Le Commandant Charcot by PONANT is a revolutionary ship to sail the Arctic and Antarctic’s outer limits and is the world’s first luxury hybrid icebreaker. This ship has pioneered the cruise line industry, designed to accommodate true luxury and simultaneously protect and celebrate the Arctic Poles in a friendly environment. We experienced a two-day sailing with the PONANT team to celebrate 35 years of PONANT and learn all about this amazing vessel.
Celebrating 35 Years
There is a real family feel in PONANT which comes across from all the staff onboard that makes you feel they really want to elevate your experience. To celebrate PONANT’s 35th anniversary, Le Commandant Charcot made her way to the UK for the first time since her launch in September 2021.
PONANT experts, including Steve Moir (Expedition Leader on Le Commandant Charcot), Mathieu Petiteau (New Building & R&D Director), Vladislav Sidorenkov-Duprez (PONANT Science Programme Coordinator), Justine Fraticelli (International Press & Public Relations) and many others spent time with us to tell us all about the beauty, luxury, and explorational value of Le Commandant Charcot. We also enjoyed a celebratory Gala Dinner with non stop champagne and great company throughout.
A rich 35 year history
PONANT pays homage to Jean-Baptiste Charcot in the name of Le Commandant Charcot. Charcot explored the Arctic and Antarctic in the early 20th century among the first French polar expeditions. During his time, he created and analysed topographical surveys, charts, and zoological and botanical samples. He shared his knowledge with the world, emphasising a humanist approach to the under-discovered environment. In honouring his name, PONANT strives to implement Charcot’s philosophies with this ship.
The North Pole journey
Sailing to the North Pole remains a feat. It was not until 1977 that a surface vessel reached this point for the first time. Only seven ships have made it, and Le Commandant Charcot is the eighth. PONANT is a member of two tourism operator associations that oversee activity in the poles to protect the environment: IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators), which promotes responsible tourism in the Antarctic, and AECO (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) which promotes responsible, environmentally friendly and safe tourism.
The destinations for Le Commandant Charcot in the Arctic include the Northwest Passage exploring three main routes, Greenland’s eastern shores in spring, and polar immersion in Spitsbergen or Svalbard. Charcot will also grace several remote seas. The Ross Sea is one of the world’s last remaining sanctuaries and a once-in-a-lifetime destination that can be reached by Le Commandant Charcot. The ship sails as close as it is possible to be near to the vast tabular icebergs generated by the Larsen Ice Shelf. This is where the Weddell Sea resides, where most of it is covered with thick compressed pack ice that promises encounters with the Antarctic’s amazing wildlife.
Charcot also sails by Peter I, a volcanic island 450km from Antarctic shores which receives fewer visitors than the moon. Le Commandant Charcot sets sail across the Bellingshausen Sea, home to Emperor Penguins, to reach this isolated island, discovered by the French explorer who also found Charcot Island, naming it in honour of his father.
Security and Safety aboard Le Commandant Charcot
When designing Le Commandant Charcot, PONANT partnered with Aker Arctic, the global specialist in ice navigation technology. The Finnish naval architecture agency developed an innovative hull design with a bulb-less bow, capable of sailing in 2.5 metre-thick ice. Her double hull also helps avoid any pollution. The performance of this unique hull makes Le Commandant Charcot the first PC2 Polar Class ship of this type and the most powerful and safest polar exploration passenger ship in the world. It provides maximum security to operate under the most difficult navigation conditions.
The superstructure on Le Commandant Charcot, designed by the SDI agency, is adapted to extreme weather conditions: heated resin deck with a defrosting system, defrosting systems for radars, mooring winches, windows, sliding doors, etc. All bay windows are triple-glazed to maximise comfort and energy savings. The ship is operable down to -25°C while the average coldest temperature on the seas crossed is -15°C. Reinforced stabilisers offset rolling in open water. There are also more luxurious cold weather comforts including heated floors and heated benches on the decks.
In keeping with the luxury associated to a company that has been sailing the seas for the past 35 years, no expense was spared on the ship’s interior décor. Two internationally renowned interior design agencies, Jean-Philippe Nuel Studio and Wilmotte & Associés have collaborated and successfully created an atmosphere that is in harmony with the environment.
