Based on the price, we thought Ponant would be a really nice cruise, but we were disappointed in comparison to other top-notch cruise lines we've enjoyed. Many incidents were individually small things that would have been easily overlooked IF the overall cruise or friendliness of the staff would have exceeded (or even MET) our expectations. As our cruise progressed though, the tiny annoyances added up to a point where we felt disappointed overall. Here are just a few examples:
The embarkation process was disorganized. It seemed that all passengers were instructed to embark at the same time (4 pm) ... yet we all waited significantly past 4 pm in a very hot, stuffy terminal building - with no idea when we'd actually be able to board, or in what order. Without understanding WHY a big group from Tauck Tours was led ahead of the rest of us who had been waiting longer, and even AFTER they all boarded, there was confusion as to when the rest of us could go. When we finally got to our stateroom, one of our bags wasn't delivered until we went to ask for it, and when disembarking after the cruise, we were told we had to have our suitcases in the hallway at 7 am, but at 8 am when we went to breakfast, our bags hadn't even been picked up. We had a car waiting for us at 8:30 -- we changed it to 8:45 am, but even then our suitcases weren't out on the dock yet, so our taxi had to wait. Another example ... after suddenly learning that the "captain's gala" night would be the night after we boarded, we were dismayed to learn that any clothes we asked to have ironed could not be guaranteed back to us for up to 48 hours. We made a simple request at the reception desk to please have brief access to an iron so our formal wear could be presentable (we'd been traveling for 3 days/nights so our dressier clothes were VERY wrinkled). We were told "for safety reasons" we couldn't use an iron, whether in our room or ANYwhere on the ship in order to make our clothes presentable for the gala. Viking and Crystal ocean cruises are very safe, yet they both have small rooms where guests could take a few moments to iron their clothes before a formal night -- with irons that automatically shut off if left unattended. A few days into the cruise, Ponant left a questionnaire in our stateroom asking for suggestions to make the cruise better, and I took the time to explain how a 24-to-48-hour turnaround for clothes to be washed or pressed was not quickly enough -- given that the first formal evening was in LESS than 24 hours from the time we boarded the ship, AND that we had no access to an iron. They never took the time to speak to us about our concerns -- instead they left what we felt was a rudely worded letter at our stateroom ... restating their "safety reason" argument. Even worse .. their letter included wording along the lines of the fact that THEIR guests don't expect to iron their own clothes. (Guess we weren't considered their guests)! We would have gladly paid what they quoted for our clothes to be ironed IF we could have had them back in time for the gala. Later during the cruise we overheard a guest at the reception desk pleading for her underwear to come back from the laundry because she was completely out - but the receptionist was just as aloof with her, curtly restating their 24-48 hour laundry return policy. Compared to cruise lines where the focus is on accommodating requests from guests, some of the staff on Ponant seemed to have such an unfriendly attitude ... reception desk staff rarely even looked up from their computers, offered a smile, or even a "good morning". Ponant never bothered to address our concern over why the gala night was held so soon after boarding -- when we had no way to get wrinkles out of our clothes, so, I felt it futile to fill out their evaluation form at the end of the cruise. The food was good for the most part, but not exceptional -- and on 3 separate occasions when we ordered a particular meal (i.e., their featured choice of a quinoa dinner) they just delivered a totally different meal (pasta with shrimp) without ANY explanation whatsoever. They just plopped the pasta in front of me and quickly walked away. Only in 1 instance did they offer an explanation (they had run out of one of the featured salmon choice my husband had made). To be fair, some of the staff were VERY friendly and helpful, but more than a few were not, and we found that unusual for this price-range cruise. For example, one evening when we went to the bar at the observation area, we asked the bartender to make us a cocktail with gin, fresh lime juice & a bit of sugar. He told us he didn't have lime juice (we learned the next day that the downstairs bartender DID have lime juice and was happy to make that drink for us). The observation deck bartender who told us he couldn't make anything with lime juice told us he might be able to get lime juice downstairs, BUT that we'd have to pay an extra $1 for it, and we felt that was outrageously petty. Maybe Ponant's focus is to cater to all the Tauck guests, but not the rest of us. We weren't the only people on board who felt this way -- others we met from various places around the world had similar feelings. On several occasions, we were simply chatting with people at our table after "mealtime" (and we were NOT asking to be served anything else) ... but still, we were told we had to leave the table. There aren't many places on Le Laperouse where people can gather and chat (or often the other areas are crowded with no seating available) so we felt it was unfriendly for them to "kick us out" of the dining room when it as obvious we were just talking, AND all our place-settings had already been cleared. Not all the time, but more times than we could count, we had to flag someone down in the morning to bring coffee or in the evening to bring wine -- even after we'd been seated for at least 10 minutes. Also, at bars, instead of the staff offering nuts or snacks with our cocktails, we had to specifically ask if they had a salty snack to have with our cocktails. ONLY then would they reach beneath their counter to give us some nuts! Additionally, we would have appreciated some educational sessions in the theatre each day, with informative information about our next port -- but we only learned a bit about our next port from the daily newsletter left on our beds at night. I mention these examples just to give others an idea of times we didn't feel like appreciated guests. Maybe if this had been our FIRST luxury cruise, we might have had lower expectations and would have nothing to compare it to -- but every other cruise we've been on has been superior with how organized, friendly, and helpful they were. We're easygoing and usually happy with even slightly above average service (especially when it's obvious the staff is eager to go-the-extra-mile on simple requests) but unfortunately, for us, Ponant was disappointing in enough aspects to ever return, or recommend it to others.
The cabin was clean and our housekeeper very nice. We looked at Ponant a year before the cruise, but it was booked so we went on a wait-list. When someone called and offered us their "guarantee" rate (we paid the lowest amount but were told we might get an upgrade in exchange for Ponant having the flexibility of assigning our room at the last minute). We originally thought the cruise must be fantastic being booked a year in advance, but now we wonder if it isn't because they held a lot of rooms ahead for the Tauck group, and didn't know if they'd have last-minute cancellations.
We independently booked a friendly, private driver to take us to visit fur seals, and give us a tour of Wellington that focused on the things we were eager to see/do.