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Jim_Iain - Le Bellot 9/11/2023 - Live Post - First timers on Ponant


Jim_Iain
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I've been following Ponant's Forum for about a year now and are taking our first Ponant cruise on Le Bellot in just over a week.  I really want to thank all those who have been patient with me and answered all my dumb questions.  

 

As an introduction we are Jim and Iain (with and eye pronounced like Ian).   We have sailed exclusively on Celebrity for over 22 years and this will be our first experience on another cruise line.   We live in the heart of Silicon Valley (Sunnyvale) have been together as a couple for 34 years.  I have to admit we are addicted to cruising and life at sea.

 

The Ponant Forum is much different than Celebrity's Forum and because of the small size I want to both be respectful as well as drive others here so they can discover Ponant and their offerings.

 

We have very close friends who travel Ponant extensively and they have been trying to talk us into joining them for years.   I know that this particular cruise is not representative of the normal expedition to far off exotic sites but we thought it would be a nice close by  taser cruise for us to figure out if Ponant will be a match for us.    Please be patient with me and also I will try to find out and answer any questions asked. 

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I remember learning a lot from your reports and photos on Celebrity, which helped guide my choices there when I decided to try it.

I have only done one Ponant cruise so far, a classical music focussed cruise on L'Austral last April  (which I reviewed),  so I look forward to your report  (starting with telling us where you are going :).

The few reports I have read have shown there is quite a range of differing experiences reported on their ships. 

 

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41 minutes ago, Catlover54 said:

I remember learning a lot from your reports and photos on Celebrity, which helped guide my choices there when I decided to try it.

I have only done one Ponant cruise so far, a classical music focussed cruise on L'Austral last April  (which I reviewed),  so I look forward to your report  (starting with telling us where you are going :).

The few reports I have read have shown there is quite a range of differing experiences reported on their ships. 

 

 

I've learned a lot after reading all the Live reviews here on Ponant and yes there is a huge difference in their offering. 

 

The first thing I learned is that Ponant has two types of Cruises Expedition and Explorer Cruises.     After I booked I learned that our cruise is an Explorer Cruise with the biggest difference being ALL EXCURSIONS  are extra and no fee excursions.  

 

They have the same itinerary on the same ship but a "National Geographic" Cruise which is higher priced and considered an Expedition and includes all excursions.  I haven't figured out yet how you can tell in advance of booking without asking.

 

 

image.thumb.png.681764a6a92229be338330e4ff808df4.png

 

The Itinerary -  

image.thumb.png.50585e4cbb63f876823a81536f8de13b.png

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We decided to try out Ponant at the recommendation of some very close friends from Australia who sail Ponant regularly but also join us on Celebrity.   Actually, we will be sailing again in November 2023 from Singapore to Sydney. 

 

One of the main reasons we decided to try a new line after sailing Celebrity exclusively for 22 years is that while the Zenith benefits had been wonderful recently, they have diluted the benefits for their most loyal cruisers.   As Suite Guest with the benefits, we once got as a Zenith member for free, we are now paying for them in the cost of the Suite All Inclusive program.   In my humble opinion, Celebrity could offer Zenith’s the ability to book Suites without perks which might be a compromise.

 

 From reading many posts on the Ponant Thread we booked knowing the Ponant Expedition and Explorer experience was totally different than the main cruise lines.   I will try to keep this in mind during my live post.  

 

Before I get started, I will tell you a little bit about us.   I’m in my early 70’s while Iain is in his late 60’s.   We have been together for 34 years and one of the first legally married gays in California.   We live in Sunnyvale, California which is in the middle of Silicon Valley.  We share our neighborhood with Apple, LinkedIn and Google.   We are very active and I walk 10 miles a day while Iain walks 5.   I’m interested in seeing how I accomplish this on Ponant.   With the port intensive itinerary this may not be difficult.

 

Our first cruise was in 2001 on Celebrity Millennium right after 9/11.   I was totally against cruising.   I spent my career traveling extensively by Air all over the world and the idea of being “LOCKED” on a ship for a WHOLE WEEK was enough to make me panic.   Needless to say Iain talked me into a cruise, or told me I was going I can’t remember which.    In less than a week I was converted to a cruise addict and never looked back.

 

We liked the Celebrity product and never really saw a reason to stray until now.   With the exception of our first cruise we have always traveled in suites but did travel a couple times in AQ after hitting Zenith as we had use of the Retreat Suite Lounge as a Zenith benefit and could book AQ at about ½ the price of a suite.   We found we really liked AQ and their Blu restaurant. 

Edited by Jim_Iain
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Getting Started with Ponant

What better way to get started investigating a new cruise line than Cruise Critic’s Cruise Line Forums.   

 

I logged onto Ponant’s Forum which is a much smaller forum than Celebrity’s.   I introduced myself with a couple questions.   I was really pleased how helpful and welcoming they were to a new member.  I found that asking anything was quickly answered. 

 

Difference:   As would be expected the Ponant Forum is much smaller and CC does not host Roll Calls for Ponant.   To give a scale to the difference Ponant has 14 pages of discussion as oppose to Celebrity at 6,062.   

