Ponant Cruises fleet
Review of Ponant Cruises
Ponant Cruises (ponant.com) is a French passenger shipping company (Compagnie du Ponant/CDP) founded in 1988 by former French Merchant Navy officers. All Ponant ships are megayacht-type vessels and France-flagged (in the Marshall Islands). 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 large superyachts offer modern amenities, premium service by highly-trained 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 cruising market, Ponant works in partnership with the US travel companies Abercrombie+Kent (Illinois) and Tauck (Connecticut).
Ponant's growth in passenger capacity came under the new ownership by Artemis Group (holding of the billionaire Pinault family).
Compagnie du Ponant's first ship - Le Ponant, is a 3-masted barque (1991-built sailing vessel) 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 a 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 the French billionaire Francois Pinault (1936-born).
- Francois Pinault is the founder and a majority shareholder of Kering (fka Pinault-Printemps-Redoute) - 1963-founded French luxury goods retail company that owns the premium retail brands Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga. The Pinault Collection includes 5000+ artworks (mainly contemporary art) displayed at Bourse de Commerce (Commodities Exchange's building in Paris City).
- Groupe Artemis is family-controlled and includes the Switzerland-based subsidiaries/divisions Franke Group (Franke Holding AG/industrial manufacturer), Feintool Group (Feintool International Holding AG/specializing in fineblanking/metal stamping), Artemis Real Estate Group, Artemis Asset Management Group, Artemis Domaine (vineyards Chateau Latour, Chateau Grillet, Clos de Tart, Domaine d'Eugenie, Eisele Vineyard), Le Point (news magazine), Christie's (British auction house), Stade Rennes FC (football club), Ponant.
- 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 an 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.
In late-November 2018, Ponant contracted Global Eagle Entertainment Inc (Los Angeles-based, Nasdaq-listed US company specializing in media technologies, content, and connectivity) to provide new technology, entertainment programming and TV for Ponant's fleet, including the 6 newbuilds under construction. Ponant ships received the latest smart HDTVs as all vessels now have 3,6-meter TVRO (television receive-only) antennas. Global Eagle's annual media content traffic is 10,000+ terabytes, delivered to 1000+ vessels (cruise ships, ferries, commercial ships, airplanes) and 1+ billion passengers. Among company's clients are the cruise companies NCL-Norwegian, Disney, Pullmantur, P&O FERRIES.
Since January 2019, all Ponant cruise passengers (regardless of cabin category and itinerary) enjoy free WIFI access. The complimentary service is available shipwide and during the full length of the voyage.
On August 8, 2019, Ponant officially acquired Paul Gauguin Shipping Ltd (headquartered in Bellevue, WA USA), together with its travel brand "Paul Gauguin Cruises" and the Papeete Tahiti-homeported liner MS Paul Gauguin. Following the acquisition, both companies kept their management teams, led by Navin Sawhney (Ponant Americas's CEO) and Diane Moore (Paul Gauguin Cruises' CEO). Since April 2021, Ponant's CEO is Herve Gastinel, while the company is owned by Francois Pinault (Artemis Group's founder and manager). Since 2022, Susan Robison is Paul Gauguin's General Manager (North American Sales and Marketing), while Liz Coleman is VP of Sales.
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.
One difference between Ponant and other premium passenger shipping companies is that CDP offers a more a la carte pricing. Passengers could pay extra for cocktails (unless drink packages are included), shore excursions, gratuities, Internet and other services, depending on where they buy their cruise. As the policy varies by country (UK, France, Germany, USA, Australia-NZ) it can be confusing.
Compagnie du Ponant is dedicated to "soft adventure" cruising. Half of the fleet is based in Antarctica (December through March). It offers offbeat itineraries around the world, especially in Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asia. Beyond its French customers, Ponant Cruises successfully appeals to travelers from UK and North America. In early-2014 was started a program promoting the brand in Australia and New Zealand.
