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6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2017
This cruise was chosen as a celebratory event for a 50th wedding anniversary and was chosen because it had an art theme. It also had an interesting itinery and the cruise dates fitted in with the dates to visit family in Sweden during ... Read More
This cruise was chosen as a celebratory event for a 50th wedding anniversary and was chosen because it had an art theme. It also had an interesting itinery and the cruise dates fitted in with the dates to visit family in Sweden during their summer holidays. The features included special excursions to coincide with the Venice Biennale with open tickets to the evnts whilst in Venice. The cruise had attendance of some art specialists from the international firm of Christies and this provided interesting insights into the bsuiness world of collectable art assets. The food was well balanced with some specialties such as fresh oysters and calamari at selected ports. The excursions were led by very competant guides and with the exception of being placed in a french speaking group (an issue that was rectified at the first rerst stop) the information and content was very interesting. In Dubrovnik we were treated to some excellent singing in the Rector's palace by a local group of male acapella singers known as the Klapa Subrenum singers. The Adriatic was at peace during the whole trip and the ship was very quiet being electrically propelled. Passing though the Corinth canal was a treat and worth a special mention in case the choice of ship size is important. The small ship format was importnant to us as we had only cruised twice previously ( on the Orion under Australian waters and SS Catherine on the Rhone river cruise with Uniworld) and so prefered the more intimate and casual style which we were happy with. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2017
Weboarded in Stockholm after a three day stay there, we met the ship at the address stated on our paper work, we were greeted by the captain ( a very dry and funny guy) they're still looking for my luggage ( just joking) his crew who ... Read More
Weboarded in Stockholm after a three day stay there, we met the ship at the address stated on our paper work, we were greeted by the captain ( a very dry and funny guy) they're still looking for my luggage ( just joking) his crew who were absolutely fantastic. We had a cabin on deck 6 which was close to the main dining area, perfect for us. We chose the starboard side but in hindsight it wouldn't matter which side of the boat you're on when travelling through the Fjords the scenery was fabulous. Dining was in two areas, the formal and not so formal and both areas had everything covered, the food was sensational and a want for nothing, the food varied always with wonderful breads and desserts, the wines with the meals were just right and if one wanted something more special that was also available at a price. The room service incase one slept in for lunch or dinner was also fabulous. The bars, which I think there were 3, are fantastic the bar tenders super knowledgable and speak multiple languages of course the cocktails were included in the fare so why not a Bloody Mary at 10 am and Pisco sours in the afternoon. The entrainment on the ship was a bit lame and boring it would have been nice if they had a dinner dance or if the musicians who played on the boat separately could have joined together in a band, I felt that the musicians and the opera singer were only there for their own holiday and a fill in. ( my opinion and really need to do some work on it) In the morning there were yoga classes and some dance classes which were fun the teachers had a great sense of humour. We didn't elect to go on any tours as we like to do our own thing when getting to port which was fine for us as we didn't miss the great lunches or cocktails!!! We didn't hear any complaints from people who did go on the tours, passengers weren't given the big sell and we felt very comfortable. The service we received on the ship was absolutely fantastic from George the cabin steward to the ships captain everyone was so obliging. Our cruise quite a mix of race of passengers mostly French who I might add were lovely and we tried to converse regularly, The ship was near capacity at 240 passengers and 142 crew - in my world - perfect - plenty of room to move around no one in each others pockets. I loved every minute of this cruise except for the so called world famous opera and the lame musicians, Please do something so that people can dance after dinner to reasonable music. My wife loved the yoga and dance classes All in all a fabulous time Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2017
We wanted to cruise around Norway. Also we had cruised with Seabourne and Silverseas and we decided to try a cruise with Ponant We enjoyed the cruise and found the atmosphere great and staff very friendly. This came all the way down ... Read More
We wanted to cruise around Norway. Also we had cruised with Seabourne and Silverseas and we decided to try a cruise with Ponant We enjoyed the cruise and found the atmosphere great and staff very friendly. This came all the way down from the Captain who was remarkably attentive seeing us off and welcoming us from onshore excursions. The entertainment on the boat was excellent and the shore excursions were well chosen with excellent guides. We found the food on board adequate but it lacked variety. Also there was insufficient fresh local content. There were wonderful fresh berries in The market in Bergen yet we were never offered these berries for breakfast. Similarly we were not offered the varieties of fish, particularly herrings available onshore. The wines offered with meals were mediocre. I found this surprising on a French boat. It is true that I could have purchased better wine but I believe that if you serve good quality meals the wine should be of equal quality without the need to pay extra for a decent bottle of wine. At times the service in the restaurant on the sixth floor was poor. There were not enough waiters allotted to this restaurant and consequently water glasses were not replenished and used plates were not taken away in a timely fashion. My only other comment is in regard to the lectures on Scandinavia given during the cruise. I felt that these could have been improved. The images were difficult to see and the talk was not well organized Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2017
Solely because of the itineraries and the size of the ship. We had always wanted to visit Norway, the islands of the North Atlantic and Iceland. The two back to back cruises provided a wonderful introduction the the geography and history ... Read More
Solely because of the itineraries and the size of the ship. We had always wanted to visit Norway, the islands of the North Atlantic and Iceland. The two back to back cruises provided a wonderful introduction the the geography and history of this part of the world. The insight into Viking history and culture was especially interesting. The ship was very comfortable and the hotel staff were excellent. Unfortunately we found that the reception staff, although uniformly charming, often gave conflicting information, especially about excursions, The English language skills were sometimes poor. This led us to be stranded in Bergin but fortunately the tour guides saved the day. The majority of the excursions were excellent but the practice of putting the minority non-French speakers at the back of the buses with variable methods of delivering an intelligible commentary became a little tedious. If Ponant is serious about expanding its non French speaking customers it should consider these issues. 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
8 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2017
My husband and I chose to travel on L'Austral with Tauck because we enjoy Tauck's level of service, and liked the idea of the small ship experience. I had done quite a bit of research on Ponant and L'Austral specifically, ... Read More
