PONANT Luxury Cruise Line Goes All Out
By Carolyn O’Neil | Photography courtesy of PONANT
From polar expeditions to tropical isle escapes, luxury abounds on board the sleek, small ships of PONANT.
The world of luxury cruising is as varied in style and focus as the choices of luxury hotels and resorts on land. With an 11 percent increase in cruise sales in 2019, there is even more excitement afloat as companies compete with increasingly unique offerings.
What sets the French line PONANT apart from the rest of the world’s cruise fleets begins eight feet below the waterline. On each of their six new Explorer-class yachts, all named for French explorers, passengers can descend into the hull of the ship to find the Blue Eye lounge.
The focal points of this multisensory observation lounge with comfy seating and subdued lighting are two whale-eye-shaped portholes presenting views to underwater life outside. Jellyfish dance and sharks speed by as guests relax with cocktails and enjoy the ever-changing show.
Specially designed hydrophones allow guests to listen to what’s going on in the water as well. Depending on the ship’s itinerary, you might hear the song of a whale in Antarctica or the mesmerizing cry of tiny krill in a Norwegian fjord. French composer Michel Redolfi, known for his research on subaquatic music, created the acoustic sound immersion in the Blue Eye, including body listening sofas that hum and vibrate in unison with the ocean around the ship for a complete sensory experience. You feel as though Captain Nemo of Jules Verne’s fictional submarine Nautilus could appear at any moment. Designed by real-life ocean explorer and architect Jacques Rougerie, the Blue Eye is the first of its kind in the world.
“There are eighteen layers of glass in the windows, so they’re actually stronger than the hull,” says Rougerie. “My fellow Frenchman Jacques Cousteau introduced the world to the undersea world through the voyages of his ship Calypso. Now PONANT passengers can do the same, as if they’re looking out through the eyes of a whale.”
In the Blue Eye lounge, no noisy blenders or martini shakers are allowed—to preserve the serenity of the space—but there may be the occasional pop of a Champagne cork!
Passengers are treated to daily adventures with science experts and naturalist guides on Zodiac landing craft. These excursions include watching a caving glacier or going ashore to photograph a colony of penguins.
The Only French Cruise Line
The only cruise line flying the French flag, PONANT will have twelve vessels in its fleet of small-sized, five-star yachts by 2021, all with elegant design and state-of-the-art technology. Epitomizing luxury, onboard amenities include Hermès bath products, spa therapies by Sothys, and sweet treats from Ladurée.
The ships prioritize exquisite cuisine with menus curated by famed French chef Alain Ducasse, and their wine cellars boast the finest French wines. Remember the book French Women Don’t Get Fat? Indulge and enjoy! Adventures for the taste buds and the inner explorer await passengers on all of PONANT’s world voyages, from the South Pole to Sicily.
The newly launched Explorer ships have just ninety-two cabins—most with private balconies—and they feel like private yachts with beautiful decor and panoramic observation decks.
Cold Is Hot
PONANT was founded in 1988 by officers from the French Merchant Navy who wanted to create a new style of cruising focused on sea travel to distant and unexplored regions. Their passion for ocean voyages led them to launch polar itineraries to the icy lands of the Arctic and Antarctica. PONANT captains are known for their expertise in navigating polar waters, having sailed to these regions over 350 times. Passengers are treated to daily adventures with science experts and naturalist guides on Zodiac landing craft. These excursions include watching a caving glacier or going ashore to photograph a colony of penguins. This year, by the way, marks the bicentennial of the discovery of Antarctica, so this may be the year to pose with a penguin!
If you’ve already been to Antarctica, PONANT is ready to serve up your next frozen adventure with two new Arctic sailings: Greenland and the Aleutian Islands.
Most major cruise lines now have serious sustainability policies in place; however, PONANT was one of the first to develop and implement techniques to protect aquatic environments.
