Ponant Le Commandant Charcot: the world’s only luxury ice breaker cruise ship is about to explore Antarctica on an expedition cruise: she holds world records for reaching both the North Pole and the navigable South Pole: and with all the comforts of a private yacht and a five-star hotel with Michelin Star style cuisine by Alain Ducasse and Veuve Clicquot Champagne

Le Commandant Charcot is the world’s only state-of-the-art luxury icebreaker cruise ship. She has achieved the highest ice-class rating of any purpose-built cruise ship, Polar Class 2. This means that when other ships are forced to turn back, she can keep going, visiting places where other cruise ships cannot venture. She can break through ice 8ft 6in thick, compared to Polar Class 6 ships which stop at 3ft 6in thick. For this reason, on Le Commandant Charcot we are unlikely to see any other cruise ship: we shall find ourselves alone in the ice, an awe-inspiring feeling.

We are invited to visit the bridge, which has an open-door policy, to watch the Captain navigate through the sea ice. And Le Commandant Charcot carries 50 additional crew members (216 crew in total), all specialists in the Polar regions and eager to share their knowledge. And for those who are watching our progress from home, Charcot operates a camera directed at the bow, showing her making her way through the ice in real time.

For manoeuvring through ice, Le Commandant Charcot dynamic positioning system allows her to manoeuvre at any angle, even to hover and rotate 360 degrees. This is perfect for wildlife viewing, bringing us even closer to the wild life than is usually possible.

This electronic dynamic positioning system also enables the ship to remain in place without dropping anchor. While we are off the ship in sea kayaks or Zodiacs, Charcot uses this system to remain in position and await our return. She can even pull up alongside icefloes so that we can walk off the ship and stroll on the ice.

Le Commandant Charcot can also turn off her generators and switch to silent, zero emissions mode using its large battery bank. This is ideal for port arrivals and in protected areas, and is a boon for watching wildlife. To be out on deck, surrounded by ice as far as you can see, with absolutely no noise from the ship, is a very special experience.

Environmentally, Charcot is one of the cleanest ships in the world. She is the first hybrid-electric Polar cruise ship powered by liquified natural gas. And the ship is able to treat waste on board and discharge nothing but clean, drinkable water into the sea. Recycled energy is used for heating, including the outdoor pool and outside decks so we can remain comfortably warm despite the Polar chill.

Environmental issues are key to Ponant’s mission. Many expedition ships invite guests to participate in basic scientific data collection, but the science programme aboard Charcot is very different. They have made studying and preserving the Polar regions a priority by collaborating with scientific and academic programmes around the world. A dedicated science officer on board runs two science labs, a wet and a dry lab, coordinates researchers and scientists and shares with passengers the scientific work. The scientists themselves host lectures—and the Captain will halt the ship solely for the purpose of carrying out researchers’ projects. It all makes this cruise truly expeditionary and interesting.

Outdoor activities, beyond immersing ourselves in the powerful polar environment, include snowshoeing, polar diving, kayaking and ice fishing.

And what of the creature comforts? Le Commandant Charcot combines understated elegance with the power to pulverize sea ice. At 492ft long and 92ft wide, the 123-stateroom vessel is larger than Ponant’s other ships yet she carries fewer passengers, creating space for amenities not typically found on expedition cruisers. These include an indoor resistance pool, two smaller outdoor pools, and a promenade which wraps around the entire ship.

Food and drink are five star, with free-flowing French wines, Champagne and spirits included (except premium vintages) in the fare. The fine dining restaurant is a unique attraction. While Three-Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse oversees all Ponant ships’ dining, Charcot’s Nuna (Innuit for Earth) is the only Alain Ducasse restaurant at sea in the world, with Chef Ducasse’s classic French menu creating a Michelin star experience.

Nowhere is the ship’s French nature more pronounced than in its dining rooms. Even in the casual outdoor grill, Inneq (Innuit for fire), the food is delicious. French wines are served with meals, and the house Champagne is Veuve Clicquot. With its crisp tablecloths and elegant décor, it would be easy to mistake the buffet restaurant, Sila (Innuit for Sky), for a fine dining venue. The buffet is discreetly hidden between two dining areas and serves wonderful cuisine.

Charcot’s interior décor is sophisticated and subtle. Taupes and greys dominate the colour scheme and wood, leather and marble add texture and depth to interiors. Artworks in stone, glass and wood by more than 30 artists adorn the public areas. Dominating all is a 30ft LED light installation by renowned artist Miguel Chevalier, seen to best advantage as we gently rise or fall in the midship glass lifts.

Le Commandant Charcot is designed with many smaller rooms around the peripheral areas of the ship, rather than a few large communal areas. This creates separation, adding an intimate and elegant feel. Public areas are concentrated on Decks 5 and 9, site of the fine-dining and buffet restaurant, an outdoor grill and two spacious lounges. The Main Lounge on Deck 5 is the place for afternoon tea and occasional musical performances.

On Deck 9, the Observatory Lounge is spectacular, bringing the outside in with wrap-around windows. Also on this deck is a beautiful windowed winter garden with a heated indoor resistance pool. Two compact outdoor heated pools are accompanied by outdoor dining and a well-stocked bar.

Additional outdoor space is on Deck 6, which has a helicopter pad. The chopper is tucked away below the deck, used not for sightseeing but for wildlife scouting and emergencies. The area also functions as an outdoor observation space. Visiting scientists engaged in polar, climate and other research projects are at work in two laboratories on Deck 3 as well as in the field.

Le Commandant Charcot is larger than Ponant’s other ships in the Polar regions, yet purposely she has fewer staterooms and suites, only 123. No matter which you choose, it will be spacious and offer stunning views. Each has a private balcony with floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors—even below the balcony’s railing is a glass barrier, allowing for better views from inside the cabin.

The entry level Prestige Staterooms (215 sq ft) and Deluxe Suites (301 sq ft) have ample space, while the Prestige Suites (430 sq ft) and Grand Prestige Suites (452 sq ft) are among the largest staterooms of all expedition ships. As you might expect from Le Commandant Charcot’s grandeur, her Duplex Suites (1,011 sq ft) and Owner’s Suite (1,237 sq ft) are more than double in size compared to the highest cabin categories on other luxury expedition ships.

Four Duplex suites, on two levels, comprise the entire aft of decks 6 and 7. These suites have some of the best views, whether you are lying in bed, soaking in the private jacuzzi on your private deck or lounging by the fireplace on the lower level. These suites are perfect for families and can comfortably accommodate four. There are plenty of extras with these suites, including personal butler service and Swarovski binoculars.

All staterooms and suites include WiFi, 24-hour room service, super-luxe Diptyche Paris bath products, bathrobes, slippers, a Dyson hairdryer, minibars stocked with juices, soft drinks and spirits, Nespresso coffee maker, Bose bluetooth speaker and individually controlled thermostats. All have roomy glass showers (some suites add a separate Balneo bathtub).

Being an expedition vessel, evenings on Le Commandant Charcot are a blend of relaxation and camaraderie. Stories and insights are shared with fellow travellers in the comfort of the onboard lounges, or we can simply gaze into the distance, soaking in the beauty of the surroundings from the warmth of the ship and our private stateroom or suite.

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