My husband and I chose to travel on L'Austral with Tauck because we enjoy Tauck's level of service, and liked the idea of the small ship experience. I had done quite a bit of research on Ponant and L'Austral specifically, and felt that we were well-informed on both the pros and the cons for this particular line and ship. I'm going to divide this review into two sections, the first dealing solely with our experiences on L'Austral, and the second touching on aspects that were primarily Tauck-controlled. L'Austral: Embarkation in Osaka was seamless, with our luggage waiting in our cabin. The cabin itself was compact, with space to move around the bed, but not much more. The shower and vanity and separate toilet cubicle were similarly compact, but perfectly adequate. Toiletries were L'Occitane. Beds were comfortable, bedding of good quality but not luxurious. There were several types of bottled water on a tray, and a small refrigerator with an assortment of alcohol and soft drinks. We liked our cabin, were happy that we had the balcony, and thought our room steward was friendly, efficient, and gave great service. There was plenty of room under the beds for our suitcases. For the most part, we used the main dining room. We ate one lunch at the buffet restaurant, but overall preferred coming back to the ship and being served by our (very welcoming)favorite waiters. The dining room decor was quietly elegant, the chairs and banquettes very comfortable, and the noise level low enough that it was easy to converse with your table mates without raising your voice. Breakfast was a combination of buffet and made to order items. The buffet tended to have the same assortment every day, with some variation in the available fresh fruit, and some of the made to order options. The breakfast pastries were very good, and obviously made fresh--we enjoyed those a lot! The lunch and dinner menus had choices for soup, starters, sides and dessert, and for the main course a choice of meat, fish or vegetarian option. The quality of the food ranged from average (some overcooked fish) to very good, with the majority being more towards the "very good" end of the range. However, for people who may have been expecting the variety and selection of some of the larger cruise lines, the food may have been a bit of a disappointment. Having read some of the negative reviews of the food on the Ponant ships, we were frankly surprised and relieved at how good it was. Portion sizes were European rather than American, which also pleased us. We did not go to any of the shows since those started at 9:30, and after a full day of touring, having frequently left the ship by 8:15am, after dinner we usually headed for our cabin to relax and prepare for the next day. We did see the dancers and two of the singers in the lounge during the cocktail hour, and thought that the little mini-shows were entertaining--but not entertaining enough to make us stay up long enough to attend the longer shows! The level of service from the majority of the staff was excellent: the waitstaff and room stewards were warm, friendly, and couldn't do enough for you. As an example, one of the people with whom we usually shared a table had a real weakness for chocolate--I think he had a chocolate dessert for every lunch and dinner--and one evening there was no chocolate dessert on the menu. Without saying a word, our waiter went to the kitchen and came back to the table with a mini-sundae with chocolate ice cream and cookies for our table mate. The women in reception were efficient, but not especially warm or helpful. Their coolness was especially noticeable since everyone else in a customer-facing position was so engaging. L'Austral is a small ship, but the public spaces are very pleasant, especially considering the fact that she is really an expedition ship, not a luxury cruise vessel. We hit some rough weather on our first night at sea, and while there was certainly quite a bit of motion that night, aside from that she was very comfortable, and didn't seem to be doing too much bobbing around. Tauck: For this particular cruise the Tauck passengers were divided into 4 groups of approximately 30-35, for a total of 120-140 total. This meant that the Tauck-ies constituted a majority of the passengers. I did wonder how this impacted the cuising experience of the other passengers, which, as nearly as I can remember, were a mixture of American, Australian, New Zealanders and about 20+/- French. My understanding is that next year Tauck will have 6 groups, which will effectively be the entire ship. There will also be some other changes in the tour, which this year began with 3 days in Kyoto, and next year will be based out of Osaka, with only a single day trip to Kyoto. We were happy that we were able to go this year, since we loved our time in Kyoto, and would hate to have missed it. As always, the Tauck tour director for our group of 30+ was wonderful, and kept us moving while still allowing for individual exploration and experiences. Our local guides were mostly excellent, and provided context and some nice extras, such as teaching us songs, playing counting games using Japanese numbers, and origami. Our hotel in Kyoto was the Granvia, situated on top of Kyoto Station. Two of the tour groups were based here, and the other two were at the Westin, and we had very little contact with them. The Granvia was a wonderful location, with underground shopping and restaurants, a department store, and easy access to both buses and subways which could take you to any part of the city. Kyoto site seeing: Kinkakuji(covered in gold leaf), the Pure Water Temple, Gion, a taiko performance, a calligraphy lesson, and a tea ceremony, Nijo-jo (where we heard the famous "nightingale floors"), a Heian shrine, and a welcome dinner which included a Geisha performance. I'm not sure how much of this will be included next year, but I would have hated to miss any of it. The first port after Osaka/Kobe was Tamano. Our group caught a ferry to Naoshima Island where famous architect Tadao Ando designed Benesse House and where other houses in the village have been incorporated into a living art project. In the afternoon we visited Kurashiki which has many 17th century warehouses built along canals, and the Ohara Museum of Art. The next port was Hiroshima, where we visited the Peace Park Memorial and museum, as well as the iconic A-Bomb Dome. This was a pretty intense and emotional morning, so as a way of shifting gears, we were taken for lunch to an okonomiyake restaurant, which was truly delicious. In the afternoon we visited Miyashima Island to see the Itsukushima shrine with its beautiful red gate surrounded by the ocean, and where the deer are protected and will eat the paper right out of your pockets. Uwajima was next, where we visited a pearl farm, saw a farm where bulls are raised for fighting, and visited the Flying Squirrel Temple. Kagoshima--We visited the base of Sakurajima, an active volcano, and the Chiran Kamikaze Museum, where we saw the bunkers that the suicide pilots spent their last night and read their last letters home. We also visited Chiran Samurai village, where there are houses that date back over 250 years, and in some cases still have the original families living in those houses. Nagasaki--In the morning we visited the Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum. The museum was very well done, and we actually preferred it to the Hiroshima Museum. In the afternoon we visited Dejima, which was the enclosed enclave that was the only place Dutch traders were allowed to live during much of the Edo period. We also visited Glover Garden, built in the mid-1800's for a Scottish physician, and containing the oldest Western style house in Japan. The next day took us to Pusan in South Korea where we visited the United Nations cemetery and memorial to the UN troops who died in the Korean War. We also took a trip to the Jagalchi fish market, where we saw fish that looked like something out of an Alien movie. Sakaiminato--In the morning we travelled to the Adachi Museum of Art, which has a wonderful collection of modern art, but where the real attraction are the incredible gardens around the museum. Every window in