Compagnie du Ponant

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Compagnie du Ponant fleet

Review of Compagnie du Ponant

Compagnie du Ponant (CDP is a French cruise ship operator. Ponant company was founded by Jean-Emmanuel Sauvé, Philippe Videau, and other officers of the French Merchant Navy in April 1988 and launched the first French cruise ship. CDP currently operates five ships, all of which under the French flag.

Compagnie du Ponant started out with one vessel, Le Ponant, a 3-masted Barque built in 1991 (still operating with the company). Eight years later, the company acquired the yacht Le Levant. After 13 years in service with CDP, in 2012 Le Levant was purchased by Paul Gauguin and renamed Tere Moana. In 2004, the line purchased the luxury liner Le Diamant, which was transferred to Quark Expeditions in 2012 and became Ocean Diamond.

In 2010, CDP put into service Le Boreal, the first of four identical luxury sister ships. A year later, the Ponant company started operating L'Austral, its second ship of the class, and in 2013 added the third, Le Soléal. The fourth ship of the class, Le Lyrial, was delivered in 2015.

Initially, the company was based for 18 years in Nantes. Following its acquisition by CMA CGM, in 2006 the Ponant headquarters was moved to Marseille. In 2012, Ponant was sold to Bridgepoint Capital.

On April 4, 2008 in the Gulf of Aden Le Ponant was seized by Somali pirates while en route to the Mediterranean from the Seychelles. At the time of capture, the ship carried no passengers but all 30 crew members were taken hostage and released on April 12 without incident. Following the release, the pirates were tracked by French helicopters to the village of Jariban. When the pirates tried to flee in the desert, French commando marine and GIGN (Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale) operating from the frigate Jean Bart and Jeanne d'Arc moved in. The commandos captured 6 men. Local officials claimed that 3 people had died in the raid, with a further 8 wounded, but France denied. Troops recovered some of the ransom paid by the owner of the yacht. The 6 captured pirates had been flown to Paris to face trial.

In 2013, one of Compagnie du Ponant's ships, Le Soleal, became the 1st French commercial vessel to traverse the Northwest Passage. On August 26, 2013 Le Soleal left Kangerlussuaq in Greenland and arrived in Anadyr, Russia on September 16.

These magnificent ships are part of one of the youngest fleets in luxury cruising. Whichever yacht you choose, expect intimate public spaces that inspire a friendly atmosphere among guests. Ponant's crew provide personalized service. As this is a French line, European cuisine is the hallmark of cruise experience. However, on charters to U.S. travel companies, menus are tweaked, slightly, in order to accommodate American tastes. About the only thing Ponant's vessels don't have are casinos. 

One difference between the cruises of Ponant and those of other upscale cruise lines is that CDP offers a more a la carte pricing. Passengers could pay extra for cocktails (unless a drinks package is included), shore excursions, gratuities, Internet and other services, depending on where they buy their cruise. The policies vary for U.K., French, German, U.S. and Australian customers, and it can be confusing. 

Compagnie du Ponant is dedicated to soft adventure cruising. Half of its fleet is based in Antarctica from December to March. It offers offbeat itineraries around the whole world, especially in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asia.

Beyond its French base, CDP has been successful in appealing to travelers from the U.K., continental Europe and North America, and, in early 2014, kicked off a program to promote its cruises in Australia and New Zealand.

Ponant attracts mostly French vacationers, with a mix of other Europeans and some Americans. Full-ship charters through Abercrombie & Kent, or Tauck, a travel company based in Connecticut, tend to have mostly North American guests. On these voyages, travelers are usually 50-plus, well to do and well traveled, interested in engaging with the destination.

On March 15, 2016 an agreement was reached with the Norwegian subsidiary of Fincantieri, Vard Holdings Ltd., to build four 184-guest exploration cruise ships outfitted with environmental preservation technology for Ponant. The agreement marked the entrance of Vard into cruise shipbuilding sector. Each of the new 10,000 GT ships will be 128 m (420 ft) long and 18 m (59 ft) at the beam. They will carry 110 crew members and have 92 cabins. The exterior will be created by Sterling Design International, with interiors designed by Jean-Philippe Nuel, who plans to give natural "ethnic chic" looks to the newbuilds inspired by earthy materials. The delivery dates are scheduled from 2018 summer to 2019 summer.

Ponant Expedition Ships

The new Ponant vessels are planned for high-end expedition voyages in Oceania, South America, Amazon's Orinoco River, Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica and the Indian Ocean. They will introduce passengers to regional wildlife and local cultures, with the help of onboard naturalists.

Fincantieri built Ponant's vessels L'AustalLe BoréalLe Lyrial and Le Soléal, delivered from 2010 to 2015. The growth in capacity for Ponant comes under new ownership by Artemis, holding company of billionaire Pinault family.

Itinerary of Compagnie du Ponant

Ponant offers all-season voyages, in places that are inaccessible to larger liners. The company sails to the following destinations:

  • Adriatic and Mediterranean: Italy, Corsica, Croatia, Black and Aegean Sea
  • Northern Europe, Greenland, Scandinavia, Baltic, Iceland
  • Iberian Peninsula; Indian Ocean: Maldives
  • Red Sea and Persian Gulf
  • Asia; South and Central America
  • Canada and New England; Antarctica.

