Savouring A Short Ponant Expedition

by Vanessa Lee

l-r standing: Stephanie Anevich & Natasha Rhodes, Vision Travel & Cruises & Kyle Oram, KVI Travel, Kelowna l-r seated: Vanessa Lee; Stefan Bisciglia, Specialty Cruises & Villas; Jodi Fox, Vision Travel & Cruises & Kathy Johns, Director of Sales, Ponant, North America.

Our group of travel agents on board having fun along with Kathy Johns - at right - foreground.

Le Boreal’s pool deck – before setting sail from Canada Place in YVR

Le Boreal’s Lounge

A typical stateroom onboard Le Boreal

A welcoming committee of playful seals and 2 Blue Whales hailed our arrival in San Francisco and the iconic Golden Gate bridge appeared off our bow as our French Ponant yacht, Le Boreal drew closer to her maiden call on this notable city.  

A few days before, along with a group of Canadian and U.S. trade partners, we had left Vancouver, passing under the Lion's Gate Bridge on our repositioning cruise down the coast.  The ship has now sailed on to Carmel and Monterey, ‎on her way to the Sea of Cortez before she docks in Acapulco.

Le Boreal, a 5 yr. old beautiful and elegant yacht with a capacity of 264 guests (199 in Antarctica) exclusively in outside suites and staterooms, has journeyed from spending the summer in Alaska and Greenland and is now making her way down to Antarctica in time for her “summer” series of Expedition cruises. Le Boreal is an ice-class ship. There is also very little movement or vibration and the yacht sailed beautifully through some rather wild seas at one point on our short journey. This is also a green and clean cruise line where great emphasis is placed on ecologically appropriate fuels.

This was my 1st sailing on Ponant (although my 165th cruise) and I was on the voyage with our lovely host Kathy Johns, Director of Sales for Ponant as well as Ponant team members from their NYC office.

The mandate of the brand is to offer “Cultural Cruises and Expeditions” around the globe with an emphasis on the North and South Poles as well as such destinations as the White Sea; Japan and the Russian Far East as well as Africa; Asia; Australia and, of course, Europe. Ponant’s 5 ships sail to all 7 continents and will call at 450 ports in 81 countries in the coming year. 

Shipboard amenities include a spacious pool deck with ample sunning area and a casual Grill restaurant offering indoor/outdoor service along with a pool bar; an Observation Lounge (with space for card tables too); a Spa, hair salon and small fitness centre; an elegant main Lounge; a large Theatre (which can accommodate all guests) and a beautiful main restaurant.

The overall food and service were very good, with lots of choices for all meals other than a set menu for the Gala dinner. Clearly the emphasis is on delicious French cuisine and Veuve Cliquot is the ship’s champagne of choice – and poured often!  Most staff in the bars, lounges and dining rooms are Indonesian or Balinese and absolutely delightful. The reception, spa staff and Officers are French but everyone is (more or less) fluently bilingual. Announcements are made in both languages including from The Bridge which we had the opportunity to tour with the charming Captain, Erwann Le Rouzie - who is a great story teller and has a great love for Expedition cruising.

The other key point about Ponant is that it is an all-inclusive brand with an open bar policy on board which includes wine, beer and cocktails as well as a stocked in-room mini fridge. Premium brands along with specialty cocktail choices or superior wines may be purchased for an additional cost. All gratuities (other than for the spa) are included in the fare. On expedition and enrichment cruises, shore excursions are also included. Other inclusions are transfers, port charges and taxes. Any onboard charges are in Euros.

The  comfortable staterooms and suites are of a reasonable size and extremely well designed with tons of storage space, robes, a hair dryer, North American and European plugs, Satellite TV (mostly) a range of in-room movies and documentaries as well as music, plus Wi-Fi at a realistic cost. The beds can be a king or twins and the bathrooms have a separate loo - and some have bathtubs too! 95% of the rooms have a small balcony with chairs and some also have Nespresso coffee makers. 

For the very popular Antarctic and Northwest Passages sailings, there are 10 compartmentalized Zodiacs for guest use and each will carry about 8 – 12 guests, a pilot and a Naturalist. The Naturalists are from all over the world and there are usually 10 on each voyage. The expedition and enrichment cruises do tend to suit travellers who seek intellectual and physical stimulation, are more than likely baby boomers and those who enjoy the company of like-minded adventurists. Also there are many voyages (65 or so each year) where there is no single supplement – a great idea.  And another point – about 25% of the guests who cruise Ponant are 1 st time cruisers ticking off their bucket lists!

This is a great brand which is beginning to make its mark in North America and one that should be recognized for the diverse array of itineraries all the while offering a casual luxury onboard experience. 

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