the museum frames another gorgeous view and viewpoint. In the afternoon we visited the Matsue black castle which is one of only 12 remaining original castles in Japan. Most of us climbed the 8 stories after having our photos taken with a samurai posing front of the castle. The next day we disembarked, which was a very smooth process, and were bused to Kyoto where we had lunch in a restaurant in the Gion district before we were taken to Kyoto Station to catch the bullet train to Tokyo. The bullet train was a great experience, and as a bonus, we got a superb view of Fujiyama on the way. Our Tokyo hotel was the Shangri-La, which was everything luxury hotel should be. We were taken on a brief orientation tour of Ginza, and then set loose to enjoy dinner on our own. Our last day of the tour began with a trip to the Senso-Ji Buddhist temple, a visit to the Edo-Tokyo Museum (which really needed an entire day to itself to do it justice)and was followed by a "salaryman's lunch" at a wonderful restaurant. In the afternoon about half of the group, including my husband and myself, opted out of visiting the scheduled Meiji Shrine and chose to sightsee or shop on our own. That evening was the closing dinner at Happo-en which featured a demonstration by sumo wrestlers. As long as this review is, in terms of the Tauck portion of the cruise, I've really only given the barest outlines of what we did and experienced. Although there was some free time scheduled, for the most part we were kept moving. There seemed to be a larger than usual percentage of people in their mid-70's to mid-80's, and I believe that some of the people on the tour found the pace a bit taxing. My DH and I are in our early 60's and found the pace and activity level to be pretty much what we enjoy. How this compared to what the non-Tauck L'Austral cruisers experienced on their excursions, I have no idea, and I'm afraid I have no information on the quality of the excursions offered by L'Austral. Overall it was an excellent trip. We loved Japan, found the Japanese people to be warm, friendly and very helpful, and wouldn't hesitate to go back. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2017
Our reason for choosing this cruise was 2 part. Small Ship & New Horizons. This leg involved joining the ship at Valparaiso, Chile continuing to Guayaquil, Ecuador. French food was an added attraction. As 2 people in our 70's we ... Read More
Our reason for choosing this cruise was 2 part. Small Ship & New Horizons. This leg involved joining the ship at Valparaiso, Chile continuing to Guayaquil, Ecuador. French food was an added attraction. As 2 people in our 70's we do not try to do the impossible, and the excursion choices allowed us to stay within our limits without difficulty. For example, on this leg we chose the Flight over the Nasca Lines excursion, but passed on the Macchu Picchu excursion because of the altitude. The on ship lectures were generally good, as they varied between being delivered in French and English languages, but the slides etc had subtitles, so worked well. Ports and Shore excursions were well organised, and a ship representative travelled on the excursions at all times to smooth the way. Worked well. The small ship also has a benefit at many locations as it berthed at really convenient locations compared to larger ships which we observed along the way. Crew interaction with PAX a all times was really good. For example we had casual coffee with all deck officers at various times. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: February 2017
My dad was stationed in New Caledonia during WW II and I grew up sorting shells he brought home and later looking at his scrapbooks. I was delighted to see it firsthand. Vanuatu was a bonus and turned out to be a highlight. The shore ... Read More
My dad was stationed in New Caledonia during WW II and I grew up sorting shells he brought home and later looking at his scrapbooks. I was delighted to see it firsthand. Vanuatu was a bonus and turned out to be a highlight. The shore excursions were excellent, especially the ports in Vanuatu. Being exposed to different cultures is important to me and the islands seemed very authentic and much more exotic than I expected. My only criticism was the use of the naturalists. On other cruises we have always enjoyed lectures by professors and experts on the area, that included historians as well as naturalists. Some of the lectures were quite good, others were almost insultingly basic. And there was almost no information given about the history of the islands and their place in the world today. I also would have appreciated more information on the people of the islands from an anthropologic viewpoint. With a couple of exception, the naturalists were not very visible on the excursions, it would have been good to have more direct contact with them. One of the things I appreciated most was the organization on board, you did an excellent job at that, from the lifeboat drills on. The food was quite good in the second floor restaurant, not so much on the 6th floor. But the wait staff was terrific. We also had contact with the medical staff, sadly, but they were very responsive and helpful Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2017
We selected the Ponant cruise to the NZ sub-Antarctic and Macquarie Island because it promised visits to places rarely seen yet in typical Ponant luxury. It isn't a cruise for wimps - we experienced Force 12 gales, difficulties in ... Read More
We selected the Ponant cruise to the NZ sub-Antarctic and Macquarie Island because it promised visits to places rarely seen yet in typical Ponant luxury. It isn't a cruise for wimps - we experienced Force 12 gales, difficulties in landing from Zodiacs and a slight mishap with an uncharted rock that necessitated a visit to Bluff for repairs. Yet throughout we saw interesting sights and were given expert briefings and debriefings by experts that complemented the care and attention of the Captain and crew who ensured our safety and kept us informed on weather and other factors that affected the program. (It can't have been fun standing in icy water for hours to ensure we landed and re-embarked safely!). The bird life and wildlife seen were highlights as promised in the advertisement that informed us of this rare cruise (only about 400 people a year visit these islands - far fewer than visit Antarctica). As on a previous cruise, the food and catering was excellent and cabins comfortable, if a little cramped. Hospitality staff were unfailingly cheerful and helpful. This was achieved despite dealing with a polyglot clientele of French, Anglo and Oriental passengers. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2017
This cruise was to the Sub-Antarctic islands. The voyage had some unexpected challenges for the Captain and the expedition team ably led by Mick Fogg. The ship and the expedition team worked closely to meet these developments and so ... Read More
This cruise was to the Sub-Antarctic islands. The voyage had some unexpected challenges for the Captain and the expedition team ably led by Mick Fogg. The ship and the expedition team worked closely to meet these developments and so achieve the best outcome for the passengers who were always kept fully informed. The zodiac crew worked well, often in very challenging weather conditions. The Captain is to be commended for regularly mixing with passengers on deck and in public rooms. Looking at the ship itself, our cabin steward (Agus) on Deck 4 gave excellent service. The talks given by the onboard lecturers were all exceptionally good and importantly outside of that the speakers made themselves available to chat informally with passengers in the public rooms. In regard to the dining arrangements, there were more self-service buffet style meals in the Deck 2 restaurant than we had expected; the impression had been given that it would be table service throughout except for the first course at breakfast where it is obviously preferable for people to serve themselves. Sometimes but not always at breakfast stewards would circulate with menus for those wishing to have a hot dish - it might be better to have small cards on each table listing the options for them to choose? At lunch for some reason the presentations of the cold entrée options and the desserts were placed side by side when it would have been better had they been separated so as to avoid confusion. Desserts did not appear to vary much from day to day. On the other hand the dinners were full table service and here the stewards worked well as a team. In the main lounge it was surprising that tea and coffee were on a self-service basis whereas counter service could have been more appropriate for a ship of five-star category. Similarly, on other ships of this category, cakes and sandwiches are displayed on a central table and after making their selection passengers move to tables where stewards serve tea. It was noticeable that a tray of cakes was only available at the counter - moreover the selection and its presentation remained identical for the entire 15-day voyage when some variety might have been expected. Also, passengers trying to juggle cups of tea and plates of cake with the rolling/pitching of the ship was not a good look. Read Less
