Bering Sea cruise with Ponant

By Esther Perica
This item appears on page 25 of the March 2016 issue.
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I had the pleasure of a 10-day, 9-night expedition-type sailing on L’Austral, one of four ships operated by Ponant Yacht Cruises & Expeditions (408 Avenue du Prado, 13008 Marseille, France; 888/400-1082, http://en.ponant.com), Aug. 20-30, 2015.

All of Ponant’s ships have been built for polar cruising and are well known in the European market for voyages to the Arctic and Antarctic. The company is not well known in the American market, so I’m pleased that ExpeditionTrips (Seattle, WA; 877/412-8527, www.expeditiontrips.com) brought this company to my attention.

Expert in small-ship expedition cruises and experiential land travel, ExpeditionTrips is a boutique travel company that offers many specials. Its weekly newsletter is a “must read,” for me. That’s where I learned about Ponant.

The original itinerary for the “Pribilof Archipelago & the Kodiak Peninsula” cruise captivated me: Russian Siberia, the Bering Sea and stops in the Pribilof and Aleutian islands. The package included Seattle-Russia-Seattle flights and transfers, open bar, complimentary mini-bar and all tips, and there was no single supplement. I signed on within days, paying $6,280 for a balcony cabin, a savings of $4,380 over the brochure price.

Because of prior travel commitments, I needed to have the Russian visa expedited. With all fees, the cost came to just under $800. Since the shipping company required a copy of it at least 60 days in advance of sailing, I had no alternative. Ordinarily, it would have cost just under $300, including service fee and mailing.

On Aug. 1, 19 days before the cruise was scheduled to begin, I received a letter stating that, due to political reasons, there would be no port calls or landings in Russia or stops in the Pribilof Islands. A new itinerary was included; we would begin in Nome, cross the International Date Line for a “technical stop” in Provideniya, Russia (no disembarkation), and continue to northern Alaska.

To say the least, the change was a disappointment, but this is where I have to applaud Ponant. Often, when itinerary changes are made, companies assume a “take it or leave it” stance. Ponant immediately offered me a generous $500 shipboard credit (for the unused visa) and, with some encouragement from the agents at ExpeditionTrips, a multicategory upgrade to a suite.

As it turned out, we were allowed to disembark in Provideniya to spend an afternoon in the Siberian/Arctic city and enjoy a cultural show organized by wonderful and welcoming people of the Yupik tribe. So I did use the Russian visa, and the shipboard credit stood and was happily used for services in their excellent spa.

(Fortunately, even before the itinerary change, I had decided to fly to Seattle two days early, just to make sure I’d be in the right place at the right time. This worked out well, since the charter flight left 15 hours earlier than it would have with the old itinerary.)

The substitute itinerary included offerings as unique as those of the original (i.e., Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island, where we met more members of the Yupik culture), and there was no skimping on our twice-daily Zodiac excursions, on which I saw more bears, birds, otters, sea lions and whales than I could count.

The Zodiacs were substantial craft, and there was a strong emphasis on safety.

Ponant serves mainly a French market. The capacity of the ship was 250 guests, and on our sailing there were 125 French and 14 English-speaking passengers.

The company made extensive efforts to make certain their English-speaking participants were having a good experience, were well cared for and were happy. All lectures, briefings, discussions and programs were offered to us in English, with only a few offered bilingually, usually due to time constraints.

This excellent expedition, the ship staff, the unusual itinerary, all-inclusive offers, French ambiance and the conscientious way they treated passengers all are powerful incentives for me to book a small-ship cruise with Ponant again.
ESTHER PERICA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

I had the pleasure of a 10-day, 9-night expedition-type sailing on L’Austral, one of four ships operated by Ponant Yacht Cruises & Expeditions (408 Avenue du Prado, 13008 Marseille, France; 888/400-1082, http://en.ponant.com), Aug. 20-30, 2015.

All of Ponant’s ships have been built for polar cruising and are well known in the European market for voyages to the Arctic and Antarctic. The company is not well known in the American market, so I’m pleased that ExpeditionTrips (Seattle, WA; 877/412-8527, www.expeditiontrips.com) brought this company to my attention.

Expert in small-ship expedition cruises and experiential land travel, ExpeditionTrips is a boutique travel company that offers many specials. Its weekly newsletter is a “must read,” for me. That’s where I learned about Ponant.

The original itinerary for the “Pribilof Archipelago & the Kodiak Peninsula” cruise captivated me: Russian Siberia, the Bering Sea and stops in the Pribilof and Aleutian islands. The package included Seattle-Russia-Seattle flights and transfers, open bar, complimentary mini-bar and all tips, and there was no single supplement. I signed on within days, paying $6,280 for a balcony cabin, a savings of $4,380 over the brochure price.

Because of prior travel commitments, I needed to have the Russian visa expedited. With all fees, the cost came to just under $800. Since the shipping company required a copy of it at least 60 days in advance of sailing, I had no alternative. Ordinarily, it would have cost just under $300, including service fee and mailing.

On Aug. 1, 19 days before the cruise was scheduled to begin, I received a letter stating that, due to political reasons, there would be no port calls or landings in Russia or stops in the Pribilof Islands. A new itinerary was included; we would begin in Nome, cross the International Date Line for a “technical stop” in Provideniya, Russia (no disembarkation), and continue to northern Alaska.

To say the least, the change was a disappointment, but this is where I have to applaud Ponant. Often, when itinerary changes are made, companies assume a “take it or leave it” stance. Ponant immediately offered me a generous $500 shipboard credit (for the unused visa) and, with some encouragement from the agents at ExpeditionTrips, a multicategory upgrade to a suite.

As it turned out, we were allowed to disembark in Provideniya to spend an afternoon in the Siberian/Arctic city and enjoy a cultural show organized by wonderful and welcoming people of the Yupik tribe. So I did use the Russian visa, and the shipboard credit stood and was happily used for services in their excellent spa.

(Fortunately, even before the itinerary change, I had decided to fly to Seattle two days early, just to make sure I’d be in the right place at the right time. This worked out well, since the charter flight left 15 hours earlier than it would have with the old itinerary.)

The substitute itinerary included offerings as unique as those of the original (i.e., Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island, where we met more members of the Yupik culture), and there was no skimping on our twice-daily Zodiac excursions, on which I saw more bears, birds, otters, sea lions and whales than I could count.

The Zodiacs were substantial craft, and there was a strong emphasis on safety.

Ponant serves mainly a French market. The capacity of the ship was 250 guests, and on our sailing there were 125 French and 14 English-speaking passengers.

The company made extensive efforts to make certain their English-speaking participants were having a good experience, were well cared for and were happy. All lectures, briefings, discussions and programs were offered to us in English, with only a few offered bilingually, usually due to time constraints.

This excellent expedition, the ship staff, the unusual itinerary, all-inclusive offers, French ambiance and the conscientious way they treated passengers all are powerful incentives for me to book a small-ship cruise with Ponant again.
ESTHER PERICA