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1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: August 2018
We went to the Kimberleys, having embarked in Broome. We spent a few days in Broome and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. The Cabin was well appointed but somewhat small, however not really a problem The naturalists and experts on ... Read More
We went to the Kimberleys, having embarked in Broome. We spent a few days in Broome and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. The Cabin was well appointed but somewhat small, however not really a problem The naturalists and experts on the cruise were really fantastic. They were knowledgeable and friendly, and always willing to speak to passengers about their specialities The excursions ashore were really interesting, educational, extremely well organised and most enjoyable. Most of the on board lectures were very informative and interesting. The food was Ok , not so fantastic, but the crew, and stewards were excellent and professional. For coffee afficionados there is definite room for improvement. Entertainment was usually scheduled a little too late, and we would have to wait around too long after dinner. However the on board entertainers were of a high standard and we enjoyed the shows that we attended Our departure from the ship was very well organised and all went very smoothly for our group. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2018
Itinerary, service standards and inclusions were very good. Food was excellent and the cabins are spacious and comfortable. The crew overall were very friendly and helpful and really are a highlight. Ponant also provide some very ... Read More
Itinerary, service standards and inclusions were very good. Food was excellent and the cabins are spacious and comfortable. The crew overall were very friendly and helpful and really are a highlight. Ponant also provide some very effective fares for single travellers using sole-occupancy. My only disappointments were: 1. the quality and value of some of the shore excursions. One in particular was rated moderate difficulty, but many able-bodied guests really struggled with it. 2. the poor satellite TV system which failed to automatically recover from the inevitable signal losses - it was necessary every time to change channels and back again when the satellite signal resumed. 3. the very expensive internet packages. Past guests get varying levels of free minutes (based on their status - but even the top level does not receive an "unlimited" package. Beyond the free minutes, additional packages are VERY expensive compared to competitors - and no "unlimited" packages are offered at all. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2018
I chose this cruise from Sydney to Cairns as it was calling at smaller islands off the East Coast of Australia . Somewhere along the line this ship was just missing a beat if it wants to be considered 5 star. The food was excellent with ... Read More
I chose this cruise from Sydney to Cairns as it was calling at smaller islands off the East Coast of Australia . Somewhere along the line this ship was just missing a beat if it wants to be considered 5 star. The food was excellent with lots of French specialities. Same could not be said about the wine considering it was a French ship this was a great dissapoinment.Service was superb in the restaurant and bars but it was the next level of management where it fell down. It's a very small ship which I knew but when we have sea days it's nice to be able to walk around the decks but there was no deck to do that. The pool deck area was very small. Embarkation and disembarkation was very smoothly handled. The cabins were small but well laid out and lots of storage space. I think the ship needs a refurb. Some of the furniture in the main lounge was a bit well worn . Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2018
Joined L'Austral in Fremantle for the 26 day cruise of Northern Australia in the Wet Season. Boarding the ship in Fremantle was smooth and although we arrived early our bags were taken from us and we went for a walk around ... Read More
Joined L'Austral in Fremantle for the 26 day cruise of Northern Australia in the Wet Season. Boarding the ship in Fremantle was smooth and although we arrived early our bags were taken from us and we went for a walk around Fremantle. Returning at noon we were sent along the wharf to the ship and directed to the level 6 for lunch. After lunch we spent and hour in the lounge on level 3 before being directed to our cabin where our luggage had already been delivered. We sailed after life boat drill. Our ports of call up the Western Australian coast were Geraldton, Turquoise Bay, Broome, Talbot Bay, Wyndam. Darwin and Yirrkala in the Northern Territory. Thursday Island in the Torres Strait. Cape York Peninsular, Lizard Island, Cooktown, Port Douglas, Hamilton Island and Fraser Island in Queensland returning to Sydney. A previous writer has described the passage extremely well and I could not better her descriptions. The Naturalists on board were an extremely friendly group full of knowledge of the Kimberley area and the zodiac drivers knew how to handle their craft and we had no problems with wet water or dry landings. Entertainment on board was good and the ships crew put on an excellent show. Read Less
13 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2018
While preparing for this cruise I found it very difficult to get any real information about Ponant cruises and our itinerary. I wrote some notes once I was on board and they are below. Before that though I need to say one thing, and it ... Read More