Shipboard internet and network/WiFi connectivity are provided via partnership with Marlink Group (a French company specializing in maritime satellite communications). Marlink provides hybrid network solutions that combine dual C- and Ku-band VSAT connectivity (land-based equipment by Sealink International Inc), GEO and LEO satellites (L-band terminals), and high-volume LEO storage (data stored on Low Earth Orbit satellites). The network employs SD-WAN (Software-defined Wide Area Network/cloud-delivered architecture for optimizing the traffic) as well as Marlink’s LTE/GSM service (Long-Term Evolution/mobile phones WiFI communication).
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 latest environmental preservation maritime technologies. The agreement marked VARD company's entrance into the cruise shipbuilding sector.
On March 6, 2018, Ponant Cruises signed with VARD the shipbuilding orders for 2 more Explorer-class expedition vessels (megayachts). By the end of 2021, the company will operate a 12-ship fleet.
Each of the new 11,000 GT vessels has LOA length of 128 m (420 ft) and beam / width 18 m (59 ft). They carry 110 crew and have 92 cabins. The exterior was created by the French company Stirling Design International (SDI).
The new yachts' delivery dates were scheduled between 2018 and 2020. The first two (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 Jacques Cartier (ex Surville).
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).
In December 2017, Ponant contracted VARD 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).
On November 19, 2019, Fincantieri and Ponant signed a MoA (worth ~EUR 300 million) for design and construction of 2 new-class expedition ships (~EUR 150 million per unit), with the option for a 3rd unit (of the same design). The deal was signed by Jean Emmanuel Sauvee (Ponant's CEO) and Giuseppe Bono (Fincantieri's CEO).
Both new Ponant-owned ships are planned for deliveries in 2022, and to be operated by Paul Gauguin Cruises in the South Pacific Ocean. Both vessels will be built by Fincantieri's subsidiary VARD (Norway) and designed with GT 11.000 tons, passenger capacity 230, latest technology marine systems, LNG-powered (plus battery-power package).
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 mi) radius of the ship. The high-tech lounge is fitted with "body listening sofas" vibrating discreetly to allow 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.
NEW Solidsail ship technology by Silenseas
In early-March 2018, STX France revealed a carbon-free cruise vessel design (named Silenseas) using wind as the main power source. The new wind-power technology was trialed on the yacht Le Ponant, on which one of the existing sails was replaced and the new technology tested.
STX France's project was something never done before. The carbon-free sailship design is an alternative to the popular hybrid powered vessels. Hydrogen and fuel cells are still expensive, plus hydrogen is not available in most ports.
The technology uses the company's patented "Solidsail" concept. The sails (total size up to 1200 m2 / 12900 ft2) are mounted on masts but without any ropes or cables. The STX France design has 3 masts and 3 rigs, with masts rotating in order to adapt the sails to the wind. The new design also includes the latest hybrid propulsion technologies, combining wind with LNG, and potentially batteries, solar panels, and fuel cells.
The sailing ship can reach speeds of 12 knots (14 mph / 22 kph) under sail in 15 knots (17 mph / 28 kph) winds. In winds over 15 knots, vessel's propellers will be used, acting as a turbine that draws power from the sails. On Caribbean Sea routes, the new technology could reduce propulsion energy by 60%.
STX France's Solidsail-ship design was developed for 3 vessel sizes, the biggest being 15,000 GT tons vessel with LOA length 190 m (620 ft) and 150 passenger staterooms. The French shipbuilding company started research in sail propulsion in 2009, Silenseas has technology patents (2009 and 2017) for the new sail. The unit is made from fibreglass, carbon and epoxy-resin panels.
Solidsail system debuted on October 31, 2018, on the yacht Le Ponant. The new Solid Sail (sized over 300 m2) was constructed at Chantiers de l’Atlantique (Saint-Nazaire) and installed in Marseille. As the three-masted Le Ponant departed from France to Cape Verde Islands, then embarked on Transatlantic crossing to Cuba, testing the new sail for 1 year.
(Coronavirus crisis) passenger shipping pause 2020-2021
Due to the Coronavirus crisis, Ponant suspended its fleet's passenger shipping operations (all vessels, including MS Paul Gauguin) by canceling all voyages with pre-scheduled departures in the period March 15, 2020, through mid-June 2021.
