And then there were the charter flights. Check-in at Charles de Gaulle airport was an absolute shambles. Many, if not most, passengers had arrived long before the Ponant representative and located a Ponant banner near gates 50-51. Nobody was aware that there were two charter flights, the other check-in being on the opposite side of the terminal at gates 1-2. Much cross-terminal activity ensued as people realised they were in the wrong queues! My partner and I were allocated the Trade Air flight that used a Fokker 100 aircraft. The aircraft was not designed to carry a full economy-class passenger load with everyone having hold-stowed baggage, and consequently some baggage was loaded into some of the toilets at the captain’s suggestion. That carrier has been cited on previous occasions for regulatory breaches, according to internet entries, and this was possibly another. Being a charter flight we parked remotely from the terminal in Copenhagen and much of the baggage was offloaded into open baggage-carts in a downpour. Some passengers reported their baggage was sodden upon retrieval. Transferring to the Air Greenland commercial flight was another exercise involving a very long walk with little guidance. A couple of quick-thinking passengers were able to pay for a business-class upgrade, while most of us continued to languish in economy. Upon arrival in Kangerlussuaq we were directed to board coaches for the transfer to the ship. Nobody bothered to inform us, until asked, about what was to happen to our luggage....it was collected in bulk and transferred (successfully) to the ship. The reception on boarding the ship, was adequate but not exceptional, particularly as it was close to midnight when we boarded. Our cabin, 528, was tiny with no under-bed storage for luggage and was apparently designed as the sitting-room to the adjoining cabin 526, to which it had a connecting door for use when both cabins were sold as one suite. It was a similar story for other cabins on deck 5, some with under-bed storage, others without. Within the cabin, the bathroom and toilet doors opened outwards into the entrance passageway, as did the wardrobe doors. Open one door but beware opening another as they clashed with one another. Inexplicably, the shower door opened inwards to the stall and if anyone fell while in the shower and could not pick themselves up, access for assistants would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, without demolishing the screens. Compactness was also a feature of both restaurants, with tables very close together hampering access for both passengers and waiters. Both restaurants were badly under-staffed, with waiters having too many tables to look after and also doubling as wine waiters. Under these very trying circumstances, the waiters did the best they could, but lengthy delays were normal. The bars were also understaffed. Some food items and beverages ran very low, with some items completely exhausted within 10 days of the start of a 23 day cruise! Somebody needs to answer for that. The much-hyped French cuisine was disappointing, with a preponderance of fish on the dinner menu. The cruise proceeded much as advertised until it was announced that we would be unable to transit the Northwest Passage because of the ice conditions in Bellot Strait and further west. That decision was based on ice charts and forecasts available before we had even set sail from Kangerlussuaq on the cruise, and that changed little as the cruise progressed. We were initially offered early disembarkation (at Pond Inlet, Canada), an option that a number of us selected, and two other options, each less appealing than the other. Eventually it was decided an early disembarkation would unnecessarily delay the ship sailing north in Baffin Bay on a random itinerary taking us towards the very north of Greenland towards another channel blocked by sea ice, before turning south and returning to Kangerlussuaq by the 18th September, the date we were originally due to disembark in Nome. Mutterings were heard that we’d paid the ransom before we’d been kidnapped! Communications from staff members was poor on many occasions, with the constant changing from French to English difficult to follow. And once the revised itinerary got underway, we were only told on a daily basis what to expect the next day, with nobody sure when we would be back in Kangerlussuaq (17th or 18th, morning or afternoon etc). Eventually we found ourselves back in Kangerlussuaq and the charter flight shambles started all over again. Europeans won the lottery with a short flight back to Paris. The rest of us had to endure a long, uncomfortable economy-class flight all the way to Seattle with a refuelling stop in Buffalo. And finally liberation! We could never, in good conscience, recommend Ponant. As a luxury expedition/cruise line it barely rates a 3, based on this experience. Read Less
Sail Date July 2018
I had an invitation to cruise the Baltic - a chance for me to retrace my footsteps as a young traveller in this part of the world which has seen so many changes, Le Soleal lived up to all promises, with exceptional French service and ... Read More
