Review of Ponant’s Le Commandant Charcot expedition ship

Anthony Daniels joins PONANT
By Harry Kemble
05/05/2023
Home » Review of Ponant’s Le Commandant Charcot expedition ship

You don’t have to spend long in the company of a Ponant employee to understand how proud the French cruise line is of Le Commandant Charcot.  

New-Building Director Mathieu Petiteau described the ship as ‘autonomous’ because it can carry liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuel for up to four months and therefore doesn’t need to refuel as much as other polar expedition ships.

Ponant describes Le Commandant Charcot as the ‘world’s only luxury icebreaker’.

Since launching in 2021, the 245-passenger Le Commandant Charcot spends the southern hemisphere summer sailing Antarctica itineraries and the northern hemisphere summer in the Arctic.

The ship’s thick hull and hybrid propulsion means it can break through ice and sail to the geographic North Pole four times each year.

As the ship repositioned to the Arctic this spring, Ponant invited Travel Gossip and 70 agents to join a seminar-at-sea sailing from Southampton to French port city Brest.

Travel Gossip Senior Reporter Harry Kemble went to find out how innovative it really was.

The cabins

The ship has seven cabin categories, including an Owner’s Suite, four Duplex Suites and 50 Deluxe Suites. The décor in each cabin is muted grey tones with wood.

I stayed in a 301-square foot Deluxe Suite with a smallish balcony but a spacious inside seating area alongside the bed. The toilet is separate from the bathroom which reduces the risk of having your shower interrupted.

The suite comes with a Bluetooth Bose speaker, which you can link to your phone.

These suites are the most common room category on the expedition ship.

But it was the two-storey Duplex Suites that really caught my eye. They have an upstairs bedroom and bathroom.

Yes, the Owner’s Suite is magnificent and huge, at 1,237 square feet, but the Duplex Suites are only just a little bit smaller at 1,011 square feet and mightily impressive.

The outdoor space in the Owner’s Suite

The Owner’s Suite sleeps up to two people, but the Duplex accommodates up to four passengers.

A Duplex Suite also has a six-person dining table, electric blinds, a sofa bed, a dressing area, and an outdoor Jacuzzi. Butler service is also available.

Each Duplex Suite has the feel of a city apartment because of its two-storey structure. With the amount of space available, passengers staying in the suite can realistically host friends for a pre-dinner drink.

The food and drink

Le Commandant Charcot has two restaurants and, when weather permits, an outdoor grill eatery. The weather was poor so the al-fresco dining area was not opened during our cruise.

The food on our cruise was very tasty. I heard nothing but glowing reviews from the agents about the French dishes that were served up.

Ponant serves French food, but often with a twist. For example, I had prawn tartare rather than steak tartare which is a dish you would normally expect from a cruise company headquartered in France.

Sauteed calamari, pork pluma and saffron fusilli were some of the dishes served on the first day for lunch. Champagne was available at every turn.

On the second and final evening, foie gras featured in two of the five dishes on the ‘classic’ set menu. If foie gras is not your thing, the onboard crew will happily remove it entirely from the dish for you. The foie gras was not replaced with another ingredient.

One gripe was the use of coffee capsules in the bars. Yes, they are recyclable but seeing them being inserted into coffee machines felt quite out of step with the ship’s environmental ethos.

Surely there is a greener option available? Everything else on board has been carefully thought out with the environment in mind.  

The pool

Le Commandant Charcot’s main pool is inside near the spa. The pool is another feature that sets Le Commandant Charcot apart from other expedition ships because it’s rare to have one indoors.  

The indoor pool has a bar area and chaise lounge chairs

The pool is not huge but it does have a resistance option that can be turned on by passengers who might want to exert themselves after a lengthy lunch followed by a stint in the cigar lounge. 

The pool is open 24/7 and is heated to between 27 and 35 degrees celsius.

A bar area and chaise lounges, on the opposite side to the pool, make this a perfect place to unwind after a day exploring.

There are also two shallow pools outside and sofas heated from recycled energy to keep you warm nearby.

Deck 9 where guests can sit on heated outdoor sofas fitted to the ship

The spa

The spa has three treatment rooms and a single-chair hair salon, but the standout feature is the snow room.

Passengers are advised to run between the sauna and the snow room three times. Once inside the snow room, apparently they need to rub the ice into their bodies to access all the physical benefits of the exercise.

Environmental impact

Le Commandant Charcot operates in the Arctic and Antarctica – two areas where cruise operations are heavily controlled.

This means, the line has made every effort to reduce any environmental impacts that come with operating a cruise ship and recycle where it can.

Water collected from the advance wastewater treatment system is used to do the laundry and outdoor benches are heated using energy recovered from the ship’s exhaust fumes.

Le Commandant Charcot also supports scientific research projects. On each cruise two cabins are set aside to sleep scientists who can apply to sail on the ship and carry out research in the polar regions.

Two laboratories have been installed onto the ship, which passengers can occasionally access, but the needs of scientists on board are very much prioritised.

The Wet Lab on Le Commandant Charcot

It’s easy to forget that Le Commandant Charcot is an expedition ship given the size of the communal areas and cabins on board plus an indoor pool, spa, two sometimes three restaurants, and a cigar lounge.

The ship’s passengers can explore the remotest parts of the planet, safe in the knowledge they are sailing on an environmentally friendly ship. while enjoying all trappings of a luxury cruise.

Le Commandant Charcot really does offer the best of both worlds.

Harry Kemble was a guest of Ponant.

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