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1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: September 2016
i worked 40 y ago as a motorman on a ship. so for me this trip was a good review of the feeling on sea. this region "kamtschatka" was a dream a long time ago and that was the oportunity. Excellent ship ... Read More
i worked 40 y ago as a motorman on a ship. so for me this trip was a good review of the feeling on sea. this region "kamtschatka" was a dream a long time ago and that was the oportunity. Excellent ship "L'Austral". excellent service and genious guides. Very special was the viewing of the aurora borialis right the first night on board. We saw orkas, humpbukwhales, seals and many many birds as the stellersche eagle. sorry not to see the bear a step closer than 400m. securitiy reason. Also the encounter with the tuschtschuken at tymlat was very emotionaly. We appriciate this trip very much. We have bukt for the next trip to the french polinesiens island. next Oktobre 2017. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2016
Fabulous trip to some of the most remote and beautiful parts of the world, teeming with wildlife and wonderful autumn colours.. Superbly organised shore trips with excellent and very helpful crew members. We were landed ashore safely in ... Read More
Fabulous trip to some of the most remote and beautiful parts of the world, teeming with wildlife and wonderful autumn colours.. Superbly organised shore trips with excellent and very helpful crew members. We were landed ashore safely in often difficult conditions. A safety perimeter was established and the guides were freely available to provide information about the plant life and animals we saw. On board the captain would announce any wild life viewings and would follow whales and other wild life to provide passengers with the best possible views The cabin was spacious and well appointed with lots of storage space. The cabin crew were efficient and inobtrusive. The attached balcony was a great asset and a good place to relax and watch the coastline and birds drift past. The dining areas were elegant and the waiters attentive and helpful. The food was top quality, especially the cheeses, one of my weaknesses, and the menus varied.. There was probably too much but the energetic walks ashore prevented too much damage to the waistline. The lectures by the guides were interesting and informative but I was not a great fan of the stage shows. They did not seem appropriate for an adventure cruise and probably I was too tired to enjoy them at the end of a usually energetic day. 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
15 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2016
This was almost so good. But yet it wasn't. And I doubt I would ever sail with Ponant again because of this experience. The itinerary was amazing - a 23 night cruise through the Arctic Circle, crossing from Greenland to Alaska ... Read More
This was almost so good. But yet it wasn't. And I doubt I would ever sail with Ponant again because of this experience. The itinerary was amazing - a 23 night cruise through the Arctic Circle, crossing from Greenland to Alaska via the North West Passage, it's the stuff of adventurous dreams. The expeditions were truly amazing, can you imagine the delight of zodiacs right up to the front of a glacier; tramping across pristine arctic tundra (though of course it won't stay pristine for much longer once the tourists really start to visit); being entertained by local Inuit people; and watching walruses and polar bears and seals and whales and narwhals and and and. The whole itinerary was simply wonderful; the expeditions were amazing and the expedition staff friendly and knowledgable (if occasionally slightly unintelligable). So, why was it all so disappointing? Well, it was billed as luxury luxury luxury 5 star 6 star best ever. And as such my expectations were way up. And it was expensive, but as a once in a lifetime cruise, I saved for it and then splurged. But it was all pretty ordinary. The cabins were small and in need of some major refurbishing and certainly a redesign. It was awkward to move in the cabin; with dressing table and drawers in the wrong spot. Storage was very narrow and deep and there was only one chair, no couch, to sit on So if you wanted to relax in the cabin one of you has to sit on the bed. Not so good for my back. The bed was very comfortable though and I slept brilliantly. The toilet was separate from the bathroom and basin and the actual bathroom was quite small. Ok for petites, not sure how some people could turn around in the shower. There is no guest laundry which means that all of your washing is either done by hand in the bathroom basin (not my idea of luxury) or sent out at expense for the ship to do. And it added up to quite an expense. The food was basic and as a vegetarian I struggled to get any variety. A strict vegan would be advised to bring their own! There were nights when my main meal consisted of pasta; potato and rice (and, mostly, dessert). Too often, the vegetables dishes had bacon included and for example on the barbeque meals, while there were all sorts of hamburger patties: beef; pork; chicken;and lamb, there were never any vegetable or chickpea patties. I ate salads mostly, but they lacked variety and 23 nights of almost the same meal is not what I call luxury. I must add though that the bread was amazing - best ever - and the desserts were without question as good as any patisserie. The 'inlcuded' wine was pretty ordinary plonk. The premium wine was just expensive. The dining hours were limited, and both the restaurant and the buffet filled up quickly. If you cruise normally there are extended options for your meals and being crowded out happens rarely. There were only shared tables of 4 or 6, but no tables of 2. I don't mind sharing on most nights but occasionally you like to have just a quiet night without having to make conversation. And, of course, if you got the seats next the window on a 6 person table you could barely get in or out of your seat until the others moved out. The cabin was not set up for a meal, sohaving room service regualrly was really out of the question. In addition, whole sections of both the buffet and the restaurant were put aside for tour groups, which was good for them, but not so convenient for the other passengers. The tour groups also seemed to take over one of the two guest lounges. A concern for me was that the usual cruise ship hygiene precautions did not seem to have high priority. The two hand sanitiser dispensers near the eating areas were rarely used (and their use never encouraged let alone enforced). Embarkation and disembarkation were both a schemozzle. I am aware that neither Kangerlussuaq nor Nome are luxury destinations, but Ponant was quite simply disorganised. The disembarkation was timed around getting the next group of passengers flown up from Seattle, so we had a full day to bumble around Nome waiting for the plane. That wasn't so bad as it's an interesting town, but then getting to the airport - tour groups got precedence (of course they did!) and the rest of us had to just line up and take what was left. It was 'open seating' so once the others were on, there were very limited options for the last bus load. Didn't seem quite fair but hey ho! The flight was a budget airline and quite squashed and running very late, so our day ended at about midnight in Seattle. So, I'd absolutely recommend the itinerary. I didn't object to paying a huge amount for the cruise but I was very disappointed in the shipping line. Read Less
