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10 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2017
We wanted a small ship, so 240 passengers and 180 crew fitted. This gave an opportunity for a cabin with a personal balcony. Excellent feature. Cabin was well appointed and everything worked. The trip timetable was constructed around us ... Read More
We wanted a small ship, so 240 passengers and 180 crew fitted. This gave an opportunity for a cabin with a personal balcony. Excellent feature. Cabin was well appointed and everything worked. The trip timetable was constructed around us being on deck for every port berthing, great fun to watch and fascinating to see places we have been from the sea port at entry. Shore excursions were numerous, optional and used all available time in port well. Where we wanted to personalise an excursion this was handled well with onshore arrangements made for us Food was good to sometimes excellent. Restaurant choice, casual or formal worked well. Wine also was good to very good.,Outstanding wine was available for an extra charge. A good idea so we were only charged for the premium level we wanted. Ship activities included lectures (excellent speaker) and fun (quiz, etc) Good gym,small but all equipment types there Electric ship motors meant a smooth and quiet trip. Read Less
11 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2017
21 cruises and 19 years after we first set sail on Radisson's "Song of Flower", which soon became Ponant's "Le Diamant", we at last experienced L'Austral and French hospitality. In the meantime we have ... Read More
21 cruises and 19 years after we first set sail on Radisson's "Song of Flower", which soon became Ponant's "Le Diamant", we at last experienced L'Austral and French hospitality. In the meantime we have sailed on many Seabourn cruises, some Radisson/Paul Gauguin, several Silversea, and a memorable trans-Atlantic trip on Cunard's QM2. We should have joined Ponant years earlier. As we made our way south along the coast of Vietnam, eventually to reach Brunei and Kota Kinabalu, we were delighted to find we again were back in the golden days of cruising; before the vessels were overrun with some of the grumpy non-travellers who have written some of these reviews. First, we were at last free of the structured, dress coded, regimented approach of Seabourn and (to a lesser extent) Silversea. From captain to repair mechanic, nothing was a problem. The elegant French ladies of reception, the restaurant maitre d's, the superb guest relations staff - all were faultless. Now its true that, with delightful Gallic insouciance, some who thought themselves important and could only converse in demands were put down in that delightful French way - service slowed down for example. With half our passengers French for a start, such delicate responses did not happen to many! The food was exceptional. The chef had the pride and the courage to simply offer his best- none of the "branded" marketing which has in the past been pushed at us that the menu is by some American chef unknown to us but apparently revered in his country. Ponant does not splash out on vast ranges of menu items, but instead provides what you would get in a family hotel in France. Good food, well cooked and presented. The sous chef who spent his night on the baguettes, brioches, pain du chocolate, and croissants made breakfast a delight. For the first time ever, the coffee was always equal to the best in Italy (or New Zealand). The tours were fascinating and left on time. They were excellent value, taking us to parts of Vietnam we could not have experienced by simply going ashore. Disembarkation was the smoothest we have ever experienced. Don't go on Ponant if you want a casino, trivia quiz sessions, or the intrusion on your holiday of attempts at mass jollity. Don't go if you think your cabin should be the size of an American hotel room and you intend to spend your time inside it. The compact cabin suites are, like many European hotel rooms, practical bases from which to have your holiday outside them not in them. Intelligent engaged older children would learn much - on this cruise there were none of any kind. Do go if you want quality entertainment like a ballet group of five, a classical pianist, and a singing duo of ability. A captain and crew tuned to your needs, an entertainment director who is a true professional, and a vision of cruising which seeks to provide what you want, not impose their ideas on your holiday. Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2017
Choose your cruise mates the way you choose your food. That’s because chances are the people you cruise with will determine the kind of food served on the ship. And, of course, the kind of companionship and conversation you will ... Read More
