French cruise line Ponant (formerly Compagnie du Ponant) was founded in 1988 by several officers of the French Merchant Navy, but in 2006, French shipping and container company the CMA CGM Group purchased Ponant and moved its headquarters to Marseilles. In the summer of 2012, Bridgepoint Capital Ltd., an investment firm based in the United Kingdom, acquired the cruise line. The small ships look and seem more like private yachts than traditional cruise ships, and all cruises are bi-lingual (French and English). The onboard atmosphere is much quieter than a regular ship, with few announcements, no casino, and limited organized onboard activities.
The company's philosophy is cruising "à la française", but cruises are bilingual--French and English. Many of the cabin, dining, and bar staff speak English as well (or better) than they do French.
The company's five ships sail worldwide itineraries to many exotic ports of call inaccessible to large cruise ships. The small ships and enticing itineraries are the company's strongest points. The atmosphere is elegantly casual but varies with the itinerary. For example, expedition cruises to the Arctic or Antarctic will be more casual than those in the Mediterranean or Baltic.
In 2015, Ponant acquired part of Travel Dynamics International, an operator of educational programs aboard small cruise ships. The new company offers cruise programs for the American market under the brand “PONANT, Cultural Cruises and Expeditions".
Ponant Cruise Ships:
Ponant has five sleek, very attractive ships:
- L'Austral (2011) - 264 passengers (identical to Le Boreal)
- Le Boreal (2010) - 264 passengers (identical to Le Boreal)
- Le Ponant (1991) - 64 passengers (contemporary sailing vessel)
- Le Soleal (2013) - 264 passengers (identical to Le Boreal)
- Le Lyrial (April 2015) - 264 passengers (identical to Le Boreal)
Ponant Passenger Profile:
Most passengers on the Ponant ships are either French or English-speaking who love all things French. The age mix of guests is somewhat dependent on the itineraries, with younger, more agile adults on the expedition cruises that include opportunities for exploring on the inflatable boats.
The ships are contemporary, French chic, and much like a yacht. The ships don't have casinos, and the onboard activities are quieter and more geared towards educational lectures than party games. So, those who favor the frenetic party atmosphere of mainstream cruise ships might be disappointed or bored.
Ponant Accommodations and Cabins:
Since the ships vary so much in design and size, the cabins vary greatly also. However, all cabins are outside. Most cabins (125/132) on the four Le Boreal class ships have private balconies, but none of Le Ponant cabins have balconies.
I sailed in a Prestige stateroom on Le Boreal and found the 200 square foot + 43 square foot balcony to be very nice. I loved the decor and the split bath, with the toilet in a separate room from the shower and sink area. The storage space was impressive, as was the large flat screen TV.
If planning a cruise with Ponant, be sure to study the deck plans closely since the ships' layout and cabins vary significantly.
Ponant Cuisine and Dining
As one might expect from a French cruise line, the food is very good, with many items excellent. Many of the dishes are regional, and it's always fun to try dishes with a local flavor. Although the breakfast menu stays the same each day, the lunches vary, with a different cuisine each day.
All meals are open seating, with free wine at lunch and dinner. Le Boreal, Le Soleal, and L'Austral have a main restaurant and a casual buffet restaurant; Le Ponant has one main restaurant.
Ponant Onboard Activities and Entertainment
The Ponant ships all have a large showroom featuring musical or cabaret entertainment in the evenings. Educational lectures (French and English lectures are separate) are also held in the show lounge or in the main lounge aft on deck 3. The ships do not have a casino.
Ponant Common Areas
As noted above, the Ponant ships can best be described as French chic. The decor is contemporary and uncluttered. All ships except Le Ponant have a small outdoor pool. Le Boreal, Le Soleal, Le Lyrial, and L'Austral both have indoor and outdoor bars and large lounges used for tea, musical entertainment, and dancing.
Ponant Spa, Gym, and Fitness
Le Boreal, L'Austral, Le Soleal, and Le Lyrial have a very nice spa, sauna, and fitness center with modern exercise equipment. Le Ponant does not have a spa.
The onboard currency is the euro. The fare includes wine at lunch and dinner, but not at the bars or at other times. Gratuities are extra.
Ponant Contact Information
USA Address: 4000 Hollywood Boulevard, Suite 555-S, Hollywood, FL 33021
Phone: From the US & Canada: 1-888-400-1082 (toll free number)
From UK: 0808 234 38 02 (toll-free number)
From Germany: 0800 180 00 59 (toll-free number)
From Austria: 0800 29 60 94 (toll-free number)
From Switzerland: 0800 55 27 41 (toll-free number)
From anywhere in the world: +33 4 88 66 64 00