Ponant's summer cruise season 2017 offers nearly 50 itineraries in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Baltic and Arctic. 

All cruises are accompanied by naturalists, experts, lecturers or guides depending on the destination. Passengers can enjoy an open bar. For a limited time, Ponant is offering early booking with up to 30% off the brochure fare through its Ponant Bonus program. The line has developed pre- and post-cruise programs, complementing each itinerary. 

  • Great Arctic North: sailing to Greenland, Baffin Sea, Spitsbergen and beyond (June through September 2017). Accompanied by expert naturalists, Ponant guests will discover the rich culture of the Inuits, polar landscapes, wildlife and aurora borealis. 
  • Mediterranean: featuring Athens (Piraeus), Bonifacio, Venice and Istanbul - some of the call ports travelers will visit with expert guides. 
  • Northern Europe & the Baltic: Between Sweden and Finland or Norway and Denmark via Russia cruisers can discover the Nordic capitals. With lecturers and guides aboard, these voyages offer a wealth of insights into the regions and wide variety of exciting sites.

French luxury expedition cruise ship L'Austral undertakes an inaugural series of sailings to Australia's Kimberley region 2017.

The 264-passenger, environmentally accredited yacht of Compagnie du Ponant, set to be the youngest ship in the outback destination, offers 14 Zodiacs, electric propulsion and 3D sonar to avoid sensitive environments when dropping anchor.

The four 10-night voyages between Darwin and Broome are planned to be led by adventurer and photographer Mick Fogg, veteran of 120 Kimberley expeditions, and 12 marine biologists, conservationists and naturalists.

“Larger than 75 percent of the world's countries, the Kimberley is a national biodiversity hotspot, listed in the top 3.7 percent of least impacted marine environments worldwide,” Fogg said. “At 1.8 billion years old, much of the Kimberley pre-dates life as we know it.”

Attractions include Horizontal Falls, Montgomery Reef, the Hunter River, Mitchell Falls, King George Falls, whale and saltwater crocodile sightings, and indigenous rock art with the world's oldest known depictions of human form.

Northwest Passage cruises 2013

Le Soleal, together with the fleetmate Le Boreal, were the first France-flagged marine vessels, and the world's first ever cruise ships with a Northwest Passage Cruise itinerary. The unique itinerary started on August 26, 2013, when they left Kangerlussuaq Greenland to arrive in Anadyr Russia on September 16. Among the ports of call along the route were Beechey Island and King William Island (Gjoa Haven).

During these voyages, Ponant cruise passengers enjoyed meeting the Inuit people and wildlife - seeing hundreds of beluga whales and narwhales, and around 60 polar bears. Charles Hedrich (French sportsman and adventurer) was also there as special guest - being the world's first man to solo cross the Northwest Passage (in September 2009) in a rowing boat.

  • The ships were under the command of Captains Etienne Garcia (on Le Boréal) and Patrick Marchesseau (on Le Soléal).
  • In 2015, Abercrombie & Kent chartered Le Boreal for a full Northwest Passage transit (Kangerlussuaq to Anadyr).

Ponant cruises to Cuba from Miami Florida

Compagnie du Ponant offers yacht ship cruises on Le Ponant, leaving from Miami Florida. The current list of passenger shipping lines offering cruises to Cuba in 2016-2017-2018 includes:

  • Carnival-fathom (ship MV Adonia, leaving from Miami Florida)
  • Royal Caribbean (ship Empress of the Seas, leaving from Miami Florida)
  • MSC Cruises (ship MSC Opera, leaving from Havana)
  • Oceania Cruises (ships Marina and Regatta) starting in 2017, Cuba circumnavigation, stops in Cienfuegos and Havana, also part of some Panama Canal transition itineraries.
  • Pearl Seas Cruises (ship Pearl Mist, leaving from Fort Lauderdale Florida)
  • Lindblad Expeditions (chartered sailing ship MS Panorama II, leaving from Havana)
  • Celestyal Cruises (ship Celestyal Crystal, leaving from Havana and Montego Bay Jamaica)
  • Grand Circle Cruise Line (ship MV Clio / ex Tere Moana) one-way from Miami to Havana, or the reverse from Havana to Miami (embarkation/disembarkation in port Cienfuegos).
  • International Expeditions (leaving from Havana, charter flights out of Miami)
  • Victory Cruise Lines - MS  Victory I (former MS Saint Laurent) - fly-cruises from Miami to Havana (home-port Cienfuegos /departures)
  • Note: According to the current Cuban law, US citizens of Cuban origin (born in Cuba) are not allowed to visit the island country (including on cruise ships). Regardless of their US citizenship status, Cuban-born Americans were denied booking on cruise itineraries visiting ports in Cuba. However, the situation changed in April 2016, after Carnival Corporation negotiated with the Cuban government for allowing ships with Cuban-born passengers, as such US citizens are allowed to visit the country on USA-Cuba charter flights. The Carnival-fathom line started Miami to Cuba cruises in May 2016.

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