A pianist and singer (and occasionally, a saxophonist) performed before and after dinner in the Main Lounge. Starting around 10:30 p.m. in the Observation Lounge, a second pianist played classical fare. A five-member dance troupe performed several themed contemporary ballets in the ship's theater. Since dance requires no translation, it's an ideal entertainment format on a ship whose passengers don't always speak the same language (and they were very good, for such a small ship). On a couple of nights, the dancers performed in the Main Lounge, encouraging cruisers to mix it up on the dance floor with them.
Onshore activities are included in Tauck's base price. Since ours was an expedition cruise in a remote region with some restrictions, we were divided into four groups that traveled to land (and on open-water jaunts) in 10-person Zodiacs. Le Boreal's 12 naturalist guides accompanied the small groups, enabling Tauck's five tour directors to assume a more behind-the-scenes role.
On expedition cruises such as this one, plans are always shifting, thanks to weather, wildlife sightings, ice and other factors. As a result, our route deviated more than once from the schedule. (As the Tauck staff emphasized, flexibility and patience are key on trips like this.) On most days, there were two outings -- morning and afternoon -- to spots as disparate as a walrus colony on a deserted beach, to a former coal mining town turned international research station.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
On a Tauck cruise, activities center around the itinerary and destination. Expect enrichment, in the form of guest speakers brought on by Tauck or naturalists supplied by Ponant. Evenings after dinner are quiet, even in the Midnight Sun; less than half of the Tauck passengers on our cruise made it to the nightly entertainment.
BBC Earth filmmaker Peter Bassett was on our cruise to present several amusing lectures on his exploits as a globe-trotting nature documentarian. He's one of three BBC filmmakers who sail on some Tauck expedition cruises. He showed some short BBC-produced nature films that were created in partnership with Tauck and are shown exclusively on the tour operator's expedition cruises.
On our cruise, another 12 onboard naturalists working for Ponant were on hand to illuminate on topics ranging from geology to climate change to Arctic wildlife. They accompanied cruisers on shore and offered recaps on what we'd seen and previews of what was ahead. They also carried rifles, per Arctic standards, to protect against polar bears.
In addition, our cruise sailed with five tour directors. Tauck provides one director for every 40 cruisers or so. A delightful bonus: Le Boreal's enthusiastic and affable captain, Etienne Garcia, specializes in polar sailings and delivered informal commentaries from the bridge. Another perk: The bridge was frequently open to passengers. A powerful viewing scope was available to passengers and brought animals, including polar bears, into focus.
Wine, beer and spirits are included in Tauck's tariff. (Cruisers not sailing on a Tauck tour on the Ponant ship also get gratis drinks.) While some premium wines and spirits cost extra, there's a lot of variety on the all-inclusive menu. They include aperitifs like Pimm's, French wines and Champagne, American-made spirits like Jack Daniel's, plus Heineken on draft and a nice selection of liqueurs, including Grand Marnier and Chambord, were available, along with juices, soft drinks, coffee and tea. There's also a cocktail of the day.
The ship's two indoor lounges are central gathering spots, not only for libations but also for evening entertainment.
Main Lounge (Deck 3): This expansive room at the ship's rear is the vessel's central gathering spot. Sofas, chairs and stools are arranged in conversational nooks, but the room serves multiple functions. It's the pre-shore-excursion meeting spot, which on our cruise meant it was frequently full of cruisers tugging on rubber boots and belting on life jackets in preparation for Zodiac trips ashore. Upon returning to the lounge post-excursion, passengers could help themselves to a warm drink, like hot chocolate, mulled wine or soup, depending on the day.
Coffee and tea are always available here, but afternoon tea is a treat, with staff preparing fare such as crepes.
The lounge gets busy before and after dinner, when there's a pianist and a singer performing. The room also has a dance floor.
Observation Lounge (Deck 6): This smaller, horizontal bar and lounge stretches across the ship's bow and is a go-to spot for wildlife viewing. The decor is understated and clubby, with glossy dark-wood floors, and red and white leather-like chairs and sofas positioned to take in the view. It's popular for pre-dinner drinks (choose from 11 aperitifs, among other spirits), as well as after-dinner libations (French digestif, anyone?). A daily specialty cocktail, plus 22 others, are included. There's also a house Champagne. Or splurge and order a flute of Veuve Clicquot with a side of caviar (40 euros (about \$45)). After dinner, a pianist plays classical tunes on the baby grand piano.
Open-Air Bar (Deck 7): A horseshoe-shaped aluminum-topped bar is at the rear of the ship overlooking the pool on Deck 6. It's a cheerfully appointed space with large photos of striped beach cabanas. Wicker-look lounge chairs and cocktail tables appear inviting, but on our Arctic sailing, the bar remained closed.
A small outdoor pool (three or four strokes should get you across) is on Deck 6, aft. It's heated, but on our cold-weather cruise was rarely occupied. Stairs lead from the pool area to a pool bar and sun deck above on Deck 7. There's also a pleasant terrace on Deck 6, forward, off the Observation Lounge.
Reception and excursion desks are on Deck 3. The reception desk was always staffed on our cruise (with a crew member mainly fielding questions about internet access). Since all excursions were included on our Tauck tour, the expedition desk was not staffed.
Complimentary Wi-Fi is included, but connections can be spotty. (Given the remoteness of where we were sailing, that came as no surprise.) The crew posts connectivity status updates at the reception desk.
A pleasant alcove off the Observation Lounge on Deck 6 has a couple of game tables and a chess set and other board games. A small lending library there contains roughly an equal number of books in French and English. Two computers are available for passenger use.
La Boutique on Deck 3 stocks Ponant logoed T-shirts and other apparel. On our Arctic cruise, there was also a selection of cold-weather gear, such as gloves, socks and hats.
Le Studio on Deck 5 displays updates of the latest photos taken by onboard photographers. Passengers can buy individual images or a best-of-trip selection of 300 or so photos stored on a USB stick. An hourlong video of trip highlights is also available for purchase at the end of the sailing.
The ship has no passenger laundry facilities but does provide laundry service for a fee.
The ship's spa on Deck 5 has three treatment rooms and a hair salon. Services include five different facials, plus massages and scrubs. (Spa treatments are not part of Tauck's all-inclusive pricing.) There's also a roomy hammam, but the lack of lockers and changing areas necessitates changing in the adjacent shower room.
A small but well-equipped gym has five stationary bikes and three treadmills that offer spectacular views through floor-to-ceiling windows. A weight machine, stability balls and yoga mats are tucked in an alcove off the main gym.
Although Tauck has no age restrictions on its expedition cruises, children are a rarity. Ponant imposes an age limit of 6 on its expedition sailings. That noted, the ship does have a small kids' lounge on Deck 5 with board games, puzzles, books and video games. However, there's no special children's programming on Tauck expedition cruises.