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There are only a handful of cruise lines that are all about luxurious, intimate high-end ocean cruising in the style of a super-yacht. Ponant is at the very top of the list. Its five boutique-size, high-tech ships are not widely known to American audiences, but they're a superb choice for a memorable voyage of a lifetime.
The only French cruise line, Ponant is headquartered in Marseille, France. And while its ships maintain a French flair, they have an increasingly international complexion, with expedition-style, eco-friendly sailings to far-flung corners of the globe. Ponant has gained a reputation for sophistication, charm and convivial service. Its French-inspired cuisine is among the best at sea, and its accommodations are somewhat smallish but classy.
The fleet's original ship, Le Ponant (32 staterooms), is a small three-masted sailing ship. Ponant has launched four nearly identical luxury sister ships in recent years: Le Boréal in 2010, L'Austral in 2011, Le Soleal in 2013 and Le Lyrial in 2015. All four state-of-the-art ships have 132 cabins, 95 percent of them with balconies), two restaurants, three lounges, a library/card room, Internet nook, spa and fitness center. Onboard announcements are made in both English and French.
The company is owned by Bridgepoint, a European private equity company.
Ponant ships attract a diverse, affluent set of passengers, generally age 50 and up, who are looking for a high-end, French-flavored small-ship experience with off-the-beaten-track itineraries. The ships tend to attract passengers from France, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium in addition to Americans and Australians, though full-ship charters tend to attract mostly North Americans. Children are welcome, and a few children's activities are available (such as a Wii gaming console), but don't expect to see a lot of kids on a Ponant ship.
Ponant ships traverse the globe on wide-ranging itineraries, calling on ports that are inaccessible to larger vessels. Ponant ships sail to:
Four new 184-passenger expedition ships from Ponant debuted in 2018 and 2019: Le Laperouse, Le Champlain, Le Bougainville and Le Dumont-d'Urville (August 2019). They all have 92 cabins and are Ice Class rated for polar expeditions.
“With distinctively French flair, the cruise company strikes an
appealing balance between destination choice and price point on luxuriously refurbished modern sailing vessels that feature French gastronomy, elegant styling, and unique voyages with all-inclusive packages. Travel is privileged yet unpretentious aboard a small majestic three-masted sailing yacht or larger megayacht.”