Operations were planned to restart on October 27, 2020 (Mediterranean) but instead were offered French coastal mini-cruises on select ships only.
All affected bookings were fully refunded in FCC (future cruise credit), including on prepurchased packages and services.
Next are listed all Ponant ships, their scheduled first departure dates (in 2021) and operational regions.
- Le Dumont D'Urville (July 28) Iceland from Reykjavik
- Le Champlain (July 15) Iceland from Reykjavik, Canada-Caribbean
- Le Lyrial (June 15) Mediterranean
- L'Austral (Nov 18) Antarctica from Ushuaia Argentina
- Le Bellot (Aug 6) Mediterranean
- Le Boreal (July 2) Arctic-Norway from Longyearbyen Spitzbergen
- Le Bougainville (July 2) Mediterranean
- Le Jacques Cartier (Aug 24) Mediterranean
- Ponant's Australia and New Zealand program restarts in 2022 with two ships - Le Soleal (January 6, 2022) and Le Laperouse (January 7, 2022).
- Ponant's brand Paul Gauguin Cruises ceased operations between March 15, 2020, and August 28, 2021.
In early-June, Ponant announced a "France homeporting" mini-season (July through September/mid-October) with scheduled roundtrips from the French ports Le Havre/Paris (ship Le Dumont d'Urville), Saint-Malo (ships Le Champlain, Le Jacques Cartier), Bordeaux (ship Le Bougainville), Marseille (ship L'Austral) and Villefranche-sur-Mer/Nice (ship Le Lyrial).
Since March 9, 2020, Ponant's WORRY-FREE BOOKING policy allows penalty-free cancellation for any booking (fully refundable up to 90 days after confirmation). For booking any of the scheduled in 2020 itineraries, Ponant requires 10% deposit and final payment due 30 days prior departure. Also fully refundable are cancellations up to 30 days prior departure.
Itinerary of Ponant Cruises
Ponant offers all-season voyages, in places that are inaccessible to larger cruise liners. The company operates in the following regions/destinations:
- Adriatic and Mediterranean: Italy, Corsica, Croatia, Black, and the Aegean Sea
- Northern Europe, Greenland, Scandinavia, Baltic, Iceland
- Iberian Peninsula; Indian Ocean: Maldives
- The Red Sea and the Persian Gulf
- Asia; South and Central America
- Canada and New England; Antarctica
- French Polynesia - In August 2019, Ponant purchased Paul Gauguin Shipping Ltd (headquartered in Bellevue, WA USA), its brand "Paul Gauguin Cruises" and the Papeete Tahiti-based ship MS Paul Gauguin.
Between November 2019-March 2020, during Southern Hemisphere summer, Ponant offered 22 voyages with 4 boats (L' Austral, Le Boreal, Le Lyrial, Le Soleal). The new itinerary (The Antarctic Odyssey) visited South Orkney Islands - over 85% glaciated and home to leopard seals and many penguin species. A new premium package was available for all itineraries (roundtrips from Ushuaia) including an overnight in Arakur Resort and a tour to Tierra del Fuego National Park. Ponant's polar voyages offer many chances for landings (via Zodiac boats) led by expert naturalist guides.
The company also operates in popular destinations like Mexico, Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and is partnering with National Geographic on expeditions to Oceania, Latin America, the Caribbean, Antarctica. On these voyages, NatGeo Expeditions experts serve the new partnership with new itineraries including:
- "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. Prices start from EUR 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. Prices start from EUR 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 on Le Ponant, prices start from EUR 3690 pp.
- "Maya Treasure of the Yucatan" (from Puerto Morelos to Puerto Morelos (Cancun) onboard Le Champlain, prices from EUR 2,560) is a cruise to discover Yucatan Peninsula and the secrets of pre-Columbian civilizations, including visits to Uxmal, Palenque, Chichen Itza. Also on the program is the architectural heritage from the 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, 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 the Orkney Islands, then to Ushuaia via the Drake Passage.
- "Adventure in the Orinoco" (round-trip from Fort-de-France onboard Le Dumont-d'Urville, prices from EUR 4,820). Guests are 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.