 

As many of you know, so many of those we met on Cruise Critic follow along on our live posts and have become really good virtual as well as in personal friends.   I really like the Ponant forum but afraid my post may be overpowering with 50 -100K hits.   On the other hand, I would like to drive some traffic and potential clients to Ponant and their wonderful forum.

 

Ponant’s Website –

 

Next up I went to Ponant’s website to start understanding their itineraries and ships.  I found their site to be fairly well organized and easy to get around.  Anyone that has been to Celebrity’s Website know it can be difficult to navigate and lots of conflicting and broken links.

 

Difference -  I spent much of my life in Software and Customer Web Experience while working for both US and European Systems so familiar with both logic and sometimes expectation.  

 

I find Celebrity site to be painful and lots of patchwork logic which definitely affect my experience.   I find Ponant to be very logistical and easy to navigate.    At time some of their logic is quirky but you learn it fairly quickly.  Ponant does suffer from broken links and lack of updating as does Celebrity.    An example was trying to find out the amount of down payment and cancellation penalties.  When I was searching I could find all kinds of thing about cruise with confidence that had expired months ago but finally had to read the fine print of the T&C to answer my question. 

Edited by Jim_Iain
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Hi Jim,

 

I am so excited for this.

 

Like you, we've made the decision to "stray" from Celebrity 🤣 and Ponant is on our list.

 

Wishing you and Iain a fabulous cruise and  really looking forward to following along.

 

Cheers, Kim.

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10 hours ago, Redking said:

Hi Jim,

 

I am so excited for this.

 

Like you, we've made the decision to "stray" from Celebrity 🤣 and Ponant is on our list.

 

Wishing you and Iain a fabulous cruise and  really looking forward to following along.

 

Cheers, Kim.

Thanks Kim -   Really glad you popped in.  We are looking forward to visiting you lovely country in December.   I have been in Auckland about  a 1/2 dozen times but never out of the airport.   Can't wait.

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Our trip will be a week from today.   

 

We make it a practice to always fly in at least a day early.  As many of you know the airline rates have really jumped in the past year.    We almost always fly First Class but this time will be flying coach from San Jose to Milwaukee but was able to get a decent First Class on Delta coming home from Toronto.

 

On the good side I'm a 2 Million Mile flyer on United and have Gold Status for life for both Iain and I.    This enables us to select seat in Premium Plus and free luggage at no cost.  

 

As there are no direct flights we will be connecting through Denver.

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Before deciding on flying half way around the world to try out Ponant Signature Cruises to exotic destinations we wanted to find something closer to home and of a shorter duration.  

 

I’m sure there is no comparison to Ponant's exotic  Antarctic or Tahiti cruise and and their  Ice Breakers and Larger more modern ships. 

 

Let’s just say we are planning on make a “Hors d’oeuvre” cruise -  enough to give us a taste of what Ponant is all about.

 

The first thing I did in planning my booking  was to understand Ponant ships. 

 

 I started out by clicking the SHIPS tab. 

 

From here it lists:

·        Sister Ships  

·        Ponant Explorer

·        Le Ponant (their Masted Yacht)

·        Ice Breakers

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While I hope to be able to do a Live Post, I've been advised by @garykool81 -  Thanks Gary

 

Since most of our cruise will be very close to land I'm hoping I can mitigate by using my cellular data when available and in ports to keep caught up.

 

"

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You absolutely will not be able to do Zoom meetings aboard any Ponant ship. Their Internet is among the most outdated in the industry, and the worst I've experienced on any modern ships. As you can see, I've sailed with them multiple times on three of their ships -- two of them among the newest in their fleet. I found the Internet speeds, especially while at sea when demand is higher, to be as slow as 15KB/s -- literally 1990s dial-up speeds. On the best of days, I got to perhaps 100KB/s -- so think very early age DSL circa early 2000s. 

 

I often work while I am on vacation, and the WiFi aboard their ships has been pretty challenging. At times, it was so slow that it would take over a minute to load a text-only email. 

 

Definitely make alternative arrangements for connectivity if you need to have Zoom meetings while onboard! "

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8 hours ago, Jim_Iain said:

Thanks -   hope you jump in and help out or just to say hi.  

 

I grew up in Chicago, and we still have a condo there. Milwaukee is famous for its beer and German restaurants.   Should you be needing either check out this place. It's legendary.

 

https://madersrestaurant.com/

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1 minute ago, highplanesdrifters said:

 

I grew up in Chicago, and we still have a condo there. Milwaukee is famous for its beer and German restaurants.   Should you be needing either check out this place. It's legendary.

 

https://madersrestaurant.com/

Thanks for the recommendations.   I have a neighbor that was telling me he use to live there and said he found the Pizza in Milwaukee incredible - 

 

I really enjoy German cuisine so will definitely take a look.    The menu looks incredible but look like HUGE portions.

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Looking forward to your impressions of Le Bellot. That was our first Ponant ship, two years ago, for our Corsica trip. We really liked the ship.


