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Everything posted by AussieBoyTX

  1. We look forward to hearing about your cruise! Generally speaking, Ponant and their guests are pretty relaxed about such things. For White Nights, yes, there will be some who are all-in, decked out in their best white attire. Then the bulk, who have a white shirt with or without jacket and the remainder who don't play at all. I don't think anyone would feel self-conscious for not participating. For gala nights, there will inevitably be a tuxedo or two and a few suits. The bulk will wear a jacket with or without tie and a few will not have a jacket or tie. In that case, I would personally fell a little underdressed without the jacket. The one consideration is that Expedition cruises tend to be way less dressy than European cruises, especially themed European cruises (the ones with classical music / gastronomy themes). The above advice still stands, but the ratio will change -- European cruses will see more ties than Seychelles. Ponant has a good "no single supplement" program, so depending on the cruise, there will be a number of single travelers.
  2. Sounds like a fun cruise and we look forward to hearing about it! To your questions: 1. Generally, yes, you can opt not to return to the ship with the tour and if there's time, you can go back out. I'd make a point of letting the shore excursions manager know your plans and I'd let the Ponant crew member who is on the excursion with you know when you're separating from the excursion. 2. Generally, yes, Ponant runs tenders throughout the day. It will be in the program, but expect 1/2 hour intervals with the time of the final tender posted in the nightly newsletter, at the shore excursions desk as well as on a sign as you disembark. I guess I'd plan to be at the pick-up point a few minutes before the scheduled "last tender," depending on your confidence in your transportation to the pier. If things go wrong, call the ship (the number is on the back of your keycard) and tell them what's happened. 3. It is feasible. Generally, the ship is in port by 7:30 or 8:00, but people on excursions have priority disembarkation. Surely the 3rd party excursion providers have worked around Ponant's schedule before and they know what to expect. 4. One of Ponant's supreme advantages is they can get their excursions to must-do destinations way before larger ships, giving you a great advantage. These are places like Krka Falls, Croatia, Delos, Greece, Nordfjord / Briksdal, Norway. At all of these, Ponant can get their excursions to the destination as much as hours before larger ships, giving you an almost private experience. If any places like that are on your schedule, I'd take the Ponant excursion over any alternative.
  3. On the first evening, there was a nice layout promoting the Premium Pass on our PNG cruise.
  4. On Board Le Lapérouse — New Guinea Odyssey — Saturday, March 30, 2024 We woke Saturday to the ship’s horn blaring — something urgent must be happening! I went to the balcony to clearly see the white Equator Line running West to East through the water. We were off-course and in the North Pacific! How could this be? I heard banging in the hall, but when I went out, there was no-one. Looking aft, I could see that Le Lapérouse was not flying the French flag. It was, could it be? The Jolly Roger? Pirates? I went downstairs and found we had, indeed, been boarded! From deck four, I could see a third of the crew by the pool — trapped under netting and being sprayed with water by some sort of pirates. Directly below me, were seated King Neptune and Queen Amphitrite, with the Villainous Surgeon and Witch Nurse standing alongside. Mermaids lounged by the fish-filled pool and someone resembling our captain dressed in Dress White uniform and board shorts was presiding over the event. Since Le Lapérouse had crossed the equator, King Neptune insisted the crew who had not previously crossed the equator (let’s call them pollywogs) be cleansed of the “dirt of the North.” After being cleansed with water, the pollywogs, which now also included some guests, were freed from the netting and went to the Marine Deck to continue their purification with shaving, followed by cleaning by dunking the head in a seafood concoction. Then back on deck, they kissed Queen Amphitrite’s mustard-covered foot (easy), her octopus (not so easy) and King Neptune’s foot (also not so easy). Finally, the Witch Nurse inoculated each pollywog with a vile concoction & and the Villainous Surgeon stabbed each with a fish head before the Captain announced each to be cleansed and had them jump into the fishy pool. Or maybe it was just a fever dream… Saturday was a day at sea and fairly quiet. Our assistant cruise director was everywhere, offering origami, and quizzes in the main lounge in the morning and songs for a beautiful sunset in the afternoon while the naturalists offered lectures on ships. For me, the highlight was watching the passage through the Selat Sele (“Strait Strait” in English) in Raja Ampat from our balcony, watching the dense forests and villages pass by on Bantanta and Waigeo islands. I went to the clinic to have my dressing changed. Looks like the wound is healing well and we’ll check in again tomorrow. The clinic smelled slightly fishy. Strange. Our evening recap covered the procedures for Kitikiki Waterfall and of course our scuba briefing followed. We had a drink in the observatory lounge before joining our scuba friends, who happen to be neighbors from just down the road, for dinner. The cheese buffet (not the famous Bordier cheese buffet due to biosecurity) was on offer and was popular. The chef’s team did a nice job with what they had. I really enjoyed the roasted cauliflower starter, but none of the mains called my name and I had the anytime salmon, which was perfectly prepared. I completed the meal with blood orange sorbet, which was delicious! Some adjourned to our assistant cruise director’s performance of prohibition-era songs, while the best of Queen was on offer in the Blue Lounge. Tomorrow, Kitikiti Falls (and scuba).
