Ponant: Charting New Waters

To sail with Ponant is to see the ends of the earth, from polar extremes to islands unknown. Whatever expedition inspires the adventurer in you, there’s a journey to take you there.

BY CLARA WOODBRIDGE

“You come to regard your guides as resident ROCK STARS, as courageous as they are all-knowing, giving riveting lectures on the polar bear’s hunting habits and the narwhal’s mating rituals.”

Calm Seas Ahead: SOTHYS SPA

There’s something soothing about the open sea—especially when the ship you’re sailing has a Sothys Spa. The French wellness brand brings more than just massages to Ponant cruises, offering anti-aging facials, salon services, aromatherapy, state-of-the-art fitness equipment, and hammams. Try the revitalizing balneotherapy, a re-mineralizing salt bath that invigorates both body and mind.

Into the Land of Ice

The 5 a.m. summer sun is shining bright and high when L’Austral quietly settles on to the edge of the ice sheet. The elegant expedition ship slowly skirts the meters-thick slab of white. Minutes later, a pair of Zodiac dinghies zips around from the ship’s aft and pulls right up to the sheet’s edge. Six figures clad in bright red explorer jackets—Ponant’s naturalist guides— begin pointing out wildlife and explaining the incredible glacial history of the area.

Thus begins another morning on a Ponant polar expedition. For more than 20 years, the French company’s ships have been traversing open water to the ends of the earth, from the Arctic Circle all the way down to the edges of Antarctica, to explore earth’s last primal landscapes. A far cry from your average cruise, the itineraries don’t offer mere activities— they’re packed with bona fide adventures. On a classic, eight-day expedition in the Arctic far north, guests experience a journey that can be imagined as a similar route to the one American explorer Robert Peary made through these fabled landscapes more than 100 years ago: Marked by trails of walruses and traces of polar bears, extreme winds, subzero temperatures, and an enduring sun that never dips below the horizon.

Led by a team of naturalist guides— glaciologists, zoologists, and experts on everything from icebergs to orcas—the itinerary has a sense of unscripted spontaneity because you never really know what to expect in this land covered in ice and snow. So you come to regard your guides as resident rock stars, as courageous as they are all-knowing, giving riveting onboard lectures on subjects like the polar bear’s hunting habits and the narwhal’s mating rituals, and how to test the mercurial landscapes for safety before you ever set foot on land.

Still, however intrepid this cruise may be, comfort and luxury are integral and found at every turn onboard L’Austral. Though the ship has been reinforced for polar missions, its interiors are elegant—more like a yacht than a classic cruise liner—and its Alain Ducasse cuisine is excellent. It’s small enough to feel intimate, and to allow for nimble movement among the towering grid of icebergs, yet large enough to stretch out, whether on the upper deck at midnight watching a barely setting sun, in the Sothys Spa getting a massage, or in your private suite decorated in leather and fine linens. And the service is perfectly executed, with Champagne on silver trays at nearly every occasion and white-gloved attention morning, noon, and night. Never mind the fact that you’re in one of the last uninhabited places on earth—somehow Ponant can make even the most isolated ends of the Arctic feel utterly five-star, giving you the privileged feeling of sailing aboard your very own yacht.

The Last True Tropics

There may be no more magical place to disappear to than the remote South Pacific, a true paradise where almost nothing has changed over the last centuries. It’s fitting that Ponant named its newest ship after fabled seaman Jean-François de La Pérouse: Last year, the elegant Le Laperouse made its debut to much applause.

Travelers aboard the 92-room Le Laperouse on the 12-day “Revealing the Mysteries of Melanesia” cruise will explore the little-known corners of Oceania, from the Vanuatu archipelago—where Captain James Cook famously observed dramatic volcanic eruptions in 1774—to the villages of Malekula and Ambrym. It’s a journey to an unadulterated old world aboard state-of-the-art, new-world luxury—a juxtaposition that takes you from the native Rom ceremony of Ambrym—where nine-foot “spirits” dance on golden sands—to the ship’s underwater lounge, where you can sip cocktails to the views of marine life just outside your window.

Hopping from island to island, passengers can swim in the famous blue holes of Espiritu Santo and sail in handmade dugout canoes with locals wearing grass skirts, then come back to Le Laperouse to Champagne and canapes. The contrasts are nothing if not extreme—from a meeting with a black magic sorcerer one afternoon, and a swim in the warm waters of Port Mary another, to a five-course dinner in the gourmet restaurant and a lazy morning lounging by the pool. The ship is like a chic floating hotel, combining French design with true adventure. Every luxury is at your fingertips and nothing is too much to ask, and yet every day, a new reason to disembark awaits—if only for a few hours anyway.

Top Tables: ONBOARD DINING

Ponant has long been a gastronome’s favorite thanks to its decadent French cuisine and selection of fine wines. And now, the company has joined forces with Ducasse Conseil, the catering service run by the acclaimed French Chef Alain Ducasse, to take its culinary offerings to the next level (or, perhaps more appropriately, le niveau suivant). Through the partnership, Ducasse—the world’s most Michelin-starred chef—and his team train all on-board chefs and develop more than 100 new recipes per year for the ships’ restaurants. It’s like dining at Ducasse Paris anywhere in the world, whether sailing over the Drake Passage or traversing the Indian Ocean.


Ship Mate

Further access the luxurious world of Ponant by entering OFFER M19061 on our website.


Image by Peter Fischer from Pixabay


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