11 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2016
The expeditions on this cruise were amazing. The scenery, the wildlife and the excursions onshore in the remote arctic were the stuff of dreams and I would do it all again. But I would do it on a different ship and with a different ... Read More
The expeditions on this cruise were amazing. The scenery, the wildlife and the excursions onshore in the remote arctic were the stuff of dreams and I would do it all again. But I would do it on a different ship and with a different cruise line. This was expensive (very expensive) and was billed as '5 star luxury' but it was really at the class of the Queen Victoria (Cunard) - ie a good mid-level, small ship. It's not anywhere near the luxury levels of Silverseas or Regent. For example, the room only had one chair, not two nor a couch so that at any time in the room one of us had to sit on the bed. There were no rugs for covering us when on the balcony so we couldn't comfortably sit outside to watch the icebergs. And the main lounge opened onto the 'smokers deck' and was always having cold and smoky air rush in. Curiously, for a French line, the food was probably the most disappointing aspect. Well, that and the pushiness of most other passengers. It did not cater well for vegetarians and not at all for vegans. When specific foods were checked, the sous chef was abrupt to the point of rudeness in his responses. Not really good enough. The embarkation and disembarkation were disorganised (and, yes, I appreciate that neither Kangerlussuaq nor Nome are set up for big groups) but the arrangements were not good and the charter flights were very basic. It was not pleasant being in the crush for seats when boarding and then landing in Seattle late at night was tiring. If you look at just the 'expediaiton' nature of this cruise, then I would wholeheartedly recommend it. It was truly wonderful. But the luxury aspect wasn't. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2016
Chosen specifically for the Iceland, Greenland and Northwest Artic passage to Alaska. Excellent itinerary with great shore excursions and expedition excursions. Many great features such as the ship design, 24/7 access to bridge, zodiacs, ... Read More
Chosen specifically for the Iceland, Greenland and Northwest Artic passage to Alaska. Excellent itinerary with great shore excursions and expedition excursions. Many great features such as the ship design, 24/7 access to bridge, zodiacs, etc. Had a suite which was great, but a regular cabin was not of sufficient size. The dining, menu, food preparation was very bad, not at all up to standard, let alone luxury! Dining room service was poor. Room service was excellent and the selected acceptable food items were good. Cabin service was outstanding. Went for the specific itinerary and expeditionary cruise which was excellent, HOWEVER would never ever take or recommend Ponant to anyone unless the specific itinerary was unique and special. There are now other much better expeditionary modern cruise ships which are ice rated. The expedition team was mixed, some very good and some very very poor. Very few English speaking passengers, at a significant disadvantage unless French! Captain, ship officers and receptionists were excellent. Organization of the charter flight from Nome was horrible. Some information from home sales group was significantly wrong. Lectures were badly organized with bad time management. Read Less
54 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2016
Virtually unknown in the UK, this French company has four ships with capacities of around 250 and a three-masted ship with 27 cabins which offer unique experiences and expeditions with a French Touch around the world. The ships are ... Read More
Virtually unknown in the UK, this French company has four ships with capacities of around 250 and a three-masted ship with 27 cabins which offer unique experiences and expeditions with a French Touch around the world. The ships are stunning in appearance and elegant and luxurious on board. They promise a French crew, attentive service, excellent cuisine, fine cheeses, artisan breads and pastries, and a selection of grands crus. The restaurant on deck 2 provides an elegant, sophisticated and refined cuisine in the finest French gastronomic tradition, or one can choose deck 6 restaurant for a more casual, relaxed atmosphere. It is quite difficult to find reviews of Ponant cruises, and this review of our experience on board L’Austral may be helpful to anyone considering a cruise with this line which aspires to a luxury rating. We chose an eight night cruise for the itinerary from Dublin visiting Douglas, Liverpool, Belfast and on to Ullapool, Stornoway, Skye, Mull and Iona. Advertised as a Gastronomic Cruise, we understood that there would be some gala dinners and cooking demonstrations presented by Michelin starred chefs together with the world’s best sommeliers pairing the food with fine wines and hosting tastings. We are by no means gourmets or wine connoisseurs and were fondly anticipating some French onion soup, boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin, and possibly crème brulees, crepes or souffles. Unfortunately for us, we had completely failed to appreciate what Ponant intended. On six of the eight evenings we were instructed to be seated at 8pm and during the next two and a half to three hours we were presented with culinary masterpieces created by the chefs. The first meal consisted of cold aniseed flavoured potato soup with a raw oyster, an extremely lightly cooked piece of foie gras, and some very pink lamb accompanied by a few grams of delicately diced vegetables. The chocolate dessert was deliciously calorific. Every other meal included very undercooked or raw fish, meat or eggs the presentation of which was painstakingly exquisite, but could only be appreciated by a more refined palate than ours. Between courses the world famous sommelier went into considerable detail regarding the origin and nature of the wines. We may have become more knowledgeable about what we were eating and drinking had the information not been given entirely in French with very little attempt to translate. We did however manage to understand the information provided in French at breakfast, warning about the possible hazards to health from eating raw or undercooked food. Despite having expected to be able to dine in the more casual dining area on deck six, or possibly take advantage of the free