If you’re going to travel all the way to New Zealand, you’re going to want to make the most of the trip. I can think of no better way to get explore this exotic country and the diverse landscapes of the North Island and South Island than on an expedition cruise.
Ponant, the French cruise line, and Backroads, a leading active travel company that has been around for four decades, have teamed up to offer a fantastic way to see New Zealand, especially if it’s your first time there. Ponant launched its first luxury expedition ship, Le Laperouse, in 2018 as the first of six planned for the Explorer class of expedition vessels.
Backroads, which also has an active cruise partnership on the rivers with AmaWaterways, uses the ship as a home base for adventurous activities in New Zealand. This means that a subgroup of two to three dozen passengers on the 184-passenger (92 cabins) Le Laperouse head ashore for their own special active excursions, such as biking, hiking and kayaking.
We had 24 in the Backroads group, and our multi-sport adventure sailing on Le Laperouse gave us a good look at the natural beauty of New Zealand. The partnership between Backroads and Ponant touches on precisely what the cruise line wants to provide with its expedition ships — embracing exciting destinations through exploration and adventure.
Here is a look at what a cruise is like onboard Ponant’s Le Laperouse.
The ship pays homage to the French explorer Jean-Francois de Galaup, comte de Laperouse, and its reinforced hull and ice-class rating allows for Polar exploration.
Passengers can quickly navigate the onboard layout, as Le Laperouse measures just 430-feet long with seven decks. Of the 165 passengers on my voyage, about 50 percent were native French speakers, and announcements are made in both French and English.
The ship’s design incorporates nautical style and themes, offering comfortable spaces and a relaxed vibe. The line itself calls it “yacht chic.”
Daily life onboard is fairly simple and sticks to a regimented dining schedule.
Breakfast is from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the main restaurant Le Nautilus or from 6:30 to 10 a.m. at Le Nemo grill (continental breakfast of fruit, yogurt, cheese, pastries and meats) in the pool area at the aft of Deck 3. I liked the variety for breakfast, with fruits, muesli, numerous fresh juices and bread options, as well as made-to-order eggs.
Lunch is served at Le Nemo (buffet style) and Le Nautilus, typically from noon to 1:30 p.m., and dinner is from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The menus feature French cuisine almost exclusively, with offerings of a Ponant burger, chicken breast, fish of the day and ribeye steak. Note: Waiters give you a little bit of grief if you choose to skip the recommended items featured on the tasting menus for the Officer’s Dinner or the Captain’s Gala meal.
Wine flows freely, and all drinks are included in your cruise fare except for some premium selections.
Room service is available 24 hours. I ordered a few room service meals, and all arrived on time and without errors.
Entertainment consists of afternoon lectures and nightly movies or dance performances in the ship’s theater. The Main Lounge on Deck 3 is the hot spot, with a large dance floor surrounded by couches and chairs. This is where you come for bar service and entertainment or activities throughout the cruise. Afternoon tea, trivia and dance contests, dance lessons and nightly live music and dancing take place here. Passengers would have a great time dancing with one another, and the ship’s officers and entertainment staff would often join in during the nightly post-dinner activities.
Ponant also puts out a table with a selection of snacks like small sandwiches, brownies, cookies and other sweet treats or breads and cheeses every afternoon in the Main Lounge.
The lobby is on Deck 3 with a guest services and shore excursions deck, as well as future cruise sales desk and La Boutique, which sells resort wear, souvenirs and other items.
Le Laperouse also offers an especially cozy spot on Deck 6 overlooking the ship’s bow. The Observatory Lounge (with full bar) has large windows with a panoramic view of the sailing sights and a deck area with chairs to enjoy the outdoors.
Rustic furniture fills the space, and bookshelves offer games and books to enjoy in this serene space.
Passenger cabins all feature balconies and attractive nautical designs, decorated in blue and white, with light hardwoods. Staterooms are on Deck 3 to 6, and Deck 7 is the spa area, with treatment rooms and a large sauna with a huge window. The sauna is open for anyone to use, and the ship’s tiny gym (five pieces of cardio equipment and no weights) also is on this deck.
The ship has a small heated infinity pool that overlooks the marina deck. The marina off the back of the ship is used to launch zodiacs and tenders for tours and going ashore when on your expeditions.
The marina is adjustable to fit three positions and also serves as the sports deck for activities like standup paddleboarding. During sailing time, you might see loungers placed out to make it more sun deck space for passengers.
The Blue Eye is a below-water-lever lounge on Deck 0. This first-of-its-kind space allows you to peep out of either side of the ship through large portholes. It’s rare that you’ll see any creatures, but the dark, blue lighting creates an interesting atmosphere that appeals to some. You can wander down to enjoy a drink from the bar, but the space is closed at times for special multi-sensory experiences (reservations required) that play music, whale sounds and narration.
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