  5. On Board Le Lapérouse — New Guinea Odyssey — Wednesday, March 27, 2024 Wednesday gave us a well deserved rest with a full day at see as Le Lapérouse headed towards Cenderwasih Bay, Indonesia. We were offered lectures on the symbiosis of coral reefs and the Battle of the Coral Sea. A presentation on Ponant’s itineraries in Oceania and the Pacific Islands. Plenty of exercise opportunities, be it gymnastics and aquagym by the pool or dance class in the main lounge. Soon enough, though, it was time for the second mandatory briefing — our upcoming visit to the whale sharks. That was pretty easy — we were going out in groups of ten to bagans — traditional fishing platforms that have become attractive to whale sharks. We’d drop into the water and snorkel for thirty minutes. Though there were no guarantees, it was likely there would be at least one whale shark feeding. Easy enough. I did participate in an introduction to oenology hosted by our sommelier. It was interesting and maybe too technical for me, but I did enjoy tasting some wines that were not on the normal ship’s rotation. A couple hours later, it was time for the White Night Gala Dinner with the officers. And yes, most guests were dressed in white, making for quite a sight as we queued for seating! The gala menu was actually good, but I wasn’t feeling it — in fact by the time we got to the main, I was suddenly feeling very full and fatigued and decided to retire to our room. The restaurant manager was kind enough to send dessert up to us so we didn’t miss out. I went directly to sleep, looking forward to seeing the whale sharks tomorrow! On Board Le Lapérouse — New Guinea Odyssey — Thursday, March 28, 2024 It turns out that I didn’t actually sleep at all — I woke shortly after midnight with some impressive aches, swelling in my leg, elevated heart rate and a bit of a fever. Ah, a slight cut I picked up sometime late Monday or maybe Tuesday, appears to have become infected. I was treating it with a topical ointment, but it wasn’t enough, apparently. By morning, the fever and heart rate had returned to normal and some Panadol took care of the pain and I felt much better and decided to keep with the program to see the whale sharks. That worked out to be a good decision, as the activity was extremely low effort — a short Zodiac ride to the pagan and then we gently lowered ourselves in. floated around for thirty minutes and watched the whale shark feed. The most difficult part (such as it was) was climbing the ladder back into the Zodiac. Although the experience was artificial — with the whale sharks becoming habituated to the easy feeding from the fishermen’s chum — it certainly gave us an opportunity to see this huge, cryptic fish. Our group was back on board Le Lapérouse by ten. I got cleaned up and went to visit the doctor at the beginning of his office hours. He looked at my leg and said it wasn’t the first of these wounds he’d seen. He cleaned and dressed it up nicely, gave me eight days of a hefty dose of antibiotics and directed me to come by every afternoon to have the bandage changed, for at least the next few days. He said the charges would be on my final bill. I could feel my ship board credit sliding away. Lolz. I then took the rest of the day off, aside from attending the evening recap and briefing and the dive meeting. We found that some guests had three whale sharks come at once, though I wasn’t at all disappointed with the one we had. Tomorrow, another day at Cenderwasih Bay — now slightly North in the Audi Islands. On Board Le Lapérouse — New Guinea Odyssey — Friday, March 29, 2024 A lot of sleep and antibiotics made me feel better, but look worse. My leg had turned red like a sunburn and hurt more than yesterday, but otherwise I was in much better shape than yesterday morning. On offer today was scuba or drift snorkeling off one of the Auri Islands. I was fit for the dive and found it very interesting — easily the best of the trip so far. A reasonably strong current moved us along a gorgeous, healthy coral wall with lots of things to see — especially if you’re into nudibranchs. Since we were with the current, it was also very low effort and Back on shore, the snorkelers could either rest on the beach or have a couple of interesting snorkel experiences, including seeing a wrecked P-38 Lightning that has now been assimilated into the coral reef and a drift snorkel almost like what the divers saw, but from the surface. Midday, everyone was back on board and Le Lapérouse left for the two day sailing to Kitikiti Waterfall. I still wasn’t very hungry, but enjoyed spanakopita and some apple tart. The afternoon was fairly quiet, but the dance class was well attended, as was the yoga. I visited the nurse and got the dressing changed — too soon to know how well the antibiotics are working — come again tomorrow. Probably the highlight of the early evening was the Captain’s reception for Commodores & Grand Admirals. Just under forty guests attended. Of them, eleven (or maybe thirteen) were non-French. Of course we enjoyed playing “Guess who’s the Commodore” but as it turns out we’ve all been on the ship so long, we all know who’s who. We also found guests who will be sailing on a future Ponant cruise with us, so that’s something to look forward to. We stayed in the lounge for cocktails before coming up for dinner a bit late. I had the carrot soup and beef tenderloin, but the big hit this evening was the vol au vent and the roasted pumpkin with goat cheese and pomegranate seeds. On offer in the main lounge after dinner — a Latin dance evening, led by our cruise directors and captain! For those of stayed to the end, it was a late night — fortunately a day at sea is coming up to recuperate.