room service, these facilities were not available on gala evenings, neither were we permitted to select an alternative to any of the courses from the vegetarian options. During the cookery presentations, wine tasting, cheese conference, and champagne and whiskey tastings we were offered earpieces in order to listen to a very limited translation to English. Unfortunately the microphone of the French expert was so loud that we could not hear a word and gave up after two attempts. Perhaps we should blame ourselves for having failed to appreciate that there would be little attempt by Ponant to be more accommodating to us as foreigners. The situation in which we found ourselves and the stress caused by trying to communicate over dinner with six other guests who claimed not to speak English was considerable. Tables for two were not available. Our O level French was sadly inadequate and we were relieved to find that some of the other English speakers felt the same. Together with the other 17 English speakers that we managed to find we were in a minority of less than 8%, the remainder being French speaking. Perhaps Ponant could have arranged for us to have had an opportunity to meet at an early stage instead of leaving it to us to meet by accident. It would appear that Ponant is happy to take bookings from English speakers but after this are not particularly concerned for their comfort and needs. We booked the cruise via Ponant’s brochure (published in English) in June 2015 and arranged for hire cars in four ports. Quite by chance in March 2016 we noticed a different itinerary on their website-same ports, but different dates. After two emails to Ponant and their failure to respond, our t/a discovered that the itinerary had changed but that they had not been notified. Our car hire bookings were changed. Embarkation in Dublin was scheduled for 4pm to 5pm for a 6pm sailing. We therefore travelled the previous day as the flight arrival time would have been very close to 4pm. Actual sailing time turned out to be 9.30 pm. Do not believe everything they tell you. A very limited tender service was provided in the four tender ports- usually only one per hour each way. After a short 5 to 10 minute journey the tender would remain in position with the engine running until the next scheduled time slot. On the penultimate day we were instructed to attend an important meeting about disembarkation procedures at 6pm although we did not sail until 8pm. As we had pre-arranged car hire until 7pm we missed the meeting but did not receive any written instructions of the type normally provided until after 10pm on the last night of the cruise. There was no requirement to complete the usual health questionnaire and we never saw anyone use either of the two hand sanitisers outside the restaurants. Despite the language and gastronomic problems, we enjoyed many aspects of the cruise. The ship was immaculate and the crew were pleasant and efficient. There was an open bridge policy. The breakfasts and lunches were very good. The open bar offered a good selection. There was a quiz one day. I believe that the evening entertainment was good but by the time we left the dining room we were too exhausted to watch. The Scottish islands were beautiful, the sun shone, the locals were friendly and our hire cars enabled us to see much more than the ship’s excursions would have allowed. Although it may be unfair to downgrade our score due to our inability to appreciate the food we were offered, had we been able to dine a la carte we may have given an extra star. The inaccuracy of the pre cruise information has also impacted on our rating. We sincerely hope that this review of our experience will be helpful to anyone English speakers who may consider a cruise with Ponant. Read Less
13 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2016
The itinerary of Morocco and Andalusia was our primary attraction. The itinerary and the tours were up to expectations. Excellent and recommended We expected a 6 star cruise line, although Ponant and their ships are fairly new in the ... Read More
The itinerary of Morocco and Andalusia was our primary attraction. The itinerary and the tours were up to expectations. Excellent and recommended We expected a 6 star cruise line, although Ponant and their ships are fairly new in the cruise industry. We appreciated the modest number of passengers, and we look for the cruise lines that have smaller ships. We have been Seabourn fans for some years, but are now avoiding them as their ships have grown from ~150 to over 700. Ponant provided an excellent and engaging set of talks and lectures which we thoroughly enjoyed on the history of Morocco, Andalusia and Islam. We long for the more intimate cruising experience with an emphasis on historic and cultural presentations. Ponant delivered on this promise. Ponant’s service outside of the dining room was excellent, their staff well trained. The food was not up to our expectations, a surprise given the French ownership of the line. The dining room service was the weak point in an otherwise excellent service experience. We routinely required almost two hours to eat in the dining room with extended waits for the food. Perhaps our biggest problem was with the staterooms. They were incredibly small and cramped. Significantly smaller than the Seabourn staterooms. We will not likely cruise with Ponant again in the future because of the cramped staterooms. Read Less
12 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2015
We joined this cruise very much under protest as we had been due to sail with Un=Cruise on one of their "tiny" ships (36 passengers) but it had engine trouble and so we were offered the alternative (cost met by Un-Cruise) of 5 ... Read More
We joined this cruise very much under protest as we had been due to sail with Un=Cruise on one of their "tiny" ships (36 passengers) but it had engine trouble and so we were offered the alternative (cost met by Un-Cruise) of 5 nights aboard L'Austral. None of us wanted a large cruise ship -anything above 500 passengers is not our scene and even the 250 passenger L'Austral seemed huge in comparison to what we had planned. However we were made very welcome on board and quickly settled into a life of luxury. Obviously with only 250 passengers the choice of activity and food is more limited than on a larger ship but we had absolutely no reason to complain. The crew were all attentive and friendly form the tender boat crew right up to the Captain and the officers were very much in evidence at all meals. The cabin so far as we were concerned was very suitable and indeed we praised its design with separate WC room and showeroom with washhand basin. Yes these 2 rooms were small but how long do you intend to spend in them! The kingsize bed was extremely comfortable, The range of shore trips was excellent in our opinion. Some had to be pre-booked days before embarkation but as the ship was not full we were able to get on all the trips we wanted to do and thoroughly enjoyed them all. The highlight of these for