Vive la Difference
Say oui to the sparkling new ship from an under-the-radar French line
One taste of the tender and lean grilled kangaroo fillet on the dinner menu of the just-launched Le Soléal immediately tells you this new vessel speaks a different language than most other cruise ships.
The intimate, 132-stateroom Le Soléal belongs to the growing fleet from Compagnie du Ponant, a 25-year-old French cruise company that has begun making inroads into the U.S. market with the addition of three ships since 2010 and the allure of atypical destinations such as Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, and the Northwest Passage.
Although Compagnie's elegant yacht cruises draw 55 percent of their passengers from North America, Le Soléal feels decidedly French: Soft neutral colors and modern furnishings throughout the ship lend a European flair; the largely bilingual crew effortlessly volleys between French and English; intentionally minimal daily onboard activities keep you from feeling compelled to fill every inch of your day on the go as on some ships; and entertainment skews more toward sophisticated than shipboard razzmatazz.
The ship's lack of hubbub gives you more time to decompress on your luxury vacation, relaxing in your cabin on your personal balcony, sipping the cocktail-of-the-day at the lounge's bar, or getting your stress kneaded out in one of three treatment rooms at the spa, presented by the French beauty brand Sothys.
If you're seeking more activity, daily shore excursions with well-informed local guides offer cultural diversions before you head back onboard for the ship's true adventure - the dining. Though not all selections at the ship's two full-service restaurants are as exotic as kangaroo, the chefs put international twists on everything from hake to guinea fowl with delicious, culture-merging results.
Details: 888-400-1082; en.ponant.com