  6. On Board Le Lapérouse — New Guinea Odyssey — Tuesday, March 26, 2024 We woke in the Pacific Ocean, still steaming towards Jayapura. The ship’s clocks had been set back an hour, so we had even more time to relax before our midday arrival. It was around eleven when we picked up the pilot and numerous immigration agents at the harbor entry and worked our way alongside the pier. The harbor is scenic with colorful houses nestled into the hills, new and derelict ships at anchor and a central area with some multistory buildings, a mosque or two, hotels and a shopping center. It took a couple of hours to work through the formalities, but by 1pm, busses were lined up outside, dancers at the ready and guests began disembarking, life jackets in hand, for a special trip to Lake Sentani for a paddle across the lake to a traditional village whose economy is based on fishing and sago harvesting. The trip was expected take four hours and of course would include a cultural performance and tour of the village. And now we interrupt our regularly scheduled program… We were attracted to Jayapura and decided to explore on our own. We weren’t the only ones — in addition to a few other guests, it seemed that much of the crew were also taking the afternoon off to visit the city. We barely made it off the ship before the customs officials stopped us and asked if they could get pictures of us. That took a few minutes because we had to get pictures of us in all possible permutations! Finally free from our “celebrity” obligations, we were out of the port and on the vine-shaded sidewalk to town. Everyone we passed had a smile and maybe said, “Hello, mister!” People in cars might give a little honk and a wave and everyone was super friendly and helpful, clearly pleased to have some tourists in town. I wouldn’t say the walk was remarkable, but it was interesting seeing the government buildings, including the ten story tall Papua province parliament building, coast guard, police compound and hotels. After walking around the harbor, we worked our way inland a bit and visited a shopping mall complete with Starbucks, multiplex theater on the top floor and hypermarket in the basement. The hypermarket was huge and very well stocked with many brands we’d find in Australia or America. We were able to use our Visa debit card to make purchases, which was also a bit of a surprise, as was having an ATM that dispensed rupiah for us. As it was coming time for us to head back to the ship, we found night markets being setup — no doubt preparing for lots of business when the Ramadan fast was broken in the evening. We could smell the food and I was starting to crave nasi goreng. We had walked six kilometers, so maybe we had earned it One thing that did strike us is, at least from what we've seen, how different the wealth is between PNG & Indonesia. It reminded me of another like divided island — Haiti & Dominican Republic. We got back to the ship a bit before those on the scheduled excursion and looked forward to their debrief. In fact, we were so not paying attention to the program that we went to the theater for the debrief and found that there wasn’t one — shame on us for not actually looking at the program. I had a business call that began at dinner time and with Starlink, I can report that I was able to stay on the full hour with video from all participants — and as a result, I can probably afford to pay for part of another Ponant cruise. We arrived to dinner with the cool couples who always have cocktails before they come up and enjoyed spinach soup, a delightful fried kale polenta, salmon on candied fennel and tomatoes, lamb rump and chocolate praline macaron. Still, we were back in our cabin by ten to get ourselves prepared for the strenuous activities tomorrow. Tomorrow we have a day at sea, white night and gala dinner with the officers.
  7. Ah... What we were told: This piece of alleged history explains that in the olden days of sailing ships, cannon balls were stacked on the decks on brass plates called “monkeys.” The plates had indentions in them that held the balls on the bottoms of the stacks. Brass, however, expands and contracts with the temperature and if it got cold enough, the cannon balls could fall…giving real foundation to the phrase “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!”
  8. On Board Le Lapérouse — New Guinea Odyssey — Monday, March 25, 2024 Monday, Le Lapérouse crept up the muddy and fast-flowing Sepik river, coming to a stop just short of the village of Kopar, where the villagers maintain a traditional lifestyle. “Stop” is a strong word, as the current was too strong to anchor — rather the ship’s autopilot kept us perfectly on position, steaming against the flow. We all went ashore by Zodiac and that was actually slightly challenging. The current and swells made for a fun ride as the Zodiac crept upstream to the village, passing the Sea Wise, a bulk carrier registered in Tuvalu that arrived here in December from Japan. It looked abandoned, but was still transmitting AIS position signals. That will be fun to research when we get home. At the village, we were “welcomed” by warriors in dugout canoes with spears raised and bows drawn. Successfully making it past them, we passed through a palm frond arch and were welcomed on shore by women singing and dancing and we settled in under the cover of a tarp, sitting either on dugout canoes or on the ground as we waited for the program to begin. The program was nice. It began with the local children singing the Papua New Guinean national anthem, and raising of the flag, which was lovely. Then we had a local dance and the famous dragon dance and it ended with a brief morality play that I unfortunately did not understand. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable and brief experience. Afterwards, we were free to roam the village. There were weaving and sago palm demonstrations — and there were lots of craft vendors. Lots and lots of vendors taking advantage of our last stop in PNG to relieve us of our remaining kina. At the very end of the vendors, it was even possible to buy a cellphone and a snack! After we made our walk around the village, we were among the first to return to Le Lapérouse and settle in for an afternoon at sea. The return felt challenging, and the Zodiac before us shot past the ship and had to work to return upstream. Once at the marine deck, the professional seamen had no problem getting our Zodiac safely tied to the ship and us back on board. We’re coving large distances, so we’ve had a few half-days at sea. I’ve enjoyed watching the coastline pass by from the balcony and today, I doubled down on that. I had the southern fried chicken sandwich with crispy fries for lunch and proceeded to do pretty-much nothing. So I missed the line-dancing, aquagym and even the pilates — though I was told the pilates was very popular and completely full. However, what I did do was visit the bridge and found our captain was on deck. We had a great conversation where we talked about why ships use nautical miles (1,852 meters) and he took to the whiteboard to show us the calculation of 1/60th of a degree of latitude arc is 1 nautical mile. Then we went to the chart, and he showed how simple it was to measure distance by simply calibrating a compass to the map’s scale and using it to plot changes in our position. He noted the ship has literally thousands of charts on board, but with some regret, that was changing. Some data providers, especially for depth soundings, were only going to be provide charts digitally starting in 2025. Still, one way or another there would be human oversight over the digital charts and autopilot. At the recap and briefing, we learned about the origins of nautical terms — it was amusing and informative. And now I know the true origin of “freezing the balls off a brass monkey.” Our leisurely dinner consisted of pumpkin soup, beetroot millefeulles, slow cooked beef cheek and barramundi. We had the cheese plate and finished with a strawberry heart slice, peach melba and two servings of walnut ice cream. We ended the evening on the deck outside the observation lounge and enjoyed the full moon and all the stars visible in the very clear air before going to bed late. Tomorrow, Jayapura and our entry into Indonesia.
