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Sail Date: March 2019
First of all, on our many cruises we've never had such a warm and fuzzy crew, we felt like part of an extended family, and it was genuine. The crew actually bids to come back to the same ship because they like being around each other. ... Read More
First of all, on our many cruises we've never had such a warm and fuzzy crew, we felt like part of an extended family, and it was genuine. The crew actually bids to come back to the same ship because they like being around each other. We never witnessed grouchiness or tension among the staff, in definite contrast to the larger cruise ships we've been on in the past. The service was hence over the top. Perhaps it was just our L'Austral crew, but e.g. the front desk ladies were amazing, juggling all day in at least 2 languages, and manning the reception 24/7. Always friendly with a smile, and anything we asked for was done, taken care of or checked on with efficiency. We never felt 'second class' by not being French, and 99% of the French passengers were very friendly once you tried a few words in French.. I think sometimes people get insecure and appear standoffish until you get to know them a little. Due to the itinerary, we had a significant number of Aussies, Germans, Austrians, some Brits, someone from Iceland, and a handful of Americans. Several multilingual passengers, and an unusually high number of solo travelers. That being said, it does help to speak French, since the naturalists, cruise director etc are all native French people, and not every joke or comment can be translated properly into English. All announcements were always in both French and English. The captain was very involved and you seemed to run into him often. He was there, coming in another Zodiac when ours had engine problems, always ready to help out. He navigated that vessel safely and very smoothly. His background is commanding icebreakers, so a transatlantic is probably much easier work for him. Overall recommendations: Although there's 3 elevators, they don't reach everything, for example the marina. Not a good ship for wheelchair, crutches, or walker. Cane may be okay if you can negotiate 1-2 flights of stairs. Currency on board is Euro, but you can settle your account in USD, and if you book a future cruise on board, the quote can be done in either currency. The onboard boutique/store does NOT have sunscreen, nail clippers, antacids... so don't forget those. They have mostly clothing, a few gifts, small amount of jewelry and handbags. Most of the clothing is for use in Antarctica. All high quality (mostly made in France and Germany), and thus pricey. If you wish to leave tips, you have to have cash. Unlike on other cruise ships, where you can add a tip to your bill, you can't do that on Ponant. The services in the spa already include a service charge. Food/drink: Be prepared to gain weight - we felt like Thanksgiving turkeys.. especially the desserts are too delicious to pass up, plus they have daily varying homemade gelato.. ugh. The pastry chef is top notch, French of course. And then the cheeses...! Our ship wasn't full, so during the first 2 weeks, dinner was either buffet on 6, or sit down on 2, and lunch was only buffet. You can always get coffee drinks, croissants and fruit in the main lounge on 3 in the a.m., and coffee/tea with some type of goodie from 4pm-5pm, main lounge as well. Open bar using decent brands, top shelf is extra. Their champagne is pretty good, and on certain occasions, Veuve Cliquot comes out. House wines red/white/rosé are overall decent. If you like beer, you'll be probably disappointed. Mostly Heineken, and e.g. Corona amazingly has to be paid for. Main dishes range from okay to superb - it really depends who's cooking and what. The mostly Indonesian crew is of course best at fish etc, even room service fish was fantastic. The Peruvian carving chef was amazing. Lamb most of the time was awesome. Be aware most of their beef and pork meats (roast, loin etc) are cooked 'rare' and are quite fatty. Room service club sandwich was the best sandwich we've ever had, period. Now if you can't find anything to strike your fancy, just talk to the restaurant head guy or directly to the chefs, they will come up with something for you. Spa/fitness: actually got a haircut, Elsa was very good and took a whole hour, only 65Euro. The hammam looked nice, very hot in there and we were in the tropics, so didn't use. Fitness center looked nice, mostly deserted. The saltwater pool is a decent size for a small ship, due to internal ramp you can't swim laps but it's nice to hang out or tread water. As far as the itinerary - the Brazilian government has now banned all non-Brazilian vessels from anchoring off Fernando de Noronha. It was quite a bummer, but nothing could be done about it. We received 250Euro onboard credit each as a compensation. OB credit can't be used for future cruise deposit, certain visas they arrange for you, or tips as I mentioned above. Since basically everything is already included, we "had to" shop at the boutique, DH got a real Panama Hat and I bought an Icebreaker vest and 2 Breton sweaters, nice souvenirs! Brazil: Rio - loved it and will try to return Paraty - very quaint, difficult walking on cobblestones, not touristy, and no public RR Salvador - broke my heart to see how they let their city deteriorate in so many ways.. even in the public market prostitution was going