us was a zodiac trip close up to the Dawes glacier which calved off a huge chunk of ice just as we were about 300 metres from it with a resultant large wave. My only adverse comment would be that the swimming pool seemed quite small but frankly in Alaskan waters there was little call for it though is was exceptionally warm weather when we were there - hence the salmon run had not started and we saw no bears. However one night just as we sat down to dinner the Captain announced that we were in the the middle of a large pod of Humpback whales. He stopped the ship for about 45 minutes whilst most passengers deserted the restaurant for what was a great opportunity to view a pod of whales bubble feeding. This disruption of dinner did not faze the restaurant staff who took it in their stride. Perhaps one advantage of having only one sitting. The food and wine was fabulous as perhaps one would expect on a French ship. The restaurant was fine dining waiter service but there was a buffet facility on an upper deck which we tended to use for breakfast and lunch. No complaints there either. We were not allocated any specific table or dining companions which I find preferable. I would recommend the L'Austral to anyone who enjoys small ship cruising. The stage entertainment was perhaps a little lacking but the standard of the musicians on board and who played mostly in the bar but also on occasion in the theatre could not be faulted. Read Less
10 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2015
This is an amazing ship with a wonderfully helpful staff. On this particularl itinerary, there was 0% single supplement, which made sailing alone possible. Overall a wonderful trip. Dining: Food in the main dining room is over the ... Read More
This is an amazing ship with a wonderfully helpful staff. On this particularl itinerary, there was 0% single supplement, which made sailing alone possible. Overall a wonderful trip. Dining: Food in the main dining room is over the top spectacular and, as others have noted, the pastries are unbelievable. I was very happy with the included wines and spirits, but I am not knowledgeable about wine, so take that with a grain of salt. The buffet food, on the other hand, was just OK. The salads were diverse and interesting and the desserts wonderful, but, 'main courses,' were surprisingly bad -- dried out and tasteless. I ate dinner there once and never again. For breakfast, it was OK, but for lunch, much better downstairs where the salads and desserts are buffet, but the main course is off a limited, but terrific menu. Itinerary: This was a pretty typical Alaska cruise itinerary, but incredibly enhanced by the small size of the ship and the passengers first attitude of the captain. At one point, the pilot spotted a pod of humpback whales, so the captain changed course and we had half an hour or more to observe them up close -- amazing experience. On another occasion, though this was not an expedition cruise, the Zodiacs were launched for us to explore the Terror Fjord, again, up close. Such fun. We stopped at Petersburg, a small fishing village with a Norwegian history. It looks to be too small for the big ships and was nice to visit. I have cruised Alaska once before on Princess, and this l Austral experience was incomparably superior. Staff: Contrary to what some reviewers have described, I found every crew member to be helpful, responsive and not in the least, 'anglophobic,' if that's a word. It's a French ship and French is the primary language, but most all staff spoke English, some better than others and all announcements were stated in both French and English. The passengers were maybe 50/50 or 60/40 favoring English speakers, but it was not an issue at all in my experience. Excursion groups were somewhat segregated by language to facilitate the guiding process, but people always made accommodations if there happened to be an English speaker in a French speaking group, or vice versa -- happened to me once and the guide was more than helpful. The officers were very open and friendly, the captain shaking your hand as you left the ship for the final time -- a very nice touch, I thought. Excursions: I did three of the offered excursions and was very happy with all of them. In Haines, the canoe trip to the Davidson Glacier was fantastic and we were very lucky to encounter a pod of Orcas on the way there. The guides were incredible. Likewise, in Skagway, really enjoyed the two mile hike and float on the river -- beautiful sights and interesting guide. All in all, the excursions were well organized and, given the small ship, hassle free -- no long waiting in line to get off the ship and no huge buses holding 40 people to load and unload again and again. Entertainment: I thought it was OK, given the limitations of a small ship and I don't care much about production numbers anyway. There was a classical pianist who was terrific and offered a lovely concert in the theater one evening, before heading up to the bar to play popular stuff. The night before, a classical piano recital was attempted in the bar space and was frankly a disaster as there was typical bar noise and talking going on, even including a couple crew members, while others were expecting a recital atmosphere, i.e., listen and don't talk, and were very, very unhappy. Could be that the concert the next night was in response to complaints as there were many made, I'm sure. Embarkation/Disembarkation: The on boarding process was a little chaotic, seemed to me, but once on board, it was very nicely done, with a steward showing every party to it's cabin, where the luggage was waiting. Getting off the ship was a breeze, with, as mentioned, a very nice send off by the captain. In summary, I am totally sold on Ponant and would happily sail again almost anywhere one of their ships is going, so long at the 0% single supplement is available. A couple for Melbourne said that at a presentation they had attended, a Ponant representative had said that there would never be a single supplement charged -- I hope, but doubt, that's true, but if it is, sign me up. Read Less
16 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2015
Only part i can give 5 stars to are the ship and the suites. Our suite was small but felt larger than it was. There was amazing storage and hanging places to put all our stuff. Bathroom was elegant with a separate toilet. Good fitness ... Read More
Only part i can give 5 stars to are the ship and the suites. Our suite was small but felt larger than it was. There was amazing storage and hanging places to put all our stuff. Bathroom was elegant with a separate toilet. Good fitness center with floor to ceiling windows to see the view. Service was reluctant at best. When ever I went to reception for a question or information, the first response was always, "Well, I don't know" rather than "How can I help you" The staff seems to find you an annoyance rather than a paying customer. The wine that was served on board (included) was of the quality of wine in a box. Several passengers beside me commented on the poor quality for a French ship. The wine they wanted you to pay for was always very expensive. The cheapest recommended wine was 79 Euros a bottle.The food was inconsistent. Some times it was excellent; other times it was mediocre. On the final night, the veal medallion was like a hockey puck. The night of the captain's dinner we did not get served our main course until 10:30 pm. Service in the Dining Rooms needs improvement. Read Less