  9. On Board Le Lapérouse — New Guinea Odyssey — Sunday, March 24, 2024 Sunday morning, we came alongside at Madang, the capital of Madang province. On offer this morning was a visit to the Madang Museum and Cultural Centre, where dancers from around the region would perform for us. The afternoon was set for snorkel and beach time at Tab Island, just offshore Madang. Scuba was also on offer today, with an outing in the morning and one in the afternoon. Everyone wanted to dive today and those who have dived least got priority for the morning trip and I was allocated to the afternoon dive. Being free for the morning activity wound up being serendipitous — although I appreciate the variety of cultural events that have been offered and the generosity of the local people in welcoming us to their communities, I do have a threshold that for me is like seeing cathedrals in Europe — two per tour are sufficient. So today was perfect for me: On offer, dancers from all around the region performing at the same location. Dancers met us at the pier as we boarded our busses for the short ride to the museum. Since it was Sunday, most stores were closed — aside from the supermarkets (which I’d still like to see). The museum was only a ten minute drive and waiting for us were at least eight different groups, all performing at once! The experience was quite unlike the solemn performances we had seen before. It was more like a cross between Disney’s “It’s a Small World” and a cheerleading competition. So, for me, very enjoyable. This also meant we got to see dancers from regions not on our itinerary, including the Asaro Mudmen from the Eastern Highlands and a group from New Ireland, some 800 kilometers, 500 miles away. The museum was also worthwhile and added information about the German era in Medang. They also had samples of extremely elaborate headdress worn by local leaders and scale models of canoes that were effectively so large they were floating palaces. The museum manager noted they had two cruises so far this year and thought they might have as much as another six, but she noted there are often last minute cancellations by the cruise lines. Never last minute additions. Back outside, the dancing and singing continued, now competing with an evangelical church next door blasting a sermon at full volume through scratchy speakers. Crafts from around the region were laid out for sale along the periphery and having seen all the dances, many of us went to see what was on offer. Also, all of the dancers were available for pictures and in this venue, it was easier for those of us who are more shy about getting our shots. For me, one of the more interesting parts was after many of us had gone back to the ship. The dancers started performing with each other, getting selfies and catching up with friends after the performance pressure was over. It was then that we could get our pictures with the Mudmen with their helmets off and smiling. The drive back to Le Lapérouse gave us a little tour of the town and we could see a few upscale homes and resorts along the coast, along with a spectacular, incongruously gleaming white lighthouse. The supermarkets and a clothing store we passed all seemed busy now that we were approaching noon. But, the town is small and we were soon deposited back at the ship in time for our short sailing to Tab Island. I watched the sail away from our balcony and as we sailed out of the narrow channel, could see and hear the children yelling “bye, bye!” After lunch. Zodiacs took us to the lovely beach and coral garden at Tab Island. A bar was setup, with juices, Champagne and beer and many of us practiced our snorkeling in preparation for our upcoming potential opportunity with the whale sharks. The afternoon Scuba session was quite late, leaving after 3pm and we dropped into water that was surprisingly murky. I think all divers prefer crystal-clear water, but low visibility does mean that some creatures are more likely to come nearby. We were not disappointed as we found large schools of Trevally where the current met our protected reef wall. I found several nudibranch on my own, along with plenty of clownfish and some interesting starfish. The dive was a full hour and we were the last guests back on board at 5pm. Our recap and briefing highlighted some of the more amusing parts of the trip so far and prepared us for our next stop at the mouth of the Sepik river. There’s no diving for the next two (and probably three days), so didn’t have to worry about that briefing, so directly off to dinner. We enjoyed the broccoli soup, goat cheese tart, rigatoni with stewed beef and the codfish on risotto. For dessert, my favorite floating island on exotic fruit and the “like a Bounty,” which was very reminiscent of the candy bar. It was late and with so much sun and sand, we didn’t have the strength to miss the first performance of the trip actually in the theater — Concert “Around the World” with the ship’s singer. Also on offer was a tribute to Tina Turner in the Blue Eye. I’m glad that Ponant has found something worthwhile to do at the Blue Eye. It is a nice alternative venue. Tomorrow: Kopar at the mouth of the Sepik river.
