Compagnie du Ponant

History, Review, Itineraries, Ships, Deck Plans, News

Compagnie du Ponant cruise line logo

Compagnie du Ponant fleet

Review of Compagnie du Ponant

Compagnie du Ponant (CDP, aka Ponant Cruises) is a French cruise ship operator. The company was founded by former French Merchant Navy officers in April 1988, launching the ever first French cruise vessel. All CDP cruise ships are France-flagged.

CDP Compagnie du Ponant Cruises logo

Company history

Compagnie du Ponant's first ship - Le Ponant, is a 3-masted barque (sailing vessel built in 1991) is still in the CDP fleet. In 1999, the company acquired the yacht Le Levant (currently MV Clio). In 2012, Le Levant was purchased by Paul Gauguin Cruises and renamed "Tere Moana". In 2004, the line purchased the luxury liner Le Diamant (currently Ocean Diamond), which was transferred to Quark Expeditions in 2012 and renamed "Ocean Diamond".

In 2010, CDP put into service Le Boreal, the first of 4 identical luxury ships. Followed the sister-vessels L'Austral (2011), Le Soleal (2013) and the newest (last) from this series - Le Lyrial (2015).

Initially, CDP Ponant was based in Nantes France. After 18 years, following its acquisition by CMA CGM (container shipping company), in 2006 CDP's headquarters were moved to Marseille France. In 2012, Ponant was sold to Bridgepoint Capital (European private equity investor).

In July 2015, CDP was sold to Groupe Artemis (Financiere Pinault) - a holding company owned by Francois Pinault. The French entrepreneur is also a majority shareholder of Kering - French luxury goods retail company that includes the premium retail brands Gucci, Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga. Statistics for 2015 showed that CDP transported over 30,000 cruise ship tourists, and predominantly to polar region destinations.

Under Bridgepoint ownership, CDP doubled its sales (up to EUR 140 million). Profits were tripled thanks to a combination of enlarged and upgraded fleet (increased capacity by 11%), opening new sales offices (in Australia and China) and the acquisition of another sales distribution channel (TDI) in the North American market.

In July 2017, CDP confirmed its title sponsorship of the CYCA's (abbrev "Cruising Yacht Club of Australia") PSNYR event (abbrev "Ponant Sydney Noumea Yacht Race"), due to take place in 2018. The 1064 nautical mile (1225 ml / 1970 km) long Category 1 yacht race was scheduled to start in Sydney Harbour on June 2, 2018.

Ponant cruise ships

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.

Ponant Cruises ship design

One difference between Ponant cruises and those of other upscale passenger shipping 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.

New ships

On March 15, 2016 an agreement was signed with Vard Holdings Ltd (Norwegian subsidiary of the shipbuilder Fincantieri) to build four 184-passenger expedition cruise ships outfitted with environmental preservation technology. The agreement marked Vard's entrance into cruise ship building sector.

Each of the new 10,000 GT vessels has LOA length of 128 m (420 ft) and beam / width of 18 m (59 ft). They carry 110 crew and have 92 cabins. The exterior was created by the French company Stirling Design International (abbrev SDI). Vessels' delivery dates were scheduled between 2018 summer and 2019 summer. The first couple (Le Laperouse and Le Champlain) were scheduled for launch in 2018. In 2019 followed Le Bougainville and Le Kerguelen / Le Dumont-d’Urville.

Ponant Cruises new ship design

The new Ponant yachts are planned for high-end expedition voyages in Oceania, South America, Amazon's Orinoco River, Papua New Guinea, Indian Ocean, as well as in the polar regions (Arctic and Antarctica).

Ponant Cruises new ship design

The growth in passenger capacity for CDP Ponant came under the new ownership by Artemis (holding of the billionaire Pinault family).

In December 2017, Ponant contracted the VARD shipbuilding company to built an ice-breaking cruises ship.

  • The vessel (named Ponant Icebreaker) will be built at the shipyards in Tulcea (Romania) and Soviknes (Norway), with scheduled delivery in 2021 Spring. Building cost is USD 324 million (EUR 274 million)
  • The new ice-strengthened expedition ship has GT tonnage 30,000 tons, length 150 m (490 ft), crew 180, max capacity 270 passengers, with a total of 135 cabins (of which 68 with private patio balconies), 2 restaurants, 1 grill restaurant, spa and fitness, 16 Zodiacs (large inflatable boats), 2 onboard helicopters.
  • The hull is ice-classed PC2. The propulsion is diesel-electric (hybrid). The onboard LNG Fuel storage is by GTT. The Azipod propulsion units are by ABB.
  • It will be LNG powered (Wartsila Dual Fuel engines, with alternative battery power) and operated on polar cruise itineraries (Arctic and Antarctica.

