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Cruise Ship Information

Ponant is a French cruise ship operator. It was founded in April 1988 by Philippe Videau, Jean-Emmanuel Sauvé, and other officers of the French Merchant Navy and launched the first French cruise ship. The company operates four ships, all of which operate under the French flag.


Atmosphere on board 


Experience the privilege of a relaxing cruise aboard Le Ponant, crafted to respect the tradition of famous sailing yachts.


Following in the nautical tradition of three-masted sailing ship, Le Ponant will take you on a voyage of discovery. The ship capacity limited to 64 passengers provides intimacy and convivial atmosphere to the cruise. The refined life on board, the welcoming charm of your cabin, the lounges and the restaurants setting are as many invitations to relax.

Under full sail, glid


Family with Kids/Teens


Le Ponant is not especially aimed at families but does carry children and makes them welcome. There's no structured kids entertainment or activities; French families tend to do everything together, including eating dinner, and all the children on my cruise seemed sophisticated and well-behaved. Kids menus are available on request, but there was plenty on the buffet or menu in any case that would appeal to kids -- pasta and omelets, for example, and ice cream every day. The waiters were generally very sweet with the children. A small children's playroom was unsupervised but had a good stock of games and toys, and we often noticed small children playing quietly in there. In the Karikal Lounge, a giant screen with Wii kept the teens amused. In-cabin baby-sitting is sometimes available on request, especially on family theme cruises, but you'll need to make arrangements with the Hotel or Cruise Director on a case-by-case basis.


Past Passenger Programs

 

The 64-passenger Le Ponant is a three-masted sailing ship that sails for Ponant. It cruises the Mediterranean from May through October and visits the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, with cruises to the Maldives and Seychelles, from November through April. The ship has four passenger decks with outside cabins, a sun deck, indoor and outdoor restaurants serving French cuisine, and several lounges.


Passengers on regular sailings tend to be French or European, though charter cruises through American operators attract a North American and English-speaking crowd. The intimate onboard spaces create a convivial atmosphere among guests, and the crew offer friendly and personalized service. The ship is available for private charters.


Fitness And Spa


The small spa on Le Ponant is run by Parisian firm Sothys and is about as perfect as a small cruise ship spa can get -- tranquil and relaxing with charming, friendly service and absolutely no hard selling. Tipping is not encouraged, and there are no disclaimers to sign before a treatment. I was so delighted with the care and attention that went into my simple nail polish change that I offered to pay more and was refused. I had a blissful 75-minute facial for 120 euros, which isn't a bad price by cruise ship standards, and I left with armfuls of samples of the wonderful Sothys products. I noticed that several passengers had bought the spa packages, which offer combinations like six anti-aging treatments over six days for 360 euros. The spa also offers a hair salon, a mixed hammam and a peaceful relaxation room with an outdoor area.


There's a small, forward-facing gym connected to the spa, offering treadmills, stationary cycles and Kinesis equipment. On my cruise, there weren't any gym classes offered, only ballroom classes in the main lounge, run by the onboard dancers.


Le Ponant has a lot of deck space, but not much was used for sunbathing. The pool area aft on Deck 6 is delightful, with squashy single and double loungers clustered around a small, deep and inviting pool. The deck aft of the Karikal lounge is ideal for sitting outside in the shade, as is the Le Comptoir bar area, overlooking the pool. But the whole of the top deck is occupied by the ship's fleet of Zodiac inflatables, as well as other machinery, and it isn't conducive to sunbathing. There are a few loungers up there, but it didn't seem much used. Likewise, the forward-facing terrace outside the Panoramic Lounge on Deck 6 is fine when the ship is moving but a real sun trap and very hot when it's in port.


Le Ponant has a marina platform that can be used when the ship's at anchor for swimming and non-powered sports like kayaking and windsurfing (for no additional fee).


Food & Dining


There are two venues in which to dine: the main dining room, Le Coromandel, on Deck 2, and the casual Le Rodrigues on Deck 6. Open-seating breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in both every day.


The main dining room can seat all passengers together, but the acoustics are such that the staff try not to fill it to capacity, as the low ceiling makes it very noisy when it's full. There are tables for four, six and eight, with fours sometimes serving as twos. You can ask to be seated with other passengers who speak your language. We wanted a table for two at dinner and found that, by turning up later, this was usually possible, although the upshot was that the service was rushed. Dinner starts at 7:30 p.m., and that's when practically all passengers turned up. Anything later seemed to confuse the waiters.


One table in the dining room is reserved for the officers who sit together at all meals, ignoring the cruisers, which we found very strange, although there were some hosted tables on the gala night.