  10. On Board Le Lapérouse — New Guinea Odyssey — Saturday, March 23, 2024 Saturday morning, we found ourselves just offshore from the tiny Tami Islands — not only home of renowned bowl carvers, but also home to lovely coral gardens. And that’s where I went, accompanied by four other divers, two guides, Zodiac pilot and our Staff Captain, excited for her first dive in PNG. Since the Staff Captain is “responsible for the discipline of the crew” we knew things had to go well. The ride to the Western reef was short and Le Lapérouse was visible just around the corner of the island. After surveying the current and finding it potentially strong, we dropped into the middle of a shallow coral garden, less than three meters / ten feet deep. I always get a little nervous when in such shallow water, as I don’t want to damage the coral — but, the current was steady and there was no swell, so after a few minutes over the gorgeous coral garden, we reached the wall and began our descent. It was a healthy wall and we found lots to see at all depths. We got as deep as 24 meters / 79 feet, but then worked our way back up to 10 meters / 33 feet, where we spent most of our time. We saw so much healthy coral, schools of butterflyfish and angelfish; what I thought were Moorish idols from a distance; clownfish & their anemones, a lone boxfish, a carefully hidden ray, some humongous lobsters and a tiny, tiny nudibranch. The dive was so easy and relaxing, we lasted fifty-nine minutes (and could have easily squeezed out another minute for the magical full hour) before we came to the surface. I carry a surface marker buoy and our guide suggested I deploy mine for practice — a good idea, actually, since I’ve used it very rarely over the years. Yesterday’s deployment was a disaster and I dropped the spool and line, making for a mess to rewind. But today, I successfully deployed it without crashing into the coral. Yay me. After we were back on board the Zodiac, we toured around the islands and explored for potential future dive sites, actually being among the last to make it back to the ship. For those on shore, the Zodiac ride was short and punctuated by fish seemingly jumping with the boat. The cultural event took place in a clearing next to the schoolhouse. Inside, you could see English charts on the wall with a bunch of science specimens like snake skins and bird feathers. Behind the school was a giant custard apple tree. After the performance, gifts were given to the villagers and then we got to see some beautiful beaches with large tree trunks close to the water and some with ferns growing on the trees - absolutely idyllic scenery! They even had a basketball hoop made out of wood. Of course, crafts were available for sale and the carved bowls the islanders are known for are as intricate as we had been promised. We only had a half-day at Tami Islands and left at 1pm for a scenic cruise along the coast as we headed towards Madang. We enjoyed the sail-away over lunch — the highlight of which was beef Wellington and the chocolate pie (those of you thinking I would actually swear off chocolate for even a day haven’t been paying close attention). This left the afternoon for relaxing — or attending one of the enrichment sessions, playing bridge, or learning aquagym. The bridge was open, so I went to check out the view from up front. I must have asked the right question, because the officer on watch pulled out charts, logs and navigation aids to show how the humans verify the ship is going where it’s programmed to go. We manually plotted ship position estimates for the next six hours on the Admiralty paper chart and had I come by later, we could have compared our calculations with the autopilot’s and see how well it (or we) did. Amusingly, our navigation calculations were interrupted by the assistant cruise director who led maybe fifteen guests through the bridge as they worked to burn off lunch by completing their 1 kilometer exercise around the ship to the Conga of J-Lo. Some notes about communication… The onboard internet has actually been good. Why? Le Lapérouse now has Starlink and I’ve had as much as much as 1 megabit download speed!. It’s still sluggish when everyone is online, but it’s overall a huge improvement over the old service. Also, 3G and sometimes 4G cellular service has been available at every stop — including remote Tami Islands. The evening drill is now somewhat predictable with a recap & briefing, then dive briefing, then dinner. The big news from the briefing was that our morning at Madang was a cultural exhibition from as many as ten groups from around the region — including inland peoples we wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. Interesting. At the dive briefing, we learned there would be one dive in the morning at Madang and one in the afternoon at Tab Island, just outside Madang. With only one boat available and lots of interest, we’d get an update on who dives when later… We shared a table with a couple from NSW who had accompanied us on several expeditions and again we wound up being among the last to leave. Tonight’s menu wasn’t really calling to me, so I had Ponant’s Perfect Egg and the New Zealand steak from the anytime menu. Several people had complained about the steak on this cruise, so I had some trepidation — but I thought it was very good. We also found out that our Executive Chef was our chef on our trip to Antarctica as well and that we’re likely to see him again on another upcoming cruise. This is great news, as we really like his cuisine. After all that, we didn’t get to bed until eleven, and we still missed the Michael Jackson tribute in the Blue Eye as well as our Assistant Cruise Director (and apparently singer) performing a “Romantic Affair” in the Observatory Lounge.
  11. On Board Le Lapérouse — New Guinea Odyssey — Friday, March 22, 2024 We arrived at Tufi early Friday morning for a special day of cultural performance, tour of the village and canoe tour up the mangrove-covered “fjord” (which we learned in an earlier briefing is not actually a fjord because it was caused by volcanic, not glacial activity. At least one-hundred fifty-nine guests boarded the Zodiacs for that adventure, leaving one guest to scuba… me! We set out with both dive instructors, Le Lapérouse’s Safety Officer and our Zodiac pilot, giving us an unparalleled four-to-one crew/passenger ratio! We motored for twenty minutes or so over shallow reef, to a beacon either marking a channel, or a shoal. Probably a good thing that I was not the pilot. Along the way, we briefed the dive, with ample caution the current might be strong, what signals we agreed to use, emergency procedure review — and a casual mention of some procedures I should demonstrate underwater (flooding & clearing my mask, removing / inserting my regulator) — basics for a safety-conscious organization’s check dive. Once our guide determined the current, we wasted no time getting suited up and in the water — which was great, because it was hot and the sun was strong. In almost no time, we were down at 24 meters / 79 feet along a coral ridge with plenty of life. As promised, the current was strong and it was also going different directions at different depths — basically meaning we had to do a bit of hard work to keep from being blown off the reef. Visibility was good, though and there were plenty of sights. The highlights for me were a large boxfish, two barracuda and a pair of clownfish who left their anemone to check me out. With the depth and exertion, our dive was on the short-side, ending in forty minutes. With just me, there was no problem packing up and heading back to the ship to be home before most of the rest of the guests. On our return, Le Lapérouse’s Marine Deck was surrounded by canoes loaded with mostly fruit (and some crafts) for sale. One canoe came to us and the man on board advised us he had PADI-certified guides available to help us. Meanwhile, on shore… Le Lapérouse was moored very close to the village and the Zodiac rides were not even five minutes. Even better, there’s a new dock, so the landing is dry. We left our lifejackets at the dock and walked through the grasses to an area with a central stage and seating carved from logs. The performance was magnificent and other guests have surely taken dramatic pictures of it. Children were sitting on a large rock above the action — a natural