13 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2015
What a greeting we got the window to board was one hour we had come from Tokyo by bullet then a Taxi that did not know were the port was then we got out of the Taxi two crew took our bags and lead us to the gangway very nice touch, on ... Read More
What a greeting we got the window to board was one hour we had come from Tokyo by bullet then a Taxi that did not know were the port was then we got out of the Taxi two crew took our bags and lead us to the gangway very nice touch, on entering the Ship 23 min early we were treated to you are early sit there till your cabin is ready , our party was made up of a 86 year old a 70 & a 60 year old the attitude shown was rude abrupt discourteous and not a credit to the French people it followed on with the reception counter staff also French The cabin was great but no list is given on what is included in you package and what is paid for the most of the cabin crew & restaurant staff are great not French the off handed French restaurant manger falling over the French customers but keeping away from the Australians Food quality could not be described a fine dining it had its moment but over all was not up to P&O at half the cost P&O , Carnival Line & Princess Line are able to handle 2500 passengers boarding in four hours this boat could not handle 200 Read Less
19 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2015
We paid £350 per person per day for an 8 night cruise around Japan on Le Boreal. Having paid a price similar to those on "Six Star" cruises such as Seabourn or Silversea I think it wasn't unreasonable of us to expect a ... Read More
We paid £350 per person per day for an 8 night cruise around Japan on Le Boreal. Having paid a price similar to those on "Six Star" cruises such as Seabourn or Silversea I think it wasn't unreasonable of us to expect a similar standard of food. We were sadly mistaken. Both Breakfast and Lunch are served as a buffet. The choice, presentation and flavour of the food on offer was distinctly 3 star or inedible, for example, American sytle bacon was served undercooked and submerged under 2 centimetres of molten fat! Dinner was a slight improvement but nowhere near the standard of, say, Seabourn. Poor service, cold soup, watery Caesar Salad and a miniscule overdone steak on three of our eight nights compounded our dissatisfaction. On most nights of the cruise the small boutique was not open. When we enquired why it wasn't open we were simply told "Because the manager has decided so" Embarcation on Ponant ships starts at 17.00. Not very useful if you have flown in earlier that morning. They provide no facility to store your baggage prior to embarcation. The embarcation process itself is shambolic e.g. luggage taken from you without being tagged, medical questionairre not collected. Entertainment on such a small ship is obviously going to be more restricted than on bigger ships. However, matters were not helped by the schedule of events being manipulated to suit "private events" or a cruise director who seemed incapable of keeping to a schedule. The ship itself is superb, service outside of the restaurants is excellent and the bars are outstanding. I've complained to Ponant and after three weeks they've offerred us a €500 onboard credit to spend in the spa or boutique. The spa is very expensive and the boutique is hardly ever open! If we'd had paid half of what we did I don't think we would have complained about anything, except breakfast which was truly awful. However, we paid £350 per person per night and it simply was not worth it compared to what you can get for your money elsewhere. 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
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2015
My husband and I hadn't done a cruise before and were intimidated by the larger, floating shoe box style ships with an RSL style feel. We wanted to have an intimate cruise experience that was elegant and allowed us to experience ... Read More
My husband and I hadn't done a cruise before and were intimidated by the larger, floating shoe box style ships with an RSL style feel. We wanted to have an intimate cruise experience that was elegant and allowed us to experience destinations that the bigger ships couldn't provide. We can't speak more highly of our holiday. When the 3 horns sounded as we left Darwin, I felt we were transported back to a time of the 'romantic cruise liner' days. We met other Australian's who shared our same interests which made it easy to have engaging conversations - it was great to learn from other people and hear what they had achieved in their life. The interpretation between French and English was very exciting. We knew we were travelling with a French cruise line and had read the reviews about translation, but couldn't agree once we experienced it ourselves. It was just another feeling of being on a romantic cruise line voyage. Their service was impeccable. I loved the recognition after just a short time and the effort that was made to remember how we liked our breakfast, what wine for lunch and dinner, even cocktails at five-zizzies! The light afternoon gatherings and activities were always great fun. It was a non-pressured way to get to meet some of the other guests. Again, the other passengers were very interesting and we made some great connections with people from around the world. Our stateroom was absolutely beautiful - lazy afternoons sitting on our balcony, looking out to the passing islands, sunsets and sharing a glass of champagne with my husband. The design of our room was very stylish and tasteful with enough space to feel comfortable to stay in or spend the day out. One of the highlights was when we stopped at a sandy island and in the distance we could see a strange looking cloud, and then realised it was an active volcano way off in the distance - doubt we would have seen that on a bigger ship! Overall, we realised that starting our first cruise experience on a luxury cruise ship like PONANT would make it hard to try a different one... but we don't mind at all! We are going again this year to the Med and can't wait! Read Less
14 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2015
We took a Tauck tour "Cruising Down Under." This was a new tour for Tauck and they chose L'Austral starting in Auckland, New Zealand and ending in Melbourne, Australia for 12 days. Let me say that we have traveled twice on ... Read More