on. Very sad. Recife/Olinda - Would love to return to see the Olinda Carnaval. We had dancers from Olinda come to the ship to present a show and they were spectacular. Olinda walking tours are quite the workout walking steep hills in high heat and humidity. Guinea-Bissau, Bijagos Islands There was a couple (he French, she Portuguese) who lives on Keré Island, who acted as cultural intermediaries. Our naturalists came from Antarctica and that's where their expertise lies, not Africa, so they did not have much information. Honestly, most of my information was from documentaries I had found online at home, prior to the voyage. The Islands are definitely not touristy (there's rarely a ferry from Bissau), most of the village inhabitants are very reserved and do not interact. It appears they asked a couple of women to put on their 'good dress' and sit by the walking trail, so people could get their selfies with a person from Bijagos. I felt we were being intrusive overall, although I understand they authorized the visit and Ponant helps finance e.g. a water well etc for the villages. If you're a snorkeler/diver, this is not your spot, water murky with very low visibility. Sadly, we saw almost no wildlife, wrong season, normally there are lot of birds, hippos etc. Senegal-Dakar Well, we spent the day at an African family's B&B in Dougar, 45 min E of Dakar, and about 20min from the new airport. We booked through airbnb.com and they reconciled us with Senegal. Before we arrived there, I couldn't get out of Dakar fast enough, between peddlers, noise, the smell of urine, Sahara dust, and traffic insanities... Considering you don't wait in line for anything except the Zodiac embarkations, and the whole ambiance, it's definitely a luxury line and we're glad we chose this trip. Regardless of the itinerary glitches, we enjoyed ourselves and were thoroughly relaxed, so we booked another/ future cruise onboard, which will be on one of the sister ships. Read Less
9 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2018
We chose this cruise because it went to Pitcairn Island and Easter Island from Papeete. We then stayed on for a further 6 days and cruised to Chile. Embarkation at Papeete was shambolic as the Paul Gaugain was also boarding at the same ... Read More
We chose this cruise because it went to Pitcairn Island and Easter Island from Papeete. We then stayed on for a further 6 days and cruised to Chile. Embarkation at Papeete was shambolic as the Paul Gaugain was also boarding at the same time. It appeared that no one from Ponant was present to advise us what we were to do and we were all walking around like sheep. At the disembarkation end it was even worse as we were told there would be taxis once we got out of the terminal and of course there were none, nor did the taxis even come there, so we had to arrange very expensive private transfers after waiting more than an hour for a fabled taxi. Once on board, our cabin was what we expected. It was very clean and our room steward was excellent. The turnaround for laundry, which was free for us as past passengers, was brilliant. Service in the dining room was inconsistent. Sometimes it was good and sometimes not. The service on any gala night seemed to favour those tables which had officers, which seemed to only host French passengers. That said, the wait staff we had were always happy and helpful. The standard of the entertainment is consistently good and the shows are always a highlight. Kamel, the Cruise Director is a huge asset for Ponant. The food is the biggest let down on this ship. In advance of this cruise we were required to produce significant medical evidence of our ability to travel for the last 6 days. From that I would have thought that both I, and my doctor, had made my gluten intolerance very clear. Apparently not. The choice of gluten free food is beyond poor. I raised this at the first opportunity with the head waiter, who then raised it with a very indignant head chef, who effectively dismissed my complaints. To be given a broken piece of toast for breakfast is an absolute insult, given how much this cruise cost. There were no gluten free pastries, not even rice biscuits for the cheese. The room service menu was even more limited. It is not often that I can go on a 3 week holiday, on what sets itself up as a French culinary gastronomy cruise and lose weight, but it happened. The quality of the included wine was very hit and miss. It was all French. Some was acceptable and others were very, very ordinary. The cocktails however were fabulous. The port calls were a bit of a problem, but mainly due to the water conditions. Our captain did a great job to get us to Pitcairn. In other reviews, non French passengers have made the complaint that there appears to be favouritism shown to French passengers and a sense of entitlement. We saw this too. I don't know how many times I was literally pushed out of the way by a person thinking that they had a better right than I did to be in that position in an ordered queue. We had very few landings on this cruise and for our special lunch and performance on Easter Island the French speaking passengers arrived significantly before the English speaking ones and took up the very best positions. We found it so hard to find a spot together so far from the action that it was not worth even bothering to get involved in the show. With so many non French traveling on Ponant this really needs to be addressed. We really did feel like we were getting second best treatment. Overall, if this had been my first cruise with Ponant I would be in no hurry to do another. We have been on two other cruises ( the Kimberley and from New Zealand to Sydney) and they were excellent. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2018