grandstand so they could survey us, no doubt. A craft market was of course available and drew much interest from the guests. A precious little cuscus was being shown off by a handler — the cuscus is an endemic nocturnal marsupial in New Guinea. It wasn’t really thrilled with all of the attention in daylight and tried half-heartedly to get away — but eventually decided to climb up on its handler’s head for safety. Next we boarded the Zodiacs for transfers to dugout canoes with platforms for a tour up the mangrove forest — two, three and sometimes even four of us safely got into the platforms for the ride — with some last minute changes needed when some of us overloaded the canoe! It was a scenic trip and at the end, we were helped off the canoes for a wet and muddy landing upstream. The path was decorated with flowers & palm fronts and those who needed help were assisted by locals through the mud. Shortly we arrived at another clearing for a sago palm harvesting demonstration. Suffice to say the process was very interesting and efficient. After the demonstration, there was another opportunity to purchase crafts before we returned to the ship to meet the sole scuba diver. We had lunch towards the end of the service in the main dining room. I had gazpacho, Ponant’s famous egg 65 degrees and chicken Milanese. Today’s version of egg 65 was served on an eggplant succotash. Not bad. The chicken was very well prepared and was fresh from the frypan, accompanied by a nice pasta and root vegetables. For desert, vanilla millefeuille and apple tart. The afternoon offered a short sail to the other side of Tufi for a beach swim. Zodiacs brought guests to a pleasant beach for a bit of a swim. The highlight for us was the local children playing nearby. In any event, we were promised this wasn’t going to be the best beach on the trip, so expectations were set low. We returned just in time for pavlova served in person by our Pastry Chef. A number of Australians came back for seconds and I did, too. Where does the time go? We barely had time to get ready for our recap and briefing for tomorrow! The recap began with a short presentation on the improvements in raft technology among the seafaring peoples of this region — culminating in the dugout canoe with outriggers and platform that we had ridden on earlier. The briefing for Tami Islands was short — mostly to advise us that both inhabited islands were going to come together with a special cultural performance for us and then we would be free to wander the island for a bit before Le Lapérouse set sail for an afternoon at sea. The scuba briefing followed and we were advised that we would again need to choose between going ashore and the dive on offer. We’ll see what people decide… We had dinner together and really enjoyed our meal. After the carrot with orange & ginger amuse bouche, I had cauliflower soup, shredded chicken salad (which was an enjoyable luxury interpretation of a Thai larb), then New Zealand lamb rack as the main. The lamb was very well prepared and I’m not necessarily a lamb fan. For dessert: Pear Belle-Hélène — a favorite of mine. The pear was poached well and I enjoyed the chocolate sauce — however, I think I’m hitting my chocolate limit and was challenged to complete it. After dinner, Musical Pictionary was on offer in the main lounge — or a tribute to the Beatles in the Blue Eye. We were kind of fatigued after the day in the sun and water, so we decided to call it quits to be ready for tomorrow’s activities. Tomorrow: A special cultural performance at Tami Islands (and scuba)!
  12. Leaving from Santiago might be a remnant from when Charcot sailed from Punta Arenas. The chartered aircraft will likely be a 737 and will have up to 200 guests on it. If the ship is full, my guess it that there will be some people in full rows. For us on Lyrial in November 2022, the business class seats appeared to be assigned by status. There were at least a couple of Commodores up front and there were only eight seats on Aerolineas Argentinas. Seats were allocated at check-in (I assume they were allocated earlier than that, so the Commodores could get their seats).
  13. On Board Le Lapérouse — New Guinea Odyssey — Thursday, March 21, 2024 This day began with a scenic cruise through the China Strait, enjoying the coastline as we passed the occasional canoe. One of the highlights for me was catching the former Milne Bay provincial capital of Samari, now almost deserted. We broke up the sightseeing with a briefing on our activities in Alotau and a lecture on the geology and history of Papua New Guinea. We continued on to Alotau, the current provincial capital, arriving at noon, as we enjoyed lunch (spaghetti carbonara & fish). I think the primary point of stopping at Alotau was to complete PNG clearance formalities, but there was a good program as well. Once we were cleared, it began with a traditional dance display on the pier as we boarded our busses — twelve in all for the four groups we’d been divided into. Our group went first to a traditional village for more dance, a fruit tasting (and betel nut for those more daring), many crafts for purchase and a demonstration of the war canoes. I liked the stop. On the drive, our guide told us about the area and the places we were going to see, but what was most interesting to us were her answers to the basic questions we had, like “what are you cooking for dinner?” The answer was taro, beans, fresh ginger, curry spices, coconut milk and a protein — if she didn’t have a protein, she’d throw in some fat for taste. She did not have electricity in her house, aside from some solar they used for charing phones. Then we went to Turnbull Field, one of the important sites in the Battle of Milne Bay. The Battle is notable because it’s the first major battle in the Pacific where Allied troops (predominantly Australian Militia (Reserve) forces on the front line, then the Second Australian Imperial Force, supported by American SeeBees), decisively defeated the Japanese on land. This battle proved the superiority of British signals intelligence that correctly projected the size, locations and plans of the Japanese forces, as well as the weakness of Japanese intelligence, which did not foresee the veteran Australian Imperial Force contingents. There were decendents of the New Guineans who fought in the battle and they had pictures and stories to share. Unfortunately we were running late and had to continue on our tour… The next stop was a local museum, with more information on the Battle of Milne Bay, some magazines of the area and some sample carvings, that I would call totems, but they aren’t. In an increasing pace because we were running late, we went to an overlook, giving a nice view of the town, with Le Lapérouse at the pier. The last stop was at a Battle of Milne Bay memorial, which was nestled between some crafts for sale and a night market and grocery store — I would have liked to see what was for sale in the grocery store, but as it was, the guide suggested we take pictures of the plaques so that we could read them from our phones later! 🤣 Our waiter said that he went to the store during the day to get some noodles he was craving, so that’s at least some report from the store… We got back after five and there wasn’t a whole lot of time before we needed to get ready for the daily recap, briefing and dinner. The recap & briefing were good — with a very brief lecture on how Polynesians navigated across the Pacific and then an update on our plans for tomorrow at Tufi — a cultural demonstration and canoe ride up the river are on offer in the morning and a lazy day at the beach in the afternoon. Or Scuba! The briefing was short — the morning dive on offer was deep and somewhat technical, eliminating most of the divers. The remaining qualified divers decided to go to the culture demonstration, leaving me as the sole diver planned for tomorrow morning. We’ll see how that goes. At dinner, we were part of a table of six. A woman whom we’d met on Ponant in Antarctica and her son and a nominally German / Thai couple who have lived in Australia forever. I probably need to hear that story again, as I was on the far side of the table from them. The dinner was fine — I had chicken — but the highlight for me was a deconstructed lemon meringue pie. It was fabulous! Tomorrow, we divide & conquer at Tufi (and scuba)!