While preparing for this cruise I found it very difficult to get any real information about Ponant cruises and our itinerary. I wrote some notes once I was on board and they are below. Before that though I need to say one thing, and it mimics what some others have experienced, is that the French speaking passengers get much better service in the dining venues than anyone else. We were 2/3 English speaking on our cruise but many of the French staff either ignored us completely or made us feel like second class citizens. Other staff on board like the bar, room and service desk personnel were quite friendly. The on-board naturalists where always smiling and always had a friendly word no matter who you were. Ponant needs to deal with this issue. Now my notes: Ponant L'Astral Great Barrier Reef March 6, 2018 Pre-Cruise We found the Ponant site very confusing and it had very limited information. There was no-where to book excursions or any on board items. The site claims documents will arrive electronically 30+ days before departure. Ours were emailed to us 26 days before departure. We were already travelling so we were unable to make specific preparations based on this information. Embarkation We arrived at the White Bay Cruise Terminal in Sydney at about 2:00pm. Our bags were taken and we proceeded into the terminal. There were already about 20 people there. We were advised boarding would start at 4:00pm. There was plenty of seating (along 2 sides of the room), washrooms, free bottled water, but no wifi. There was a snack bar but it was not open. There was a vending machine where you could get pop and candies. About half an hour prior to boarding, one of the ships staff started to hand out embarkation numbered tickets. These would be used to determine the order for embarkation. He had about 25-30 of each number starting at 1. He started to hand these out at one side of the room, from the front closest to the checkin counters, then after completing the row went to the top of the other side moving toward the checkin counters. Most of the early arrivals were given tickets about half way through, so arriving early did not necessarily mean you would board early. We just happened to be in the right spot to get a number 1 ticket. if you want to get on early watch for this process to start and go up to the man and get your teickets. The staff also handed out a medical questionaire which need to be completed. The only items of concern were if you had a fever prior to boarding. Checkin was quick, they checked our passport pictures to us then handed us our keys. We then proceeded through a quick security screening then on to the ship. On entry to the ship we had our photo taken for the ship security system (we have always had this done prior to boarding on other cruise lines), our sea passes were scanned and we were escorted to our rooms. Our bags were not yet in the staterooms. Drinks and snacks were available in the main lounge on deck 3. The snacks did not last long. Cabin 326 Cabin seems very workable, no better or worse than other cruise lines we have been on. Other reviews have pointed out that the toilet is in a separate room from the sink and shower. We did not see this as an issue. The sink had 2 drawers below it, side by side with plenty of room to store toiletries. My bottle of mouth wash was able to stand up so it is quite tall. Aircon worked well. Two wide air ducts sat along the top of the length of the room providing good coverage and air flow. There is a seperate temperature control in the room. Fairly large flat screen TV which showed on demand movies and tv shows. Also has access to the front camera. Daily activities are also listed. One thing that is not available is your stateroom account. For this you have to see reception. There seemed no way to change the TV input but I was able to connect my iPad to the TV using an HDMI adapter and cable and play videos. Only issue was I was unable to change the volume. There is a long flat surface along the wall that has space for your things. On it is a telephone, a table lamp, and a clock with iPod connector and speekers (will not fit a lightning device). Under this surface at one end are 2x2 drawers, about 18 inches tall by 36 inches wide. And a ottoman. On the wall above this surface are 2 power plugs. One has a single European 220V plug, and the 2nd has both a European 220V and an American 110V plug. Storage is plentiful. Bed allows for multiple suitcases to be store underneath. I mentioned the 4 drawers previously. There is are 2 full height doors for wardrobe. One side has a couple of shelves and the safe. There are 4 drawers below that for storage, the top one has the hair dryer in it. The lefthand side is your typical wardrobe with hangers. There is a small round table with a single chair. Not sure how 2 people have in-room dining in the cabin though. On each side of the bed there are shelves, open underneath. You also have reading lights. The king size bed (which can be made into 2 twins) is comfortable and you get 4 pillows to start with. There is a page in the room binder showing other pillows you can order. We got 2 ergonomic pillows but our cabin steward didn't want to take away any of the existing ones. We also found the duvet to be quite hot so our steward added a sheet to the bed so we could throw off the duvet if we wanted. The cabins on deck 3 all have balconies but the railing wall is sold metal, unlike the cabins on higher floors. This means you cannot sit on the balcony and see anything. Wasn't a huge deal for us. There were 2 wicker chairs and a small table. Note, because you are quite low on the ship our balconies were often wet and had salt spray. Parts of our trip were quite rough so this happened often. Bathroom has a makeup mirror and a power plug for raisers. 