I had an invitation to cruise the Baltic - a chance for me to retrace my footsteps as a young traveller in this part of the world which has seen so many changes, Le Soleal lived up to all promises, with exceptional French service and superb food and beverages at all times. Tours were well organised and wonderfully instructive. Relaxing on the ship was a great experience, though we were underwhelmed by the nightime offerings of entertainment and onboard lectures were inadequate (the only negative feature of the whole experience. I especially enjoyed the dining experiences at both restaurants with exceptional variety of foodstyles and ingredients. I appreciated the fresh fruit and salads available at each meal and loved the opportunity to try different dishes and styles of cuisine. The wine list was superb and the martinis excellent! My cabin was spacious, well -organised and beautifully maintained throughout the cruise. My special treat was to visit the bridge on our day at sea and hear all about navigation from the officer in charge. Read Less
Sail Date June 2018
We chose Tauck small ship cruises due to reputation. We had a good experience last year on two river cruises. We would not recommend small ship cruises with Tauck. I had written a 5 page letter describing both the good and the bad on ... Read More
We chose Tauck small ship cruises due to reputation. We had a good experience last year on two river cruises. We would not recommend small ship cruises with Tauck. I had written a 5 page letter describing both the good and the bad on two small ship back to back cruises and I received back a one page letter addressing one item. Most group dinners consisted of chicken. Very little choice of local foods since we visited 5 different countries. We drove around after lunch to kill time before going to hotel. VERY boring!. We should have been given a choice of shopping since we were close or go to hotel to wait. the stop At Tallinn was rushed. In Saint Petersburg only overpriced souvenir shops were suggested. Should have gone to a market area and shopped for bargains. Too many people(40) on each excursion trying to meander thru the towns we visited. I had thought Tauck was different using local guides and smaller groups. Other excursions we have been on have larger groups for less money. We did have a good Swedish lunch and a good Russian lunch. Not chicken!! this cruise better than the first one two weeks earlier with Tauck. Read Less
Sail Date May 2018
We were very, very happy with our cruise. Our travel agent had recommended Ponant, in US we don't hear a lot about it. At least with the multiple brochures we receive I had not gotten anything from this amazing cruise line. Going to ... Read More
We were very, very happy with our cruise. Our travel agent had recommended Ponant, in US we don't hear a lot about it. At least with the multiple brochures we receive I had not gotten anything from this amazing cruise line. Going to the Antartica was my dream. Going first to South Georgia and Falklands was a very important part of the trip. The ship was lovely. Never a worry about being bored, hungry or thirsty. And just when I thought I was being spoiled as can be, the staff provided a new surprise like champagne and French macaroons served on an iceberg. This a cruise like no other. As the captain (who was wonderful) reminded passengers, the show is outside. You come for the penguins and fall in love with the ice. So if you like penguins, whales, seals, sea birds and ice and the most breathtaking scenery ever. this is the ultimate destination. I feel it was like another world. However, all good Antartica cruises will see what nature offers. I feel Ponant created the perfect cruise to let it happen. So if you like excellent food (too much for me), perfect service, nice entertainment and a comfortable ship Ponant has it all. We had a basic cabin and it was very functional. Small, but that comes with being an expedition ship. The zodiacs were very well run and I felt very safe. The naturalists were excellent. They went out of their way to be helpful. Each seemed to have their own niche. Also, impressed with the fact most of them were able to communicate in both French (French, first, it is a French line) and English. My only criticism is I would have liked availability of field guides for birds and mammals. I hadn't brought any because I assumed they would be available on the ship. As a bonus, we met very lovely people from Australia, England and US. What I would do different--bring less stuff and upgrade flight between B.A. and Ursula to Economy plus (ship provides basic economy). When I say bring less stuff, I am glad I included some nice dinner outfits because Europeans tend to dress nicely. My husband was happy that there was no "formal" night however. Be sure to buy the CD. The photographers were great. It's hard to take a bad penguin picture but the professional video is a great memory. Read Less
Sail Date January 2018
Le Soleal Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins N/A 4.1
Dining N/A 3.9
Entertainment N/A 3.4
Public Rooms N/A 4.2
Fitness Recreation N/A 3.6
Family N/A 3.6

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