Deborah Stone reviews Compagnie Du Ponant’s newest luxury expedition ship

Expedition ships can be tough as old boots with Boy’s Own fittings and plain but wholesome food. Not Compagnie du Ponant’s expedition ships, though, and definitely not Le Soléal.

The 264-passenger ship was built specifically for Polar expeditions with state-of-the-art navigational equipment to negotiate icy waters.

It’s the first French passenger ship to sail through the Northern Passage, but its private yacht ambiance also makes it perfect for its winter itineraries around Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam before heading back to the Mediterranean in 2014.

Le Soléal has sleek, classic lines and is cool, contemporary and very chic on the inside, as you would expect from France’s only cruise line. Stylish simplicity is key, and the stripped wood-style floors and wood veneer walls with smoky brown and cream décor suggest a boutique hotel.

Staterooms have crisp white bed linen with soft brown throws and a signature dash of turquoise. The bathrooms have a glass panel wall so you can see past the comfortable hotel-style bed onto the balcony and beyond while you luxuriate in the walk-in power shower using the full range of L’Occitane toiletries.

Other welcome touches include a free mini-bar of soft drinks, wi-fi access (packages start from €30 for 100 minutes) iPod dock, bathrobes and videos on demand.

The Restaurant Gastronomique has white-leather chairs and creamy-white décor. While at the partly al fresco Grill Restaurant there’s often a chef cooking giant prawns and grilling fish kebabs and salmon to order on deck.

The Grand Salon, a large lounge with super-soft leather sofas and armchairs, hosts afternoon tea with exquisite mini fruit tarts, tiny madeleines and elegant brownies. As for evening meals expect good French food, with a clean flavour and light taste, including lobster tails that still taste of the sea. Drinks at lunch and dinner are free, and drinks packages for the bar are €30pp per day.

There are 10 Zodiac boats for getting up close to wildlife and inaccessible coasts, two speed boats and six double-sea canoes. Arctic and Antarctic Zodiac shore outings are included, but there are also paid-for cultural excursions that passengers can opt for when the ship is in the Far East or Mediterranean. You can go swimming or snorkelling from the drop-down deck on the back of the ship, and there’s a reasonably-big gym with sea views plus a compact, but lovely, spa offering beauty treatments, as well as a good-sized pool on deck.

The French beach-house style of the rooms reinforces this home-from-home feel. Shells, coral, fish sculptures and large ceramic vases adorn the Grand Salon and Salon Panoramique.

But it is the open-air bar overlooking the swimming pool that gives Le Soléal a real private yacht atmosphere, which is exactly what Compagnie du Ponant is aiming for.

You can have a James Bond Zodiac boat adventure, then join the beautiful people back on board. It’s the perfect ship for stylish cruises.

Click to find out more: Compagnie du Ponant

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