Choose your cruise mates the way you choose your food. That’s because chances are the people you cruise with will determine the kind of food served on the ship. And, of course, the kind of companionship and conversation you will enjoy. For example, when up-market travel specialists Abercrombie & Kent USA chartered Ponant’s L’Austral for a Ryukyu Islands cruise from Osaka to Taiwan and Hong Kong, most of those A&K passengers came from the U.S. So A&K arranged with the ship to provide menus and food items that would appeal to Americans – even though some people on that cruise came from other countries. If you had been expecting rich French food and strong cheeses, you might have been disappointed with the more U.S. style of food items on offer – though, of course, their quality and quantity were what you would expect on a good cruise ship. Still, most cruise ship kitchens will respond to reasonable special requests if, in the above case, you had asked for more French style food…or for a strong cheese. Presumably that sort of cuisine was regularly served to at least the senior officers. Re-provisioning on this trip took place whenever the opportunity presented itself – taking on local seafood or fruit, for example. So that was always a treat. While the cruise ship provides the base for all the action – both on the water and on land – people who travel with A&K are looking for adventure experiences. This president's cruise (which turned into a chairman's cruise, reflecting former A&K USA president Phil Otterson's promotion to chairman of the board) certainly delivered – and, as a bonus, included a captain who had been captured along with his crew and ship by Somali pirates. But more about that later. This is an ideal expedition style ship, with just 134 passenger cabins yet with all the comforts and extras you come to expect from a luxury small ship. The balconies are actually wide enough to comfortably fit two chairs and an ottoman. Our itinerary took us to many of the little-known, little-visited Ryukyu Islands stretching away from the southwestern end of Japan’s main islands. The docks could accommodate us, so it was easy to embark and disembark to go ashore to explore the countryside on one of the three excursions A&K offered at each stop. As for the Somali pirate incident, that ship-napping took place in 2008 when Somali pirates fired on and then boarded the sailing ship Le Ponant, under the command of Patrick Marchesseau, now L’Austral’s captain. “It was scary when they came shooting at us with their Kalashnikovs but then it turned into more of a business transaction,” says Marchesseau, who managed to bargain the pirates down to USD$2 million from their original USD$3 million demand. His crew of 30, including seven women who had initially hidden below decks, were released; the captain was held hostage until the money had been paid. French navy helicopters then managed to capture some of the pirates, who had scattered on land, and recovered 20 per cent of the ransom. “When I told my three young daughters about what happened, I said it was like Captain Hook and I was Peter Pan,” said Marchesseau, who lives in Edmonton with his Canadian wife. He was awarded France’s Medal of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and wrote a book about the hijacking. But even if your captain hasn’t been captured by pirates, the bottom line is: think international when you go cruising these days and enjoy more than just your home culture. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2017
We chose the cruise because of a great experience in 2016 Istanbul to Venice aboard Le Lyrial. The ship and crew were excellent.Kamel was full of energy and fun. The food was excellent although some of the menu selections were odd ... Read More
We chose the cruise because of a great experience in 2016 Istanbul to Venice aboard Le Lyrial. The ship and crew were excellent.Kamel was full of energy and fun. The food was excellent although some of the menu selections were odd for an asian cruise. I would like to have been offered some Asian European fusion options. Our prestige stateroom was clean and well appointed but uncomfortably smaller than we had on Le Lyrial. No larger options were available when we booked. The entertainment was very good. Shore excursions were disappointing; millions of busy people on motor bikes are amusing for only so long. Ha Long Bay and Hoi An were the pick of locations visited. The reality does not measure up to the travel brochure pictures and descriptions. Guides were obviosly very knowledgable and proud of their country but commentaries generally too detailed to the extent of being tedious. Better to cover more ground, see more and hear less statistics , data and dates. Embarcation in HK was terrible; mind you the contrast between the clean and welcoming ship and the drab grubby waiting area ashore may have been a cunning ploy. Internet services were poor. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2016
It was a last minute decision to go on a cruise and this was the only one available. We booked two days before embarkation and arrived in Hong Kong the night before departure. The ship was beautiful and the staff very friendly. Although it ... Read More
It was a last minute decision to go on a cruise and this was the only one available. We booked two days before embarkation and arrived in Hong Kong the night before departure. The ship was beautiful and the staff very friendly. Although it is a French speaking ship, English was well catered for, with all crew bi-lingual. Announcements were made in French then repeated in English. This being our first cruise, we cant really make a comparison with other lines but we enjoyed the experience. There were other folk that seemed to be cruising experts and had been on many different boats; they had mixed reviews of our ship and line. One common complaint was that the food on board was not really up to standard for a 5 star cruise line; I agree. There were two restaurants, one buffet and one fine dining. The buffet was average and really only cafeteria standard, the