On the new Ponant itinerary announced for 2015, guests will spot wildlife native to the Amazon and interact with local tribes. // © 2014 Ponant
Feature image (above): Ships in Ponant’s fleet are small enough to navigate rivers as well as the sea. // © 2014 Ponant
The elegant Ponant launched in the late 1980s as a French product for the French market, but the luxury line has repeatedly changed hands and now is truly international. The convivial onboard atmosphere, excellent dining and sheer beauty of the ships have earned the line a loyal following, as Ponant has embraced luxury expedition sailing since the beginning.
Dedicated to give its passengers a real experience of the countryside and the history and community of the places they visit, Ponant has been a pioneer in combining river and ocean cruises to access a complete region, while cosseting them onboard with classic French cuisine, warm and charming service and uncommon luxurious touches.
One such cruise will be the 17-night Amazon/Orinoco itinerary, announced for March 2016, on the company’s new Le Lyrial that will debut in April 2015. Like the other ships in Ponant’s fleet, Le Lyrial, with 122 staterooms and suites, is small enough to go into unusual ports and to negotiate rivers as well as oceans.
The cruise explores the Brazilian Amazon and sails on to Devil’s Island, Barbados and finally Martinique. In Brazil, guests can explore the cobbled colonial streets of Sao Luis and shop Ver-o-Peso in Belem, one of the world’s best open-air markets. There, clients can purchase local food, charms, ceramics, herbal medicines and rare artifacts.
Travelers also have the opportunity to encounter Venezuela’s Warao tribespeople along the Orinoco Delta. The Orinoco is the lifeline of the Warao and has given them their name, which translates to “Boat People.” The Warao's thatched houses without walls, carved stools and ingenious boats, some of which can hold up to 50 people, bridge their lives from traditional ways to the modern world.
Ponant also introduces passengers to wildlife along the rivers, including spider and howler monkeys, toucans, scarlet ibis and iguanas, all among the rainforests and picturesque mangroves, which National Geographic has described as more important to the life of the planet than we have ever realized.
Similarly, the nine-night Best of Vietnam cruise on Le Soleal, departing from Hong Kong on Oct. 28, 2015, includes a segment on the Saigon River and a kayak or junk boat excursion in Ha Long Bay. Guests visit families who raise buffalo and others who make spirit money or ghost money. They also will attend puppet shows performed by members of local communities in village courtyards and end the cruise with three days in Ho Chi Minh City.