Le Luxe à la Française – Welcoming Ponant’s New Explorer Yacht
by Vanessa Lee
Vanessa with Theresa Gatta, VP Sales North America, Ponant
at Geiranger Fjord in Norway. The small ship on the left in the background being Le Champlain.
In the fjord
Chef on the back deck making crepes Suzette
Blue Eye bar
Prestige Stateroom Deck 4
I do love the art of ships. Of course I love the cruising experience itself, but recently I have concluded that I am possibly more in love with the style and design of ships. Their evolution over these many years and the constant state of innovation within the cruise industry continues to excite and energize me.
It’s not only the debut of many new and remarkable ships that I enjoy but also the emergence of change within the cruise industry; it’s marvellous to witness the success of river cruising for example, and now, the burgeoning surge in the realm of expedition and exploration cruising.
Having recently returned from a few wonderful days in the Norwegian fjords aboard Ponant’s fabulous small gem of a ship, the delightful Le Champlain, I am even more revved up about the expansion of the expedition market.
Some of you may not know that Ponant has been a leader in this segment for many years and actually carries fully 50% of all expedition and exploration cruisers exploring from pole to pole and all points in between. Currently the only place in the world Ponant does not sail is to the Galapagos Islands but this may change in the future.
This 5-star cruise line has entered an unprecedented era of growth, with the arrival this year of two new Explorer Class yachts, all of which are named for French Explorers. The Le Lapérouse and Le Champlain are now sailing and two more sister ships will come in 2019 – Le Bougainville and Le Dumont D’Urville. A subsequent twosome will grace our oceans in 2020 – the Le Bellot and Le Surville.
As many of you know, I am not a pushover. I have high standards regarding ships and it takes quite a bit to impress me. So I am happy to tell you that I thought this 184-guest yacht was adorable, beautiful and très charmant. I loved her the moment I stepped onboard. The colours, the light and open feeling, the décor – all are really well done. There is an elegantly casual sensibility to the yacht, along with the suggested attire, and every aspect has been given great thought. And I can also vouch that fellow guests – members of the travel industry from North America, Europe and Australia all concurred -- the yacht is a big hit!
The success is not just in the hardware, of course. It’s in the service levels -- the warm and friendly welcome and a positive attitude from every staff member. It’s the fact that Ponant celebrates its French heritage and roots. The Captain and his senior officers are French as are the Chefs, reception staff and Maître d’.
However there are now a great many Filipino staff serving in the restaurants, the bars and lounges and taking care of the staterooms and suites. Their happy and charming personalities are ideally suited to these roles and the combo of the two nationalities works well. I applaud Ponant for making this change on board as it further enhances the guest experience.
One of the most spectacular aspects of these Explorer Yachts is the magical Blue Eye lounge located in the hull, literally on Deck Zero. Even the entry to the lounge, with its shadowy blue light, brings out goosebumps. As one descends a staircase into the actual room, the multi-sensory effect is outstanding. This is such a winner, with great visuals, surround-sound from the waters in which the ship is sailing and terrific, clever design. Guests were thrilled with this concept, the ability to sail under the water line and see and hear marine life in such a special way – all the while enjoying a cocktail or glass of champagne and canapés. No blended drinks allowed – no shaken martinis either, nothing noisy that will interfere with the calm and peaceful atmosphere.
My accommodation was designated as a prestige stateroom, coming in at about 205 sq. feet. Too small in my opinion but very well designed with lots of storage. The bathrooms are also petite but there is a separate loo which many guests prefer. The colour scheme is light beige and white “leather” effect materials, really quite lovely. A small corner couch accompanies a cocktail table and a small desk doubles as a boudoir table with a well-lit mirror. Each room has an HD flat-screen TV, a stocked mini-bar and loads of outlets for both North American and European plugs as well as ports for plugging in the phone charger. And something I literally cherish in a shipboard room – a Nespresso coffee machine. Oh joy!
The yacht is small. At less than 10,000 tons and with a maximum of just 184 guests, it is easy to get around and guests gather together with happy social camaraderie – so indicative of the small ship experience which I love – and it’s enhanced by the inclusive atmosphere with all drinks, wine and champagne included as well as all gratuities.
The one main lounge – The Grand Salon -- with its mirrored ceiling, piano and ample room for drinks while seated or standing, also opens to the aft deck – literally extending outside. The accents of turquoise, raffia weave decorative discs and basket “art” along with pretty tasselled cushions and light-coloured wooden chairs offer a relaxed ambiance that is both attractive and comfortable.
Walking out from the main lounge to the aft deck, there is an infinity pool, sizeable deck space and dining and lounge chairs. The entry to the water for watersports and zodiacs is down from the pool to a lower platform. Casual meals are served on deck and one afternoon, returning from a shore excursion, we were delighted to be served crêpes suzette in the sunshine with Geiranger Fjord in all its splendour providing an impeccable backdrop.
On Deck 6 there is the lovely Observatory Lounge, extending the colour palette of the rest of the ship and with great views aft. It’s a casual spot for both drinks and drinking in the view and relaxing with a good book or the ever present iPad. Of course 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. Everything one needs is on this impeccable little yacht including a beautiful main restaurant, with a French-influenced menu of truly delicious cuisine. At breakfast and lunch one can order from a menu or partake of the excellent buffet choices. Dinner, as one would expect, is a tasty experience with wonderful menu choices.
Le Champlain is a jewel – a bright, shining gem offering guests an impeccable small yacht experience to some of the most wondrous places on our planet. Congratulations Ponant – we look forward to welcoming more of your yachts in the years to come.
Vanessa Lee Columnist
An internationally-known luxury cruise expert, Vanessa is publisher and editor of Cruise and Travel Lifestyles magazine. She appears with Nina on the bi-monthly video Cruise Factor.