Ponant launched its first expedition ship, Le Laperouse, in 2018.
This Scandinavian-chic luxury vessel is the first in the line’s Explorer class. Ponant plans for six expedition ships in the class by 2020. Le Champlain joined in 2018, and 2019 will see Le Bougainville and Le Dumont-d’Urville, followed by Le Jacques Cartier and Le Bellot in 2020.
I sailed on the 92-cabin, 184-passenger capacity Le Laperouse on a voyage in New Zealand.
Here are 15 things cruisers should know about Ponant’s expedition ships.
Ponant is a French cruise line, so announcements are given in both French and English. About half of the passengers on my sailing were native French speakers. Daily programs and menus also feature both languages.
Passengers are welcomed to come to the bridge to visit the captain and other navigation officers. The sign on the door at the end of the hall on Deck 5 indicates when access is OK for guests. This is a great way to get a look at what the captain sees from his vantage point and learn the intricacies of operating a cruise ship.
Boarding is quick and easy, with fewer than 200 passengers. You simply walk into the cruise facility, hand over your passport and get a room key. Then, you head up the gangway where Ponant crew members give a friendly welcome, and a staffer will escort you to your stateroom.
Yes, you have to hand over your passport until the end of the cruise. So, make sure to bring a second form of official picture ID for when you go into ports that require it for returning to your ship. You can get your passport back from the front desk if needed to take ashore, but you must return it to be held at guest services when you return to the ship.
You can order food from a menu offering room service selections (burger, steak, sandwiches, salads) 24 hours a day. But the other meals follow a strict schedule. The main restaurant Le Nautilus is open seating offering breakfast (7 to 9 a.m.), lunch (noon to 1:30 p.m.) and dinner (7 p.m. to 9 p.m.). The al fresco poolside eatery Le Nemo is a buffet-style restaurant that serves at the same times for lunch and dinner – with breakfast 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. – but you need a reservation for dinner out there. Food is almost exclusively French, and you won’t find Asian or Italian options, for examples.
All cabins have balconies, and the standard staterooms feature a large flat-screen TV with an offering of cable channels and on-demand TV programs and mix of classic and recently released movies. The rooms offer attractive nautical colors (blues and whites) and separate rooms for the large shower and sink and the water closet. The rooms offer stocked mini-fridges, coffee machines and European and American power outlets as well as a USB outlet.
The Blue Eye
Le Laperouse is home to the cruise industry’s first underwater lounge. This space is located down on Deck 0 and designed to give the feel of being inside a whale’s head, being able to look out through two large portholes — that would be the whale’s eyes — on the either side of the ship. This is a multi-sensory space that pipes in sounds from the ocean. Passengers can come down when it’s open and to have a drink and relax on the couches in the blue-lit space or book a 45-minute multi-sensory program when they are offered throughout your cruise (up to 30 people at a time).
The ship has a marina or sports deck that is adjustable to three setting and is used to launch the line’s included zodiac tours in places like Milford Sound in New Zealand’s South Island or the arctic regions. It also can serve as extra sundeck space when sailing and the sports deck for enjoying standup paddleboarding, kayaking and other activities on your expeditions.
One Tiny Pool
There is one small, heated infinity pool (Deck 3) with a swim-against water jet available. The ship offers no hot tubs.
A spa is located on Deck 7 with treatment rooms, including a room for couples massages and a beautiful sauna with a large oceanview window.
Le Laperouse has the smallest fitness center with the least amount of equipment we have seen on any cruise ship of its size. It offers two treadmills, an elliptical, and two bikes. There are no free weights or any types of resistance-training equipment. Some “fitness classes” are offered in the ship’s theater, led by the ship’s dancers.
All drinks, except for some premium selections, are included in your cruise fare. The heavy emphasis is on pouring wine throughout meals. It can take a while to get a drink order other than wine at these times. WiFi also is included for one device at a time per cruiser. On our trip in New Zealand, the signal strength was fair, but we were regularly knocked off the service and had to log back on frequently.
Le Laperouse features live music. We had duo (a guitarist and singer) and a pianist on our cruise. Shows are also offered in the main theater, with the dancers performing revues, or speakers giving enrichment talks. The ship also features classic movies and documentaries on the big screen in the theater (some in French with subtitles). Dance and trivia contests, board games and other activities are offered by your cruise director each day. The daily schedule is a very loose plan. Some activities start late, sometimes more than 30 minutes past the scheduled time on the daily program, which can be frustrating.
Service and Style
The level of service overall was pretty good but it can feel a bit indifferent at times, especially for a luxury cruise ship. Passengers would wait at the bar or in the lounge areas nearby for many minutes before being addressed (if at all) and asked how they could be helped. Table service also is often quite rushed, chaotic and lacking warmth — as if the ship is understaffed. Orders were inaccurate several times for my fellow tablemates. Other interactions with crew members also left me feeling disappointed. This overall vibe ran hot and cold, however, as many of the crew were fantastic.
Gratuities are not included in your cruise fare. Instead, a large box is placed out at guest services. Passengers can choose to place tips in the box to be distributed among the crew.
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