Cool as ice

Imagine feeling the hot breath of a whale surfacing or your heart melting when a penguin chick approaches – aboard Ponant’s exploration vessel Le Commandant Charcot, this is just the start of your adventure.

Written by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

05 April 2022


In Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf, one of the world’s most immense slabs of ice is singing. But it’s not just Antarctica that has a voice. Ice sings in the Arctic, too. The tones are too low to be heard by the human ear, but when they are sped up, you can hear a haunting sound like the drone of a didgeridoo.

Voices are plentiful around the ice. There’s also the song of the blue whale, which can be heard when played back two to eight times faster than normal. But to enrich this sound experience, you need a brilliant conductor, someone who can take the audience through magical frequencies – a conductor like Ponant’s first hybrid luxury polar exploration vessel Le Commandant Charcot.

Offering a genuine connection with the polar environment, Le Commandant Charcot showcases the company’s commitment to eco-consciousness with incredible equipment and innovations.

There’s the groundbreaking liquefied natural gas (the cleanest fuel at sea) hybrid propulsion unique to the polar environment; software specifically developed to journey through the ice route; and scientists and experts on board to ensure the journey is not just opulent but an experience of enrichment.


The eco-design not only marks Le Commandant Charcot as the most advanced vessel in the Ponant fleet, combined with its cutting-edge, ice-breaking capabilities, it is the first luxury ship in the world capable of taking passengers to the heart of the polar regions.

It took six years to create the vessel from the first designs to the final fittings.

A Polar Class PC2 ship, Le Commandant Charcot features all the latest green technologies, such as having 100 percent of the waste sorted on board plus waste treatment.

A Ship of Opportunity (SOOP), she will also be fitted out for research, providing a scientific platform for the study of water, air, ice and biodiversity in extreme polar regions.

This makes the voyage even more exciting for guests, who can be part of the Citizen Science program. They can, for example, participate in projects that monitor whale migration and receive updates when the same whale is spotted months or years later. They can also help monitor how the ice is changing, study the abundance of birds or even help NASA by studying the clouds.

For post-science relaxation, there’s a heated indoor pool, a snow room where you can have a snow bath and tonic after your sauna, and the divine outdoor Blue Lagoon, which is heated to up to 37 degrees Celsius using recycled energy.

There’s also a detox bar, cigar lounge and an uninterrupted outdoor walking bridge that goes around the entire ship, equipped with heated benches and two Swarovski Optik long observation points.

Any voyage to the polar region needs an extraordinary kitchen, and Le Commandant Charcot delivers with its iconic signature dishes on the Alain Ducasse menu.

There are various restaurants and bars where you can enjoy French and international delights, including the Panoramic Restaurant and the Blue Lagoon Restaurant, which both offer indoor and outdoor seating.

Le Commandant Charcot also features a wellness centre spa and a hair and nail salon. It’s the perfect place to recline after a day filled with activities such as music and dance performances, wellness and movement classes, photography workshops and tastings.

And, of course, undoubtedly the main attraction of any cruise: the polar wildlife and coastal landscapes seen from one of the 16 Zodiacs. Alastair Newton, Ponant’s Expedition Leader and Director of National Geographic Partnership, describes the encounters guests have with the rich wildlife as heart-stopping.

He explains that penguin encounters are the main feature of Antarctica, and one of his favourite experiences is watching the albatross that frequently follow the ship, especially in the Drake Passage.

“I remember watching a wandering albatross fly past a passenger on the deck and realising that it really did have an 11-foot wingspan!” he says.

South Georgia voyages are another favourite. “Nothing prepares you for the southern fur seals,” enthuses Newton.

“The seals have to be treated with caution as they can outrun a human on land.”

He also notes whales are a remarkable feature of Antarctica, and a constant reminder of its history of whaling.

“Seeing these enormous animals make their return to Antarctica leaves you mesmerised as you reflect on their huge lifespan and everything these survivors have witnessed in their lifetime,” he offers.

“Of course, seeing the role of young whales repopulating these waters is an emotional experience.”

The wildlife adventures don’t always take place in the Zodiacs, however. The passenger decks offer perfect observation posts for taking in every aspect of the surrounding landscapes.

Depending on the destination, passengers can admire the mysterious black cliffs of Charcot Island in Antarctica from the main lounge, the majestic Larsen Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea from the observation area, and the Scoresby Sund Fjord on the east coast of Greenland while enjoying a massage in the spa.

The cabins offer equally impressive viewing areas. Each has a private balcony or terrace for contemplating the splendours of the polar regions.

For a completely unique experience, passengers can stand on the bow and take in the sensation of being completely cut off from the rest of the world.

For those who wish to enjoy the luxury of these once-in-a-lifetime cruises, there are 14 different itineraries and 33 sailings scheduled in Antarctica from November 2021 to March 2022 and there are a similar number of schedules on offer for winter 2022/2023.

These voyages offer entirely new itineraries in the wake of the great explorers and opportunities to observe extraordinary, secretive wildlife: humpback whales, gentoo penguins, king penguins, Adélie penguins, chinstrap penguins, leopard seals, crabeater seals, Weddell seals, seabirds galore and more.

Activities organised for guests include Zodiac landings, sea kayaking supervised by state-qualified guides, talks, hovercraft outings, activities in polar waters and hikes on foot or snowshoes.

Guests can also attend participative science lectures and workshops that raise their awareness and inspire them to protect these fragile environments.

With 11 sailings planned, Le Commandant Charcot will also sail to the far north for the European summer in 2022. Discovering the planet’s northernmost wildernesses is an odyssey in the truest sense as travellers have the chance to reach the end of the world; that mythical point on the edge of extreme lands, the geographic North Pole.

In terms of luxury and sustainability, there’s nothing quite like visiting the ice continents with Ponant. From the poles to the tropics, the memories are priceless – and just as unique as the destinations they explore.



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