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I travelled with Ponant to Antarctica in January 2020 with my Son, aboard Le Soleal on the 11 day “Emblematic Antarctica”, this being my first cruise with Ponant. From first contact with Ponant’s Australian office, which is located in Sydney, it was apparent that the standard of customer service was going to be impeccable. This was demonstrated by being able to speak with the same staff member, who if not available would promptly, return calls, who was able to advise on the product being sold, and was able to make informed suggestions and amendments to my booking without any fuss together with a genuine commitment to addressing the needs of the customer. The Cruise Package includes accommodation in Buenos Aires and I stayed at the Sofitel Recoleta. This is a lovely hotel in a safe up-market area, from where you will meet the Ponant Agent and confirm your airport transfer the following day. On departure day you are met by the local agent, baggage is sorted and you are then driven to the airport where assistance is provided to ensure a seamless check-in to the chartered three hour flight to Ushuaia, with LATAM Airlines. At Ushuaia you are met by the Ponant Agent where luggage is again sorted. I opted for the Tiera del Fuego National Park Bus Tour. This included lunch. I did not enjoy this, the road is unfinished and dust filled the bus to the discomfort of those on-board with some passengers insisting that the air-conditioning be turned off. Common sense did prevail however. In my view the Bus Tour is really a filler to erode time between arrival in Ushaia and embarkation, a very minor gripe and really an observation only. You are then taken to the pier and welcomed aboard, where drinks are served in the main lounge, keys issued, and following which when you are ready you are escorted to your “cabin”, where your luggage has been delivered. Among the first and lasting impressions are the luxurious interiors, cleanliness and modernity of the ship, the attentive, friendly but non-intrusive staff and an ambiance which is most likely a function of the small number of passengers, and as this is a somewhat exclusive product, there is then that “je ne sais quoi” permeating the entire experience. The cabins are should be more accurately described as suites. I stayed mid-ship in Suite 530, on recommendation of the team at the Sydney office. (Thank you Karen and Gina). Mid ship being advantageous if there are big pitching sea’s. My “suite” was the perfect size, travelling with my son, and is designed for two passengers. I was able to request two single beds, they were probably queen singles, very comfortable, ample storage for all our clothes and suitcases. The separate toilet and bathroom works okay, but is mystery why it is configured in this manner…but it does not matter. The suite was absolutely spotless and maintained as such throughout the ten days and there was always some tempting french treat awaiting your return in the afternoon. The Drake Passage’s reputation did not manifest itself on this journey. I believe there may have had up to three metre swells at some point, however regardless of this had there been poor conditions the destination is absolutely worth some mild discomfort, which is easily treated with medication and, dare I suggest, some french champagne. On, or at a minimum, after day two the bar staff will know your name and be able to anticipate your choice from the very generous variety of refreshments included in the cruise fare. There are some premium selections from the beer, wine, champagne and spirit menu available at additional cost if so desired. As to attire, the brochures are reflective of, and rightly so, french chic, can I suggest that very neat casual will suffice for most occasions, with a dinner jacket for men, or a suit, and one or two or three smart dresses / pants / jacket for ladies will suffice especially in the main dining room which is a segway to the food on board….it is well, simply put superb. I chose to eat in the buffet, relaxed and self-service and simply convenient. You may notice the Maître d' photographing the food. This is done at each sitting with those photographs supplied to Head Office to ensure quality control. Simply unheard of I know, but reflective of the attention to detail from Ponant…nothing is left to chance. Back to the food, I was not a foodie, but have been converted. At every meal there were some regular staples, but with the menu changed daily. This provided an outstanding variety to please even the most jaded gourmet. The variety of french cuisine meant that it was essential to pair wine with my lunch and dinner, it would have been impolite not to do so. There were at least two soups for lunch and dinner, a selection of meats, and cheeses and salads, not to mention the main courses, and then the desserts which combined ingredients and flavours that I had not considered possible. My advice is to try everything as you can control portion sizes and… bon appetite. In terms of on-board activities on the “sea days” there is enough to do, this includes the lectures on history, on wildlife and ecology to name but a few which my son and I enjoyed. My son was the only child aboard, he was made welcome by my fellow travelers and staff and this was reflected when enjoying the numerous shore excursions, which is the reason after all for the journey. Special mention here to Lou, Jorge and Jonathon, our Expedition Leader. Because Ponant has 199 passengers or less then those passengers can land on the Antarctic Peninsula. To achieve this guests are grouped by language and matched to their guide accordingly. Those groups are then colour coded so as to organise orderly transport to and from the ice. The order is changed on each occasion that an excursion is undertaken, it is published in the daily on-board advice and broadcast across the ships public address system. This ensures minimal wait times. Ponant’s attention to detail is again evidenced by its dedication to guests safety, and is demonstrated by the minutia of how to get on and off the Zodiac’s right down to how to interact with staff, ie correct hand grip, where to sit (where not to) moving around the Zodiac etc…if you have any concerns about this be re-assured nothing is left to chance, safety is an absolute priority. The on-shore expeditions are able to be undertaken by persons with all levels of physical ability either in full or part thereof, and in lieu of that Ponant will cruise you around the landing sites in the Zodiacs. So to the landings, due to the size of the ship, there are many opportunities, and the Captain has the flexibility to make the best of those as they arise, so don’t be surprised if there is a deviation. My favourite location was Neko Harbour and the Sea Ice, breath-takingly beautiful and accessible to all levels of ability and fitness. There will also be some surprises ashore. Those surprises are a team effort led by the Expedition Leader who will on every occasion, conduct the necessary reconnaissance, set up the landing points, mark out the safe routes, greet you on arrival and provide a safety briefing. There is a considerable amount of effort being expended by the crew to create these outstanding experiences. Those experiences are enhanced by having the correct clothing, I wore one technical layer, ie thermal pants plus waterproof trousers and a thermal top, which you can purchase at any good outdoor equipment supplier, and the supplied Ponant Jacket and Boots. I was never cold, in fact when moving around this generated enough body heat to be comfortably warm, the use of adjustable walking poles to maintain easy balance is absolutely recommended. I have read some reviews about photographic equipment and, wait for this, the photos attached to this review were taken using a iPhone 4. Ponant also offer several photographic packages plus a cruise video, and again my recommendation is the purchase these as the imagery captured is going to take your album / scrap book to the next level. If you have read this far then you’re contemplating Ponant to take you to Antarctica. I cannot overstate my experience it was superb, nothing was left to chance, no detail overlooked, every interaction with crew was positive…so please contemplate no more. I will be travelling again to Antarctica and I will be travelling with Ponant…I suggest you do also.

