- The ship was delightful: Small enough (at 264 passengers) to feel uncrowded, but big enough to offer amenities such as two restaurants and a theatre. The cabins are sightly smaller than those on many cruise ships, but our standard Veranda Stateroom was big and comfortable enough for us.
- The food was the best we've had at sea. In part, this may have been due to the fact that we were on a gastronomic-themed cruise, but even the standard fare (and especially the artisan breads, which were phenomenal) was outstanding.
- Most of the crew spoke both French and English. (About half of the passengers were French, a dozen or so were Americans, another dozen or so were from Australia, and the rest came from the UK, South Africa, Brazil, and various European countries.)
- There were only a few minor glitches during the cruise, such as minimal translations of a couple of gastronomic lectures (mostly the fault of the sponsoring magazine, a member of France's MARIE CLAIRE group).
- There weren't a lot of activities on the daily program (no trivia games, no Friends of Bill W. meetings, no origami lessons). On the other hand, the ship does have a decently-equipped fitness center, a pool, a spa, and a collection of coffee-table books in its library, so there's no need for passengers to bring along WAR AND PEACE to keep themselves occupied at sea.
- We liked the "open bridge" policy (the bridge was open to passengers for about two hours each morning) and the fact that the captain was often seen around the ship. During disembarkation, the captain was at the gangway, saying farewell to guests.
Bottom line: We recommend L'AUSTRAL and Compagnie du Ponant to anyone who likes smaller ships, isn't looking for art auctions or bingo games, and can afford the company's fares. (If you're the sort of person who enjoys visiting Paris or watching French movies, you'll probably enjoy cruising with Compagnie du Ponant.)