Food in Le Coromandel was generally excellent. There's a big spread for breakfast (7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.) with a range of cooked items, an omelet station and a hot dish of the day, as well as an extraordinary spread of pastries and cakes (as you might expect on a French ship). Fresh fruits bought in the region in which we were sailing meant delicious strawberries, peaches and nectarines. We tended to eat breakfast on deck in the less formal setting of Le Rodrigues (7 a.m. to 9 a.m.), which has the same menu. We quickly learned that if you turned up at 8:55 a.m., it was already being cleared away.


Lunch (12 p.m. to 2 p.m.) was a buffet with a selection of hot dishes veering more toward comfort food than elegant fare -- lasagna, casseroles, meat or fish in a sauce and so on. There's a decent enough range of salads and cold cuts and, again, a stunning presentation of desserts, with ice cream always available. Red, white and rose wine of decent quality are poured generously at lunch and dinner, and a premium list has some interesting French labels on it from about 30 euros upward.


Dinner (from 7:30 p.m.) is when the French classics come out, featuring everything from foie gras and chicken gizzards to duck confit, veal and wild boar, all served with rich sauces and elegant arrangements of vegetables. The vegetarian options are good, a long way from the omelets and frites to which veggies would resign themselves in France in years gone by. Much of the fish is bought fresh, locally, and was excellent.


Dinners include a starter, soup, main course and dessert. Strangely, we were asked to order dessert at the beginning of the meal, which seems a rather mass-market way of approaching things. I bucked the system one day and asked for cheese as the main course was being cleared away and had a long wait for it.

We ate lunch most days in Le Rodrigues (12 p.m. to 2 p.m.), as it was pleasant to sit outside by the pool. Sometimes there was a barbecue (token at best for the French passengers, who eat their steak almost raw), sometimes a moules marinieres station (mussels poached in a garlicky stock and served from a huge tureen), and, on one occasion, a mountain of oysters. The menu is the same as downstairs, though.


If you want dinner in Le Rodrigues (from 7 p.m.), you have to book at breakfast, and a big production was made of this, although when we turned up after something of a battle to secure a table for two, the place was almost empty. Because the ship is in port a lot at night, people do tend to change their minds and eat ashore. Dinner is a buffet, which, despite the romantic alfresco setting, is unexciting and not that different from the lunch menu. But this is a lovely spot to dine on a balmy evening in port.


Tea, coffee, fruit, cookies and an early-bird breakfast (from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.) are also available in the Karikal lounge on Deck 3, and afternoon tea (cakes and cookies) is laid out at 4 p.m. The room service menu consists mainly of comfort food like burgers, steaks, fries and salads, available at no additional charge.

Water is available free of charge on shore excursions.


Entertainment


Entertainment is low-key, with very little going on during the day. Occasionally, there were dance classes and Ping-Pong challenges, but on my cruise, there weren't any guest speakers. This changes on the more adventurous expedition cruises, when there's a full program of speakers, with lectures in English guaranteed.


Most people go ashore during the day, and the shore excursions sold very well (and were excellent and reasonably priced). Some lie by the pool, and some use the spa, but Le Ponant's passengers aren't the kinds of people who need constant stimulation; a lot would simply disappear for the whole day and show up at sailing time, having eaten ashore.


In the evenings, there was an excellent jazz singer in the Karikal lounge and, on some nights, there were dance shows in the theatre, which were good, if not cutting edge. One night, the dancers performed tangos on the pool deck, which added to the atmosphere of a hot Mediterranean night.


What really stood out was the late-night disco on Deck 6, which was superb; a proper, professional D.J. played a good mix of contemporary sounds. The disco drew the crowds, as well as the officers, and it was the social hub of the ship on many a night. But we got the impression that each ship of the three has a distinct personality, driven by the hotel manager, so if the hotel manager doesn't hire a D.J., you might not get the same level of nightlife. A friend who had cruised on sister ship Le Ponant said it was completely different at night, much quieter and with a much older age group. And, indeed, the Karikal lounge was very quiet after dinner; people seemed either to go dancing upstairs or to go to bed.


Staterooms


All the accommodations on Le Ponant are located forward, with all the public rooms aft. There's only one stairwell, at the aft end of the accommodations section, so the forward elevator comes under some pressure, although given the small size of the ship, this is hardly a concern for the able-bodied.


Because several of the cabins interconnect to create suites, the capacity of the ship can vary. The maximum configuration is four suites and 128 non-suite cabins (132 staterooms total), and in a heavier ratio of suites to non-suites, it's 24 suites and 88 non-suite staterooms (112 staterooms total). Le Ponant and its sisters are often booked for full charters or corporate events, which makes this flexibility handy.