SIMPLY OUTSTANDING

Le Soleal Cruise Review by Richard 1963

Trip Details
I travelled with Ponant to Antarctica in January 2020 with my Son, aboard Le Soleal on the 11 day “Emblematic Antarctica”, this being my first cruise with Ponant.

From first contact with Ponant’s Australian office, which is located in Sydney, it was apparent that the standard of customer service was going to be impeccable. This was demonstrated by being able to speak with the same staff member, who if not available would promptly, return calls, who was able to advise on the product being sold, and was able to make informed suggestions and amendments to my booking without any fuss together with a genuine commitment to addressing the needs of the customer.

The Cruise Package includes accommodation in Buenos Aires and I stayed at the Sofitel Recoleta. This is a lovely hotel in a safe up-market area, from where you will meet the Ponant Agent and confirm your airport transfer the following day.

On departure day you are met by the local agent, baggage is sorted and you are then driven to the airport where assistance is provided to ensure a seamless check-in to the chartered three hour flight to Ushuaia, with LATAM Airlines.

At Ushuaia you are met by the Ponant Agent where luggage is again sorted. I opted for the Tiera del Fuego National Park Bus Tour. This included lunch. I did not enjoy this, the road is unfinished and dust filled the bus to the discomfort of those on-board with some passengers insisting that the air-conditioning be turned off. Common sense did prevail however. In my view the Bus Tour is really a filler to erode time between arrival in Ushaia and embarkation, a very minor gripe and really an observation only.

You are then taken to the pier and welcomed aboard, where drinks are served in the main lounge, keys issued, and following which when you are ready you are escorted to your “cabin”, where your luggage has been delivered.

Among the first and lasting impressions are the luxurious interiors, cleanliness and modernity of the ship, the attentive, friendly but non-intrusive staff and an ambiance which is most likely a function of the small number of passengers, and as this is a somewhat exclusive product, there is then that “je ne sais quoi” permeating the entire experience.

The cabins are should be more accurately described as suites. I stayed mid-ship in Suite 530, on recommendation of the team at the Sydney office. (Thank you Karen and Gina). Mid ship being advantageous if there are big pitching sea’s.

My “suite” was the perfect size, travelling with my son, and is designed for two passengers. I was able to request two single beds, they were probably queen singles, very comfortable, ample storage for all our clothes and suitcases. The separate toilet and bathroom works okay, but is mystery why it is configured in this manner…but it does not matter.

The suite was absolutely spotless and maintained as such throughout the ten days and there was always some tempting french treat awaiting your return in the afternoon.

The Drake Passage’s reputation did not manifest itself on this journey. I believe there may have had up to three metre swells at some point, however regardless of this had there been poor conditions the destination is absolutely worth some mild discomfort, which is easily treated with medication and, dare I suggest, some french champagne.