This was the third cruise we have had on le Boreal and L'Austral. All have been excellent, This cruise was to the Sub antarcic Islands from Dunedin via the sounds and ending in Wellington NZ. As the ship was being repositioned from ... Read More
This was the third cruise we have had on le Boreal and L'Austral. All have been excellent, This cruise was to the Sub antarcic Islands from Dunedin via the sounds and ending in Wellington NZ. As the ship was being repositioned from Wellington to Sydney we were offered a free cruise to Sydney. The expedition could not be faulted as the weather and the seas allowed us to land on all the Islands where it is permitted. This we were told was exceptional. Even the cruise across the Tasman was akin to a Manly Ferry trip. We actually landed on both days as per the itinerary at Macquarie Island. Many of the expedition guides visited many times and had never achieved both landings. Some years were impossible to land at all. We also landed on Campbell Is and Enderby Is which were amazing. The entire operation was exceptionally managed and organised and minor tweaks were necessary to avoid some bad weather ahead of us. The Itinerary was completed with only one Zodiac outing cancelled due to unsafe waters over the loading deck at the Antipodese Is. Landing was not allowed there by NZNP's anyhow and it was a Zodiac inspection anyhow. The ship spent some time circumnavigating the islands so we could see the abundant bird life but missed the close up experience penguins and seals which we seen everywhere else. We had seen so many of these previously we didn't really miss much. All in all the entire expedition was amazing.Bio security was adhered to so nothing was conveyed to the Islands that would affect the ecology. Even no fresh food was allowed ashore. Things changed at Wellinton where many passengers left the ship to be replaced by people taking the 4 day cruise to Sydney. Is was to be a no frills cruise but developed into a big swill cruise with many of the new passengers overindulging in the open bar. They were not typical of the many passengers we have met and enjoyed on previous cruises who are mainly interested in the theme of the cruise - expeditions not boozing to excess. The cabins were comfortable and well serviced. As we were repeat passengers laundry was included. Dining was excellent at all meals. We preferred the more casual dining on Deck 6 which is buffet. The staff there were so accomodating and friendly where we found the dining in the formal dining room more formal and patronised by the more affluent wishing to be waited upon. The food is identical. Service is also more formal. There are no set dining periods or allocated seating. It is as you wish during the opening hours. On deck 6 bookings are often required due to popularity particularly if weather permits and as out-door dining is possible it is often extended to poolside. Each day there was a specially prepared dish available on deck 6 prepared by an exceptional chef (Jerome). Roast suckling pig,roast beef and lamb as well as a steak tartar to die for as well as prawns and scallops and many others. These meals are prepared for both lunch and dinner. Soups are always amazing.Wines are provided, red,white and rose at lunch and dinner which are reasonable but the more exclusive wines which are also available are expensive. Entertainment is restricted to 4 females and a male dancer and their performance is excellent.and if weather permits is performed on the pool deck. Otherwise it's in the theatre. For the more physical active a small gym is available to work off the extra weight that is so easy to put on.. Spa and massages are available. The lounges are comfortable and have singers or pianists playing at set times which are always advised in the daily schedule. Lectures are provided most days by one or other of the on-board guides, naturalists and scientists and are always most interesting and appropriate according to the areas being visited. Briefings and weather forecasts (if appropriate) are held before dinner regarding the next day's activities. In the sub-Antarctic they were were more than interesting and always gave us an appreciation of what we may expect be it good or bad. We have always found the cruise/expedition more than good value for money. The fact passenger size is limited to according to the size of the expedition and guides. Generally around 200 plus or minus a few depending upon how many people are permitted ashore which is dictated by the authorities managing the sites. Zodiac transfers are a breeze and access to/from the ship excellently achieved with ships crew amazing. Announcents are in French and English as there are usually more than a few French passengers on board (and they rule). It is after all a French owned ship. We have Been there and done that now three times and we will not travel with any other company based on ship size and passenger service. Many of the passengers and expedition staff formerly travelled or worked on the Orion which has now left Australian shores. 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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