Credit: Ponant

Ponant cruise review: What it's really like to cruise with the only French-owned line

Author: Rachel Reilly

Published on:

Updated on:

Rachel Reilly relaxes in the serene surroundings of Ponant’s Le Bougainville on a sun-filled voyage around Corsica.

My eyes skim over the tangerine and terracotta-coloured buildings of Nice as the taxi approaches Port Lympia.

I look out the window, getting lost in the masts of the sailboats anchored along the harbour.

I try to read the names of each bow I pass, in a poor attempt at some last-minute French practice before boarding Le Bougainville, Ponant’s third Explorers-class ship, named after famous French explorer and admiral, Louis Antoine de Bougainville.

My fellow explorer, and fiancé, Antoine, and I are thrilled to start our very own adventure onboard Le Bougainville, as we journey around the island of Corsica.

Having sailed on large passenger ships in the past, with a guest capacity of up to 2,000 passengers, we are eager to see what the ship has to offer and experience the intimacy and cosiness of a smaller ship.

Related articles

I admit, despite my crash course in French before boarding, I feel quite apprehensive pre-cruise.

I assume I may need to heavily rely on Google translate, which wouldn’t be a problem with the complimentary wifi, however, those feelings quickly disappear once I take my first steps onboard.

All briefings and public announcements are done in both French and English, so there’s no need to worry about missing out on the important details.

Plus, all the staff, officers, and naturalist guides are bilingual, so guests can enjoy day-to-day activities and expeditions without getting lost in translation.

La Bougainville's cabins are light-filled and relaxing. Credit: Ponant

Let the adventure begin

The interior of Le Bougainville is chic, yet relaxed, and the calming neutral tones and light wood panels that decorate the ship’s interior make for a welcome and refreshing retreat, perfect after a day of excursions out in the rugged Corsican terrain.

As soon as I enter the cabin, I’m tempted to jump on the plush king-sized bed but am discouraged to ensure I do not spill my glass of welcome champagne in hand.

The room is sophisticated and functional, with ample storage space. Fully equipped with a flat-screen TV, mini-bar, Nespresso machine and luxury Hermès toiletries, plus, a private balcony, it is perfect for taking in the panoramic views of the coastline while enjoying some room-service breakfast.

I have to say, as an avid David Attenborough fan and nature documentary binge-watcher, I am really looking forward to Ponant’s expeditions.

Naturalist guides onboard gives you an unrivalled insight into the destination you visit. Credit: Ponant

The trained naturalist guides specialise in an array of sciences from fauna, marine biology and more, which makes the expeditions the perfect opportunity to take in the natural beauty of the destination and maybe spot some wildlife.

Each day, guests can board one of Le Bougainville’s nine zodiacs and embark on an adventure led by a naturalist guide, where they can explore at sea level and discover striking landscapes and remote areas unreachable by ship.

Despite not having any exciting animal sightings during our expedition (I was really hoping to see a shark) our naturalist guide’s ability to keep everyone engaged is impressive.

Not only does he have plenty of interesting facts about the area, but the stories of his adventures, scuba diving in underwater caves and being confronted and nearly attacked by a giant spider crab are compelling, and definitely make up for the fact that I don’t get to see a shark.

For those who want the educational experience but wish to avoid zipping through the choppy waves in a zodiac, there are naturalist specialist lectures in the theatre every evening. These prove to be just as informative, as I learn, to my surprise, that peeing on a jellyfish sting to ease the pain is a myth.

Delicious cuisine welcomes you onboard Ponant. Credit: Rachel Reilly

Glamorous dining

With my lust for adventure satisfied, it’s time to test out the cuisine on Le Bougainville. Wine glasses glisten on top of crisp white tablecloths as the sunset lingers over the horizon as Antoine and I polish off our third helping of octopus carpaccio.

Our table sits outside and is perfectly positioned to take in the panoramic view as we eagerly wait for our main course to arrive and the onboard sommelier to come by with her wine recommendations for the evening.

In my humble opinion, nobody does food better than the French, and Ponant goes above and beyond to deliver the finest food.

Each dish is carefully crafted, and overseen by three-star, Michelin chef, Alain Ducasse’s consulting firm, Ducasse Conseil. This collaboration guarantees a high culinary standard onboard, and allows guests to indulge in a refined dining experience while discovering carefully curated ingredients and flavours.

French-influenced dishes are common onboard Ponant. Credit: Rachel Reilly

Every meal is a feast for the eyes and the palette. Guests are spoilt for choice from morning to night and can dine on a bountiful spread of fresh cheeses, seafood, fruits and more.

Dinners are especially exciting, as the menu features an array of contemporary French dishes that use local ingredients and flavours. From octopus carpaccio to escargot in garlic butter pastry shells, each course is unforgettably unique.

While the food onboard is considered “haute gastronomy”, the atmosphere around mealtime is relaxed, so there’s no need to wear my haute couture every time I want to grab a bite.

There’s also no assigned seating, and plenty of space to accommodate, so it’s possible to dine whenever and wherever.

Ponant's Blue Eye gives you a fascinating insight into the water below. Credit: Ponant

Underwater wonders

As the cruise reaches its endpoint, there’s one more surprise in store. As Antoine and I wander out of an elevator and enter a dimly lit room, the only source of light is the soft blue glow overhead.

Ambient music plays as we make our way down the winding staircase deeper below deck into the lounge ­– Ponant’s multisensory underwater bar, the Blue Eye.

It feels as though I have stepped foot in an underwater world, and I struggle to remind myself that I’m in the hull of Le Bougainville.

The interior is dripping in soothing blue light, and animated jellyfish gracefully float across the large screens along the wall of the bar.

Two large windows that resemble the eyes of a whale lookout at underwater seascapes and small sofas dotted on either side of the room make it the perfect place to relax, with a cocktail in hand while watching marine life swimming by.

Enjoy the stylish vibe of Ponant. Credit: Ponant

The furniture is not only stylish but a major functional part of the multisensory experience, as guests can feel the vibrations in tandem with the sounds through the ‘body listening sofas’.

Innovative hydrophones, (underwater microphones) attached to the ship also allow guests to feel even closer to the underwater world as they listen to a symphony of the seas while watching live footage filmed by the ship’s underwater cameras.

What makes it even better is that the Blue Eye can be found on all of Ponant’s Explorers-class ships, making it possible for even more people to take part in what is a truly immersive experience. I’ve been enchanted every step of the way.

Prices for the Corsica & Iberian shores voyage on Le Bougainville, departing 21 August 2023, start from £2,980pp.

Most recent articles