Overview of Small Cruise Ship
Even those who cruise frequently are often unfamiliar with Le Boreal cruise ship and its owner Ponant. However, many like me have admired their distinctive, stylish, small ships when they have seen them at sea or in ports around the world. I'm happy I got a chance to sail Le Boreal on a terrific itinerary from Boston to Montreal that included several small towns in Nova Scotia and Quebec that cannot accommodate large cruise ships.
Le Boreal's owner, Ponant Cruises (formerly Compagnie du Ponant), currently operates four small, yacht-like ships--Le Boreal and her identical sister ships L'Austral, Le Soleal, and Le Lyrial. The company also operates a sailing vessel named Le Ponant and has two other ships currently under construction--Le Champlain and Le Laperouse.
Ponant features bilingual French and English cruises.
Francophiles who love small ships will certainly enjoy sailing on Le Boreal, as will those who appreciate the chic decor, good service and food, and fascinating itineraries the ship has to offer.
Le Boreal Itineraries
Le Boreal sails to world-wide destinations including Antarctica, the Arctic, French Polynesia, Europe, and the Panama Canal. The ship has two onboard bilingual experts onboard--an expedition leader and a historian--who help the guests understand and better appreciate what they are seeing and doing each day. Le Boreal also carries several inflatable Zodiac boats that are used to provide and enhance the cruise experience in remote destinations like Greenland and Antarctica.
Le Boreal is one of the most luxurious expedition ships afloat, and her itineraries often feature fascinating ports rarely visited by other cruise ships. The residents of these ports warmly welcome the travelers, much like they would those arriving via private yacht. Although Le Boreal provides a cruise experience with a French touch, the cruise line is working to attract more North American cruisers. The ship's itineraries will especially appeal to well-traveled North Americans who want to travel to expedition-ship destinations, but appreciate a smartly styled bilingual environment and excellent amenities. With much of the emphasis on the ports and adventures, Le Boreal is also well-suited to more active, younger travelers.
Let's take a tour of Le Boreal.
Dining and Cuisine
Le Boreal is owned by Ponant, and the food and cuisine have a French flair. The croissants and delicious bread for breakfast, international buffets at lunch, and delectable dishes for dinner all reinforce the fact that you are on a French ship. The wine included at lunch and dinner also provides a French touch.
Le Boreal has two dining venues. The main dining room or Gastronomic Restaurant is on deck 2 aft. This elegant venue seats 268 guests with open seating at all meals. The breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style, but eggs and other dishes can be ordered off a menu for breakfast. Dinner is a la carte from a menu.
The casual Grill Restaurant is aft on deck 6, with seating for 130 inside and 80 outside. This more intimate venue features buffets at all three meals. The dinners are sometimes themed or of a particular cuisine.
Dress is country club casual at all meals, with at least one or two nights more elegant and dressy. Men usually wear coats for the Captain's welcome and farewell dinners, and women dress up a little more than on the other nights.
Most dinners have a choice of two soups, three appetizers/salads, two main courses, and a couple of desserts or cheese tray. One thing I enjoyed was having local fare on some nights such as Canadian (like Maine) lobster. The gala dinners have a set menu. The two main courses were either a fish or a meat, but a vegetarian option was also available. Picky eaters who have sailed on large ships with four or more choices for each course might be looking for more variety, but I think most will appreciate the quality of the dishes. Traditional fare like salmon and steak are always available at dinner.
For more on the meals served each day on our cruise from Boston to Montreal, please see my detailed travel journal.
Cabins and Suites
All of the cabins and suites on Le Boreal are on the outside, and most have balconies. Like the rest of the ship, the decor of the cabins is contemporary and very chic. Although the suites are quite spacious, most of the cabins measure only 200 square feet, making them a little smaller than those on many ships.
The bed can either be fixed as a king-sized or twins, and the bedding is very comfortable. I loved having great reading lights over each side of the bed, and iPod enthusiasts will appreciate the iPod docking station. Each side of the bed has its own nightstand.
There's not a sofa or settee in the balcony cabins, but there is a nice chair and writing table. The oceanview (no balcony) cabins have a sofa, as do the suites. A large desk/vanity area with drawers and good lighting is very useful. Over the desk area is a large flat screen television.
The cabins have a split bath. One room has a toilet, and the other has a shower and sink. The shower and sink bathroom have a glass wall, which lets in natural light. (Note: This glass wall can be covered with a sliding door for privacy.)
One innovative feature of the suites is the flexibility built into Le Boreal. The suites are really two balcony cabins combined, with twice the balcony area, two large televisions, two toilets, and both a tub and a separate shower. The suites have the king-sized or twin beds in one side and a sofa, chairs, and sitting area in the other. If passengers are looking for suites, they book the two rooms together. If most people booking only want a balcony cabin, they can close off the large door dividing the suite, replace the sofa with a bed, and have two cabins rather than one suite. This flexibility means the ship can have from 112 to 132 suites and cabins.
Common Areas - Lounges, Outdoor Deck Areas, Spa, and Fitness Center
Le Boreal has many lovely common areas both indoors and out. Since the ship is small, it doesn't have the wide variety of lounges found on mega-ships, but you never are far from anywhere either. And, it's unlikely that you and your traveling companion will "lose" each other for long.
It's very easy to get around on Le Boreal. Most of the cabins are forward and mid-ship, with most of the common areas and dining venues aft.
The ship has four lounges used for entertainment and socializing. The large theater on deck 4 aft is big enough to seat everyone on the ship and is used for cabaret-style entertainment, educational lectures, and other meetings. The main lounge on deck 3 aft has a nice bar, comfortable seating, a piano for live entertainment, and a dance floor. Early/late riser coffee or tea are available from 6 am to 10 am each morning, and coffee or tea are also available in the afternoons. Either live piano music or a singer accompanied by the piano is featured in the lounge much of the day and evening. The third lounge is the small panoramic lounge on deck 6 forward next to the library. It has a nice bar and quiet seating; perfect for a before- or after-dinner drink. There's also an open-air outdoor bar on deck 7 aft that overlooks the pool area.
In addition to the cocktail lounges and bars, Le Boreal has a small leisure area and photo gallery near the spa on deck 5. The library and Internet center are near the Panoramic Lounge on deck 6.
Le Boreal has one small outdoor saltwater swimming pool, with very comfortable lounge chairs surrounding it. The outdoor seating for the Grill Restaurant flows out into the pool sitting area, making in easy to grab a bite without sacrificing any valuable sun time.
The ship has a very nicely appointed spa aft on deck 5, along with a modern fitness center that has great ocean views. You can exercise and enjoy the view! The spa has a quiet relaxation room aft that is adjacent to a very quiet outdoor seating area.
Overall, as can further be seen in these pictures of Le Boreal, information on the cabins and suites, and my Atlantic Canada cruise travel journal, this sleek, modern ship does look like a large yacht. Add the French environment of the ship and the excellent itineraries, and you have memorable vacations for all who sail on her.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.