Anyone with experience with Ponant in Antarctica?

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#21
25,689 Posts
Joined Jul 2004
Originally posted by PerfectlyPerth
Doesn't pay to insult those who are only taking time out of their day to provide actual facts that assist people.
Not an insult at all. Just different wiring.
#22
25,689 Posts
Joined Jul 2004
So, we are back from our adventure and it was fabulous. I hope to have a review/diary posted in the next month or so (I'm very slow at those). Here's a stream of consciousness summary:

Le Lyrial is a gorgeous ship with a terrific crew. As you can see from my signature, we normally sail on large middle of the pack cruiselines and I really enjoyed the small ship luxury experience (which doesn't bode well for our wallets in the future). Because of the charter, the primary language was English. The officers, front desk and dining/bar management were French while the stateroom, dining and bar crew were a mix of Indonesian and Filipino.

There is a small but serviceable gym on Deck 5, which would have been interesting on some of our rougher days. Also a steam room (the Hammam), a spa with three techs (I didn't visit), a photo gallery and a small shop selling sundries (kept behind the counter), clothing (lots of expedition-related items), binoculars, walking sticks and jewelry.

Service was top notch, the food was mostly excellent (even 14 days in when the lettuce was still green even if the bananas were brown on the outside). The dining room had trouble keeping up, however - we prefer to dine on the later side (after 8:00), but found that if we didn't stampede to the dining room, we would be at dinner for 2+ hours. By the end of the cruise we were having dinner in the buffet and breakfast/lunch in the dining room, when the service was much more expeditious. I asked the buffet maitre d' if we were having the "real" Ponant experience and he said, "sort of." On a non-charter, dinner reservations are required for the buffet, but not in the dining room, except for parties of 8 or more. But the menus were typical.

We had stateroom 337, the first cabin after the reception area. I wouldn't book it again - although everything in the cabin was in good working order once the seal around the door to the balcony was repaired, there was noise from a distant slamming door that went on all day, every day. I think it was from a galley and the sound carried up through a vent, but it drove me nuts for the first few days (thankfully it didn't seem to happen at night). The front desk dutifully noted the issue and I never heard from them again. Our stateroom attendant, Marylou, was great and kept our cozy cabin clean.

We didn't use our balcony much, not surprisingly, but it was nice to have the option. I got some great photos from there without having to deal with somebody's long lens hitting me in the head or getting in front of me just as I was about to take a picture. And it was awesome to see waves higher than the rail during our Drake Passage crossing (one day of lake, 12 hours of being in the washing machine, mostly as we slept, thankfully).

I believe that Ponant offers complimentary house wine and beer with lunch and dinner. The charter offered that plus a range of spirits all day. Premium brands were extra, but there was a good range in each spirit - vodkas were Smirnoff, Stoli and Absolut, for example. The mini fridge in our stateroom was stocked with airplane-sized bottles of liquor, still and sparkling water and some sodas. Bottled water was always available at reception.

I found the house wines (all French, of course) to be eminently swillable, although I only had the rose and red offerings. DH enjoyed the whites. I wish I had remembered to take a picture of the wine list that was in our stateroom - it featured bottles up to E600 or so. I can't imagine what condition they are in with the pounding they take.

The senior officers were out and about the ship, but they didn't socialize with the passengers much that I saw. The Captain threw a Welcome Aboard cocktail party (featuring Veuve Cliquot) and dinner plus a farewell dinner on the second to last night. The Captain has an open bridge policy, but we never made it in there - every time we looked, the red sign was posted. Maybe they saw us coming. We did take a tour of engineering, though.

The laundry service was good - the prices were ok and our clothes came back the next day (we would leave the bag in the evening) pressed or folded, on wooden hangers and the same size as when they left.

A&K ran the show - the Ponant Cruise Director went on vacation and the CD for our trip (the fourth of four run by A&K on Le Lyrial) was an A&K employee, as were all of the naturalists and expedition leaders. Even the future journey consultant was A&K; I'm not sure that we could have booked a Ponant cruise if we'd wanted to. The onboard experience was all about our destinations (Falklands, South Georgia & Antarctica), with up to four lectures per day on varying subjects from geology to wildlife to photography to Ernest Shackleton. We also had a pre-dinner Expedition recap/what to expect tomorrow meeting every night.

Entertainment (other than the wonders we saw at every turn) was limited: There was a movie shown every night after dinner, and each one had a theme relative to our adventure, from "Thatcher" (starring the overrated Meryl Streep) to documentaries about Antarctic explorers to Eight Below (starring Paul Walker) and Madagascar. I didn't stay up for any of them. The ship had a couple of singers and a wonderful pianist, all of whom provided background music in the lounges. We did dance a couple of times because we wanted to.