We took a Tauck tour "Cruising Down Under." This was a new tour for Tauck and they chose L'Austral starting in Auckland, New Zealand and ending in Melbourne, Australia for 12 days. Let me say that we have traveled twice on the Regent Seven Seas through the Panama Canal and Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, twice on the Paul Gauguin in the South Seas, once on the Silver Seas - Silver Cloud from Istanbul to Cyprus and twice on the Windstar – once in the Caribbean and once on the Adriatic, and NEVER had a problem. Our complaints arise with the L’Austral. The food on this ship was not up to Tauck standards. As a matter of fact it was awful. Many people on the tour complained about the food and said they would write to Tauck which I have also done. Dinner on Deck 2 in Le Coromandel was bland and uninviting. One instance of poor food was the Rib Eye Steak which was very tough, and when I complained to the maître d he said the steak was from New Zealand and therefore not under their control. Has anyone ever heard of ordering from another supplier? If so many people complained in a restaurant and the restaurant did nothing about it – it would be closed. Well the ship had a captive audience. Both Captain’s Dinners were pre-set menus. When we asked the waiter what would happen if we didn’t like the meal, he told us, “Don’t eat it.” The serving sizes were very small and of poor quality. For example, for an appetizer we had “one” scallop; the second course was “one” lobster medallion about the size of a quarter. We had monkfish one night, which was about two inches and wouldn’t feed a child. This is a French ship and we had to continually ask for a French dinner. We asked for Escargot and got it once. We asked for French Onion Soup and all the chef did was sauté onions and plopped them in beef bouillon. No crusty bread in the soup and no cheese on top. Should I have offered to give the chef the recipe for French Onion Soup? We asked for a soufflé for dessert and we were told that there were not enough cooks in the kitchen to make soufflés. Could this be possible??? On Deck 6 the casual Le Rodrigues was a buffet and was another culinary experience. The first night we chose to eat in this restaurant because we were tired and wanted a shorter dining time. One gastronomical delight was a hamburger not even fit for a dog. We were told that Tauck suggested hamburgers because most of their tour group was Americans. The average age of our group was about 65 and for the most part well-travelled people who paid a great deal for this trip. Do you honestly think we were looking for hamburgers? The rest of the buffet was sparse and tasteless. The fish was tough, the pork medallions were dry and I could get better spaghetti and meatballs in an Atlantic City, NJ buffet table. The bathroom in our cabin and in every cabin consisted of two rooms – a water closet with a bowl and no sink. You have to leave the water closet and then go into the portion of the bathroom with a sink and a shower. This is so unsanitary that I felt that I was in an airport bathroom. How could this renowned ship have a water closet with no sink to wash your hands before you opened the door to leave this portion of the bathroom? As a matter of fact there were many people on board the ship who were sick with bad colds and flu-like symptoms. The ship’s doctor said that there was an epidemic of bad colds and flu-like symptoms on the cruise before ours. It seems that the ship was not sanitized before we got on board. The Wi Fi on the ship was barely existent. If you managed to log on, you were bounced off in two minutes. We were told that their connection to the satellite was weak – well upgrade. When we were in port we were told that you could not get a connection because the buildings interfered with the connection. We were supposedly connecting to a satellite and not a tower – so how could the buildings get in the way. We paid almost $40,000 for this vacation. The most we have ever spent on any vacation and I am sure a large portion of this was due to the L’Austral. I would like to talk to the group that made the decision to use this ship and ask them if they actually took the voyage and actually ate the same food that was served to us. This ship is supposed to be a luxury cruise ship. It was not luxury but sub par. I have seen other reviews which give this ship and food a decent rating. I can't understand why.   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
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2013
I read reviews and had concerns. I need not have - I could not find fault. My husband and I had cabin 311 - pleasant accommodation with a balcony which we did use ; notwithstanding the destination the weather was wonderful. We were lucky ... Read More
I read reviews and had concerns. I need not have - I could not find fault. My husband and I had cabin 311 - pleasant accommodation with a balcony which we did use ; notwithstanding the destination the weather was wonderful. We were lucky and had calm seas - so much so on the return we went round Cape Horn. The food was excellent as you would expect from a french ship and the restaurant well located o the second deck - there was also self service on the 5th deck. Wine was included and unlimited with meals. The naturalists were outstanding and the entire crew did all they could to provide a memorable experience - every opportunity was seized. The 2 languages were french and english and there was no "short changing" if you were english./english speaking. We were the only English couple on board; mainly french guests as you would expect, a group of about 10 Chinese, a handful of Americans and a mix of Europeans. We had a wonderful concert pianist who gave 2 recitals, 3 singers and 4 dances. For the size of ship it was well provided. Remembering at all times you are on an expedition. Good theater for talks by the naturalists which were many and varied . The marina at the back of the ship makes getting in and out of the zodiacs much more accessible - a very good design. The landings were wonderful and all well organised, informative and respectful of the nature and scenery. You do need something to dress up in for evenings as there are gala dinners and with Christmas and New Year there were a number of formal dinners. All very enjoyable. You will not be disappointed. WE enjoyed it osm uch we have booked another destiantion. Happy sailings Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2013
We left Istanbul end of the day and the ship looked small compared to the Costa and the Xelebrity. The Austral is the second after Boral and before the new Solal. Human size Yachts of only 264 passengers, with only very nice outside ... Read More
