Not too many ships - especially luxury cruise ships - dock at London’s most iconic spot, Tower Bridge. When the invitation went out a few months ago to visit this French Luxury super yacht, I could not resist going. Even though Ponant is not on every cruise consultants radar (and by some of my fellow land-based travel agents who attended, it was their first visit on a ship and had no idea what kind of calibre this line was), it was a good learning curve for all. Moored beside HMS Belfast, she cunningly blended in with the surrounding colours.
Even though it was a bit overcast, her two-tone grey-colour finish combined with a slick and elegant design meant she stood out magnificently, especially with the Shard as a nice backdrop. No wonder so many tourists were happily zapping away with their cameras by the London Millennium pier. From here, we took the tender across the Thames pool (deepest part of the river) and, as Le Boreal was etching ever closer, I could sense that she was built for both luxury and pleasure. As we circled towards the stern, I knew that I was in for a treat.
Being a small size ship - 143 metres in length and 18 metres in width, with capacity for 246 passengers and 136 crew members - she is described as a super yacht five-star ship designed mainly for expedition cruises. Built in 2010, she has navigated across the world’s oceans, serving guests the French way - with gastronomy, service and, of course, wine and champagne.
As we all congregated in one of the two salons after a glass or two of champagne - I chose coffee, 10.30 was a bit early for me - we were given an introduction of the company. Established over 30 years ago, this French cruise line - the only one in France - has grown steadily and there are a further four smaller ships on order, indicating that there are big plans ahead. I was a bit surprised to hear that, for a nation of seafarers like France, this is the only cruise line that they have since the famous Ocean Liner, Normandie, was unfortunately damaged by fire during WW2 and consequently scrapped whilst in a New York harbour.
Our lovely guide, Jeanette, called my group and, with a delightful French accent, she took us for a tour around the ship. We were shown a cross-section of staterooms including sea view and balcony categories and two different suites. All rooms looked ample and airy, but what caught my eye was the shower area. It had a floor to ceiling window which, in effect, enables you to look into your cabin whilst having a shower or vice versa. We were duly informed that this was a touch of French flair. As you shower, you can see the outside world.
Corridors and staircases are all elegantly designed, a soft carpet with mellow and warm colours and an array of classic yesteryear photos (black and white with a tinge of red) along the walls made the on board surroundings all the more inviting. Deck numbers/common areas were well sign posted. Although there were only a few public areas, they each had large comfortable arm chairs – while the small but adequate theatre was also comfy. The spa was neat and tidy and the gym was adequate - albeit no casino.
Internet room was basic, as was the “kid’s area”. Wi-Fi - a must for most travellers these days - was a bit of an Achilles heel to Ponant, according to our guide. Packages are available but, as she put it, are not always great due to the satellite links. In this modern age of the traveller, this is an area where investment has to be pushed through.
As we neared lunch, we were invited to my favourite part of the ship - the bridge. Not a place where travel agents frequent, but it was a delight to sit in the Captain’s chair. With too many buttons and levers for me to work out, I duly left it to the professionals.
On these ship visits, many cruise lines try their hardest to ensure you are served the best food and provided with the best-quality service and etiquette. The waiters were great and attentive; then again, there were only about 20 of us in the main dining restaurant, Gastronomic, situated on the Le Liberté deck. The other dining area was the main buffet restaurant, which we were shown as part of our tour. The food was light and filling, decorated in French style and washed down with either red or white.
The day ended with a small talk by the Captain. I am glad to say that all voyages are bi-lingual (French/English). The on board demographic is usually 50% French, while the other half is made up of North Americans, Australians and British.
Luxury service has no language barrier and most folks who book with this cruise line know what to expect. The destination is the key here and Le Boreal, as all her sister ships, has been designed to adapt to each of the six continents, zodiacs included.
The choice is yours, Ponant will do the rest.