Suites and Staterooms
Equipped with just 123 staterooms including 68 suites with balconies and outside views, Le Commandant Charcot welcomes her guests in an intimate and refined atmosphere with outstanding gastronomy, exploration and relaxation. Even the entry level Prestige Staterooms are very generous in size with plenty of space at 215 ft². There is an extremely high level of comfort with a dreamy king sized bed, shower room, separate toilet, the softest bathrobes and many other creature comforts you would find in a luxury 5 star hotel.
At the rear of decks 6 and 7 are four stunning 1,011 ft² split-level suites equipped with private terraces and jacuzzis.
The amazing 1,237 ft² Shipowner’s Suite on deck 8 features wide sliding glass doors offering stunning panoramic views and opening out onto a staggering 2,002 ft² private terrace.
Sustainability is critical
Each PONANT ship is certified as a “clean ship,” Le Commandant Charcot is no exception, as she paves the way to becoming one of the most eco-responsible vessels to date. Le Commandant Charcot is a hybrid electric vessel with an unrivalled battery capacity to store energy and minimise consumption. Routing software inspired by the one used by offshore racers and adapted for polar seas will determine the most ice-friendly and fuel-efficient route. Additionally, the crew will ensure proper waste and plastic management and the ship’s sound system is designed to be non-disruptive to the wildlife and indigenous communities residing in the Arctic.
The ship runs on liquefied natural gas (LNG), the cleanest fuel on the market. It eliminates sulphur and fine particulates and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 20% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 85% compared to marine diesel. No soot, grit or smoke is emitted as a result of natural gas combustion. To store LNG onboard, the designers behind Le Commandant Charcot opted for a membrane fuel tank system, never used before on cruise ships.
The engines on Le Commandant Charcot run on electricity supplied by six generators powered by LNG and Low Sulphur Marine Gasoil. The latter is a fossil fuel but remains indispensable to allay any concerns about the supply of LNG and comply with ‘Safe Return to Port’ regulations. Electricity produced is stored in batteries with an increased capacity (4,500 kW), optimising energy efficiency and saving on fuel. This reserve also enables the ship to sail quietly and with no emissions for almost an hour.
Other innovations help reduce consumption, including DualFuel Wärtsilä31DF engines, the latest generation operating on natural gas with excellent energy performance; ice routing software developed with Adrena, a navigation software publisher; and a centralised energy recovery network supplying the ship’s heating and hot water system and the swimming pools. These electric motors drive five propeller blades and can rotate 360°. The ABB Azipods deliver the thrust required in all directions to provide great manoeuvrability in sea ice and help reduce energy consumption. Le Commandant Charcot is the first polar exploration ship to have this type of electric propulsion system.
The epitome of French Cuisine
For the first time at sea, the best of the best restaurants of Alain Ducasse is on board a ship. To this end, PONANT Executive Chef Florent Delfortrie, Restaurant Manager Baptiste Reignault, and Pastry Chef Michel Jureck on Le Commandant Charcot have undergone training at the Hôtel de Paris in Monaco with a top-level apprenticeship to understand the spirit of Alain Ducasse cuisine.
Having Alain Ducasse fine dining on Le Commandant Charcot is another stage in a partnership that began in 2016 between the company and Ducasse Conseil to provide healthy, gourmet and always elegant cuisine on PONANT ships. “I really like the idea that passengers will discover distant horizons, the rugged beauty of polar landscapes and so a complete change of scenery – and then for their meals, they will return to the soft atmospheres of these charming and elegant restaurants to enjoy refined French cuisine,” says Alain Ducasse.
The starting point is contemporary French cuisine but the various ports of call allow for exclusively local products to be infused, with a particular focus on purchasing produce from local fishermen as well as having a dedicated farm which all their meat is sourced from. It is clear that the PONANT team always ensures the high quality of their ingredients, meeting directly with their suppliers and tasting all products before serving to guests – as epitomised through their relationship with the Kaviari family caviar house.
Though each on board chef strives to add their own personal touch to the dishes, all are designed to meet the underpinning motto of health, elegance and quality – a trio that lies at the heart of each dining area. Three dining areas combine French and international influences to offer guests a cuisine that mirrors the desire to travel and discover flavours that appeal to all nationalities. Each restaurant offers its own unique take on the French dining experience, and motivated by a pervasive desire to improve, they are successful in creating an individual but unforgettable culinary experience:
Inneq (Fire): An open-air area on Deck 9 by the pools, Inneq offers international comfort food. Favourite dish: The black-truffle Croque Charcot sandwich is a distinguished signature dish that CANNOT be missed. Wafer thin layers of bread surrounding a creamy truffle infused pièce de résistance.
