Ponant's ships are an exceptional combination of chic design and technological innovation, with an emphasis on environmentally friendly equipment.
Smaller than the existing ships, the new Explorer class vessels accommodate just over 180 guests in a selection of sea view staterooms and suites, all with access to at least a French balcony. Décor is low key and elegant - blue, teal and cream abound, with lovely touches such as a leather panel for the door number.
The sleek Scandi-style design extends around the ship - pale woods, some slatted, some organically curved, and set off by striking individual carpets, and lots of glass and aluminium. Fabrics and chairs evoke rope and string, while wall hangings remind us of a sun-kissed beach with bleached shells and mysterious creatures.
I couldn't wait to take a look at the much fêted Blue Eye, the underwater lounge at the bottom of the ship. Access is by lift and staircase - a little claustrophobic, I have to admit. Once inside, you focus on the two portholes, shaped like the eye of a cetacean and looking out upon the subaquatic world. Integrated digital screens project the images filmed live by three underwater cameras. The unique sound design reflects the view, and the sofas themselves (known as Body Listening sofas) vibrate in unison with the sights and sounds. The effect is extraordinary - although not seen to its best on a murky autumn day on the Thames!
More impressive to me are the infinity pool and hydraulic decks at the back of the ship, creating, where appropriate, a beautiful marina and pool club, with easy boarding and zodiac embarkation. This also allows easy access to the sea for swimming and watersports such as kayaking or paddle-boarding.
An outdoor grill gives excellent views over this deck area, whilst the Panoramic restaurant also gives onto outdoor aft deck space - there is a huge emphasis on the outside, whilst retaining plenty of comfortable indoor space for polar exploration when necessary.
Le Lapérouse leaves shortly for the Indian Ocean and thence to South East Asia, perfect locations for adventures in the water and ashore.
The company has recently announced a link with National Geographic, which means a number of designated itineraries will be operated in partnership with the National Geographic Expeditions team, with special enrichment such as a National Geographic photographer and destination expert.
When the Explorers fleet of six new ships is complete, Ponant moves on to something even more exciting, a true luxury icebreaker, Le Commandant Charcot, to be launched in 2021.
This will be the world's first electric hybrid polar exploration ship powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG). The icebreaker will feature perfected 'Clean Ship' fittings that go beyond the current industry-standard environmental regulations, including zero emissions when in electric hybrid mode, an energy management optimisation system, a waste heat recovery system and advanced waste water treatment.
The hybrid polar exploration ship will enable Ponant to explore uncharted territory, for example winter cruises through the ice field to Nunavut and Greenland, or visiting emperor penguins living on the Antarctic sea ice. Finally, the North Pole will no longer be merely an unreachable dream. The itineraries have been designed to minimise impact as much as possible and maximise learning by making the ship a mobile research observatory.