26 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2016
Antarctica had been on my bucket list for years, and I finally made that dram a reality in December 2016. It was an amazing voyage, and lived up to the high expectations I had planted in my mind. Travelers should realize that when you ... Read More
Antarctica had been on my bucket list for years, and I finally made that dram a reality in December 2016. It was an amazing voyage, and lived up to the high expectations I had planted in my mind. Travelers should realize that when you cruise to Antarctica, you really only visit the tip of the Antarctic peninsula, not the great mass of the continent to which only intrepid explorers and crazy people go. Some cruises sail from Ushuaia just to the peninsula and back, usually over the course of 10-12 days. I wanted to take a longer, 16-day, cruise that included the Falklands and South Georgia island. Why Ponant? I was looking for a combination of itinerary, comfort, cuisine and cost, and it appeared that Ponant scored high on all categories. I'm sure that Silversea's offering is wonderful, but they were much more expensive. Hurtigruten was less costly, but they fall short in the comfort and cuisine areas. Ponant, which has only been actively marketing to Americans for two years or so, seemed to have the right balance. The Le Soleal is a new ship with comfortable cabins, an attentive and helpful crew, excellent food and the perfect itinerary. The French connection was another plus. My wife speaks French fluently, but she gets rusty from disuse and was savoring the idea that she would be able to hear and speak French for 2 1/2 weeks straight. The Cabin: Most of the cabins on Le Soleal have balconies, but I intentionally chose one of the few cabins with only a big window. Why? Because I simply didn't think I'd use the balcony very much in Antarctica. What's more, my cabin (#302) was exactly the same size as the others, except that their 30 square feet of balcony was a 30 square foot sitting area in mine. I don't regret the decision. Beyond that, the cabins were just fine. . . nothing opulent, but well-equipped and quite comfortable. A quick digression: The trip I booked was "all-inclusive" and included wine, liquor and gratuities. The mini-fridge in the cabin was stocked with sodas, water, beer and a few mini-bottles of booze, all complimentary. That was nice. But elsewhere in the cabin was an assortment of what I recall were crackers and cookies, that you were welcome to consume for several Euros each. They simply didn't fit the nom de plume "all-inclusive". I had my cabin steward remove them on the first day. Embarkation day was a disaster, most of which was NOT Ponant's fault. An eight hour strike by the baggage handlers on the day of our departure resulted in dozens of passengers missing luggage for a week, and a few of us (including me) missing luggage for the entire cruise. Ponant's senior crew and their on-shore representatives did a horrible job that day communicating with affected passengers. We were given little information and much of what was communicated was wrong. I - and many others - spent a couple of hours just before departure scouring stores in Ushuaia for socks, underwear, pants, shirts,hats, gloves, toothpaste, razors, etc. (I learned that the only place to buy underwear in Ushuaia is the grocery store.) I have to give Ponant a lot of credit. After the initial luggage SNAFU, Ponant got their act together, stepped up and bent over backwards to assist those of us without our bags. They defrayed our on-shore expenses, provided clothing items from the shop on board as well as from the crews' clothing outlet in the bowels of the ship, and gave us complimentary laundry service. They even planned and successfully executed a rendezvous six days later with another Ponant ship which enabled most of the delayed luggage to be reunited with its owners on Le Soleal. Dining on Le Soleal was excellent. There are two restaurants on Le Soleal. L'Eclipse on Deck 2 is full-service while Le Pytheas on Deck 6 is buffet and less elegant. Both were outstanding with lots of choices. I was especially impressed with the produce on board.. Remember that this was a 16 day cruise with no opportunity along the way to resupply the kitchen. Nonetheless, the fruits and salads were always excellent. Granted, as the days wore on, kiwi and bananas disappeared, and a few days later we had no more lettuce. But there was little else missing. Ponant did an outstanding job providing fresh, tasty produce throughout the cruise. Language. The passenger compliment on Le Soleal was probably 50% or more French speaking European, with the other half a mish-mash of Aussies, Americans, Asians, etc. Announcements were almost always given in both French and English. Efforts were often made (on Zodiac rides, eg., and some lectures) to have the entire group English speaking or French speaking. It was sometimes cumbersome, but necessary. (If you would prefer a totally English-speaking passenger compliment, Abercrombie & Kent, Tauk, and other companies sometimes charter the entire ship for an English-only experience.) Most passengers were quite friendly and outgoing, and I got to know and spend lots of time with many wonderful fellow travelers from around the world. I truly hope and expect that some of those relationships will endure. Daily and nightly entertainment on board were pianists and lounge singers who performed often in the lounge and observatory. Le Soleal also had a troop of young, very flexible and energetic dancers (four girls and a guy) who performed several creative and high-energy, productions in the theater. We also made out own entertainment. Kudos to Patrick, our cruise director. When several of us lobbied Patrick to schedule one or two karaoke nights, he happily complied, and we had a great time singing, dancing and making karaoke fools of ourselves. Excursions. All the above is nice, but the main reason travelers come to Antarctica is to see and walk among the wild life. And we did that in spades! There were thirteen naturalists on board. All of them were good and some were truly excellent. They were experienced, knowledgeable and willing to share with the passengers. The large fleet of Zodiacs on board was adequate to the task and Ponant had a well-trained crew to safely and efficiently get us where we needed to go. The wildlife is incredible! We saw, up close and personal, eight species of penguins, including a nesting colony of some 400,000 King Penguins on South Georgia Island. We saw what has to be the most photographed bird in Antarctica: a single, solitary Emperor Penguin on an ice shelf in Wilhelmina Bay, some two hundred miles or more from where most of the rest of the Emperors were congregating. The whale watching on this cruise was, by far, the most incredible I've ever seen. We observed Fin Whales, Minke Whales and even a rare Blue Whale. We watched a couple pods of Orca Whales. But the stars of the sea were the Humpback Whales. They were all around us, often only a few feet away from the Zodiac, lunge feeding, flipper-flapping, and, of course, proudly displaying their tails as they dove back under the surface. They were magnificent! Bottom Line: This cruise was just about everything I had hoped it would be. I would highly recommend Ponant and Le Soleal to anyone considering a cruise to Antarctica. 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