We left Istanbul end of the day and the ship looked small compared to the Costa and the Xelebrity. The Austral is the second after Boral and before the new Solal. Human size Yachts of only 264 passengers, with only very nice outside rooms. But the first impressions were very positive regarding the casual and friendly style of this company. On a lot of ships you see the captain at a drink or a special event. Here Captain Jean-Philippe Lemaire and his staff were very close to the passengers. I reminded the experience of 2008 on the Windstar! Passengers are invited to visit the bridge (of course outside the maneuvers or when there is a pilot on board) Himself and his officers give you plenty of information and you are invited to ask question. And if you want to go back in the evening, no problem. A very nice different and impressive experience. There are two restaurants: the main one downstairs with full service (only in the evening) and the self-service upward with possibilities of eating outside. Good selected wines, beer and drinks are included during the meals. There are facilities such as a pool (not very large view the ship size) there is a wellness center, there is conference and theater and several bars. With regard to drinks you have the choice for paying (on your account) per consumption (prices in Euro but reasonable) or an all-inclusive forfeit of 30 per person per day. Tip: is only interesting if you stay most of the time on board and you drink quite a lot! After passing the mount Athos island the captain decided to approach Greek coast and drop the anchor and open the marina facilities. Swimming in the sea in a rather wide limited area of course with safety facilities of the crew with zodiacs. Destinations we did: Limnos (was no so good, all closed on Saturday) The mount Athos visit cruising (not allowed to go on land) was nice and impressive. At Volos we took the chip excursion of a full day to the mtoras with the impressive monasteries (we visited 2 of the 4 or 5 still in use) Worthwhile! Patmos was quite nice. Kusadasi you have the choice to go to Ephesus (what we did on a previous cruise) so we went with own means to Priene,Milat and Didyme with famous Greek / Roman constructions and in Diikilli we used the ships excursion to Pergame and Asclpion. The languages used are of course French but also English. We had mixed nationalities of passengers roughly half French of course, but also Belgians, Suisse, British some Americans, Aussies and New Zealanders and even a Japanese. There were some younger children, mostly adolescents, on board. A ship of this size is not a big fun ship of course, but the staff arranged a lot things with them participation for example in show and in spectacle with the artists. I can say that they really were proud, enjoyed themselves a lot! The company can really be recommended !!!   Read Less
11 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: February 2013
A cruise to Antarctica is pricey, expensive even, but it is absolutely worth it! We saw amazing wildlife and beautiful scenery. It felt as if we were in a nature documentary for two weeks. Having previously cruised on 2500+ passenger ... Read More
A cruise to Antarctica is pricey, expensive even, but it is absolutely worth it! We saw amazing wildlife and beautiful scenery. It felt as if we were in a nature documentary for two weeks. Having previously cruised on 2500+ passenger cruise ships, the atmosphere and the level of service on this 200 passenger mega-yacht was very different. No lines, for instance. Also, crew was very approachable. The captain welcomed everyone in person and he was present at several dinners. The naturalists/guides were always available to answer questions. Even though French is the primary language on board, all announcements and briefings were in English as well. There was never a language barrier, nor were non-French speakers treated differently. Our stateroom was very nice, with good size beds and all the comforts you would expect. Lots of storage space. Bath room with separate toilet and shower. Housekeeping staff was excellent. Always friendly, always able to help with requests. Compared to the big cruise lines like Carnival and NCL, the food on l'Austral is certainly better. However, don't expect Michelin star or Steak house quality. It's upscale restaurant food. I was surprised by the freshness of the ingredients, even after two weeks cruising. Also, there was good amount of variety, some days with exotic dishes like kangaroo and skate. The desserts were absolutely delicious! We had a very rough Drake Passage, but once in Antarctica the skies were clear and the weather stayed remarkable friendly. Expeditions were spectacular. There had been lectures by the naturalists to inform us about the wildlife we'd see, but seeing (and smelling) a penguin colony for yourself is very special indeed. We saw more wildlife then we'd ever imagined. In the Antarctic Peninsula, we visited Paradise Bay, Neko Harbor, Wilhelmina Bay, Port Lockroy, Port Charcot, the Lemaire Channel, Dallmann Bay, Deception Island, Hannah Point, Gourdin Island and Brown Bluff. We then went back North via Elephant Island to the Falkland Islands for another four stops: Stanley, Volunteer Point, Saunders Island and New Island. After the Falklands we had three sea days and we finished the cruise in Montevideo, Uruguay. (for a more detailed review, including photos, visit the Antarctica section in Forums > Ports of Call) http://boards.cruisecritic.com/forumdisplay.php?f=475 Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2012
The week got off to an inauspicious start. The instructions sent by Ponant for passengers arriving in their own car at the port of Venice turned out to be misleading and the cause of frustration and delay. Our spirits picked up when we ... Read More
The week got off to an inauspicious start. The instructions sent by Ponant for passengers arriving in their own car at the port of Venice turned out to be misleading and the cause of frustration and delay. Our spirits picked up when we were shown to our cabin (deluxe suite) which was comfortable and very adequate for a week long cruise. Any euphoria was soon dispelled the first night at dinner. We were told we could only sit with other groups throughout the cruise. On expressing surprise, the dining manage told us "Don't blame me, blame the ship's designers". The food offered was, at best, bland and, at worst, barely edible. It was suggested we might like to move to the buffet restaurant, where we offered cold rib of beef. When I asked that same evening if we could disembark and leave the cruise at the next port of call, our concerns began to be taken seriously. In fact, we were well looked after for the rest of the voyage, including being offered a table for two every meal time. Unfortunately, the food remained mediocre and uninspiring. Perhaps our expectations of the cuisine on a French ship were too high. There was a very large Tauck contingent on the cruise. Every evening they completely took over the bar prior to dinner; it was suggested that "we might like to take our cocktails in our cabin". We felt we were on a Tauck cruise. The little enjoyment we got from the cruise was due to the very friendly and helpful dining and bar staff.......and gorgeous weather during the whole week. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2012
We took L'Austral to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands from Ushuaia, Argentina. This is an expedition cruise on a boat with less than 200 passengers, so a different experience from your usual cruise. The boat is ... Read More