2 small shelves, maybe 4" by 12" on the left beside the sink for toiletries. On the wall between the bathroom and bedroom there is a sliding door which opens a glass wall looking into half of the bathroom. Presumably for light and to make the room look bigger. Wasted space in my mind. Shower is a good size, rectangular and a good shower head streaming lots of water. No problem getting hot water. WiFi They offer 3 plans: 100 minutes for 30E, 240 minutes for 60E, and 1,000 minutes for 180E. I opted for the 240 minute plan. You can log only one device in at a time and must log off that device to let your roommate log in. We used a router which allowed us to run multiple devices at the same time. Worked well for us. For quick logins to check email, weather, etc the 240 minute plan worked for us. I think we had maybe 7 minutes left on it at the end of the cruise. You must remember to log off though. Internet is satellite based so slow but I was able to use a virtual desktop and response was bearable. Outlook IMAP syncing was slow so I used my iPhone for email most of the time. Everything I tried worked. It did not seem like they blocked any sites. Captains Gala Guests from deck 3&4 met with the captain at 7:00 on deck 6. Guests on deck 5&6 met at 7:15. The doors to the MDR were to open when this event completed. The event started late and the speeches ran long. Doors opened just before 8:00. Dress was more upscale, no shorts etc. Most men did not wear ties or jackets but some did. All were in long pants and at least a shirt with collar. Dinner was a fixed 6 course menu, 2 choices, regular or vegetarian. You could switch mains or appetizers but hot for hot or cold for cold. So limited choices. It was all very good but with an 8:00 start we left at 9:30 before dessert was served. The deck 6 (buffet) menu was more extensive and included roasted turkey which we were told was very good. Muster Drill This was a 2-stage process. First we were all required to attend an introduction in the theatre where the staff was introduced and a welcome message from the Captain. We then had a life on board presentation. This lasted about 1 hour. Next everyone went back to their rooms and got their life jackets, put them on with the help of staff, and we returned to the theatre. Each person was checked off a list so that all guests were accounted for. This was followed by a talk on the process in the event of an evacuation. There are 2 lifeboats, one for each side of the theatre. Drink Plan The cruise is drink inclusive, which means there is always a white, rose & red wine available. These are supposed to change daily but our experience was they changed maybe 3 times during the cruise. Some were better than others. Also included are a couple of types of beer, Heineken and bud light if memory serves, and many cocktails; none top shelf. For top shelf you pay full price. A grey goose martini set me back 9 euros for a shot and a bit. For the most part it was free flowing and the included stuff you could order from anyone. The lounge often had a couple of different reds and whites on offer. Medical A number in our group required the services of the doctor due to chest problems. The doctor and nurse were friendly and for a short visit and some small drugs cost about 70 euros per person. Longer term treatments would be more. Tendering On our first day to stop we had a dry landing so they used the tenders. On one of the sea days prior they gave a presentation on the activities available. There was an included 4 hour excursion and a few optionals. Some of the optionals would only run in the morning or afternoon because of tides so we were asked to sign up for the optionals by noon the following sea day. Once they had this info they placed each cabin into one of 4 colors, red, yellow, blue and green. These would be our colors going forward. That afternoon we collected our snorkel gear by cabin numbers. At that time they gave us a color sticker for our sea pass. That evening we had a briefing about the next days excursions at which they identified which colors would go out at which time. The actual process of getting on the tender and returning was a breeze. Dining General The Main Dining Room on deck 2 is full table service. Doors open at 7:30 (or per daily plan) but you can come any time after that (except on gala nights where everyone is served at the same time). There are usually 2 soup and 2 salad choices, and 3-4 appetizer, main and dessert choices. There are also 3-4 always available mains such as a hamburger or rib-eye steak, and a couple of always available desserts such as Creme Brule. Dining is leisurely, especially if you are not french speaking, and you will likely take a good 90 minutes for dinner. Longer on gala nights. The more casual dining room on deck 6 is always a buffet with a main carvery that changes daily. Reservations are required as it cannot hold all of the guests but we never seemed to have a problem getting one. Dining here can be as fast or as slow as you want but we always felt rushed to finish. The staff did not do anything to speed us along, it is just the buffet style seemed to foster a much faster meal. We took almost all of our meals in the MDR but then a couple in our group did the opposite so it is really a personal choice. All in all the food was quite good in both venues although my wife had difficulty finding a main she wanted in the MDR. One night they had 3 fish selections out of 5 choices. That's all I have for now. If you have specific questions feel free to ask. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2018
This was the third cruise we have had on le Boreal and L'Austral. All have been excellent, This cruise was to the Sub antarcic Islands from Dunedin via the sounds and ending in Wellington NZ. As the ship was being repositioned from ... Read More
This was the third cruise we have had on le Boreal and L'Austral. All have been excellent, This cruise was to the Sub antarcic Islands from Dunedin via the sounds and ending in Wellington NZ. As the ship was being repositioned from Wellington to Sydney we were offered a free cruise to Sydney. The expedition could not be faulted as the weather and the seas allowed us to land on all the Islands where it is permitted. This we were told was exceptional. Even the cruise across the Tasman was akin to a Manly Ferry trip. We actually landed on both days as per the itinerary at Macquarie Island. Many of the expedition guides visited many times and had never achieved both landings. Some years were impossible to land at all. We also landed on Campbell Is and Enderby Is which were amazing. The entire operation was exceptionally managed and organised and minor tweaks were necessary to avoid some bad weather ahead of us. The Itinerary was completed with only one Zodiac outing