Compagnie du Ponant

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Compagnie du Ponant fleet

Review of Compagnie du Ponant

Compagnie du Ponant (CDP, aka Ponant Cruises) is a French passenger shipping company founded in 1988 by former French Merchant Navy officers. All Ponant ships are megayacht-class and France-flagged. The company specializes in premium adventure cruise travel, targeting the French-speaking source market with all-inclusive deals.

Most of CDP's fleet is based in Antarctica (December through March). All these mega-yachts offer modern amenities, premium service by highly-traned staff and crew, 5-star hotel amenities onboard. Exotic, offbeat itineraries visit popular travel destinations worldwide, including Caribbean, Baltic, Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, South America, Australia. On the American cruise market, Ponant works in partnership with the US travel companies Abercrombie+Kent (Illinois) and Tauck (Connecticut).

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 company purchased the luxury liner Le Diamant (currently Ocean Diamond), which was transferred to Quark Expeditions in 2012 and renamed "Ocean Diamond".

Ponant Cruises gained international attention on April 4, 2008, when in the Gulf of Aden Le Ponant yacht was seized by Somali pirates.

  • The ship carried no passengers but all 30 crew were taken hostage and released on April 12 without incident. Following the release, the pirates were tracked to Jariban (village) by French helicopters.
  • When the pirates tried to flee in the desert, French marine commandos and GIGN (gendarmerie) deployed from the frigate ship 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, which France officially denied.
  • French troops recovered some of the ransom money paid by the shipowner. The 6 captured pirates were flown to Paris to face trial.

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.

In August 2018, Ponant Cruises and National Geographic (NatGeo) signed a 4-year partnership deal (until 2022) for over 130 NatGeo-themed expedition itineraries. NatGeo partners with Lindblad since 2004. All NatGeo-themed Ponant expedition voyages include experts and photographers engaging with passengers and presenting lectures on the itinerary's destinations and wildlife.

Ponant cruise ships

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, a shipbuilding agreement was signed with Vard Holdings Ltd (Norwegian subsidiary of the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri) to build four 184-passenger Explorer-class expedition ships outfitted with the lates environmental preservation maritime technologies. The agreement marked VARD company's entrance into the cruise ship building sector.

On March 6, 2018, Ponant Cruises signed with VARD the shipbuilding orders for 2 more Explorer-class expedition vessels. By the end of 2021, the company will operate a 12-ship fleet. The Explorer-class yachts.

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).

New ships dates were scheduled for deliveries between 2018 and 2020. The first couple (Le Laperouse and Le Champlain) were launched in 2018. In 2019 followed Le Bougainville and Le Dumont d'Urville, and in 2020 - Le Bellot and Le Surville.

Ponant Cruises new ship design

The new Ponant yachts were designed and planned for top-luxury 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 (initially named Ponant Icebreaker, then Le Commandant Charcot) 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.
  • The hybrid vessel is LNG powered (Wartsila Dual Fuel engines, with alternative battery power) and operates on polar cruise itineraries (Arctic and Antarctica).

Ponant Icebreaker cruise ship

Underwater Lounge "Blue Eye" on the new Ponant yachts

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

  • "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.

French Luxury and Expedition cruise line Ponant's Latin America and Caribbean 2018-2019 Collection includes cruises to the lands of mojitos, cigars and conquistadors. Reflecting the growth of interest in Latin America and 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.

Between November 2019-March 2020, during Southern Hemisphere summer, Ponant offers 22 voyages aboard four of its luxurious vessels: L’Austral, Le Boreal, Le Lyrial, Le Soleal. The cruise company offers its guests the chance to discover extraordinary landscapes as well as to experience unique adventures, sailing in the wake of great explorers of the uninhabited lands.

The new offerings include:

  • On a brand-new itinerary named The Antarctic Odyssey, Le Lyrial sails to South Orkney Islands, resurgence of Andean Cordillera. The islands are over 85% glaciated and home to leopard seals and many penguin species.
  • For the new season it is not just one but 3 expeditions that will take passengers beyond the polar circle, at latitude 66°33’39’’ South.
  • New premium package is available for all itineraries from Ushuaia, including an overnight in Arakur Resort, as well as a trip to Tierra del Fuego National Park.

Aboard Ponant's limited-capacity ships specially designed for expeditions, passengers access the most remote parts of the world in conditions that offer unrivalled standards of service. The expedition voyages to the polar regions offer many chances for landings in Zodiac dinghies together with expert naturalist-guides, in order to get as close as possible to unspoiled natural surroundings, with the utmost respect for the environment.

In addition to Antarctic itineraries for winter 2019-2020, PONANT offers over 100 departures and a total of 27 new itineraries. The world leader in luxury expedition voyages as well as the only French-owned cruise line offers to its passengers new destinations, including Mexico, Red Sea and Indian Ocean. The company doubles the number of its tropical expeditions due to the arrival of the first 4 PONANT Explorers: Le LaperouseLe ChamplainLe Bougainville, Le Dumont d’Urville. The vessels have only 92 staterooms and boast cutting edge technology with innovative equipment to protect the environment. In addition, they will be fitted with the Blue Eye, a world first underwater multi-sensory lounge.