Nuna (Earth): Nuna embodies the ship’s fine dining experience; from the luxurious tableware to the exclusive fine wine cellar it is clear that this is a lavish location, one remarkably equipped to seat all guests in one sitting. The dinner menu combines signature Alain Ducasse gastronomic restaurant dishes from around the world with a shorter menu that changes daily. From grilled octopus with braised fennel to duck seared scallops with pumpkin and hazelnut (as well as an abundance of vegetarian options), the restaurant epitomises French hospitality. And, as expected there is always a French cheese board present! Favourite dinner dish: Egg 65° carbonara style with crispy bacon bits, parmesan and a hint of truffle oil. Why 65°c? The egg yolk begins to coagulate so it becomes custard-like and creamy.
Lunch à la carte is served in a casual chic ambience. Favourite dinner dish: A stunning sirloin steak. This is always on the menu and one of the best we have ever had. Tender, tasty and served with a béarnaise butter.
Sila (Sky): This is the buffet restaurant on Deck 9. This is the place for relaxed, informal meals with the same healthy, elegant gourmet cuisine. Favourite dishes: The croissant at breakfast with French honey is a must. For lunch, a creamy Caesar salad with plenty of toppings was a highlight.
The ship offers experiences both onboard and offshore with its vast activities, including snowshoeing, dogsledging, ice fishing, polar diving and swimming, hovercraft outings, zodiac outings, sea kayaking, and hiking.
Le Commandant Charcot also lectures with renowned experts, glaciologists, biologists, geographers and anthropologists, who will share their knowledge about the polar environment. This will help guests get the most out of their discovery of the poles and understand the challenges involved in preserving and exploring these areas.
Things to do
The ship is complete with an indoor pool, a wellness area, and a concept store.
The wellness area on Le Commandant Charcot is designed to bring guests into harmony with the elements: air, water, fire and earth. In the snow room, a combination of dry cold snow at -10°C was inspired by Finnish spas and is great for use after a session in the sauna to offer the hot-cold treatment benefits for blood circulation and immunity.
The 430 m2 area on Deck 9 includes an indoor pool, a winter garden (indoor relaxation area) with a detox bar, three treatment rooms, a hair salon, a nail bar and a sauna. PONANT has partnered with the Biologique Recherche brand in the spa, chosen for its innovative products, treatment protocols, and environmental approach.
Exclusive areas to discover
Promenade Deck: On Deck 5, guests can stroll right around the ship to the bow. There are benches heated by recycled energy where guests can contemplate the scenery despite the cold.
Atrium: The ship’s nerve centre containing the lobby and reception has a glass roof bathing the area in natural light. A nine-metre-high LED screen also features a changing digital work of art that you can admire from the panoramic lifts.
The Blue Lagoon: Just like the thermal baths in Reykjavik, there are two pools heated by recycled energy at the stern. This is the ideal spot to spend a few moments admiring the view. The pools are arranged around a giant fire pit with benches heated by recycled energy.
The Cigar Lounge: This special indoor lounge has a view to the outside and offers an extensive cigar menu which can be accompanied with rare, aged and fine spirits that all have a story and significance to Le Commandant Charcot. There is also always a bottle of Louis XIII of course, in true French style.
Art aboard Le Commandant Charcot
This centrepiece in the lobby also illustrates PONANT’s wish to promote art on all the oceans. Since 2018, when it launched its Art at Sea programme, the company has exhibited digital artworks, installations by contemporary artists and retrospectives on marine photographers. Art at Sea is a maritime tradition cherished by the company as ships have always welcomed artists and works of art aboard.
In a nutshell
Le Commandant Charcot offers a true once a lifetime experience if you are thinking of visiting The North Pole and Antarctica. The whole family at PONANT aim to raise awareness of the need to protect the poles. Thus, Le Commandant Charcot will not only be a luxury escape but a learning experience as well. Total immersion in these regions will awaken the senses, offering a new perspective of luxury in the most incredible natural environment.
To discover more, visit: uk.ponant.com
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All imagery courtesy of Ponant.