French Luxury Line Gobbled up by Sandwich Chain -- and Goes All-Inclusive

July 19, 2012

(13:30 p.m. BST) -- French ultra-stylish luxury line Compagnie du Ponant has simultaneously been bought by a sandwich chain and gone all-inclusive in the U.S.

Private equity company Bridgepoint that owns Pret a Manger, the sandwich company, has bought the line, which operates just three ships.

Compagnie du Ponant also announced it would be switching to a simpler fare structure -- for U.S. passengers only -- in which all meals, alcoholic drinks, tips, port charges and even taxes and fees are included in the base price of a voyage.
Among the amenities included in fares will be fully-stocked mini-bars in cabins and 24-hour room service, the company stated. The only extra charges U.S. passengers will have are personal expenses, flights, transfers and optional excursions.

The new policy takes effect immediately with all new bookings and will be offered on all of the company's ships and itineraries.

However, for all other nationalities, the line will not be all-inclusive. A spokeswoman for Ponant explained that this was because the U.S. passengers had to fork out for the air fare and the line did not want to penalize them.

Ponant has recently reduced its fleet recently by selling off two ships: the 3,500-ton, 90-passenger Le Levant went to Paul Gauguin Cruises as Tere Moana in the South Pacific. While the 8,282-ton, 226-passenger expedition ship with an ice classification of 1D, Le Diamant has been chartered to Quark Expeditions, who will rename it Ocean Diamond and sail her in both poles.

The Ponant fleet now consists of three-masted sailing ship, the 850-ton, 64-passenger Le Ponant, and newly-built twin luxury ships, 10-500-ton, 264-passenger L'Austral (pictured above) and Le Boréal. Le Soleal, a third identical ship will come into service next summer.

Bridgepoint, formerly known as Natwest Equity Partners, has investments in the Fat Face clothing chain, Holmes Place and Virgin Active health clubs, and Leeds-Bradford airport.

A joint statement said: "The agreement will offer La Compagnie du Ponant the resources it needs to fulfill its ambitions, maintain its growth momentum and take its international expansion to a new level.”

The cruise line carried 20,000 passengers last year and is aimed at a discerning, upmarket clientele.

--by Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor