L'Austral / Ponant
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Lobby of Le Soléal
Lobby of Le Soléal / Ponant
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Seafood and Champagne
Seafood and Champagne / Ponant
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Restaurant on Le Soléal
Restaurant on Le Soléal / Ponant
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Cabin on Le Lyrial
Cabin on Le Lyrial / Ponant / François Lefebvre
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Le Ponant in the Maldives
Le Ponant in the Maldives / Ponant
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Pool Deck on Le Lyrial
Pool Deck on Le Lyrial / Ponant
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Our Review
Deal Expert / Travel Blogger

As the only French-owned ocean cruise line, luxury mega-yacht and expedition-ship brand Ponant (now operated by Artemis, a holding company for the Pinault family) provides all the panache you would expect from a country known for its fine food and wine and indelible style. The crowd is chic (and largely French, although more international of late), the décor mixes breezy whites with crystalline accents, and the culinary temptation is constant. The cocktail party atmosphere never ends, even when a ship is heading into Arctic ice floes.

In fact, Ponant has focused intently on expedition cruising in recent years, and its impressively luxurious 246-guest ice-breaker Le Commandant Charcot (which features the first-ever shipboard restaurant by acclaimed French Chef Alain Ducasse) even offers voyages to the North Pole. Ponant’s ships are also chartered by bespoke tour company Abercrombie & Kent for expedition and culture-focused itineraries around the globe.

What We Love

The Spa: European staff — using French Sothys products — provide top-notch treatments, whether it’s a facial, a pedicure, or simply an updo in the salon. There’s also a hammam (Turkish steam bath) on every ship except the original Le Ponant.

The Little Details: While Ponant’s fares are all-inclusive and guests enjoy fine-dining experiences every night, the quality of “the basics” is what really creates a feeling of indulgence. Every meal includes as much French butter and cheese as you can handle, and the Champagne and rosé are free-flowing.

Best Known For

Brand Partnerships: Many iconic French luxury brands have partnered with Ponant, so the ineffable French style is reinforced by exquisite details like Pierre Hermé Paris macarons at tea and Charles Heidsieck Champagne (Veuve Clicquot on Le Commandant Charcot and Le Ponant) behind the bar. The housekeepers leave a trail of Fragonard room fragrance in their wake.

Polar Expeditions: It's hard to believe that such graceful ships would specialize in breaking through ice to reach the world’s extreme zones. Venture to the bridge, where up to five officers might be on duty to navigate rough passages.

Who It's Best For

Mixed Groups: Personalized experiences are encouraged, so families with young children can go their own way by day, while grandparents can opt for a coach tour. In the evening, the grown-ups meet in the lounge for cocktails while kids go up to the casual restaurant for burgers and fries.

Expeditioners: Expedition cruises are a bit more exclusive and geared to adults (although children age six and older are allowed, with the exception of Le Commandant Charcot). Most of the ports visited on polar expeditions are too remote to have actual port infrastructure, but guests still get to explore via Zodiac dinghies that can navigate the area (most of these outings are included in the cruise price).

Don't Say We Didn't Warn You

The Price Will Be Très Cher (Very Expensive): While Ponant’s more traditional cruises to the Mediterranean, Baltic, South America, and the like start at around $6,000 per person for a seven-night sailing, expedition voyages are pricier, beginning at around $13,000 per person for 10 nights.

Lena Katz
Deal Expert / Travel Blogger