Fodor’s Expert Review
Ponant operates three designer ships for all-season premium yet unpretentious yacht cruising in places inaccessible to larger cruise ships. At this writing, a fourth ship was expected for delivery in July 2013. With distinctively French flair, the cruise company strikes an appealing balance between destination choice and price point on luxuriously refurbished modern sailing vessels that feature French gastronomy, elegant styling, and unique voyages with all-inclusive packages. Travel is privileged yet unpretentious aboard a small majestic three-masted sailing yacht or larger megayacht.Read More
For experienced cruisers or newcomers, the fantasy of having one’s own private yacht to sail the seven seas comes closer to reality with exotic itineraries on upscale, uncrowded ships operated by Ponant, which was begun in 1988 by CMA CGM, the world’s third-largest container shipping company. In 2008, Ponant made international headlines when its smallest sailing yacht was hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. That incident had a very positive ending, and the company has since offered solid years of safe, luxury maritime travel and good reviews from discerning passengers, most of whom are European, American, and Australian globetrotters. Expectations for substantial entertainment, perfect service, and regal accommodations should be kept realistic since these ships are limited in size. Nevertheless, Ponant’s ambitious agenda is to provide impeccable, five-star cruising to its affluent clientele. The ships offer fine dining, outstanding attention to interior design, expedition-style cruising on eco-friendly, state-of-the-art vessels, and a sophisticated feel reminiscent of a hip boutique hotel, and these expectations are more than met for offbeat journeys draped in contemporary prestige.
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What to Expect on Board
Gastronomy is taken pretty seriously on Ponant ships.
Buttery croissants and artisanal baguettes with confiture, fruit, yogurts, coffee, and juices are available for breakfast; eggs and specialty dishes can be ordered à la carte. International buffets for lunch and dinner lay out a high-quality spread of cold and hot appetizers, entrées, salads, and desserts. Fresh ingredients and skilled preparation by resident French chefs and bakers keep culinary standards at an outstanding level for grilled and roasted meat, fish, vegetarian meals, and desserts. In more formal dining areas, most dinner menus offer a choice between two soups, three appetizers/salads, two main courses, a cheese tray, and a couple of sumptuous desserts. While oenophiles may be disappointed with the free table wine served for lunch and dinner, premium bottles can be ordered for a supplementary cost. Back by popular demand, the Food & Wine Cruise pleases passenger palates with Flavors of the Riviera. All lunches and dinners include complimentary mineral water, tea, coffee, and wines. Twenty-four-hour room service is available.
Special events including the Captain’s cocktail party and farewell dinner spice up the rather unimaginative entertainment program that does not promise to be grandiose and theatrical.
Instead, most passengers simply relax while watching small groups of performers and dancers. Guest speakers lecture on geography, conservation, and wildlife in the cabaret-style theater on larger ships, which is also used for evening shows. On smaller vessels, piano bars and chic lounges offer opportunities to make new friends from around the world.
Passengers burn off calories in a fully equipped gym, outdoor heated swimming pool, or spa equipped with sauna and steam rooms.
Plenty of lounges, sundecks, panoramic promenades, bars, reading rooms, library, casino, and shops satisfy early birds and night owls. Shore excursions upon landing perhaps constitute the most fun activity. Some of these include spectacular terrain hikes and Zodiac cruises across frozen vistas, turquoise horizons, or historic coastlines. Themed cruises offer comprehensive activities, including demonstrations, classes, performances, and well-planned excursions. On larger ships, Wi-Fi stations offer gaming consoles. All vessels have Internet rooms and Wi-Fi—which costs €5 per half hour.
Key cruising tips
Ponant cruisers are a sophisticated group consisting of affluent adventurers and sportive globetrotters. Families with kids are not uncommon on the larger vessels, but the general age ranges between 40 and 70. A multicultural blend of primarily French, Australians, and North Americans comprise the passenger list. The common language heard on board is French, although English is widely spoken and understood by the experienced crew and most of the well-traveled guests.
There is no strict dress code, and ships are relatively informal. During the day, smart leisurewear is recommended. For excursions and shore leaves, bring practical clothes and comfortable shoes. Expeditions to the Arctic and Antartica using Zodiacs require waterproof parkas (provided on board), flexible trousers, boots, gloves, and fleece hats. Sunglasses are highly advised. Evening attire is at your discretion, but men are required to wear a jacket.
Children over the age of 8 are allowed on board. The good life begins early for young sailors privileged to tag along on Ponant yachts. Outfitted with facilities and amenities catering to both young and old, the four vessels offer flexible “communicating” cabins, children’s menus, tea parties, games, and piano and cooking lessons, Wii game consoles, Internet stations, reading areas, and the Ponant Kid’s Club on deck 5 (free for one child, age 8–12, sharing a cabin with two adults) that has a carpeted area with sofas, assorted toys, TV, and play zone. Themed family cruises are sometimes offered, and these provide a more child-friendly atmosphere and babysitting service.
Building a strong reputation for personalized, friendly service, the four cruise ships have multilingual crew and staff that understand the demands and expectations of an international traveler. Attention to detail with food service, cabin maintenance and cleanliness, overall ship hygiene, spa services, and special requests is handled with discretion and satisfactory efficiency. Announcements are made in both French and English.
The cruise line changed its tipping policy in 2012. All gratuities are now included for restaurant, hotel, and ship staffs as well as local guides and drivers.
The Ponant Yacht Club loyalty program has Major, Admiral, and Grand Admiral levels. As members, cruisers benefit from exclusive services and amenities on board. They are also eligible for exclusive offers in the shop, wine cellar, or open-bar package depending on membership level.