Ponant Shows Its Savoir-Faire

Boutique French line beckons Americans with new ships and a U.S. office By: Anne Kalosh
Le Boreal looks and feels like a yacht. // © 2010 Philip Plisson
Le Boreal looks and feels like a yacht. // © 2010 Philip Plisson

Le Boreal Fast Facts:

Ship Size: 10,700 gross tons
Staterooms: 128
Suites: Four with 40 additional staterooms that can connect into 20 suites, making a total of 24 suites and 88 staterooms.
Accessible Staterooms: Three
Elevators: Three
Number of Crew: 140

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The Details

Compagnie du Ponant
With its rakish profile, Compagnie du Ponant’s new super-yacht, Le Boreal, creates a stir in every harbor. As passengers sashay up the gangway, followed by the envious eyes of those on shore, they feel like Onassis — or, perhaps, Paul Allen.

The contemporary public spaces and staterooms are decked out in white leather and taupe paneling with splashes of crimson. There are elegant sun loungers and a spa by Carita of Paris.

Le Boreal is very different, very chic and very French. Designed for luxurious adventure, it is sailing in far-flung regions such as the Adriatic Sea and to Antarctica.

The 264-passenger ship and its sister ship, L’Austral, due in May 2011, signal a more international push for Marseille-based Ponant, owned by CMA CGM, the world’s third-largest container ship operator. The line operates fully bilingual (French and English) cruises that carry mostly French customers with a large minority of other nationalities.

Sophisticated clients will enjoy this vessel’s glamorous look, gourmet food, international flair and casual elegance. The friendly crew, mainly from France and Mauritius, are charmers. Everyone speaks English well, the entertainment is musical or of the production-show ilk (one act features the inevitable can-can) and excursions separate French- and English-speaking participants.

The French executive chef grills daily on deck, personally plating the perfectly charred brochettes, seared scallops, salmon or steak. The best Parisian patisserie has nothing on Le Boreal’s noontime dessert buffet and French wines, included in the fare, are poured freely at lunch and dinner.

Secret coves, remote beaches and natural wonders pepper itineraries.

“The captains really like to surprise the guests,” said Terri Haas, chief commercial officer.

That was true on my Western Europe cruise onboard Le Boreal, which sailed from Honfleur, France, to Copenhagen, Denmark, via Germany’s scenic Kiel Canal.

Ponant captains have an unusual amount of freedom. A couple of times, captain Etienne Garcia extended our port stays by hours. He also narrated our day-long Kiel Canal transit. Upon weaving Le Boreal through a flotilla of massive container vessels to our berth at Zeebrugge, Belgium, he praised the new ship’s maneuverability.

“This is the size for me,” said Garcia.

Garcia, who previously navigated the Antarctic region for five years, looks forward to taking Le Boreal on its four cruises  there during the coming season — Abercrombie & Kent has chartered another three departures.

It will be the newest — and one of the nicest — ships in Antarctica. Sofas with plump cushions invite relaxation on open decks. Le Boreal is equipped with a theater for performances and lectures, a main lounge with a dance floor, an open-air bar and an observation lounge with a library.

Open-seating dining is provided in the main restaurant, awash in white linens, fine china, silver and crystal, and the informal grill with teak tables, red linens and indoor/outdoor seating.

A boutique, a children’s area with a Nintendo Wii, a fitness center with TechnoGym equipment, a hammam and an outdoor, heated pool are other features. The ship also sports a marina platform.

All 132 staterooms have ocean views, and 94 percent have balconies. Room sizes range from 200 square feet with a a balcony to suites of 398 square feet and a balcony. The Owner’s Suite stretches 484 square feet. Staterooms feature L’Occitane toiletries, flat-screen televisions and iPod players. Suites have Nespresso machines and Carita toiletries. The ship is wired for Wi-Fi throughout.   
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