On, or at a minimum, after day two the bar staff will know your name and be able to anticipate your choice from the very generous variety of refreshments included in the cruise fare. There are some premium selections from the beer, wine, champagne and spirit menu available at additional cost if so desired.

As to attire, the brochures are reflective of, and rightly so, french chic, can I suggest that very neat casual will suffice for most occasions, with a dinner jacket for men, or a suit, and one or two or three smart dresses / pants / jacket for ladies will suffice especially in the main dining room which is a segway to the food on board….it is well, simply put superb.

I chose to eat in the buffet, relaxed and self-service and simply convenient. You may notice the Maître d' photographing the food. This is done at each sitting with those photographs supplied to Head Office to ensure quality control. Simply unheard of I know, but reflective of the attention to detail from Ponant…nothing is left to chance.

Back to the food, I was not a foodie, but have been converted. At every meal there were some regular staples, but with the menu changed daily. This provided an outstanding variety to please even the most jaded gourmet. The variety of french cuisine meant that it was essential to pair wine with my lunch and dinner, it would have been impolite not to do so.

There were at least two soups for lunch and dinner, a selection of meats, and cheeses and salads, not to mention the main courses, and then the desserts which combined ingredients and flavours that I had not considered possible. My advice is to try everything as you can control portion sizes and… bon appetite.

In terms of on-board activities on the “sea days” there is enough to do, this includes the lectures on history, on wildlife and ecology to name but a few which my son and I enjoyed.

My son was the only child aboard, he was made welcome by my fellow travelers and staff and this was reflected when enjoying the numerous shore excursions, which is the reason after all for the journey. Special mention here to Lou, Jorge and Jonathon, our Expedition Leader.

Because Ponant has 199 passengers or less then those passengers can land on the Antarctic Peninsula. To achieve this guests are grouped by language and matched to their guide accordingly. Those groups are then colour coded so as to organise orderly transport to and from the ice. The order is changed on each occasion that an excursion is undertaken, it is published in the daily on-board advice and broadcast across the ships public address system. This ensures minimal wait times.

Ponant’s attention to detail is again evidenced by its dedication to guests safety, and is demonstrated by the minutia of how to get on and off the Zodiac’s right down to how to interact with staff, ie correct hand grip, where to sit (where not to) moving around the Zodiac etc…if you have any concerns about this be re-assured nothing is left to chance, safety is an absolute priority. The on-shore expeditions are able to be undertaken by persons with all levels of physical ability either in full or part thereof, and in lieu of that Ponant will cruise you around the landing sites in the Zodiacs.

So to the landings, due to the size of the ship, there are many opportunities, and the Captain has the flexibility to make the best of those as they arise, so don’t be surprised if there is a deviation. My favourite location was Neko Harbour and the Sea Ice, breath-takingly beautiful and accessible to all levels of ability and fitness. There will also be some surprises ashore.

Those surprises are a team effort led by the Expedition Leader who will on every occasion, conduct the necessary reconnaissance, set up the landing points, mark out the safe routes, greet you on arrival and provide a safety briefing. There is a considerable amount of effort being expended by the crew to create these outstanding experiences.

Those experiences are enhanced by having the correct clothing, I wore one technical layer, ie thermal pants plus waterproof trousers and a thermal top, which you can purchase at any good outdoor equipment supplier, and the supplied Ponant Jacket and Boots. I was never cold, in fact when moving around this generated enough body heat to be comfortably warm, the use of adjustable walking poles to maintain easy balance is absolutely recommended.

I have read some reviews about photographic equipment and, wait for this, the photos attached to this review were taken using a iPhone 4.

Ponant also offer several photographic packages plus a cruise video, and again my recommendation is the purchase these as the imagery captured is going to take your album / scrap book to the next level.

If you have read this far then you’re contemplating Ponant to take you to Antarctica. I cannot overstate my experience it was superb, nothing was left to chance, no detail overlooked, every interaction with crew was positive…so please contemplate no more.

I will be travelling again to Antarctica and I will be travelling with Ponant…I suggest you do also.
Richard 1963’s Full Rating Summary
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Dining
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Entertainment
Cabin
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Cabin Review

Cabin
The cabins are should be more accurately described as suites. I stayed mid-ship in Suite 530, on recommendation of the team at the Sydney office. (Thank you Karen and Gina). Mid ship being advantageous if there are big pitching sea’s.

My “suite” was the perfect size, travelling with my son, and is designed for two passengers. I was able to request two single beds, they were probably queen singles, very comfortable, ample storage for all our clothes and suitcases. The separate toilet and bathroom works okay, but is mystery why it is configured in this manner…but it does not matter.

The suite was absolutely spotless and maintained as such throughout the ten days.