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2016
The itinerary was for a few days on Pitcairn and Easter Island, which is not possible with large ships. So small ships are the way to go. the food was divine and the entertainment excellent. the cruise director made cry non french ... Read More
The itinerary was for a few days on Pitcairn and Easter Island, which is not possible with large ships. So small ships are the way to go. the food was divine and the entertainment excellent. the cruise director made cry non french speaking traveller part of the cruise. The provided history and cultural videos of our cruise and ports were excellent and added to ur experiences. It was a memorable time for family and friends to finally reach Easter Island and put a big tick off our bucket list. Spending 3 days on Easter Island was just the best highlight of the cruise as there was so much to see the than the few Moi's that you see on the postcards. ti be up close and personal especially the moi's from the quarry was just an amazing experience. If you want o see Easter Island, you need seen some solid days exploring the Island and not just a scenic cruise by. this was achieved with Ponant. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2016
We were taken with the promotional video of the animals to be found in Siberia, Russia and Kuril Islands and booked three back to back cruises. L'Austral was the perfect ship to perform all requirements having 10 or more Zodiacs ... Read More
We were taken with the promotional video of the animals to be found in Siberia, Russia and Kuril Islands and booked three back to back cruises. L'Austral was the perfect ship to perform all requirements having 10 or more Zodiacs along with 11 Naturalists who were experts in various fields - whales, orcas, lichen, bears, etc. The ship was small enough to enter shallow waters and in some instances, entered areas never before visited by Ponant. The pre and post lectures were exceptionally good and were conducted in both French and English. Other groups including Chinese and Russian had their own interpreters who filled their groups in after the main lectures. The Captain was amazing. He avoided adverse weather conditions where and whenever possible whilst keeping all passengers fully appraised of all situations including tides, northern lights, winds and typhoons. Although I could not enter our specific departure port of Nome in the section provided, I believe the ship did begin the Arctic cruise in Iceland. With only 180 passengers on board out of a total capacity of 250, rarely was there a wait of more than 15 minutes to board Zodiacs to enjoy all activities provided. All staff were exceptional from the Hotel Manager and Maitre 'D down to wait and cabin staff. 10 out of 10 for service in all areas. If there was a criticism it would be in the beverage department. For a French ship the daily wines were very basic and if a person wanted a better quality, you paid through the nose. Basic items such as a milkshake cost E10 as did the daily cocktail. Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2016
We found the Trip a great experience, the crew friendly professional and helpful at any time .The food and beverages of high quality and selection. The selection of stops for swimming excellent. The stop for Sardinia,-Porto Cervo a waste ... Read More
We found the Trip a great experience, the crew friendly professional and helpful at any time .The food and beverages of high quality and selection. The selection of stops for swimming excellent. The stop for Sardinia,-Porto Cervo a waste of time. Bonifacio a great location. Also we enjoyed the mix of people on the boat and the occasion of meeting Mr. Stephen Winter who gave us an insight on the cruise business in general and the Le Potent concept in particular. All in All nothing to complain about except two small issues: - The introduction after coming on board held in english was very poor and the information given was only a fraction of the same in French. This needs to be improved. - The beds are simply too small and this could eb improved by having them facing the wall on side as it would be perfectly OK just to enter from one side or the foot end. 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
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2014
Embarked on Ponant’s L’Austral in Cairns for a 1 week NYE cruise, sailing to Sydney. This was not an ‘expedition’ cruise (as with many of the itineraries with Ponant) but rather a more standard cruise type. Over half of the 260 ... Read More
Embarked on Ponant’s L’Austral in Cairns for a 1 week NYE cruise, sailing to Sydney. This was not an ‘expedition’ cruise (as with many of the itineraries with Ponant) but rather a more standard cruise type. Over half of the 260 passengers were French speaking, but many had great English, and all announcements etc. were in English as well as French. There were 14 nationalities on board, and it was quite nice being on a ship where it felt like we were in another country (even though as Australians we were cruising in our own waters). The ship itself is lovely – quite new, well designed and maintained, lots of public spaces to sit. The cabin was very functional, with a small balcony. The ‘open’ shower panel is really an optional thing – if you don’t like it, then close it. Good to have a separate WC. The only fault I would say with the cabins is that there is nowhere to sit comfortably, and if you want the 24 hour included room service there is really nowhere to eat it comfortably (no table in the cabin). The pool was very small but nice if you just wanted a dip. They even had water aerobics daily. The gym is very nice, a tiny library and PC set-up. The two restaurants each have their own pluses and minuses. The formal restaurant on Deck 2 is very flash, but we found it very hard to order any wine (the house wines, included in the fare, were pretty good, but it would have been nice to have the option). The sommelier really only seemed to be interested in the French passengers. The formal restaurant offered two options for each course EXCEPT on the formal/gala nights, when the meal was a set menu. Unfortunately for us, the gala nights on this cruise were 3 nights out of 7, so we opted to eat at the Grill restaurant on Deck 6 as much as possible. The fare was simpler there with more variety, and frankly we liked the flexibility of the open air option, and the dessert bar and bread station got a great work-out! Food quality was good overall without being great – somewhat tiny courses in the formal restaurant (although plenty of them – degustation model). There was no flexibility to order anything ‘off menu’, but we always found something we liked. We purchased an open bar package at the beginning of the week, and this gave us any drink on board except non-house wines and (to our confusion) anything in the mini-bar. So we could go to any bar on board and have a cosmopolitan and pay nothing, but if we wanted a vodka and tonic from the mini-bar we had to pay. Weird; I believe Ponant are going all-inclusive for all cruises from mid-2015. We didn’t go for many excursions and just lazed away the days (which was our intention), although a trip to Whitehaven Beach was lovely. The stop on Percy Island was also very nice – the only time we had to use zodiacs for a wet landing. The comprehensive briefing to passengers about using the zodiacs was excellent and inspired confidence. The ship features a troop of dancers, singers and musicians – a bit French and corny, but many passengers seemed to like it (there is a small theatre). Demographic of the ship was over 40s mainly, with the average I’d say about 50-60. Staff were excellent – we particularly liked the barmen Samuel and Ashley. One disappointment was that the officers were not very accessible to ordinary passengers – we saw the Captain and the Cruise Director around, but that was about it. I don’t know if it was because they didn’t speak English, but we also never saw the staff dining with passengers much (except for the experts on board who gave lectures about wildlife, etc). Another small issue we did not like was that we were never addressed by our names except by our cabin attendant.. seemed a little impersonal. The ship did not have good internet access – wifi was expensive and frankly we didn’t bother as we were so close to land most of the time we could get access then. Overall, I would recommend this cruise line as a luxury standard, small ship option. Not perfect but definitely worth a try.   Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2014
