Le Soleal Cruise Review by cruiser-57
- Sail Date: July 2018
- Destination: Arctic
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.
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