Ponant Icebreaker cruise ship

Ponant new ships' Underwater Lounge

World's first ever underwater cruise ship lounge was designed for Ponant's new series of 4 vessels. The unique venue (named "Blue Eye") features vibrating sofas and innovative sound system to capture sea acoustics.

  • The "Blue Eye Lounge" is located 2-3 m (6,5-10 ft) below water level and is integrated into the ship's hull. Underwater views are via giant curved portholes - cetacean eye-shaped windows (1,6 x 3,4 m / 5 x 11 ft).
  • Live footage of the surrounding marine life is projected onto digital screens which "wallpaper" the room.
  • Sound, transmitted through hydrophones, is captured across a 5 km (3 ml)  radius of the ship. The high-tech lounge is fitted with “body listening sofas” vibrating discreetly to allowi passengers to experience the ocean rhythms.
  • Non-intrusive underwater projectors allow observing marine life from the ship's outdoor decks and the cruise cabin balconies.
  • The 7-deck ships also feature a resistance swimming pool (aka "infinity pool"), spacious sundeck and 3-position aft marina platform.

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 line Ponant's Latin America & Caribbean 2018-2019 Collection includes cruises to the lands of mojitos, cigars and conquistadors. Reflecting the growth of interest in Latin America & Caribbean as cruise destinations, Ponant released an extensive range of cruises covering the period from October 2018 through April 2019. Featuring a range of 21 sailings to 26 countries (10 cruises being designated Expedition), exploring both east and west coasts of South America and Caribbean, the new Collection is available as either a printed brochure on request via travel agents / directly from PONANT, or as a convenient e-brochure download.

No less than 26 UNESCO World Heritage sites and 5 pre-Columbian era sites are included in the range of destinations. Once-in-a-lifetime experiences consist of expeditions along the river arteries of South America, Amazon and Orinoco, visiting a Warao Indian village, or sipping a mojito in Havana. Others seek the thrill of rounding Cape Horn, cruising Beagle Channel, crossing Panama Canal or venturing deep into the waters of Chilean fjords. Accompanied by a specialist lecturer, the voyages provide the chance to travel to the birthplace of ancient civilisations. 

Some voyages, designated Expeditions, take advantage of the compact size of the ships and their manoeuvrability to probe hidden waterways, prior to launching Zodiac expedition boats for close-up opportunities of local tribes, flora and fauna. Throughout Expedition cruises, a team of naturalists enhances the cruise experience. 

For those guests looking for the relaxed pace of longer cruises the line offers Grand Voyages. There are 3 to select from: 49-night Ushuaia to Miami exploring the west coast of South and Central America, 59-night from Vancouver to Ushuaia exploring the west coast of North and South America, and 37-night Grand Voyage on Le Champlain from Brazil to Caribbean and on to Panama.

Australia itineraries

In 2017, the ship L'Austral started an inaugural cruise season in Australia (along Kimberley Coast). The 264-passenger yacht was the youngest vessel to sail the destination, offering 14 Zodiacs, electric propulsion and 3D sonar (allowing it to avoid sensitive environments when anchoring).

The four 10-night itineraries (between Darwin and Broome) were planned to be led by Mick Fogg (adventurer and photographer) and a total of 12 marine biologists, conservationists and naturalists.

Attractions included Horizontal Falls, Montgomery Reef, Hunter River cruising, Mitchell Falls, King George Falls, wildlife viewing (whale and saltwater crocodile sightings), indigenous rock art.

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 (via Bellot Strait) 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 (Le Boreal) and Patrick Marchesseau (Le Soleal).
  • In 2015, the company "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 2017-2018 includes:

  • Carnival Paradise leaving from Tampa Florida - cheapest prices (from USD 480 pp)
  • Royal Caribbean (ship Empress of the Seas, leaving from Miami Florida)
  • MSC Cruises (ship MSC Opera, leaving from Havana)
  • Holland America (ship Veendam) leaving from Fort Lauderdale since December 2017
  • Oceania Cruises (ships Marina and Regatta) starting in 2017, Cuba circumnavigation, stops in Cienfuegos and Havana, also part of some Panama Canal transition itineraries.
  • NCL (ship Norwegian Sky, 4-day itineraries with Havana overnights - starting May 2017.
  • Azamara Cruises (ship on Azamara Quest from Miami)
  • Thomson UK / Marella Cruises (ship Marella Dream) 7-day, leaving roundtrip from Jamaica (Montego Bay) to Havana
  • 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.
  • Alaska Airlines offers regular nonstop flights to Havana from Los Angeles (California USA). An 80-min ling JetBlue flight from Fort  Lauderdale (Florida) to Havana costs less than USD 100. Previously, air travel from USA to Cuba was thought charter flights only.

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