Le Soleil is beautiful. It has everything going for it, except the food. Considering this is a French company we were expecting more, a lot more. The Chef de Cuisine, introduced to all at the welcome reception on the pool deck, was French ... Read More
Le Soleil is beautiful. It has everything going for it, except the food. Considering this is a French company we were expecting more, a lot more. The Chef de Cuisine, introduced to all at the welcome reception on the pool deck, was French but I am not sure how many others were French and know that a good number were not European. The main courses were regularly bland, lacking in appearance and in taste. There were common grumbles that the food was adequate at best but lacked any wow, ever. Too many times the hot food was served tepid and it was almost impossible to get a properly hot tea or coffee. Embarkation was not comfortable. The scheduled time was 4pm and guests were gathering before that. In our case from 3:30 directly from the airport to the port. It was a very hot day. The shed was not air-conditioned and had no facilities except a soft drinks machine that did not work. The staff sat at their desks looking at us standing around, some passengers forming lines, but not until the dot of 4:00pm did they begin to process embarkation. Not cool. There were good points. Announcements were in English and French and given equal time. We were never sure if the Cruise Director was an Englishman who spoke very good French or vice versa. The staff were uniformly friendly, cheerful and helpful, the Captain was out and about all over the ship, approachable, and his open bridge policy was appreciated. We have never before experienced such a silent, vibration-free ship when underway. It was modern propulsion at its outstanding best. Shore excursions seemed expensive but nearly everyone thinks that whichever cruise they are on. The Croatian ports are delightful. The piece-de-resistance was to be Dubrovnik, the Queen of the Dalmatian coast. It turned out to be the worst. Not the ship's fault. It is not a big town and there were at least four other cruise ships there at the same time. We were not sure how many because Soleil, due to it's smaller size, was able to anchor in the old harbour where we could quickly tender ashore while the mega ships moored somewhere else out of our sight. Ashore, the crowds were impossible and it was raining as well. With hundreds of umbrellas up in narrow streets I thought I was lucky not to loose an eye and we fled back to the ship. I have heard that the savvy cruises now call in late in the day for an overnight that presents an empty pleasant stopover. Something Ponant might consider for next season. For a ship claiming this rating they should be doing a lot better in the galley then they can have all the stars. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2013
We enjoyed a two week Central America cruise on Le Boreal, a 2010-built vessel with 264 pax capacity. We had 186 on board. Crew 144. New vessels offer lots of advantages. First, the pluses: Cabins are small but feature a tasteful ... Read More
We enjoyed a two week Central America cruise on Le Boreal, a 2010-built vessel with 264 pax capacity. We had 186 on board. Crew 144. New vessels offer lots of advantages. First, the pluses: Cabins are small but feature a tasteful contemporary design with superb European finishes and fittings. King size bed and bedding was very comfortable. Bathroom is small, but top quality. Toilet is separate. L'Occitaine toiletries are standard. All suites have a small balcony. The food is excellent, as expected of a French vessel. Desserts are superb. There are two dining areas, one more casual, the other light and bright on deck 2. Open seating. Service was terrific, especially from the Philipino and Indonesian staff. The (non-European) French-speaking waiters were somewhat haughty, which we thought unusual. The French maitre de, Christophe, was superb, as was the sommelier, Charles. Young, vibrant and personable. Ship's officers were convivial and Captain Garcia deserves special mention. It is not often you can be on the bridge for a Panama transit. When he said it was an open bridge policy he truly meant it. One treat was an unscheduled stop in the Pacific for a swim from the ship's stern marina deck. Fantastic. Tours were standard, average value and consistent with most cruise ships. Nothing special. The French tour staff were most helpful and convivial. There were only 4 English speaking passengers on our cruise, albeit many French and EU passengers did speak English. This did not concern us but may be a drawback for those seeking more social interaction. One good feature is that in restaurants, bars etc. the French are very quiet. We like this. Overall noise levels are subdued. Now for the not so good points: The alcohol policy on board is outdated. Beer and wine of good qualities are served free during meals, but pouring finishes promptly when the restaurant Is closing. You can buy an 'open bar' ticket for $80 per day per person. Otherwise cocktails are $15 and standard drinks $10. Tea and coffee $3. So you are forever signing chits, even with an open bar provision. My advice is to negotiate an open bar deal when booking if you like to drink out of meal times. The pool is purely for immersion. Not very good. And the smokers congregate here too, especially flocking to the outdoor dining area. Tipping is encouraged on an 'all staff' basis at the end of the cruise. Like most Australians, we consider this a blatant impost to top up the wages of crew so we chose to simply tip those staff individually who provided exceptional service. Le Ponant needs to adopt what is rapidly becoming the market standard, a contemporary all-inclusive policy for drinking, tipping and tours. Cruise passengers are increasingly looking for no-extras once on board. IT services were below average. The in house TV was poor, with a clunky interface and poor graphics for navigation etc. No satellite news on TV, but printed daily news. About 20 movies on line - the usual popular releases. The library is both stylish and comfortable but the choice of books is limited. Internet service was variable and much the same as other ships. Unreliable, slow and expensive. About $20 per hour. Policy is stated as non-smoking, except in designated areas. But there are quite a few of them, including the outdoor dining area and pool surrounds as well as other locations. The French appear to smoke more than most so this is a real negative, especially in the pool and outdoor dining area if you don't like to share your meal with tobacco smoke. And there were pipes too. As we were sailing in equatorial areas, it was more comfortable to dine indoors anyway, but the smoking policy may be a put-off for many. Ponant need to change this should they wish to broaden their passenger base. We did not check out the entertainment at night. It appeared to be a standard cabaret offering with a Paris touch, as well as dancing. The lounge pianist played classical music standards during cocktail hour with much the same playlist every night. Not exciting. The lecturers (two) were both charming and excellent company however English language skills were lacking, as well as the topicality of subjects and depth of knowledge. This was a key issue for us as lectures are so important for our cruising. Before taking another Le Ponant cruise, we would be seeking more details of lecturers and their CVs. Overall, we rated this cruise very highly - the combination of a terrific (new) ship with a number of nooks and crannies to lounge in, coupled with excellent food and restaurant service. This ship is very comfortable in all respects, with great sea-keeping. The friendly officers added to the experience. Captain Garcia is a gem. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2011