cancelled due to unsafe waters over the loading deck at the Antipodese Is. Landing was not allowed there by NZNP's anyhow and it was a Zodiac inspection anyhow. The ship spent some time circumnavigating the islands so we could see the abundant bird life but missed the close up experience penguins and seals which we seen everywhere else. We had seen so many of these previously we didn't really miss much. All in all the entire expedition was amazing.Bio security was adhered to so nothing was conveyed to the Islands that would affect the ecology. Even no fresh food was allowed ashore. Things changed at Wellinton where many passengers left the ship to be replaced by people taking the 4 day cruise to Sydney. Is was to be a no frills cruise but developed into a big swill cruise with many of the new passengers overindulging in the open bar. They were not typical of the many passengers we have met and enjoyed on previous cruises who are mainly interested in the theme of the cruise - expeditions not boozing to excess. The cabins were comfortable and well serviced. As we were repeat passengers laundry was included. Dining was excellent at all meals. We preferred the more casual dining on Deck 6 which is buffet. The staff there were so accomodating and friendly where we found the dining in the formal dining room more formal and patronised by the more affluent wishing to be waited upon. The food is identical. Service is also more formal. There are no set dining periods or allocated seating. It is as you wish during the opening hours. On deck 6 bookings are often required due to popularity particularly if weather permits and as out-door dining is possible it is often extended to poolside. Each day there was a specially prepared dish available on deck 6 prepared by an exceptional chef (Jerome). Roast suckling pig,roast beef and lamb as well as a steak tartar to die for as well as prawns and scallops and many others. These meals are prepared for both lunch and dinner. Soups are always amazing.Wines are provided, red,white and rose at lunch and dinner which are reasonable but the more exclusive wines which are also available are expensive. Entertainment is restricted to 4 females and a male dancer and their performance is excellent.and if weather permits is performed on the pool deck. Otherwise it's in the theatre. For the more physical active a small gym is available to work off the extra weight that is so easy to put on.. Spa and massages are available. The lounges are comfortable and have singers or pianists playing at set times which are always advised in the daily schedule. Lectures are provided most days by one or other of the on-board guides, naturalists and scientists and are always most interesting and appropriate according to the areas being visited. Briefings and weather forecasts (if appropriate) are held before dinner regarding the next day's activities. In the sub-Antarctic they were were more than interesting and always gave us an appreciation of what we may expect be it good or bad. We have always found the cruise/expedition more than good value for money. The fact passenger size is limited to according to the size of the expedition and guides. Generally around 200 plus or minus a few depending upon how many people are permitted ashore which is dictated by the authorities managing the sites. Zodiac transfers are a breeze and access to/from the ship excellently achieved with ships crew amazing. Announcents are in French and English as there are usually more than a few French passengers on board (and they rule). It is after all a French owned ship. We have Been there and done that now three times and we will not travel with any other company based on ship size and passenger service. Many of the passengers and expedition staff formerly travelled or worked on the Orion which has now left Australian shores. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: July 2017
We chose Ponant as it offered an in depth look at the area at a competitive price. This was our first Ponant cruise. We have cruised with Silversea and Seabourn previously, but not on expedition cruises. L'Austral is sleek and the ... Read More
We chose Ponant as it offered an in depth look at the area at a competitive price. This was our first Ponant cruise. We have cruised with Silversea and Seabourn previously, but not on expedition cruises. L'Austral is sleek and the décor is understated but elegant and contemporary. Our cabin ( a "prestige stateroom" on Deck 5) was very comfortable. It was a bit small in some respects but that's not surprising on a ship of this size. The French crew were attentive and pleasant. The expedition team was very impressive, particularly in organising and accompanying the groups departing on shore excursions by Zodiac. The shore excursions were a lot of fun and very interesting in terms of natural scenery and indigenous art, The wildlife was a highlight, particularly the unexpectedly large freshwater crocodiles on the Ord River and so many sea turtles near the Lacepede Islands, A couple of catering issues: There was a lack of choice in the included wines, apparently due to the non-delivery of ordered wines before departure in Darwin. A formal apology was issued by Ponant for this. Secondly, you couldn't get an espresso coffee in the Panoramic lounge during the day even though there is a coffee machine sitting there. There was no espresso coffee machine in the Deck 6 Grill restaurant, where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. The waitstaff there had to order it from the Main lounge on Deck 3, so it was going cold by the time it got to us. And the coffee machine at the Deck 7 bar didn't work properly. But overall it was a very enjoyable cruise! 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
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
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
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
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
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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