Sam Ballard profiles the French line that adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the luxury market, taking well-heeled guests to the remotest corners of the world
With French style and sophistication, Ponant has gathered an increasingly large pool of admirers in the UK. The line, which offers a luxury experience on vessels that are more like mega-yachts than cruise ships, is one of the biggest operators in Antarctica – highlighting the company’s increasing focus on expedition cruises.
Having been founded in the 1980s, Ponant now has a five-strong fleet – however, that is due to increase to nine following on from some serious investment. The new ships – Le Champlain (2018), Le Laperouse (2018), Le Bougainville (2019) and Le Dumont D’Urville (2019) – are all going to have the ability to take the line’s well-pampered guests deep into the heart of the polar regions, as well as other expedition destinations. However, that’s not all that it has up its sleeve.
The Blue Eye Lounge – an underwater area that will be found on board the four new ships – will have a glass window that is so thick it can handle the pressure of polar waters, the same as the ice strengthened hulls around it. Intriguingly, Ponant aren’t able to say how thick the glass is because of patents, although they did say that it took two years to develop. The lounge will enable guests to sit down and see life below the ocean surface – without having to venture out into submarines. What’s even more exciting is that the whole room will be an immersive sound experience – with “body listening sofas” able to vibrate in unison with the noises outside. That’s a world first.
Florence Kuyper, the expedition leader for Ponant, has been at the company for four years and told Cruise Adviser: “When you start an expedition with Ponant it is all about discovery. We will always try and do something new – weather permitting. If we get the chance to go and take a zodiac into an unexplored fjord, then we will do. And we’ll involve passengers, too.
“Most people want to start with an Antarctic cruise, but are advised to start with the Arctic. It’s so much more accessible for passengers from Britain. However, saying that, I think that Antarctica is the most beautiful place on Earth.”
While the company is starting to become renowned as an Antarctic specialist, it also has expedition cruises right around the world – with a programme that becomes increasingly varied as its fleet grows to nine ships. Whether it’s remote pacific islands or deep in to the Amazon, the small ships (Le Champlain will have just 92 cabins) are able to get further into destinations than larger competitors.
That’s not to say that you can’t do a week in the Mediterranean or fly out to the Caribbean and just enjoy the ship’s luxurious offering.
There’s no doubt that Ponant is part of a market that is growing faster than it has ever done before – with competitors such as Crystal, Scenic, Ritz-Carlton and Pandaw all releasing small vessels that will be taking their well-heeled guests out to remote corners of the world. It’s all about the points of differentiation – in the case of Ponant it is their French heritage. Think fine dining, beautiful interiors and indulgent experiences like
only the French know how. All while sailing to some of the most exciting places that expedition cruise has to offer.