choice was limited and food quite unappealing, with pretty much the same every day. The a la carte was naturally French cuisine and also limited. Quality in the fine dining restaurant was better than the buffet and the wine choice ok. The buffet wines were unacceptably poor quality. Entertainment on board was limited but pleasant, with singers and dancers and a piano player. Personally, I was happy with that level of entertainment and really, it was not a large ship, so one would not expect entertainment extravaganzas. Drinks and all food on board was included in the ticket, which was good. Excepting the wines in the buffet, the drinks selection was really good, with beers and quality spirits included; I like scotch and there was a very acceptable single malt in the choices. Any premium spirits or wines were charged for. Passenger demographic was mainly French with about 25 Americans and 15 Aussies on board. Everyone got on fine and we socialized with all groups. There were not many kids on board but they were very well behaved and the crew catered to and entertained them. I would guess the average age on board was around 45 - 50, hence, no disco....thank God. We have discovered that we like cruising, so we will go again soon and would very likely choose a Ponant cruise. Read Less
10 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2015
We picked a French ship, Ponant's l'Austral because her schedule it perfectly with our land tour in Japan afterwards. And then, we are always up for new experiences. We, that is my husband and I in our late 60ies. Before the ... Read More
We picked a French ship, Ponant's l'Austral because her schedule it perfectly with our land tour in Japan afterwards. And then, we are always up for new experiences. We, that is my husband and I in our late 60ies. Before the cruise, we stayed 4 nights in Hong Kong on our own and afterwards, we joined a land tour with UniqueJapan. We took L’Austral from Hong Kong to Tianjin (Bejing) and continued on to Osaka from March 20 to April 6th. It was our first time on a Ponant ship. After about 17 previous cruises with 9 different lines, l’Austral was a different experience - luxury lite on an expedition ship. Embarkation Embarkation was a cinch! (So was disembarkations) Never had it so easy and fast, but it started only at 4 p.m. in the large shopping mall that serves as Hong Kong’s old cruise terminal for smaller ships. We dropped off our luggage at 2 p.m. and came back at 4 p.m. The waiting room in Hong Kong’s terminal is not comfortable, no need to hang out there. At the entrance of the ship, the captain greeted us, good beginning! Ship and Cabin The ship has a very stylish clean line décor, no promenade deck. Unfortunately, we could rarely use the outside decks due to the foggy and cool weather. We had cabin 319 which looked chic at first sight but turned out to be very tight for two people. The desk and TV at the end of the bed led to traffic jams. The cabins on other ships usually have a wall at the end of the bed which serves as a corridor from the balcony to the hallway door. On a positive note, the furniture provided deep drawers for our stuff. In addition, the beautiful white upholstered closet doors opened wide and had more drawers, hanging space, a safe, and … blocked the bathroom doors when opened. We are not upset by the separation of shower/sink and toilet cubicle. It is common in Europe and in Japan. We also loved the l’Occitanie amenities. Our cabin had a balcony with enough space for a small table and two comfortable chairs. No view while you are seated because of the chest high solid metal wall. After all it is an expedition ship that often sails in extreme southern and northern waters. Crew The hotel staff was their usual smiling selves, many from the Philippines. All of them awesome. Most days we picked a table with our favorite Balinese waiters. Great service! Energetic, friendly, warm, and well organized cruise director Kamel and hotel director Christian were bilingual English/French and made a great effort to accommodate Anglophone passengers as did the captain digging out his best English. None of the officers and staff was ever seen favoring French passengers as was mentioned in a previous review. The Bridge was open to visitors, a nice touch found rarely on other ships I know. The front desk is staffed by friendly young ladies, mostly on top of things. Be aware of those French passengers who pretend they have never heard of lining up. The excursion desk is overwhelmed by requests, questions and bookings because it is not possible to book excursions online before the cruise. Come on, Ponant, move into the 21st century! We filled out the booking form at home, printed it and gave it to the excursion staff. Tickets for excursions were brought to the cabin the night before the excursion. I prefer an envelope with all excursions tickets on my desk at the beginning of a cruise. Passengers In the first segment of our b2b, several grouchy French passengers made it known that the presence of Anglophones in their territory was unwelcome. The excursion staff was so embarrassed that they apologized and gave back the money to one Australian group. In the second segment, smiling French joined us as well as enough English speaking passengers to fill most excursion busses with one language group. In this segment, everybody was willing to use headphones to listen to the guide in their language. Since I speak French