  14. On Board Le Lapérouse — New Guinea Odyssey — Wednesday, March 20, 2024 Back to our day at sea… Although long (we went thirty minutes beyond the schedule), the required Zodiac briefing was well-run by our expedition leader. He’s certainly amicable and knowledgeable about PNG and had lots he wanted to share with us. The attendance seems to confirm that 3/4 of the guests are non-French. After the briefing, I went to the bridge and found the door was open and the sign was green, meaning it was okay to visit. I stayed for 1/2 hour or so and let the ship’s navigator show me the digital and paper charts. Although our crossing of the Coral Sea was pretty much devoid of traffic and obstacles, he noted we passed close to Bougainville Reef overnight and he could clearly see the lighthouse flashing. At lunch Ponant’s famed Southern Fried Chicken sandwich called my name and I had it with fries. It was quite good and I’m sure I will have it again on this trip. Also, ponmmes frites, of course and I ended lunch by choosing only two of my four favorite deserts on offer at the buffet. The afternoon wasn’t all that rushed, but we did pick up our snorkel gear on the Marine Deck and enjoyed the “All Chocolate” tea time in the main lounge. We missed the “Tie Workshop,” which was hugely popular and the workshops for getting the most out of your phone and and real cameras. I attended the dive registration and briefing and found there are a fair few who pre-registered, had the necessary certification and health letter. Two guests that I saw were unfortunately not able to join us because they didn’t have the necessary prerequisites. As is the French way, there was paperwork to be done, but we split into two groups and got it done in a half hour. That gave me just enough time to get ready for the Captain’s introduction of the senior officers, which was held outside on Deck 3. Le Lapérouse was underway, so there was a breeze, but it was still a bit warm for those of us who dressed up a bit. Our Captain gave a warm introduction, told us a bit about himself and then introduced us to each of his senior officers and then we were invited to the restaurant for the Gala Dinner. We were among the first to arrive and sat with our friends from Cruise Critic who convinced us to sign up for this cruise — almost two years ago! We all selected the Classic Menu, which was well prepared. The highlights for me were a pea soup amuse bouche, a warm scallop served on a sea urchin mousse, a perfectly prepared beef medallion and a dessert that I can’t describe, but enjoyed immensely. Although we were the first to arrive, we were among the last to leave — not because service was slow — we were just enjoying ourselves. After dinner, the singer was performing in the main lounge, but we chose to go to the Blue Eye for a selection of pieces from Ennio Morricone — not only the maestro of spaghetti westerns, but the composer of many other scores that we recognized. The lounge was packed, with every seat taken. A bartender was present, but was serving only Champagne and water — he was also able to pull up the playlist so we could tell us what songs we were listening to. It was fun! But it was also close to eleven, so we ended the evening, looking forward to our navigation through the China Strait followed by landing at Alotau.
