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Choose your cruise mates the way you choose your food. That’s because chances are the people you cruise with will determine the kind of food served on the ship. And, of course, the kind of companionship and conversation you will enjoy. For example, when up-market travel specialists Abercrombie & Kent USA chartered Ponant’s L’Austral for a Ryukyu Islands cruise from Osaka to Taiwan and Hong Kong, most of those A&K passengers came from the U.S. So A&K arranged with the ship to provide menus and food items that would appeal to Americans – even though some people on that cruise came from other countries. If you had been expecting rich French food and strong cheeses, you might have been disappointed with the more U.S. style of food items on offer – though, of course, their quality and quantity were what you would expect on a good cruise ship. Still, most cruise ship kitchens will respond to reasonable special requests if, in the above case, you had asked for more French style food…or for a strong cheese. Presumably that sort of cuisine was regularly served to at least the senior officers. Re-provisioning on this trip took place whenever the opportunity presented itself – taking on local seafood or fruit, for example. So that was always a treat. While the cruise ship provides the base for all the action – both on the water and on land – people who travel with A&K are looking for adventure experiences. This president's cruise (which turned into a chairman's cruise, reflecting former A&K USA president Phil Otterson's promotion to chairman of the board) certainly delivered – and, as a bonus, included a captain who had been captured along with his crew and ship by Somali pirates. But more about that later. This is an ideal expedition style ship, with just 134 passenger cabins yet with all the comforts and extras you come to expect from a luxury small ship. The balconies are actually wide enough to comfortably fit two chairs and an ottoman. Our itinerary took us to many of the little-known, little-visited Ryukyu Islands stretching away from the southwestern end of Japan’s main islands. The docks could accommodate us, so it was easy to embark and disembark to go ashore to explore the countryside on one of the three excursions A&K offered at each stop. As for the Somali pirate incident, that ship-napping took place in 2008 when Somali pirates fired on and then boarded the sailing ship Le Ponant, under the command of Patrick Marchesseau, now L’Austral’s captain. “It was scary when they came shooting at us with their Kalashnikovs but then it turned into more of a business transaction,” says Marchesseau, who managed to bargain the pirates down to USD$2 million from their original USD$3 million demand. His crew of 30, including seven women who had initially hidden below decks, were released; the captain was held hostage until the money had been paid. French navy helicopters then managed to capture some of the pirates, who had scattered on land, and recovered 20 per cent of the ransom. “When I told my three young daughters about what happened, I said it was like Captain Hook and I was Peter Pan,” said Marchesseau, who lives in Edmonton with his Canadian wife. He was awarded France’s Medal of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and wrote a book about the hijacking. But even if your captain hasn’t been captured by pirates, the bottom line is: think international when you go cruising these days and enjoy more than just your home culture.

Visiting Japan on a French ship chartered by A&K USA = think truly international

L'Austral Cruise Review by mgrenby

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Trip Details
  • Sail Date: June 2017
  • Destination: Asia
Choose your cruise mates the way you choose your food.

That’s because chances are the people you cruise with will determine the kind of food served on the ship. And, of course, the kind of companionship and conversation you will enjoy.

For example, when up-market travel specialists Abercrombie & Kent USA chartered Ponant’s L’Austral for a Ryukyu Islands cruise from Osaka to Taiwan and Hong Kong, most of those A&K passengers came from the U.S.

So A&K arranged with the ship to provide menus and food items that would appeal to Americans – even though some people on that cruise came from other countries.

If you had been expecting rich French food and strong cheeses, you might have been disappointed with the more U.S. style of food items on offer – though, of course, their quality and quantity were what you would expect on a good cruise ship.

Still, most cruise ship kitchens will respond to reasonable special requests if, in the above case, you had asked for more French style food…or for a strong cheese. Presumably that sort of cuisine was regularly served to at least the senior officers.

Re-provisioning on this trip took place whenever the opportunity presented itself – taking on local seafood or fruit, for example. So that was always a treat.

While the cruise ship provides the base for all the action – both on the water and on land – people who travel with A&K are looking for adventure experiences.

This president's cruise (which turned into a chairman's cruise, reflecting former A&K USA president Phil Otterson's promotion to chairman of the board) certainly delivered – and, as a bonus, included a captain who had been captured along with his crew and ship by Somali pirates. But more about that later.

This is an ideal expedition style ship, with just 134 passenger cabins yet with all the comforts and extras you come to expect from a luxury small ship. The balconies are actually wide enough to comfortably fit two chairs and an ottoman.

Our itinerary took us to many of the little-known, little-visited Ryukyu Islands stretching away from the southwestern end of Japan’s main islands.

The docks could accommodate us, so it was easy to embark and disembark to go ashore to explore the countryside on one of the three excursions A&K offered at each stop.

As for the Somali pirate incident, that ship-napping took place in 2008 when Somali pirates fired on and then boarded the sailing ship Le Ponant, under the command of Patrick Marchesseau, now L’Austral’s captain.

“It was scary when they came shooting at us with their Kalashnikovs but then it turned into more of a business transaction,” says Marchesseau, who managed to bargain the pirates down to USD$2 million from their original USD$3 million demand.

His crew of 30, including seven women who had initially hidden below decks, were released; the captain was held hostage until the money had been paid.

French navy helicopters then managed to capture some of the pirates, who had scattered on land, and recovered 20 per cent of the ransom.

“When I told my three young daughters about what happened, I said it was like Captain Hook and I was Peter Pan,” said Marchesseau, who lives in Edmonton with his Canadian wife. He was awarded France’s Medal of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and wrote a book about the hijacking.

But even if your captain hasn’t been captured by pirates, the bottom line is: think international when you go cruising these days and enjoy more than just your home culture.
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