We had two landing groups that alternated early and late departures (other than in the Falklands and Grytviken, where we could go ashore at will). Our time off the ship once we got to South Georgia, including the Zodiac transfers, was up to 2 hours. The transfers were never more than 5-10 minutes each way and getting off the ship was managed very efficiently. For us that was plenty of time - we got to see what we wanted to see without having to rush and fall over our fellow red penguins. There were excursions in the Falklands (DH did the Battlefield tour and I visited a working sheep farm), all included in the trip (we were there all day so had time to explore on our own). We had Zodiac excursions at Elephant Island (our itinerary changed because of storms so we had that instead of a third day in South Georgia) and Salpetriere Bay. Otherwise we had two landings each day.

I had some issues with the land portion of the trip - we booked the full Monty starting with being picked up at EZE by A&K and ending there after the cruise - so, if we are fortunate enough to go again, I will book us independently to Ushuaia and pick up the trip from there. A&K gives a credit for some unused items, such as the charter flight - not all companies do.

Also, I don't know if I would book directly with Ponant for this itinerary - I don't speak much French, and I don't see how they would have time to have lectures in multiple languages, as there aren't enough hours in the day to do everything twice. But I never say never. The A&K staff were so awesome that I would really like to do with them again.

I'll be revising my signature in due course, since this trip bumped the Galapagos to second place.
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-Jean


Block Island Ferry 1965

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#23
469 Posts
Joined May 2006
Just returned from 16 nights aboard Le Soleal. Big plus were our stops on South Georgia Island( that's where you really experience wildlife). Ship was very comfortable with only 200 passengers maximum for Antarctic "Expedition".

We selected a mid ship cabin on deck 5 and it was a good choice( the bridge is on deck 5 and there is an open bridge policy) Key is mid-ship as you will experience some period of rough seas. Passengers about split with 80 French /80 Aussies with 21 Americans, rest from all parts of the globe. As this is an "Expedition", safety is the key and no specific stops are guaranteed.

Food, free beverages (hot and alcoholic) and entertainment all exceeded our expectations. Laundry service, TV options, and internet all workable benefits. Ship provided boots and parkas which made packing easy. The only major change I would explore would be to see if there was an option to fly to Ushuaia independently one of two days prior to embarkation. That first day with very early flight from Buenos Aires was very long and tiring.

Follow expedition clothing packing tips especially the water proof trousers or overpants. A must for the numerous zodiac rides and landing. Were surprised that many people brought clothing for the "Black and White" semi-formal night. Approximately 80% of men had a coat and tie. Not to worry as the buffet on deck 6 did not have a dress code beyond sensible. Overall very satisfied with the experience and value we received. Will answer your questions LTCUSARMY at aol.com
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#24
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
647 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
Originally posted by CincyAL
Just returned from 16 nights aboard Le Soleal. Big plus were our stops on South Georgia Island( that's where you really experience wildlife). Ship was very comfortable with only 200 passengers maximum for Antarctic "Expedition".

We selected a mid ship cabin on deck 5 and it was a good choice( the bridge is on deck 5 and there is an open bridge policy) Key is mid-ship as you will experience some period of rough seas. Passengers about split with 80 French /80 Aussies with 21 Americans, rest from all parts of the globe. As this is an "Expedition", safety is the key and no specific stops are guaranteed.

Food, free beverages (hot and alcoholic) and entertainment all exceeded our expectations. Laundry service, TV options, and internet all workable benefits. Ship provided boots and parkas which made packing easy. The only major change I would explore would be to see if there was an option to fly to Ushuaia independently one of two days prior to embarkation. That first day with very early flight from Buenos Aires was very long and tiring.

