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FAMIL REPORT: Robyn Sinfield embarks on Ponant's Le Commandant-Charcot

The luxury ice-breaker must be experienced to be believed, writes one starstruck agent

There are expedition ships and then there is Le Commandant-Charcot! What a privilege to experience this amazing Ponant vessel, which takes travellers on their polar exploration to the next level! 

I was among the privileged few Australian and New Zealand travel advisors able to experience first hand this new luxury cruise ship with cutting edge technology which works towards sustainable tourism as it’s the first hybrid luxury polar exploration vessel.

Named after a French Polar Explorer, Jean-Baptiste Charcot, who was a doctor, an explorer and an exceptional sailor, he had by 1902 crossed the Arctic Circle and taken journeys from Greenland to Antarctica, so in true Ponant style they are keeping up the tradition of seeking more and exploring more. 

As we embark, the previous cruise has experienced both the amazing Ross Sea and land as the ship carved her way through the ice, creating unique polar explorations at extreme latitudes and offering authentic experiences from their 16 zodiacs onboard. 

You are in safe hands throughout. We listened to the ship's Master speak of the journey Ponant had been on to reach this point, from the idea's original conception in 2015 to now. 

He shared the many safety rules and instructions keeping the guests and crew safe, right down to having to survive "on the ice" in the case of an emergency. This ship is the only Pc2 polar full hull hybrid ship with twin pods to twist/drill through the ice.  

A team of 16 polar specialists are onboard each exploration. Depending on the destination, this is every sort of ‘ologist’ you can imagine - biologist, ornithologist, glaciologist, geologist etc - and guests get to rub shoulders with and share their stories and expertise.

On deck 3 is the science lab. Ponant has poured in excess of €2m Euro into the participative science, and the global teams that work together have state-of-the-art areas to work in. 

But this ship is not just about the technical and scientific stuff, it’s about a journey of exceptional design and comfort. Immediately on embarkation, I take the lift to the deck 5 reception and I feel like I’m in a New York apartment, inviting and warm, with details like stone, wood and leather. It's elegant and open, a nice home away from home for 240 guests. 

My ‘privilege stateroom’ #839 is spacious at 28sqm with a 5sqm balcony. The attention to detail in finding places to store items is amazing, and my room has a comfortable work bench with a chair adjacent to a comfortable couch - perfect for writing, beneath an interactive TV which has videos on demand, an Ipod dock and safe. 

In addition, there are plenty of hanging and folding areas, and great mirrors (so you can see all the expedition gear tucked in as it should be). There are 110v and 220v sockets (US and European), direct line phone and access to complimentary WiFi. The bathroom is smaller but adequate with Hermes French bath products. 

Back down to deck 5 to explore from the main lobby area, where the reception/concierge, expeditions desk, hospitality/travel manager office, boutique, image and photo desk can be found. Drinks and canapes or indeed caviar by the fire in the main lounge is the sailaway highlight on each side of the ship and can seat all guests at the one time. Adjacent is the theatre, a new  pillarless build giving everyone a clear view of the nightly show or the guest lecturers.  

Stretch the legs and up the stairs to deck 9 and to see the two-sided dual temperature Blue Lagoon pool at the ship's aft (rear). The open pit fire by the bar is a great place to warm up on a windy Christchurch afternoon. This area would be so very popular with panoramic views over polar landscapes.  

Head inside and you will find the sauna and spa area, including an indoor heated pool, snow room and sauna. The Winter Garden would be a great place, book in hand to wile away a few hours watching the snowscapes go by. If you're not into books but the gym, there is a small but adequate fitness centre. 

Dinner is served, a delightfully French gastronomic experience in the Nuna Restaurant on deck 5 (by Alain Ducasse)  – followed by a night cap after the show on deck 9 in the panoramic bar.  Breakfast was served in Sila, the casual restaurant available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

The helicopter is onboard for scientific reasons and for itinerary checking by the Captain – it has a hydraulic helipad so when not in use, you can’t see it.

Arguably for the first time, we can offer our explorative travellers true adventures of isolated Arctic and Antarctic regions all whilst enjoying conditions of unprecedented luxury and comfort. Thank you Ponant for the privilege and to the amazing APAC team who look after us and our clients. 

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Written by: Robyn Sinfield

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