Your experience on a North American itinerary, marketed to North Americans, may not be representative of their "regular" sailings. I think someone else reviewed this type of sailing last year on these boards and said something to that effect.

 

I have not found the WiFi to be as terrible as the previous poster - it can be hit or miss but I was able to upload pictures during both trips without too much hassle. At times it was slow and there were errors, upload failures, etc... but eventually it worked.

 

Agree that the connection would not be fast or reliable enough for videoconferencing, and it's definitely not as fast as my cell network when I get a land-based connection. I thought I ran some speed tests on board but I can't find them now so I must not have saved the screenshots. But it's free (included at no extra cost) so you get what you pay for.

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14 hours ago, Jim_Iain said:

Thanks for the recommendations.   I have a neighbor that was telling me he use to live there and said he found the Pizza in Milwaukee incredible - 

 

I really enjoy German cuisine so will definitely take a look.    The menu looks incredible but look like HUGE portions.

One more.  The Milwaukee Museum of Art designed by Calatrava is outstanding. Go, even if it's just to look at this masterpiece of a building spread its wings.

 

Pizza in Chicago and Milwaukee is cult like.  While the area is often cited for it's deep dish,  Tavern style is what most of us grew up on.  Crispy thin crust, fennel seed sausage, square cut, IMHO it's pizza perfection.

 

 

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3 hours ago, jpalbny said:

Looking forward to your impressions of Le Bellot. That was our first Ponant ship, two years ago, for our Corsica trip. We really liked the ship.


Your experience on a North American itinerary, marketed to North Americans, may not be representative of their "regular" sailings. I think someone else reviewed this type of sailing last year on these boards and said something to that effect.

 

I have not found the WiFi to be as terrible as the previous poster - it can be hit or miss but I was able to upload pictures during both trips without too much hassle. At times it was slow and there were errors, upload failures, etc... but eventually it worked.

 

Agree that the connection would not be fast or reliable enough for videoconferencing, and it's definitely not as fast as my cell network when I get a land-based connection. I thought I ran some speed tests on board but I can't find them now so I must not have saved the screenshots. But it's free (included at no extra cost) so you get what you pay for.

Thanks much for the information.  I fully understand the North American may be totally different than the more exotic cruise but hope the infrastructure, food, entertainment and curators are as interesting.

 

I definitely read you Live Post and really learned so much from you.   It really was helpful.    I said earlier that French Food is one of my favorite and your posts of the Menus and pictures of the meals were priceless.

 

You are of course a fantastic photographer and blogger as well and have head many of your blogs.

 

Take a look at her great Live Post, you won't be disappointed.

 

 

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1 hour ago, highplanesdrifters said:

One more.  The Milwaukee Museum of Art designed by Calatrava is outstanding. Go, even if it's just to look at this masterpiece of a building spread its wings.

 

Pizza in Chicago and Milwaukee is cult like.  While the area is often cited for it's deep dish,  Tavern style is what most of us grew up on.  Crispy thin crust, fennel seed sausage, square cut, IMHO it's pizza perfection.

 

 

 

My taste are probably more like you and prefer Crispy Thin Crust -   oops ---  I hope I don't start a debate  on Thick vs Thin Crispy pizza.  

 

I've put the museum on my list.

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Maybe some of the Ponant members can answer a question about the TV's.

 

Do they have HDMI ports and are they unlocked so you can connect a device or laptop to them?

 

Ok ... Ok.... your going to learn I'm a real techo nerd from Silicon Valley.   Iain often complains I bring more electronics than clothing.  

 

I did read that our stateroom has Blue Tooth Speaker so will be one thing I don't need to pack.

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Wanted to give a big shout out to @AussieBoyTX who is currently on Le Ponant and live posting an incredible sailing to the Southern Kimberley's.     Now that is a UNIQUE cruise.

 

He has been incredible patient in answering all my questions while considering and booking our first Ponant cruise. 

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After booking our cruise the next task was to nail down our air reservations.  As we all know prices have really increased over the past year.

 

I normally use Google Flights as a good research tool.    The site doesn't sell but directs to the least expensive booking sites.   They  also have  a flight price tracking took that both graphs the prices and send alerts but also recommend when you should purchase. 

 

Many believe air rates are stable but in reality they can change daily and at times hourly. 

 

I'll post an example of a Business Class Sydney to SFO  I was tracking for an upcoming cruise in November / December.    Luckily I purchased before it took a big jump.    The arrow on top right indicates prices are currently raising.

 

image.thumb.png.6672d3a9ca0d77354d7686840a448c25.png

 

 

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For this trip I ended up booking Coach on United because we are Million Mile Travelers which gives us Gold Status for Life and allows us to select seating in the Premium regardless of what we pay.    I was able to snag two adjacent Isle seats on the Exit row which actually gives one more leg room than in Domestic First Class. 

 

For the return home, I was able to get a good First Class far from Toronto to SJC on Delta.

 

In the SF Bay area we have 3 major airports.   We live about 15 minutes from SJC and it is so much easier airport than San Francisco. 

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