  15. Greetings from the Coral Sea is we begin one of Ponant's most epic expeditions -- sixteen days circumnavigating New Guinea! And better yet, @ethan1171 is on this cruise, perhaps making this the first Cruise Critic Ponant meet-up? Today's a day at sea, which gives me oodles of time to get caught up... We flew up to Cairns late Monday night and got to the Hilton Esplanade after 11pm. It was nice not having to fly halfway around the world to join a cruise for once -- and we don't think we could have taken much more of the only two-hour, but particularly feral Qantas flight from Brisbane. (The pro-tip here would be if Qantas offers to block a middle seat for "only $65 AUD" just accept the offer.) Hilton treated us well and upgraded us to an Executive Suite overlooking the cruise ship terminal, which was only two blocks away. So, when I got up with Queensland's ridiculously early sunrise, I had plenty of time to sit out on the balcony, watching the rain and thunderstorms as Le Lapérouse sailed in shortly after seven. Then half an hour later, we were joined by P&O's Pacific Encounter in Cairns for an overnight stay. It's "slightly" larger with 1300 staterooms. I believe we have ninety-two? Through the increasing rain, I could see the massive upper deck TV had some sort of footy playing. Midmorning we visited with another Ponant cruiser with whom we've corresponded from afar -- they were just getting off Le Lapérouse and reported having a great experience onboard. In fact, we spent so much time that we only had a short while to pack up our room and wait a few minutes in the lobby before waddling down to the terminal with our bags. The rain had set in -- and while we could have taken a taxi, that just seemed dumb since it was only a very short walk. So, yes, we were a little soaked when we arrived. The cruise was sold out and Ponant was proactive trying to manage the check-in process, advising guests to arrive in fifteen minute intervals by deck. Deck six first, then working their way down deck by deck. Makes sense. We arrived five minutes before our scheduled Deck 5 time and found that basically the entire ship had already boarded. Of 160 passengers, there were only ten behind us. Wowza. Check-in still took only 10-15 minutes and soon enough, we were in our stateroom. The only real disadvantage was our bags took some time to be reunited with us. On every Ponant cruise, we have always found crew members we've sailed with before. Since we were on this ship in December, we found that many of the Hotel & Restaurant staff were still on board and recognized us. As did the Sommelier (Tasmania and Norway), Restaurant Manager (Antarctica) and several expedition guides (Tasmania). Our Restaurant Manager is the best I've seen on Ponant (not complaining about the others), so I have elevated my expectations accordingly. We had the normal life on board briefing, followed by sail-away in the pouring rain. Of 160 guests, I'd say 1/4 are French-speaking. There is also a charger group who have separate arrangements, leaving about half of us in the non-French group. Dinner did not disappoint. We both had barramundi as our main and warm chocolate cake for dessert. We did vary on our starter -- I enjoyed the beef carpaccio. She had the mud crab soup -- it had good flavor, but no crab pieces in her serving, so that item fell flat. On the other hand, she also had a Caesar salad, which had perfectly fresh greens. Oh, I also had the cheese plate. It was okay (as I expected with biosecurity issues). For some reason, we were exhausted and were in bed by ten. Which brings us up to today... We had breakfast late (with just enough time for eggs Benedict), only just in time for the mandatory Zodiac briefing. The briefing was very informative and also very long -- about ninety minutes. But leaving enough time for me to jot off these notes and get ready for lunch at sea! Coming up... the Gala Dinner
  16. I haven't been on Scenic, nor have I been to Antarctica on Le Commandant Charcot, but I have stayed in Charcot's Duplex Suite. It is spectacular and the hot tub is large enough for two. The food is a level above the other Ponant ships and the menu is designed by Conseil Alain Ducasse. But I think the food is more internationally inspired than French, but a plain steak or salmon are available at any meal if the choices offered at the three venues don't suit. There is a helicopter on board, but Ponant decided not to use it for guests after they determined it was too disruptive to wildlife and (my translation) conflicted with their environmental responsibility goals. I look forward to hearing how your research goes!
  17. I don't think we're going to make the inaugural season. Seychelles is definitely on the list for a second trip, but Aldabra Atoll is a must for that trip. Unfortunately, Aldabra is currently only available on the Seychelles to Zanzibar cruise, which we've already done.
  18. Seems quite exclusive with twelve guests and what appears to be four crew members. I bet sailing Seychelles would be spectacular, even if you didn't get far from Mahé, Praslin & La Digue.
  19. I stumbled across this announcement on the French Ponant site: https://www.calameo.com/read/000132423f2f55950d7a1?authid=DLkjoqKej2eJ&fbclid=IwAR1lcC86bCWoBG_zNx3PVMYKzMdBgA-p9-pjU3pqv8m8cuK7W0hmo1KjCVA Discover, exclusively, the new ship in our fleet: A Lagoon 77 catamaran of 24 m and 6 cabins, built in France, unique in its size and its level of finishes. Faithful to the company's marine DNA and our commitment to more responsible tourism, The Spirit of Ponant combines the pleasure of sailing with the intimacy, refinement and attentive service that characterize our cruises. » High-end, personalized and exclusive services • A trip, at the pace of your desires, with a maximum of 12 passengers on board • Your dedicated crew: the captain, a chef selected by PONANT, a sailor and a cabin attendant ensuring compliance with company standards • A co-constructed itinerary according to your commander's recommendations • An all-inclusive offer: gastronomy, cellar and cocktails by PONANT, room service, nautical activities (paddle, wakeboard, snorkeling, etc.) Embark on an 8 day/7 night cruise Corsica (Bonifacio. Bonifacio): departures from July 13, 2024, Seychelles (Mahé. Mahé): winter 2024/2025, from €7,500* per person. To find out more, contact your usual travel agency or PONANT advisors: +33 (0)4 91 16 16 27 - reservation@ponant.com *Price based on double occupancy. The price displayed on each product corresponds to the best price available when the media was printed, in March 2024. This price may change as the departure date approaches and varies depending on availability on the cruise. It may be modified without notice. The itineraries, activities and photos used on this medium only represent possible experiences and are not guaranteed. Non-contractual documents and photos. 100% recycled paper. Photo credits: ©Nicolas Claris.
  20. It’s hard to know specifically what what will be on board, but we’ve seen some Swarovski items including binoculars, Garmin watches, some other jewelry and watches, Carrera sun glasses and lots and lots of logo wear. If you liked what was on offer, it would be easy to burn €3K.
  21. WiFi is slow. You can do email and light web browsing. Streaming is generally not possible — though one time I was able to do a long Zoom call with two-way video. The stars apparently aligned that day. if your phone does WiFi calling, that works and you’ll be able to receive most SMS message while at sea.
  22. I haven’t had that cabin, but I have had another accessible cabin. I wouldn’t be concerned about noise. The only time I would expect any is at the beginning of the dinner service. The cabin is nice and the additional space is meaningful. The main consideration I would have is the bathroom layout — the shower, toilet and sink are in the same area and instead of a glassed off shower & tub, the accessible shower has a curtain and if you’re not careful, you can get water everywhere. The layout in the bathroom doesn’t feel as luxurious, but it is offset by the cabin space. I don’t know that I would refuse the cabin because of this, but it is a consideration.
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