We took L'Austral to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands from Ushuaia, Argentina. This is an expedition cruise on a boat with less than 200 passengers, so a different experience from your usual cruise. The boat is armed with a fleet of 8 zodiacs, staffed with several naturalists, all the things you'd get on a more rugged cruise, except you got plush accommodations and good food. BOOKING - Booking was easy over email, Lisa was very helpful. It was a bit disorganized at the end when we were suddenly asked for all the documentation that we'd already provided, just days before the cruise, and we actually had to write and ask for our boarding passes the day before the cruise because they hadn't been sent. Other than that, all was fine with the booking. LANGUAGE - The boat is French, and so the main language on board is French, but they always spoke in English too, and worked hard to ensure that English speakers were together on the expeditions, also at meals, so that there wasn't a language problem. There was also one German speaking naturalist for the German contingent, though they weren't as well catered to as the French and English speakers. We didn't find the language to be any problem, it was well dealt with by the ship crew. EMBARKATION - This was well handled except we didn't appreciate having to drag our luggage all the way down the cruise port with no assistance. SHIP - The ship is brand new and very nice. Well climate controlled with everything you need. There are three lounges, though the outside bar was rarely open. It handled the 18-20 foot seas of Drake Passage very well, even though waves were smashing over the sixth deck. STATEROOMS - We had the Prestige Cabins on the 5th floor. They were quite spacious for a ship - about the size of a normal hotel room, very new and well appointed with flatscreen TV (movies only, no reception for TV), Nespresso machine, Nice shower and separate toilet, a desk, and a balcony with two chairs and a table. The only problem we had was the balcony door first creaked very loudly and also was very drafty. Bed was comfortable. Telephone in the room, also wi-fi (exorbitantly expensive). SERVICES - There is a spa onboard, and a very nice fitness center which has a view of the ocean. There is wi-fi, but it is massively, ridiculously expensive, horribly slow, and intermittent (three days at a time without access at all). They sell it by the time block, with no refunds if you don't use it all. There are three computers that can't print, and the internet rarely worked on them. There is no TV signal (one day we had CNN) but a few movies to watch. There is a Wii and a few board games. Three lounges. FOOD - The food was a real surprise. The ala carte restaurant was a gem, with an amazing variety for the 16 day cruise, always fresh, always well presented and creative. It wasn't always good (mostly though), but they get an A for effort. There were always 2-3 choices of each of the 4 courses, with some other things you can get every day. You can also eat at the buffet restaurant which at least when we were there was of poor quality for dinner. It was better for breakfast and lunch though. Also a good variety considering no ports of call for restocking for 16 days - amazing we could still get fresh fruit at the end of the trip, for example. Unfortunately, except for the meals, there was no food available except peanuts in the bar. With lunch at noon and dinner at 8:30 PM, everyone starved all afternoon with nothing but room service possible, not even a croissant (there was an afternoon tea with a few cookies). STAFF - The staff was surprisingly friendly and nice. Everyone was very pleasant and tried hard, even at the end of a very long cruise. The cruise director had a great sense of humor and kept things light. The Expedition leader was also funny and very nice and professional. The naturalists were all pleasant but not very proactive - they spent most of the time on shore taking their own photos or wandering around making sure people didn't get too close to the animals, rather than proactively interacting with the guests. They were there to answer questions if you had some, but other than a quick 1 minute briefing when you got to shore, they weren't proactive about it at all, which was a suprise. EXPEDITIONS - The expeditions were professional and well organized. The parkas were of high quality, and nobody was cold. The naturalists were good about keeping everyone where they were supposed to be, and the landings were spectacular. One million adele penguins at one landing at Heroine Island was absolutely stunning. Another in South Georgia with 400,000 King Penguins, elephant seals, fur seals was spectacular. Zodiac cruising through the ice in Antarctica was magnificent, even though it was raining and snowing. Another day we sailed inside one of only three navigable calderas in the world, very cool. The hikes were marginal, and we would have liked to do one more day of ice and one less day in the Shetland Islands, but otherwise very, very good. We did an average of 2 landings each day that we had calls, with two days of sea in between areas. We were very pleased overall. The photgrapher and videographer did a stunning job - wow. We bought both CDs. Incredible work. ENTERTAINMENT - The entertainment schedule was lacking in imagination - by day you had a couple of naturalist briefings, which were really boring for the most part. Good subject matter, just dry presentation (reading off a paper like presenting a research paper rather than entertaining tourists). There was fitness and streching each day, and that was pretty much it. A couple of days there was Wii but with no kids and most people over 60, I don't think that was a big hit. By night it was better with a couple of relevant movies, a talented dance crew, and very good lounge singing. It wasn't a big variety at all, but by then most people were tired anyway and went to bed. They could really have done more fun things with the daytime entertainment though, not just fitness, streching and dancing. Card tournaments, cooking classes, wine tastings, and things like that would have been more age-appropriate for the guests I think. Overall, we had a very good cruise on L'Austral. Many people complained of boredom during sea days, and about the quality of the lectures and the bad internet, some about the food and the naturalists not being proactively engaging with the guests, but mostly I think people were satisfied. The expeditions that we all came for were great, with the only complaint being only one morning in the ice. There should have been one more. When you consider the alternative accommodations to Antarctica, L'Austral is way above any of the others, except Silver Explorer which is double the price. 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
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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