We've spoken a lot recently about the sleek design of the new ships and their technological innovations, including the Blue Eye underwater lounge and the hydraulic marina at the rear of the ship.
What we haven't talked about so much is the way that the expanded fleet will allow Ponant to spread out over the globe, cruising to ever more unusual and exciting destinations. Here are five itineraries that have caught our eye:
1. Bijagos Archipelago, Guinea-Bissau
The Bijagos Archipelago is a destination that is likely to have even the most seasoned adventurers reaching for a map. These idyllic (and mostly uninhabited) islands belong to the nation of Guinea-Bissau, and are renowned for their wildlife. You'll explore palm-fringed beaches and mangroves by zodiac, with the chance to spot crocodiles, turtles, monkeys and the rare saltwater hippo. You'll also visit the local Bidyogo people and learn about their unique matriarchal society, with a way of life that has barely changed in thousands of years. Le Dumont d'Urville visits the archipelago in October 2019 and April 2020, sailing from Dakar, Senegal.
2. Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico
The Yucatán Peninsula is surprisingly neglected by cruise ships, but that's all set to change this year when Le Champlain begins sailing round-trip itineraries out of Puerto Morelos. Highlights include Seybaplaya, jumping off point for colonial Campeche, and an overnight stop in Progreso, which allows you to explore the famous Mayan cities of Chichén Itzá and Uxmal. You'll also have the opportunity to snorkel on the world's second largest barrier reef and visit the spectacular seafront ruins at Tulum. There are numerous sailings from November 2019 through to February 2020, with direct flights from the UK to Cancún with British Airways.
3. Sub-Antarctic Islands, New Zealand
New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands are sometimes known as 'the Galapagos of the Southern Ocean', renowned for their biodiversity and plethora of endemic wildlife. Le Lapérouse makes two trips to the islands in January and February 2020, with highlights including huge king penguin rookeries on Macquarie Island, the rare yellow-eyed penguin on Enderby Island, and remote Campbell Island, home to six different species of albatross.
4. The Azores, Portugal
Plenty of cruises stop off in the Azores en route from Europe to North America on a transatlantic voyage, but it's rare to see a cruise dedicated entirely to exploring the archipelago. Discover stunning volcanic scenery and fascinating history on board Le Champlain, with highlights including the UNESCO-listed town of Angra do Heroismo, the spectacular cliffs of São Jorge and the towering volcano of Pico. Le Champlain sails two round-trips from Ponta Delgada in April 2020, with flights to the Azores via Lisbon.
5. Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles
The Aldabra Atoll is a collection of remote coral islands that deserves a place on your bucket list, home to a staggering 100,000 giant tortoises, more than anywhere else on earth. You'll snorkel amongst sea turtles and colourful fish, and visit islands home to species including giant crabs, red-footed boobies and giant trevallies, the bird-eating fish made famous by the BBC's 'Blue Planet II'. Le Bougainville operates several itineraries visiting Aldabra between December 2019 and April 2020, sailing from the Seychelles' main island of Mahé.