A World to Explore
Today, PONANT sails the globe with itineraries focused on luxury adventure: expeditions along the African coastline; cruises through the Great Lakes in the US and Canada; European sailings from Ireland to the Norwegian fjords; Mediterranean trips between Naples and Venice, and more. New for 2020 are sailings through the warmer waters of Central America to discover aquatic life and expeditions in the footsteps of the ancient Mayan civilizations.
Explorations for the mind are an emphasis on PONANT. They have a cruise around Japan to study the history of World War II, a culinary trip circumnavigating Sicily, and a garden tour of the British Isles. Topic experts on board provide a deeper dive into the history and culture of each destination. Cruising has become a popular way to learn more about the far corners of the world!
“In 2020, cruisers are choosing itineraries based on destinations, and the more unusual and faraway, the better,” says Beth Butzlaff, vice president of cruise sales at Virtuoso travel network. “Passengers want to enjoy the essence of these places through interactions with local people and culture, and the industry has responded with innovative offerings to satisfy evolving preferences.”
At Home on the Sea
There is growing concern about the health of the oceans and the possible impact the cruise industry could have on the earth’s waters. Most major cruise lines now have serious sustainability policies in place; however, PONANT was one of the first to develop and implement techniques to protect aquatic environments. Their commitment to sustainability includes advanced sonar tracking of icebergs and methods to halt the ship without dropping anchor so as not to disrupt the ocean floor. They employ low-energy and low-heat lighting systems. All water generated aboard the ships is treated to prevent the potential risk of polluting aquatic environments, and 100 percent of waste is separated and sorted for recycling.
When developing new itineraries, PONANT carries out an environmental impact study at potential points of disembarkation, which includes a biodiversity inventory of plants and animals, and access routes are planned so the land remains preserved. Giving back to the community plays a role too. When possible, PONANT buys ingredients locally, and at far-flung ports of call where provisions are limited, they leave resources for the locals. In 2018, PONANT established a foundation to preserve the oceans and promote responsible tourism to help ensure future generations can enjoy nature’s most pristine and inspiring landscapes by the sea.
The day’s adventure was a kayak trip paddling across the calm green waters of the Nordfjord. Our local guide kept us enthralled with stories of Vikings and Norse legends.
On Board Le Champlain
Named after Samuel de Champlain, the famous French explorer known as the Father of New France, PONANT’s Le Champlain was my fjord-exploring home for a few days in Norway. We boarded in Bergen under rainy skies but were greeted with the sparkle of Champagne to immediately brighten our horizons while exploring this luxurious new Explorer ship, which launched in October 2018.
We were bound for Geiranger, a village at the head of a majestic fjord featuring multiple towering waterfalls. As we passed, the incredibly tall Seven Sisters waterfall seemed to reach out and touch the ship with its misty spray. Our day’s excursion took us along the hairpin curves of the Eagle Road to the Norwegian Fjord Center to learn more about the geography-shaping power of glaciers and avalanches.
Our next port of call was the quiet valley town of Olden, an access point to the Briksdal Glacier, to learn about the plight of retreating glaciers and expanding lakes in Norway. The day’s adventure was a kayak trip paddling across the calm green waters of the Nordfjord. Our local guide kept us enthralled with stories of Vikings and Norse legends.
For me, the most thrilling adventure was on board at mealtime. Since we were in Norway, there was a terrific selection of local seafood, including herring and salmon. The sophisticated dining room, with views to the sea and stars at night, came alive with the buzz of hungry passengers. We were captivated by the expertly prepared multicourse meals curated by a culinary team overseen by Adeline Robert, senior chef consultant for Ducasse Conseil. Dishes are paired with wines from France, so dinner becomes an expedition to discover French viticulture.
Every day—and even every hour—on a PONANT cruise offers a new experience!
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For more information or to start planning your trip, visit US.PONANT.com.
Carolyn O’Neil is an award-winning Atlanta-based food writer who specializes in culinary travel and healthy lifestyles. She believes that travel is the ultimate way to learn about the people of the world and cuisine is the most exciting way to learn about their histories and culture. Visit her blog at TheHappyHealthyKitchen.com.