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Le Bougainville Cruise Review
0.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
6 Reviews

Disappointing cruise - National Geographic involvement very low

Le Bougainville Cruise Review by utexplore

16 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Dec 2019
  • Destination: Asia

We just completed a 2 week cruise on the Ponant ship Le Bouganville to the Seychelle Islands in the Indian Ocean. It was sold to us as a National Geographic Expedition cruise. A summary of my review is as follows:

• The ship is clean, modern and has nice layout.

• The standard sized cabin was smaller than many cruise lines, but adequate. We found plenty of storage space available for our needs.

• The ship was 8 months old, but already had items of deferred maintenance. Patio door handle broken, entry door deadbolt won’t work and broken cabinet door hardware.

• The staff work hard and are friendly.

• The itinerary was exotic and exciting. It involved visiting numerous uninhabited (or nearly uninhabited) islands in the Seychelles.

• Ponant is a French cruise line. Recently they have made a huge investment in six new ships (over $1 billion USD). They have begun marketing worldwide and are attracting non-French speakers from around the world. Communications are in both French and English. The cruise communications in English were poorly done. The daily verbal announcements in English were about 50% understandable. Very heavy French accents, particularly the main woman who made 80% of the announcements.

• The written English communications frequently used inappropriate English words. For example, an announcement indicated the National Geographic photographer will be available for “interventions”. We assume they intended to say “consultations”. There were many such errors in the written materials. Sometimes the translations were so bad we were unable to decipher what they were trying to say. The English menu was frequently unintelligible.

• The nature of this cruise involved substantial amounts of uncertainty. Many of the stops were at atolls which are only accessible during high tide. Almost all of our landings were wet landings (via Zodiac boats unloading in the shallow water at a beach). The ability to load a Zodiac when the ocean swells are above 4 feet is severely limited and downright dangerous. The timing of tides and the size of the swells affected about 75% of our stops. We had two days where groups of passengers were not able to re-board the ship from Zodiacs and were forced to wait in high seas in Zodiacs until things calmed down. It caused strong feelings and substantial anxiety in some passengers. There is virtually no warning of these risks in the advance materials from Ponant. This type of cruise is NOT appropriate for the elderly or handicapped. People with physical limitations should approach this cruise with caution and be prepared to stay on board the ship when things are too extreme. We can not blame Ponant for the weather, but we can blame them for poor disclosures to potential buyers. Also, these uncertainties leave the passengers with a high level of unknown and uncertainty each day. Ponant could do a much better job with real-time communications. We were left in the dark about things almost every day.

• The branding of the cruise as a “National Geographic Expedition” was in name only. Very little daily content was from NG or its experts on board. NG has a huge inventory of TV productions that could have been available on our stateroom TVs. They could have run NG movies in the theater. We booked the cruise because of National Geographic’s involvement. We were very disappointed. This was a standard Ponant cruise with a NG sticker on it. NG should be managing all the activities on the ship

• Lots of French pastries, cheese and food preparations. Some of it was very good.

• The food was very average, sometimes below average.

• The chef and restaurant staff were unable to deal with special dietary needs. Even after many requests, they seemed incapable of providing an interesting variety of vegan, gluten free or dairy free items. They usually had one item that would work and it was the same item every day on the cruise. The wait staff was totally unprepared for requests or complaints about these items.

• The scuba operation was woefully understaffed. One dive master and one small zodiac. Demand was 2 or 3 times the available capacity. Very disappointing.

• Some people were able to preregister for dives. Others attempted to do so and were told it had to happen on the ship.

• The massage services in the Spa were not satisfactory. My wife asked for a deep tissue massage. She received a mild rub down. She was asked to strip completely naked. She did so and covered herself with a towel while laying on her back. The attendant quickly removed the towel and commenced rubbing her stomach. Very unusual and inappropriate in the eyes of many.

• Ponant’s internet presence is minimal. The website poorly describes each stop, has little information on what to expect on the cruise and compares very poorly to Ponant’s competitors.

• Ponant’s advance information was woefully inadequate. They emailed an 80 page information packet that was 95% pure fluff.

• Ponant’s phone app suffers from all the same problems as Ponant’s internet site.

• Boarding the ship in Victoria was allowed between 16:00 and 17:00. Most people arrived the day before or the morning of the cruise. Most of the passengers were from France. The Air France flight from Paris arrives at 6:30 in the morning. The ship had arrived the night before and was at the dock unloading the last cruise’s passengers. Ponant could have easily provided a secure storage area outside the ship so people could enjoy the day without hauling their luggage everywhere. If you arrive days before the cruise, you must check out of your hotel in the late morning and you are in the same predicament being bound to your luggage. There are no storage lockers anywhere near the docks.

• We were not allowed to exit the ship in time to catch the daily Air France non-stop flight back to Paris that leaves at 8:20 in the morning. We were told by Ponant that we should not book that flight as the connection was too tight. Seems like with so many French passengers onboard, Ponant would arrange for earlier departures from the ship.

• It seems illogical to have a adventurous “expedition” to extremely remote uninhabited islands and yet be required to bring along formal night-time attire for dinner. The tradition of formal wear on cruise ships has largely been abandoned by other cruise lines. We are on vacation and don’t want to be required to do such nonsense. Baggage space for a two week journey is already extremely limited.

• There were far too many “mandatory” meetings. We are on vacation and would like to relax. We don’t need to be forced to do anything. So many of these mandatory meetings could have been recorded and put on our stateroom TVs to watch at our leisure.

• Our expedition leader/manager worked very, very hard. She was up before sunrise and was working late into the night. She launched a Zodiac at dawn to scout every beach and snorkel location. She directed the unloading and loading of every Zodiac on the beach. She presented the next day’s activities every evening. She was involved in almost every activity. I am not sure whether she is unwilling to delegate or Ponant refuses to give her a full-time assistant, but she needs help. Her disposition was pretty unfriendly (maybe because she is overworked). You would expect such a key person to be warm and outgoing.

• The Bar manager was super innovative. He and several of his assistants created a floating bar on two surf boards. They stood in chest deep water at the beach for several hours. The day all the passengers where exploring the mangroves in Zodiacs, he used a Zodiac to create a floating bar. He worked very hard and was very engaging.

• The photo area on the 6th floor was underutilized. With a National Geographic photographer on board, you would expect he would use it to conduct classes, to review passenger’s personal photos, etc. It sat idle.

• I am an avid photographer. There were many other avid photographers on board. I was disappointed that Ponant did not program more photo events (photo walks, personal photo critiques, group photo critiques, photo editing advice, etc).

We will not cruise with Ponant again.

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