Ponant’s Le Boreal is a relatively unknown small yet stylish cruise ship offering a French flavoured experience with seamless service, great food and interesting itineraries.
You may not have heard of Ponant or its ship Le Boreal yet this French-owned vessel, looked gorgeous as its distinctive brown-grey hull shimmered in the midday sun while docked on the River Thames. It was about to pass under Tower Bridge and sail to Ostend, Antwerp, Newcastle, Bergen and Stavanger and I was going with it.
Le Boreal was launched in 2009 as part of a series of four 264-passenger, 10,600-ton cruising yachts. It’s a small ship in cruising terms – just 100 rooms – but this is what makes it ideal to set sail from exciting small ports or riverside locations like London’s Millenium Tower Pier on the Thames.
Le Boreal has a stylish interior in brown and beige that extends throughout the ship. It’s reminiscent of a designer pied-a-terre that talks of a youthful, fancy free vibe spruced up with flourishes of decor like a long hanging crystal artwork in the foyer and artworks dotted around and on the walls.
Le Boreal attracts couples looking for a quiet sojourn into a few days of peaceful, seamless restfulness. With 145 staff serving 200 guests every whim is catered for. The age ranges from 40s to 70s, some singles, some couples and some extended families and nationalities are French, American, German and a growing number of Brits.
Your stateroom or suite
Staterooms and suites have forward and mid-ship locations and all are outside rooms often with balconies beyond wall-to-ceiling glass doors. The rooms are decorated in autumnal hues of browns and creamy beiges, the type of calming colours that inspire peaceful sleep. Yet there are splashes of reds provided by the pillows and bedspreads to create more interest. There’s a lovely mix of textures too of satin, silk and white leather cushioned cupboards.
Rooms are cosy and well-ordered with a mini-bar, work area, bathroom (some come with baths) and a separate toilet, a large tv, nespresso machine and free water.
Some of the cabins interconnect to create suites.
Eating and drinking
There are two restaurants. The gastronomic restaurant is on deck 2 and comes with an a la carte menu of mostly French cuisine. Tables are dressed in white cloths, flowers and softened with ambient lighting. It’s a nice menu with starters like poached egg on vegetable shavings and main dishes such as lobster with asparagus and seabass.
Every cruise will have a Gala dinner and this is your chance to scrub up in your best togs and enjoy a six-course dinner served with a reasonable French wine – AOC Chablis, La Chablisienne 2015 and AOC Margaux, Marquis de Mons 2010.
There’s an empathy woven into their seating policy: “Would you like to be seated by a social table” asks the maître d. These tables are perfect for sociable souls or those cruising alone. Any inhibitions are soon dimmed by the free flow of alcohol and friendships are sealed.
The buffet restaurant is on deck 6 – a far more casual affair with salads, vegetables and usually a roast – lamb, beef or chicken. It’s an easy atmosphere.
Free seating breakfast is available in both restaurants.
Entertainment onboard Le Boreal
The heart of the ship is the Grand Salon located in the aft. This is the place to lounge around and whittle away some time during the day or evening. The colours are mostly creams and beiges with clusters of cushioned chairs around a dance floor.
A simple breakfast of pastries, yoghurt and fruit juice and sometimes afternoon snacks are available here and coffee and tea is available on tap all day long.
The Grand Salon leads to a small al fresco seating area that’s a great place to sip or nibble or read.
The bar is bottomless as most of the wines and spirits are included in certain packages.
Entertainment on board Ponant Le Boreal
There’s usually a singer and a pianist playing day and night and often there is a snazzy, jazzy cabaret dance show. At other times cruisers can dance the evening away. During the day there’s a couple of short quizzes and lectures.
They say there is a pool on deck 7 but in reality it is an oversized plunge pool. Nevertheless, when the sun’s heat is beating down, it is great to sit around it on cushioned sun beds and take a dip to cool off.
On deck 5 there is a small gym with jogging machines and bikes, a sauna, a small hairdressing salon and a couple of treatment rooms for massages and facials.
There’s also a theatre-cum-cinema where talks and lectures are given and evening films are shown. Shopping is restricted to single shop selling cruise garb and essentials.
The real joy is in the excursions and there are a few to choose with different themes. These tend to be full days out and are available in both French and English. Le Boreal is ice-strengthened ship to cope with their most adventurous destinations including the Antarctica and the Arctic where excursions and wildlife sightings are surely unmissable.
Is Wi-fi available
Yes, but it’s a little sporadic, which is understable when at sea.
Treasures of the North Sea – on board Le Bellot (sister ship) departs from Bergen on 11 Sept 2020, arrives in Honfleur on 18 Sept 2020. Ports of call include: Bergen, Stavanger, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Ostend and Honfleur. Price starts from £2,947 per person based on two people sharing a Deluxe Stateroom