and actually love France, I was able to initiate conversations with francophone passengers. By the way, many of them spoke English, but they did not initiate conversations. Obviously, it does not come as easily to them as to the Australians who made up the majority of English speakers. We had a handful of Americans with the remainder of the English speakers made up by Scandinavians, Dutch, Flemish Belgians, and Germans. Passengers dressed casually, not sloppy, similar to Oceania's country club dress code. There were two gala dinners per cruise where gentlemen wore jacket and tie; women wore elegant dresses or pant suits, no ball gowns. Food Expectations are high for a French ship and indeed, the food selections are French. Excellent baguette varieties, French cheese, nice desserts, very good salads the way I remember them from the offerings of delicatessens (traiteurs) in French resort towns. The individual dishes are mostly very good and tend to be on the small side, but the sequence of several courses leads to plenty of calories for all gourmets and gourmands. My favorite wines with lunch and dinner were Australian. We never splurged on the high end French wines that could be had at additional cost. The sommelier was available. Our waiter told us that with the arrival of American Tauck groups, the executive chef will add hamburgers, prime rib and Cesar Salad. I very much liked the duck and boar we occasionally had on our menu. The lamb from New Zealand was also excellent. Entertainment and Enrichment The Cuban singer could really sing and was entertaining! Best singer on any ship so far. The Ukrainian piano player was extraordinary. The dancers were as good as on other ships, their program charming and corny at the same time. We missed most of the daytime programs which were plentiful for such a small ship. Instead, I picked a few appealing books from the small library after having finished my Qiu Xialong novels. The China segment of the cruise was themed: the French magazine Paris Match. I left the theater after five minutes of listening to them touting their own horn. Paris Match had done article series on Mao and China. I think I remember one from ~ 30 years ago. The enrichment speaker on China was a nice gentleman with unfortunately limited English pronunciation skills. I did not mind since his program was providing really good information and he was engaging. On the Korea/Japan segment, the speaker was a lady for whose style of presentation I did not care. In my opinion she lacked warmth and organization which was difficult for me to tolerate in combination with a strong French accent. If Ponant wants to break into the Anglophone market, they should hire more accomplished speakers. Maybe their naturalists are much better. On the other hand, I have heard utterly boring enrichment speakers on other ships with perfect English. Conclusion Would I sail with Ponant again? The review questionnaire asked. I would perhaps if the itinerary were unusual and perfect for such a small ship (~ 200 passengers). Maybe I would go to the Australes island group southeast of Tahiti on the ship named l’Austral. Nobody else stops there on the way to Pitcairn. This cruise starts in Papeete, passes Pitcairn with a chance of debarkation and ends on Easter Island with guaranteed debarkation. Ponant also offers itineraries I have never seen anywhere else, such as the ocean north of the Aleuts. Go for it! Ports and Excursions China Xiamen, our excursion went to Gu Lang Yu, charming little island, weekend goal for the Chinese from the Hinterland. Gu Lang Yu used to be one of the foreign ports. Remnants from that time are some villas, a piano collection, two churches with lots of opportunities for wedding photos, several former embassies in various states of disrepair. The lucky ones are restaurants. Lovely guide. Shanghai, two nights and a real bonus for a small ship: We sailed into the center of the city and docked only 10-15 walking minutes from the Bund. Excursions offered were the usual Shanghai highlights, a trip on the superfast Maglev train, a water village and Suzhou. Dalian, the most interesting excursion included a visit with a Chinese family in their apartment. Tianjin, best excursion and best guide was to Bejing as reported by other passengers. We did not go since we had been there 9 months ago and wanted to avoid the long bus ride. Korea Incheon, best excursion was ‘all day in Seoul’ including 7 course Korean feast. Lots of seafood! Great guide. Jeju Island, visit to woman divers and to a beautifully landscaped bonsai garden Japan Japan offered the most advantages for a small ship. Our small ports thought we were the apple of their eye, offering gifts to passengers, drummers, dancers, and flowers for the captain, fireworks. Each port did something different and each had the press and TV present, even big Osaka. Ports: Hakata, Beppu, Iwakuni, Una Ko, Osaka Excursions included hot springs, a monkey mountain, historic homes, downtowns, shrines and museums as well as Hiroshima. We were there at the peak of cherry blossom time, just wonderful. Read Less
L'Austral Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 5.0 4.3
Dining 4.0 3.9
Entertainment 4.0 3.6
Public Rooms 5.0 4.3
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.8
Family 3.0 3.8
Shore Excursion 4.0 4.4
Enrichment 2.0 4.1
Service 3.0 4.5
Value For Money 4.0 3.9
Rates 3.0 4.1

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