As this trip was designed exclusively for travel agents, the Ponant staff were able to share with us news about the fleet, their future itineraries and exclusive features of Le Champlain. With every ship designed with exploration and sustainability in mind, they are created to push further into locations that only a small cruise ship can enter; from anchoring in Dubrovnik harbour to traversing the Corinth canal. 'Explore to inspire' is their tag line and inclusivity is at its heart, if you can take five steps without needing support and can step into a bath, you will be able to travel on a Ponant expedition cruise.
Over the following two days, we were treated to talks, workshops, stateroom viewings and delicious meals, all to help us understand life on board and the service and amenities guests can experience. The talks and workshops really helped me understand more of what the company is trying to achieve, the itineraries Le Champlain will be sailing and the activities that are offered on board. The idea that you can kayak in Indonesia, use the hydraulic platform to take zodiacs for landings and visit the bridge 24 hours a day, seems really amazing to a newbie like me!
The ship has been designed with comfort and relaxation in mind, from the smooth, rounded wooden features throughout the ship, to the teal colour palette that reminds you of crystal clear waters. The lounges at the forward and aft of the ship each have their own atmosphere, with the panoramic lounge feeling like a cosy, Scandinavian living room filled with books and steaming hot drinks and the main lounge, a place to congregate and get to know fellow guests over a glass or two of something fizzy. These lounges and the panoramic terrace and the pool deck were fantastic places to enjoy watching the scenery sail past.
Seeing photographs of the interior of the ship before embarking, I can happily say that no filters have been used; the sauna really does look as beautiful as the images and it was so serene, I really should have spent more time there and I am sure it will be a highlight for every guest. However, in my opinion the absolute jewel of the vessel has to be the Blue Eye lounge, an underwater bar, 3 metres below the surface of the water. The concept is based on being inside a whale and experiencing the sights and sounds that they do; with dark blue lighting, recordings of previous or current underwater activities from the hydrophones attached to the ship's hull and seating that reflects the sound vibrations. When cruising finer climes, such as The Seychelles and French Polynesia, the 18cm thick portholes on each side of the space allow guests to watch the local marine life, whilst the hydrophones transmit live into the space.
By combining comfort with exploration, Le Champlain is the ultimate luxury small cruise ship, which has the ability to dare and go beyond the norm. I had a fabulous time on board, met the knowledgeable staff and attentive crew and made new friends with the other travel agents on Ponant's first "Seminar at Sea".