THERE IS A SURGE of new vessels in the realm of Expedition and Exploration cruising and luxury line Ponant is a key part of this growth in the midst of its plans for seven new ships over a four-year period. Ponant builds small, exquisite yachts and these Explorer vessels are welcome newcomers. Since 2018, three yachts have joined the fleet and there are three more to come, along with a unique hybrid icebreaker ship slated for 2021. That ship will be able to take Ponant guests to the true north pole – further north than ever before – thanks to its icebreaking capabilities.
The newly launched Le Champlain sailing with 184 guests was our home last fall for a Norwegian fjords adventure. An intimate gem, the yacht shone brightly and helped expand Ponant’s already impressive lead in exploration cruising. They carry 50 percent of all guests who choose this kind of cruise itinerary, especially those destined for both polar regions. These destinations are becoming much sought-after as the desire to see icy worlds of incredible wildlife and outstanding marine life is growing dramatically.
The beautiful Le Champlain charms you and as you step aboard there’s a very welcoming feel. The colours, the airy ambiance and the décor are really terrific. There is an elegantly casual sensibility mirrored by the suggested onboard attire. And it wasn’t just the yacht that wooed us. The service levels, the warm welcome and the positive attitude from the staff made us feel at home instantly. Being a lover of France and French cuisine, I do enjoy that Ponant celebrates its French heritage and roots. The Captain and senior officers are French as are the Chefs, reception staff and Maître d’. There are, however, a number of Filipino staff serving in the restaurants and lounges and taking care of the staterooms and suites and their happy, charming personalities suit them perfectly for these roles. It’s a combination of cultures and nationalities that works well and enhances the guest experience. Everything is bilingual onboard but one does not have to speak any French at all to enjoy the experience.
One of the most spectacular aspects of these Explorer Yachts is the unique, magical Blue Eye lounge located in the hull, literally on Deck Zero. Even the entry to the lounge, with its blue shadowy light, raises goosebumps! As you descend the staircase, the multi-sensory effect is outstanding. The great visuals, surround sound from the waters and the clever interior design make this lounge a winner. Thrilled guests loved the ability to sail under the waterline, seeing and hearing marine life in a very special way – all the while enjoying a cocktail or glass of champagne and canapés. No blended drinks are allowed and no shaken martinis either – nothing noisy that could interfere with the calm, peaceful atmosphere.
Blue Eye Lounge
I stayed in a prestige stateroom which is about 205 sq. ft. – small but exceptionally well-designed, with lots of storage and every amenity I could ask for. The bathrooms are also petite but have a separate toilet, which many guests prefer. The lovely colour scheme is light beige and white with faux leather touches and each room has an HD flat-screen TV, a stocked mini-bar and loads of outlets, as well as ports for plugging in the phone charger. Another very welcome extra – a Nespresso coffee machine.
The yacht is under 10,000 tons and with 184 guests, it’s easy to move around. Happy social gatherings are common and indicative of the small ship experience. This is enhanced by the inclusive atmosphere, with drinks, wine, Champagne and all gratuities included. The main lounge, the Grand Salon, offers ample room for drinks and opens to the aft deck, extending the space outdoors. And there’s an infinity pool, sizeable deck space and dining and lounge chairs invite you to enjoy the fresh air. The entry to the water for watersports and zodiacs is a lower platform, just down from the pool. Casual meals are served on deck and one afternoon, after returning from an excursion, we were delighted to be served crêpes suzette in the sunshine with the Geiranger Fjord providing a spectacular backdrop.
The lovely, casual Observatory Lounge on a higher deck continues the colour palette of the ship and offers great views aft. Enjoy an aperitif while drinking in the view and relax with a good book or your ever-present iPad. Naturally, there’s a gym, a small spa and a sauna with a window on to the world outside. A theatre offers entertainment, production shows and lectures and there’s a beautiful restaurant, with a delicious French-influenced menu. At breakfast and lunch you can order from a menu or enjoy the excellent buffet choices while dinner is a tasty experience with wonderful choices and a focus on French cuisine.
Our short cruise departed from the lively town of Bergen on Norway’s west coast and sailed us north to Geiranger, which has to be one of the best sights you’ll ever experience – whether by ship or land. The small town offers opportunities for interesting exploration and the cruise down the fjord with its many waterfalls and towering cliffs is a photographer’s dream – as is much of Norway, with its friendly people and dramatic scenery. Other ports delivered on the great outdoors feel, with lakes, more waterfalls and wonderful hiking opportunities.
This special ship offers guests an impeccable small yacht experience in some of the most wondrous places, with a focus on expedition, exploration and five-star service. The cruise line visits almost 500 ports globally and offers privileged encounters in many destinations with wonderful interaction with the locals in places like Papua New Guinea, the Pacific Islands and, by Zodiac cruising, in the far north Arctic region. Ponant also offers their Quintessential Collection of voyages tailored for North American guests, featuring themes of food and wine, global affairs, history, architecture and gardens, and other fascinating topics.
IF YOU GO See your travel advisor for information on the selection of cruises offered by Ponant. Or check out www.ponant.com.
Written by Vanessa Lee for Cruise & Travel Lifestyles (Summer 2019).