There are six categories of cabins, although there's not much difference between the middle categories besides their location. Decor is beautiful throughout, featuring calming neutrals of chocolate, taupe and cream, and sumptuous textures of silk, satin, white leather and marble, with potted orchids by the beds and photographic prints on the walls. All accommodations have individually controlled air-conditioning, Wi-Fi, iPod chargers and flat screen TVs. The bathroom products are L'Occitane in the standard cabins and Sothys in the suites. What's special about the bathrooms is that, in all categories except the Owner's Suite, a panel slides across to reveal a wall of glass, so you can stand in the shower and look out to sea if you wish -- an innovative touch. If you're sharing the cabin and want to preserve your modesty, you can, of course, shower with the wall panel closed.


The Owner's Suite (484 square feet with a 97-square-foot balcony) on Deck 5 has a separate living and dining area, as well as a large bathroom with bath and a guest bathroom, and a double-width teak balcony. Three Deluxe Suites (290 square feet plus a 54 square-foot balcony), also on Deck 6, each have a sofa, two showers, a built-in bar and dressing room, and they're wider than the next category down.


The Prestige Suites are essentially two Prestige cabins (situated on Decks 4 and 5), combined to create an area of 398 square feet plus an 86 square-foot double-width balcony. Each of these has two bathrooms with showers and a sofa where the second bed would normally be; they're ideal for families. Half of one of these is a Prestige stateroom (200 square feet plus a 43 square-foot balcony). These are no different in size from the 28 Deluxe staterooms; it's purely location that defines the price. Finally, there are eight Superior staterooms forward on Deck 3, slightly bigger at 226 square feet, but with picture windows in place of a balconies. All cabins have sitting areas with sofas and long vanities with drawer space. Wardrobe space, too, is generous.


Furniture on each of the standard balconies is two rattan chairs and a small table. A handful of balconies at the forward end of the ship have solid panels, so check carefully if a private sunbathing space is important.


Three cabins are wheelchair-adapted; the whole ship is wheelchair-friendly, but split-level decks mean complicated chairlifts need to be used to get up or down the equivalent of a few stairs.


Tipping


Compagnie du Ponant normally suggests a tip of €10 per day per guest, which is given to Reception and pooled for distribution to the service staff. However, fares for North and South American passengers now include gratuities, and we hope this new policy will lead to "all-inclusive" pricing for guests of all nationalities.


Fellow Passengers


Ponant attracts a mostly French clientele, with a healthy mix of other Europeans and a sprinkling of Americans. Full-ship charters through Tauck, a Connecticut-based travel company, or Abercrombie & Kent, tend to have mostly North American passenger rosters. On these cruises, travelers tend to be 50-plus, well to do, well traveled and interested in engaging with the destination.


Our recommendation


As the night fell we returned but once again to the nest of finer comforts. Joseph Conrad once opined that “...the sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.” Clearly Conrad never sailed on Le Ponant! With all of the comforts of a five star living, one could easily forget that beyond the confines of the refined embroidery, the universal white leather trimmings, the Swarovski crystals and the lazy afternoon teas lay the harshness of the open sea. On days at sea what could one do but simply enjoy the relaxation of the steam room, an indolent game of chess with afternoon cakes and to retire with an activity or two in the main lounge with the helpful, if at times, comical cruise director. As the sun set over the Javanese horizon, a culinary exploration began in earnest. Le premier Restaurant, Le Coromandel, was a revelation of onboard experiences. Every evening, without fail, the astonishing and remarkable staff of Le Coromandel delighted and amazed with a menu not outshone any of its rivals on the Champs Elysee. A floating five-star experience could be the only way to describe these delectable moments. It is hard to say whether it was the consommé de boeuf or the ravioli d’escargots that tipped us from the precipice of ecstasy. If it was not, it most certainly was the first class and always varied selection of le vin, on hand and at the ready should one’s glass unforgivably run dry. When the luxury and the lavishness of French fine dining became too much to bear, one could always, but in no measure settle, for the more casual experience of the Restaurant Le Rodrigues. Le Rodrigues dishes up a buffet experience unparalleled and not yet seen by any of its rival contenders of Western Sydney. The culinary choices of Le Rodrigues might offer less formality and certainly much greater preference depending on one’s predilection; deliberation, however, must be thrown to the wind when tempting its signature chocolate mousse. One is glad for the informality when returning to the buffet for a third and, belt buckle willing, fourth serving.