Ponant's Winter 2019-2020 season includes a total of 115 departures, 28 new itineraries, 23 polar expedition voyages in Antarctica, 32 tropical expedition cruises, 6 geographic areas and 3 new destinations (the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Mexico), diving expeditions, nature reserves, UNESCO World Heritage sites. For Winter 2019-2020 season, the company offers a selection of departures that range from yacht cruises to tropical and polar expeditions. The brand new destinations on offer include Yucatan, bathing in the Caribbean Sea, visits to Mayan sites listed as World Heritage by Unesco, Red Sea treasures from Egypt to Jordan onboard Le Ponant, the emblematic 3-master of the cruise line, and the discovery of the “Vanilla Islands” or Bissagos Islands, one of the last remaining unspoiled locations in the world.

For the new season, the latest additions to Ponant Explorers series, Le Bougainville and Le Dumont-d’Urville, join the fleet, bringing the total number of line's vessels to 9. Ponant's guest have the opportunity to spend unforgettable Christmas or New Year’s Day surrounded by Antarctic icy landscapes or to discover the wildlife in the remote lands under supervision of experienced naturalist-guides. 

The cruise company is joining forces with National Geographic to offer new expedition cruises to Oceania, Latin America, Caribbean and Antarctica, starting 2019. Combining Ponant's itineraries in the world's most remote parts and the onboard presence of NatGeo Expeditions experts, the program of expedition voyages offers 12 itineraries for Winter 2019-2020 season.

New itinearies include:

  • "At the heart of the Indian Ocean" features the Vanilla Islands, including Seychelles and Scattered Islands, due to 5 brand new itineraries. The riches of the other Vanilla Islands, such as Madagascar, Reunion, Mauritius, Comoro Islands, Mayotte are also offered to see aboard Le Lyrial and Le Bougainville, with a total of 14 departures from December 6, 2019. Prices start from €5300 pp.
  • "Belize and the Mayan treasures" combines 4 Central American countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Belize. From Puerto Morelos to Puerto Morelos onboard Le Champlain, 7 departures are offered from November 9, 2019. Prices start from €2560 pp.
  • "Treasures of the Red Sea" is a new cruise in the Red Sea, which discovers some of the major sites of the Ancient World, sailing from Jordan to Egypt via Israel. From Aqaba to Aqaba onboard Le Ponant, 12 departures are offerd from December 14, 2019. Prices start from €3690 pp.
  • "Maya Treasure of the Yucatan" (from Puerto Morelos to Puerto Morelos (Cancun) onboard Le Champlain, with 7 departures between November 2019-January 2020, prices from EUR 2,560) is a cruise to discover Yucatan Peninsula and the secrets of pre-Columbian civilisations, including visits to Uxmal, Palenque, Chichen Itza. Also on the programme is the architectural heritage from colonial period, visits to Merida and cacao plantations.
  • "The Antarctic Odyssey" (21 days from Montevideo to Ushuaia with Ushuaia/Buenos Aires flight included, sailing onboard Le Lyrial, departing November 19, 2019, prices from EUR 15,700). Discovering the Antarctic Peninsula is the highlight of the adventure that is due to take Ponant guests to the Falklands, South Georgia and Orkney Islands, then to Ushuaia via the Drake Passage
  • "Adventure in Orinoco" (round-trip from Fort-de-France onboard Le Dumont-d’Urville, 2 departures November 2019, prices from EUR 4,820). Guests will be able to explore the beaches of the Caribbean islands through scuba-dives, and then head to the Venezuelan coast and sail along the major South American river, Orinoco.

The prices above are per person, including safety charges and port taxes. This promotional price is based on Ponant Bonus, varying according to the number of places that are sold for each of the cruises. 

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 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. 
  • 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.

Asia cruises 2019

Ponant unveiled 5 new itineraries in Asia on the first ship in the "Explorers" series  -Le Laperouse. The voyages visit Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, China, Vietnam, Japan - all Asian countries with rich ancestral traditions and unique cultural heritage.

  • "Asia, a blend of tradition and modernity" itinerary (from Osaka to Haiphong, October 26 - November 9, 2019) is a new voyage charting a course for Shanghai, before setting out to Hong Kong, and then sailing on to Ha Long Bay.
  • "Gems of South-East Asia" itinerary (from Bali to Hong Kong, September 11-27, 2019) visits 6 countries in Southeast Asia - Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore. The voyage includes the UNESCO site Borobudur (with around 240 temples). Other highlights include Hong Kong City, subterranean river (Puerto Princesa) and encounter with orangutans (Kota Kinabalu).
  • "The best of Japan" itinerary (from Osaka to Maizuru, October 10-18, 2019; from Maizuru to Osaka, October 18-26, 2019) visits Sakaiminato (ancient Samurai dwellings), Osaka City and Tamano (with great cultural heritage).
  • "From Australia to Indonesia" itinerary (from Darwin to Bali, August 31 - September 11, 2019) visits Coral Triangle (marine biodiversity), Kalabahi (Alor Archipelago), sub-ethnic groups from Flores and Molucca Islands along the Spice Route.

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