Luxury expedition cruising: the new breed of ships


Ponant are the latest cruising company to announce the addition of their ‘new-breed’ expedition ships, with four brand new, next-gen yachts to join their fleet for 2018 and 2019.

According to Ponant’s recent announcement, the four planned vessels will be absolutely on trend with developments throughout the expedition cruising industry, boasting smaller-capacity, bigger-capability ships equipped with the latest in safety and eco-friendly technology. But just as exciting are the luxe inclusions such as submersible mini-marinas at the stern of each ship, and world-first underwater lounges.

The planned Ponant Explorers – now named as Le Lapérouse, Le Champlain, Le Bougainville, Le Kerguelen – are “designed to gain access to the most inaccessible locations and to go further, where others do not go”, according to Ponant’s recent announcement.

This is in line with the Asia-Pacific Chairman of Ponant, Sarina Bratton’s assertion at the recent industry conference Cruise3Sixty that “it’s the destination that drives the consumer, it’s not so much the ship”.

“By taking our guests to some of the most remote places on earth, we don’t need waterslides or rock climbing walls or surfing simulators,” she told the crowd in a not-so-subtle reference to the new megaships on the market, “because we’re taking our guests ashore, we’re putting them into zodiacs, we’re going up rivers, under waterfalls, landing them on the ice in Antarctica, up in the Arctic – for us it’s about mother nature.”

Planned destinations for the new yachts include polar regions, tropical and subtropical spots such as Costa Rice, Papua New Guinea, Indian Ocean islands and South America, including the Orinoco River in the Amazon.

However, passengers may not agree with the statement that “it’s not so much the ship”, with the new Explorer yachts including such enhancements as a submersible ‘mini-marina’ that gives direct access to zodiac boats down stairs from the stern of the ship, and four suites with bay windows and private terraces.

Dare to compare

How do Ponant’s feted new additions stack up against recently announced and planned luxury expedition cruisers joining the market from other lines? Here’s the lowdown.

Size and passenger capacity
  • Ponant Explorers: 128 metres / 184 passengers
  • Scenic Eclipse: 165 metres / 228 passengers
  • Crystal Endeavor: 183 metres / 200 passengers
Expedition capabilities

Luxury expedition cruising means real exploration during the day and sipping from crystal glasses by night. But you need advanced technology to keep vessels stable and powering on even in rougher, less navigated waters yet to never make that crystal clink.

  • Ponant Explorers: Ice Class 1C rating, dynamic positioning system to avoid dropping anchor to protect the sea bed; silent electronic propulsion, FarSounder sonar providing 3D vision of the sea bed.
  • Scenic Eclipse: Custom-built stabilisers that are 50% larger than other ships, state of the art fins to adjust to large swells, ice strengthened hulls with Polar Class 6 (Ice Class 1A Super) rating.
  • Crystal Endeavor: PC6 Polar Class rating, and a similar-to-Ponant dynamic positioning technology to float over reefs without dropping anchor.
Undersea adventures

Expedition passengers expect authentic adventure, but now the trend is to head straight down, into the depths.

  • Ponant Explorers: The world’s first underwater ship’s lounges mean guests can get up close to the marine wildlife with a cocktail in hand.
  • Scenic Eclipse: An Expert Discovery Team takes care of guests’ every adventuring need on and off the ship, but the ultimate experience might just come in the form of the custom-built submarine, seating seven and able to explore subaquatic life.
  • Crystal Endeavor: Equipped with the most technologically advanced and powerful underwater scooters in the world (SEABOBs), the Endeavor is focusing on undersea antics too. She also boasts a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV), as does Eclipse, but Crystal is planning to send it down to explore sunken wrecks and has specifically mentioned the RMS Titanic as a possible exploration.
Luxury toys

Butlers and bedding may set the bar high for luxury, but it’s the toys that maketh the ship with this new breed.

  • Ponant Explorers: Submersible mini-port giving direct access to the zodiacs.
  • Scenic Eclipse: Two twin-engine six-seater helicopters, that seven-seat submarine, fleet of zodiacs.
  • Crystal Endeavor: Two helicopters, two seven-seat submarines, eight zodiacs, jet skis, waverunners, recompression chamber for scuba diving, dive support tender, multi-person ATV, SEABOB underwater scooters, Remote Operated Vehicle to see underwater wrecks.