In 2021, Le Commandant-Charcot (world's first hybrid electric polar cruise ship) offers new Arctic itineraries visiting iconic sites of the adventures led by Jean-Baptiste Charcot and traversing the Northwest Passage. The Maiden Voyage (15-day between Iceland and Greenland) begins in Le Havre-Paris. After passing Rockall Rock, it sails along Alftanes Peninsula's coast (southwest Iceland). Other Ponant itineraries visit Ross Sea, Greenland's eastern coast, the geographic North Pole, Northwest Passage, Peter I Islands.
From the Society to the Cook Islands, passing through Tahiti, Tuamotus, Marquesas, the PONANT's brand Paul Gauguin operates in the region for 20+ years. There are 5x itineraries discovering the region, with multiple activities offered complimentary - swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, scuba diving, snorkeling. The program also includes visiting the private island Motu Mahana (off Tahaa Island), where a traditional Polynesian barbecue is prepared. The brand has only one boat (MS Paul Gauguin) specially designed to sail in Polynesia - with a shallow draft allowing her to get as close as possible to the lagoons.
Paul Gauguin completed a major renovation (2-month drydock) of its ship. True to the commitment to responsible tourism, PONANT made major investments to equip the vessel with the latest technology in environmental preservation. The use of heavy fuel oil has been eliminated since 2019 in favor of LS-MGO (Low-Sulphur Marine Gas Oil) - a more environmentally friendly fuel, and carbon emissions have been offset by ~150%. Optimizations relating to energy and water treatment have also been carried out during the renovation.
Paul Gauguin's 2022 itineraries include:
- 7-night "Tahiti and the Society Islands" roundtrip from Papeete (Tahiti Island, French Polynesia). 20 departures in 2022, prices started from EUR 2120.
- 11-night "Cook Islands and Society Islands" roundtrip from Papeete - 4 departures in 2022, prices started from EUR 3790.
- 10-night "Society Islands and The Tuamotus" roundtrip from Papeete - 6 departures in 2022, prices started from EUR 3040.
- 14-night "Marquesas, The Tuamotus and Society Islands" roundtrip from Papeete - 4 departures in 2022, prices started from EUR 5440.
In mid-April 2021, Ponant announced its summer 2022 program (150+ voyages) in the regions of Europe (Mediterranean, Arctic, Baltic), UK, North America, Kimberley Australia, French Polynesia, Japan.
- (Corsica and Brittany itineraries) in 2022 visit Saint-Florent Corsica, Santa-Manza Gulf (near Bonifacio), Pointe de la Parata (near Ajaccio), Calvi, Cape Roccapina, Brehat island, Ushant Island, Pointe des Poulains (Belle Ile).
- (Eastern Mediterranean itineraries) include the Adriatic and the Greek Islands in the Cyclades. 50+ cruises combine the Italian Riviera with the Adriatic Sea and the Eastern Med.
- 8-day polar cruise "Unexplored Svalbard" (Svalbard Islands Norway) visit the Kongsfjorden glaciers and the Nordvest-Spitsbergen National Park, then the Nordaust-Svalbard Nature Reserve and Hinlopen Strait (between Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet), with scheduled daily Zodiac landings.
- Ponant's "Icelandic Mosaic" itinerary is highlighted by shoreside fjord cruising and Zodiac landings (glaciers, volcanoes, geysers), touring Reykjavik, visiting Grimsey Island, exploring Heimaey Island (Vestmannaeyjar archipelago).
Ponant cruises to Cuba from Miami Florida
- 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 - fly-cruises from Miami to Havana (homeport 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 the USA to Cuba was thought charter flights only.
On June 4, 2019, the US Government announced new regulations (economic sanctions) that ended group travel to Cuba, including via US-homeported cruise liners, effective immediately. The ban relates to "private and corporate aircraft, cruise ships, sailboats, fishing boats, and other similar aircraft and vessels". The US travel restrictions impacted hundreds of pre-scheduled cruise itineraries, which were adjusted to no longer stop in Cuban seaports.
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