Follow expedition clothing packing tips especially the water proof trousers or overpants. A must for the numerous zodiac rides and landing. Were surprised that many people brought clothing for the "Black and White" semi-formal night. Approximately 80% of men had a coat and tie. Not to worry as the buffet on deck 6 did not have a dress code beyond sensible. Overall very satisfied with the experience and value we received. Will answer your questions LTCUSARMY at aol.com
Thank you for taking the time to write this post. We are on this ship next January and it is good to read of your experience.
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Cunard QM2 Eastbound Transatlantic, May, 2018; Pullmantur Zenith Coastal Norway, May, 2018; Ponant LeSoleal, Beyond The Polar Circle, Antarctica, Falklands, S Georgia,Jan., 2018; Viking Tialfi, Rhine Getaway, Nov., 2017; Norwegian Spirit Mediterranean, Nov., 2017; Royal Caribbean Vision ofthe Seas, 11 day Baltic, Aug., 2017; Norwegian Epic, Spain, Morocco, CanaryIslands, March, 2016; Viking Pride, Paris & Heart of Normandy, Sept., 2015;Semiramis II, Nile River Egypt, May, 2015; Oceania Riviera, Turkey & GreekIsles, Oct., 2014; Celebrity Summit, S. Caribbean, Jan., 2014; CarnivalElation, W. Caribbean, Jan., 2012; Carnival Pride, E. Caribbean, Aug., 2010; GoldenPrincess, Alaska Inside Passage, May, 2010; Carnival Fantasy, W. Caribbean,July, 2009; Uniworld River Countess, Germany & Austria Christmas Markets,Dec., 2007; Holland America Statendam, Australia & New Zealand, Oct., 2006;Norwegian Dream, W. Caribbean, Dec., 2005; RCCL Rhapsody of the Seas, W.Caribbean, Oct., 2003; Imagine French Barge, Burgundy Region, May, 2003; DeTijdgeest Dutch Barge, Netherlands & Belgium, May, 2002; Renaissance R3,Tahitian Islands, March, 2001; Dawn Princess, S. Caribbean, Nov., 1999; StarPrincess, S. Caribbean, Nov., 1994; And lots of land based adventures to morethan 60 countries on 6 continents! Happy to answer any questions or share photos,home(at)terryandmike(dot)com.
#25
507 Posts
Joined Sep 2006
We were on the same voyage as CincyAL and do not hesitate to recommend Ponant.

It must be remembered that expedition cruising is precisely that--every landing is dependent upon water, wind and weather.

Our expedition team arranged a zodiac tour in the Melchior Islands (in the Brabant Strait) on the evening before we had been due to start our expeditions--a nice bonus. Landings at Port Lockroy, Neko Harbour and Deception Island went without a hitch. On our third day the team had intended to cruise through the Antarctic Sound ("iceberg alley") but the weather conditions in the morning made it impossible.

But every expedition you lose presents an opportunity, for abandoning the Sound allowed us to land at the South Orkneys--islands at which no Ponant ship had landed before, and which provided us with exceptional opportunities to view macaroni penguins, to walk on a glacier and to see significant hanging glaciers.

The passengers were roughly evenly divided between English and French speakers (with a small group of Germans who had the services of a German speaking naturalist to provide them with dedicated briefings). Every lecture was presented twice (though not always on the same day). Even expedition briefings were presented twice. The outstanding expedition team included a wide range of expertise.
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James
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#26
Australia
5 Posts
Joined Feb 2016
Originally posted by terry&mike
After doing research for a couple of years and speaking to a travel agent who specializes in expedition trips, we came to the conclusion that Ponant was for us and have booked on a sailing for January 2018 called "Crossing the Polar Circle" or something similar on Le Soleal.
We're also on this sailing. Looking forwards to it.
Good to know there are some other English speakers on board. We could share a beer and try to decipher accents.
#27
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
647 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
Originally posted by 10987654321
We're also on this sailing. Looking forwards to it.
Good to know there are some other English speakers on board. We could share a beer and try to decipher accents.
So nice to hear. There is a very tiny roll call established, in case you want to sign up. Also, my email is home(at)terryandmike(dot)com
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Cunard QM2 Eastbound Transatlantic, May, 2018; Pullmantur Zenith Coastal Norway, May, 2018; Ponant LeSoleal, Beyond The Polar Circle, Antarctica, Falklands, S Georgia,Jan., 2018; Viking Tialfi, Rhine Getaway, Nov., 2017; Norwegian Spirit Mediterranean, Nov., 2017; Royal Caribbean Vision ofthe Seas, 11 day Baltic, Aug., 2017; Norwegian Epic, Spain, Morocco, CanaryIslands, March, 2016; Viking Pride, Paris & Heart of Normandy, Sept., 2015;Semiramis II, Nile River Egypt, May, 2015; Oceania Riviera, Turkey & GreekIsles, Oct., 2014; Celebrity Summit, S. Caribbean, Jan., 2014; CarnivalElation, W. Caribbean, Jan., 2012; Carnival Pride, E. Caribbean, Aug., 2010; GoldenPrincess, Alaska Inside Passage, May, 2010; Carnival Fantasy, W. Caribbean,July, 2009; Uniworld River Countess, Germany & Austria Christmas Markets,Dec., 2007; Holland America Statendam, Australia & New Zealand, Oct., 2006;Norwegian Dream, W. Caribbean, Dec., 2005; RCCL Rhapsody of the Seas, W.Caribbean, Oct., 2003; Imagine French Barge, Burgundy Region, May, 2003; DeTijdgeest Dutch Barge, Netherlands & Belgium, May, 2002; Renaissance R3,Tahitian Islands, March, 2001; Dawn Princess, S. Caribbean, Nov., 1999; StarPrincess, S. Caribbean, Nov., 1994; And lots of land based adventures to morethan 60 countries on 6 continents! Happy to answer any questions or share photos,home(at)terryandmike(dot)com.