Hotel before the cruise: 2 nights at the Tierra del Leyendas in Ushuaia. What a wonderful little hotel! Warm, inviting with great service and food. It is hard to imagine a better start to an Antarctic trip than a stay at this little ... Read More
Hotel before the cruise: 2 nights at the Tierra del Leyendas in Ushuaia. What a wonderful little hotel! Warm, inviting with great service and food. It is hard to imagine a better start to an Antarctic trip than a stay at this little gem. Highly recommended! The cruise: Before getting into the cruise, I have to make a few points about Ponant Customer Relations. We and our TA found it lacking and the communication very poor. Very shortly before departure (3 weeks), the company informed our agent they needed medical forms - and that we would be denied boarding if we did not have them signed by a physician and submitted. While the requirement of the form is not surprising, none of us had heard about the requirement since the cruise was booked (almost a year before sailing). In addition, no one had asked us about sizes for the parka we were to receive or how they were to be distributed. By comparison, Silversea asked our size for an Arctic cruise last year on the PA II (now the Silver Explorer) and had them for us when we boarded. Different procedures for different companies is certainly understandable, but a lack of communication and poor organization is not. As an aside, we were told the Ponant agent with whom our travel agent booked the cruise is no longer with them. Not exactly a surprise! On the dock before the cruise: Ponant unfortunately continued to provide a less than expected experience when we had to pull our own luggage all the way to the end of the dock to the gangway. I have never had to pull my own bags (not just my carry-on) all the way to the ship. Surely there was some way to take baggage from passengers and convey it to the ship. By the way, once on board we had to go back to reception to bring 2 of the 4 bags to the cabin since they were left standing there. Very disorganized and somewhat weird. The cruise: OK, enough of the bad stuff (just a little more to come). I am sure you think I am going to slam the cruise, but that is definitely not the case. I just felt it was necessary to share the bad with the good. The ship is beautiful and very comfortable. The last bit of bad stuff is that there is a design flaw in the balcony doors on Deck 3. On the first morning in the Drake Channel (25-30 foot seas) our cabin flooded twice in the space of 3 hours. The flaw lets water in under the sill of the door as well as around the seal. Until the ship makes a technical stop (their term) it cannot be corrected. As a result, at least 7 cabins on Deck 3 had the water problem and we were all moved to unsold cabins on Deck 6. Thank goodness they had them available. Service: Excellent. The cabin staff was tremendous and the dining room staff was superb. Food: This has been a hot topic of debate on the reviews. The quality of the food and preparation was absolutely top-notch. I can understand, however, how some passengers might have been disappointed with only 2 choices of soup, 2 choices of starters, 3 choices of main course (a fish, a meat, and a pasta), and 2 choices of dessert nightly. There were limited choices always available - Caesar Salad, Grilled Ribeye, ice cream, and a cheese plate. For the Captain's Gala Welcome and Farewell Dinners, the menus were fixed - and delicious. For me, there was always an appealing choice and I would rather have fewer selections of excellently prepared, top quality food than a lot of so-so items to pick from. Breakfast was a buffet (plus one featured dish prepared to taste) and lunch was a themed buffet daily. Nice house wines and beer was served with lunch and dinner with extra cost selections available as well. Public Rooms: Very appealing and well laid out. Cabin: Except for the flooding in our first stateroom (325), they were well designed and laid out. There were two quirks, however - 1) There is a panel that can be moved to reveal a fixed window that looks into the bath from the bed area; 2) The toilet is in a small area by itself. You have to exit it and go into the separate area with the shower and sink to wash your hand. Very odd. Entertainment: There were some very talented singers, dancers and musicians on-board. Entertainment was better than expected and made a nice way to end some evenings. In addition, Wii was available (I had never played) in 2 locations and made a nice diversion for the 5 children (and some adults - like us!) on-board. There was also a library (with a couple of tables for card playing or writing), computers (with available Internet packages), etc. In addition there were daily briefings and lectures like you would find on other Expedition cruises. Expedition Staff: Very competent but not as outgoing or sociable as on Silversea. All in all, though, they were dedicated to our safety, making sure we had every opportunity to enjoy Antarctica, to enforcing the rules and regulations. I don't think you could ask for more. I will also include the Videographer and Photographer in this category. They were incredible and very helpful. The video DVD and photo CD (available in US and non-US formats) are fantastic. Antarctica: The scenery and wildlife were amazing. Weather was always a challenge (snow probably half the time and rain others while near or on the continent). We saw the sun perhaps 1 or 2 days in addition to sail away and the day we returned. The tentative itinerary will definitely change due to ice, sea conditions (40 foot waves while fighting north on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula) and weather. Favorite moment? There were 2. Brown Bluff (huge Adele Penguin Rookeries with new chicks and taking zodiacs to get off on an ice flow in Wilhelmina Bay. I can only suggest that you go. You are in for an exhilarating and unique experience. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2011
Booking- We booked directly with Ponant's US office. Office staff were generally poorly responsive. Emails and voicemails were not were not regularly responded to and it was difficult to reach a person when calling. The office ... Read More
Booking- We booked directly with Ponant's US office. Office staff were generally poorly responsive. Emails and voicemails were not were not regularly responded to and it was difficult to reach a person when calling. The office also apparently neglected to forward information regarding the dietary restrictions of one of our party to the ship. Charter flight to Ushuaia/tour of Tierra del Fuego- We spent several days on our own in Buenos Aries. Since we'd heard flights to Ushuaia can be unreliable, we decided to pay the premium and reserve seats on a LAN flight chartered by Ponant. We were given instructions to be at AEP at 4:30 AM, where we'd be greeted by representatives of the cruise line who would get us our boarding passes and on the plane. We arrived at the airport at 4:20 to find no representatives and no indication what to do. Only the heroic help of the LAN representatives got us to the gate--the plane was half boarded at the time. Since it was a charter flight, there were no published flight times on the LAN web page, and the departure time had been moved up and we received no notice. Once arriving in Ushuaia, we had about a half hour to explore the town before our bus tour of the national park and traditional lamb BBQ. They had a bus specifically for English speaking guests. The bus tour was run by a local agency and we enjoyed it, although it was a pretty whirlwind trip and in retrospect would have enjoyed spending more time in Ushuaia. The