By David Barclay | October 18, 2023
If you are new to cruising or even an experienced cruiser, you may not be familiar with Ponant Cruises. Most of the luxury cruise lines I recommend to my clients cater to North American, Australian, and UK guests (e.g. Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, Explora Journeys). English is spoken as the onboard language and the US dollar is the official currency on board.
Ponant is a French cruise line and targets a more international clientele. In fact, only a few years ago only 30% of guests were from English speaking countries. That has evolved to closer to a 50/50 mix today as Ponant has grown in popularity, but the experience on board maintains its international flair with the “French Touch” for which Ponant is known. I think Ponant should be on the radar of any luxury cruiser as it is one of the best expedition cruise lines sailing the world’s oceans.
Ponant expanded its fleet starting in 2010 and currently has 12 ships. The Ponant ships are considered small ships (32-264 guests) and are designed to feel more like private yachts than cruise ships. Since all of its ships, except for the flagship Le Ponant, were launched in the last 13 years, it has one of the youngest fleets at sea. And in 2021, Ponant launched the world’s first luxury icebreaker.
Ponant is focused on bringing French luxury to cruising with a focus on expedition cruising. Its ships cruise to every corner of the globe, with a program of lectures and excursions carefully designed to include world-class scholars, scientists, authors and performing artists to enrich guests’ appreciation of the destination. Its icebreaker ship is the first Polar-Class 2 luxury ship, able to travel further into icy waters than any other cruise ship.
Ponant has partnered with many famous brands and individuals, including the Ducasse Conseil (onboard cuisine), Veuve Clicquot (champagne), SOTHYS (onboard spas), and Hermès (bath products). For the gastronomic restaurant on Le Commandant Charcot, Ponant partnered with 21-Michelin star chef Alain Ducasse, who designed the menu himself.
Ponant offers a variety of themed cruises throughout the year, including Food & Wine, Music, History, and World affairs cruises. Ponant has also partnered with Smithsonian Journeys, to offer themed voyages embracing cultural immersion and discovery, with the goal of further inspiring guests to become global citizens through travel.
While Ponant is a French cruise line, non-French speakers should not fret. The crew speaks fluent English and all signs on board the ships are in both French and English. Ponant is not only focused on an excellent customer experience, but also focused on minimizing its impact on the environment. Its Sister Ships and EXPLORER class ships are the only ships in their class to be certified “Clean Ships” by Bureau Veritas. The icebreaker, Le Commandant Charcot, runs on liquified natural gas and can run on only battery power when needed.
Below I’ve provided highlights of Ponant and the Ponant fleet. If you are interested in learning more, please feel free to reach out, I’d be happy to discuss if a Ponant cruise would be right for you.
The Sister Ships
Le Boréal, L’Austral, Le Soléal, Le Lyrial
Guests: 264 Crew: 145 Guest-to-Crew Ratio: 1.8
Gross Tons: 10,944 Guest-to-Space Ratio: 41
The four “Sister Ships” were the first expansion of the Ponant fleet. Launched between 2010 and 2015, these ships greatly enhanced Ponant’s capabilities and truly put Ponant on the map as a luxury cruise line. The ships epitomize Ponant’s philosophy: small-capacity yachts perfect for fostering camaraderie, a unique atmosphere, and a subtle combination of luxury, privacy and well-being.
All staterooms are ocean-facing and 95% of staterooms have a balcony. Each ship provides guests with many common areas, including 2 restaurants, a gym, hair salon, spa, pool and theater. The sister ships tend to sail the warmer weather itineraries, including in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Asia.
EXPLORER Class Ships
Lapérouse, Le Champlain, Le Bougainville, Le Dumont-d’Urville, Le Bellot, Le Jacques-Cartier
Guests: 184 Crew: 118 Guest-to-Crew Ratio: 1.6
Gross Tons: 10,700 Guest-to-Space Ratio: 58
The next expansion of the Ponant fleet was the addition of six EXPLORER class ships. Launched between 2018 and 2021, these ships are smaller than the Sister Ships, designed to travel where most other cruise ships cannot go. Each ship bears the name of a French explorer who set off on adventures beyond the boundaries of the known world in search of new lands.
The ships are designed for polar and tropical expeditions and are equipped with state-of-the-art technology and a movable marina platform. These ships tend to sail in more remote areas with unique expedition itineraries.
One of the unique common areas on board these ships is the Blue Eye, a multisensory underwater lounge. Located on deck 0 below the waterline, the lounge is designed to bring guests close to the underwater animal life. The interior of the lounge has a very organic design inspired by biomimetics, and the entire lounge is bathed in subdued blue lighting. Two large viewing ports allow guests to view the underwater world and at night the blue lighting is extended to encourage nearby animal life to come within view. The ship also has several hydrophones on the hull and the ocean sounds are piped into the lounge.
Le Commandant Charcot
Guests: 245 Crew: 215 Guest-to-Crew Ratio: 1.1
Gross Tons: 31,757 Guest-to-Space Ratio: 130
Le Commandant Charcot is the first luxury icebreaker ever to sail the Arctic and Antarctic oceans. Most luxury expedition ships have Polar-Class 6 (PC6) hulls, which means they can sail in the summer and into the shoulder seasons of the Arctic and Antarctic (even the new Lindblad arctic ships only have PC5 hulls). Le Commandant Charcot has a PC2 hull which means she can travel forward through ice up to 4 meters thick and can easily reach the North Pole.
While she lavishes all of the typical Ponant luxuries on guests, she is also the most advanced and cleanest ship in the fleet. She’s powered by cleaner liquified natural gas and has a hybrid-electric design which allows her to run only on batteries when in sensitive environmental areas.
Guests: 32 Crew: 32 Guest-to-Crew Ratio: 1.0
Gross Tons: 1,189 Guest-to-Space Ratio: 37
The first ship of the Ponant fleet and still its flagship, Le Ponant offers guests the most intimate of experiences. With only 32 guests and a crew to guest ratio of 1.0, this ship feels like a private yacht. She delivers the same Ponant level of service and cuisine, but in a unique, slower paced sailing yacht experience.
Launched in 1993, she has been meticulously maintained and her most recent refit in 2021 ensured that she looks and sails today as if she were a new ship.
Owner, Barclay & Company Travel
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