cruise: Our big bags met us on the boat. We were happy with our cabin. The divided restroom is a little bit strange--it'd be nice to be able to get to the sink immediately after using the toilet. As mentioned in previous reviews, the shower/sink half of the restroom has a window to the rest of the cabin with a sliding door to close for privacy. It'd be nice to have the control of the privacy screen on the inside rather than outside of the restroom. We also would have appreciated one or two more electrical outlets. The ship itself is very modern and luxurious. Between our balcony and the common areas at the front and rear of the ship there was plenty of space for viewing scenery and wildlife. However, since everyone has a balcony, there isn't really a continuous deck you can use to, say, chase a whale around the boat. Dining-Breakfast and lunch were both buffet style. Lunch had a different ethnic theme (some more successful than others) each day while breakfast was pretty much the same thing every day. The food was good with a lot of options, but salads and desert in particular were pretty repetitive. Most dinners were 4 courses, with two options for each course. There was also an "alternative" salad + steak menu that was always available and a "light" option which was typically a steamed fish of the day. We were happy with these dinners. There was also the upper dining room, where a buffet was served. This dining room was really affected by the waves and closed on rougher days. There were 4 more "formal" nights with 5 course, fixed menus where everyone was expected to eat in the main dining room (upstairs was closed). We weren't a big fan of these nights--our companion with dietary restrictions (basically for a low fat/salt heart-healthy diet) wasn't very well accommodated. The alternative menu was available, but not the low fat option. Also, for anyone with a weak stomach, options are nice and the combination of noise and over application of perfume from everyone being in the dining room made these nights a bit nauseating even without the waves. Also, the main dining room had advertised that they took reservations for large parties but it became clear that they took reservations for everyone who wanted one. What ended up happening is that each night (especially the formal nights) ended up having more and more tables reserved. We apparently missed the memo, and had great difficulty getting seated a few nights. It was a weird hybrid combination of open and reserved seating, and we would have been totally happy if they'd just outright assigned everyone's seats on the formal nights in particular. We never took advantage of the breakfast room service, but had room service a few times at night. While there aren't a lot of options, service was pretty fast and the food was good. Entertainment-There wasn't a whole lot to do on the boat on days at sea (which there are plenty of on the S. Georgia loop). There tended to be live music in the lounges most hours of the afternoon and evening. There were also several nights when there were very talented dancers performing. Service-We were really happy with the service in the dining room and our cabin stewards. Our cabin was rapidly serviced when we wanted it to be, and the staff generally very accommodating with our requests in the dining room and elsewhere. The guests-This was a French cruise with English as the second, alternative language. Even among the English speakers, native speakers were only a plurality. Perhaps 1/4 to 1/3 of the boat spoke English, and of these 1/3 were native speakers, while the rest were a mix of Israelis, Spanish speakers, and Germans. Naturalists, lectures, and shore excursions- Not one of the naturalists was a native English speaker, but everyone could speak English and they were happy to talk to you if you had questions. Now, I didn't pay attention to how the French schedules to compared to ours, but the lion's share of our lectures were given by the two naturalists who spoke the best English. Lectures were fit for a general audience and covered mostly the animal life we were seeing, with a few historic/conservation-oriented lectures sprinkled in. The shore excursions are why you are on an Antarctic cruise and we were extremely fortunate with ours. L'Austral is a bigger boat so you generally had between 60-90 minutes on shore at a time. You are assigned a color group (they seemed to put most of the English speakers in one group) and they rotated who went first. There were two opportunities to go on longer hikes for the more physically able (3+ hours on shore), although we missed one of these because of the weather. Our scheduled landings were as follows: Falkland Islands (2): New Island, Grave Cove South Georgia (6): Salisbury Plain (Cancelled) , Fortuna Bay (Shackleton hike to Stromness), St. Andrews Bay, Grytviken, Gold Harbor, Cooper Bay (Zodiac cruise) Antarctica (4): Weddell Sea (Zodiac cruise/Sea Ice Landing), Brown Bluff (cancelled), Neko Harbor, Paradise Bay South Shetland Islands (3): Bailey Head (cancelled, missed hike opportunity), Telephone Bay, Aitcho Island Cape Horn We had a total of 3 landings cancelled due to weather--and for good reason! A few landings were borderline, but the expedition staff always had our safety first and foremost. I also have to commend the staff for doing everything in their power to accommodate low mobility passengers. While you probably won't be able to do every hike and explore as much of the landing site as more fit individuals, the staff will do a great job getting you in and out of the zodiac both from the cruise ship and on shore. Announcements and daily wrap-ups were done both in English and French at the same time. They always said more in French than English, which was a bit frustrating at times (What are they joking about? Etc.) This was really illustrated in the final wrap up, which was split into separate English and French groups, where the French wrap up went over the allotted time (hour and fifteen minutes in total) while the English version went for about a half hour. It was most frustrating when there was a whale sighting. They would go through the whole announcement in French--telling you where it was at, fawning over the majesty of nature--before saying in English where the whale was--I really just wanted to be told where the whales were at as soon as they were seen. Value-Booking the cruise with Ponant and sailing on L Austral was surprisingly affordable compared to other ships. In particular, it was probably 1/3 less than sailing on Le Boreal, the sister ship, which is chartered out by Abercrombie and Kent for most of the season. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2010
The biggest decision to make in regard to going to Antarctica on an 'expedition' ship is how much time you wish to spend 'off the boat', and what style you want to experience while on-board. Le Boreal is still probably ... Read More
The biggest decision to make in regard to going to Antarctica on an 'expedition' ship is how much time you wish to spend 'off the boat', and what style you want to experience while on-board. Le Boreal is still probably the most stylish way to explore the peninsula, but because it carries 200 passengers, you will spend less time roaming about in the zodiacs than on a smaller ship with less than 100 passengers (by regulation, only 100 individuals are allowed onshore at one time). Le Boreal does have it's failings though (as other reviewers have indicated), and when it comes up against all the other ships sailing other parts of the world, it would have some issues matching up. But in Antarctica, it will not be wanting for passengers... as only a small number of ships tour there, and more and more people are visiting each year. The staff will get better at being more professional, and the ship will work on eliminating some of the shakedown style problems. Bottom line, if you want to visit in style, and being restricted to only 3-4 hours a day off the ship is not an issue, than you will probably not do better than going on the Le Boreal... other parts of the world are another matter. Read Less
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