Le Champlain Cruise Review

September 12, 2022  |  Share:

It’s not unreasonable to say Ponant Cruises is still in the process of making its name in the UK.

The French operator has been around since the late 1980s but remains a best-kept secret among a select band of discerning travellers. This, however, is all set to change. In recent years, Ponant has assembled one of the most modern – and diverse – fleets at sea.

The renovation of the flagship Le Ponant and the arrival of the icebreaker Le Commandant Charcot have only increased Ponant’s standing. Each year, word spreads further about the array of experiences they have to offer.

I recently joined Ponant and its UK team aboard Le Champlain for a short voyage from Dover to Bergen. The trip provided an excellent opportunity to learn more about what Ponant Cruises has to offer and experience first-hand why this unique line is quickly becoming the connoisseurs’ choice when it comes to small ship cruising.

Explorer Class

Le Champlain is one of six identical Explorer class vessels. The 188-guest ship debuted alongside Le Laperouse in 2018 and has since spent time in various locations, including the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Canada & New England. There’s a lot packed into its 131 metres, and the design neatly combines yacht-style elegance with some serious expedition-ready capabilities.


Pool Deck Le Champlain


Le Champlain offers everything you would expect to find on a luxury cruise ship where facilities and public areas are concerned. There’s a spa, a swimming pool (complete with counter-current technology), and a theatre to host lectures and guest speakers. As is standard on many expedition-style ships, you’ll also find a photography studio to help you hone your photo editing skills.

Of course, a ship this size will always need innovation to create space, but innovation is at the heart of Ponant’s Explorer fleet. Take, for example, the lounge; it’s not the biggest by any means, but the use of a mirrored ceiling expands the dimensions, giving the illusion it exists on two tiers. Likewise, the Observation Lounge on Deck 6 is intimate in layout and design but opens out to the world with floor-to-ceiling windows and access to the outside for unbeatable views. This connection to nature through clever design is a massive feature of Le Champlain; natural light is almost always present, even in the bathroom (more on that later).


The Lounge Le Champlain


One of the most important aspects of a small ship is how it interacts with a destination. Does its presence add something to the surroundings? Or is it out of place, perhaps too gaudy or unsightly? With its deep navy hull, streamlined sides and flashes of the Ponant brand, Le Champlain is a genuinely eye-catching vessel. From the top of Bergen’s Mount Floyen, the ship’s appearance has more in common with a private yacht than your typical cruise ship. After disembarkation, a passerby stopped me, curious about what it was like onboard. If anything, this confirmed Le Champlain’s head-turning attractiveness, and I’d imagine such portside conversations are frequent on longer voyages.

Ponant’s Explorers also offer countless ways to explore each destination; Le Champlain carries a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks for sightseeing, access to the shore, and small group excursions. Even if you stay aboard, the spacious decks provide wonderfully comfortable seating to take in the scenery and nearby landscapes.


Blue Eye Lounge Le Champlain


Saving the best till last – Ponant’s exclusive Blue Eye Lounge is truly impressive. Accessible via a staircase on Deck 1, the multisensory lounge transports you to the world below the waterline. The interior design – which mimics the inside of a whale – is breathtaking and unlike anything else at sea. Here, you can relax on gently vibrating sofas while taking in the views through two ‘whale eyes’. It’s utterly relaxing but also extremely inspiring. I can only imagine watching the passing marine life while tendered in a tropical destination such as the Caribbean or Seychelles.

Home comforts – with a French twist



My accommodation for the trip was a Prestige Stateroom (515) located on Deck 5. The Prestige Stateroom is one of seven suite and stateroom grades available on Le Champlain, ranging from the Deluxe Stateroom to the Owner’s Suite. It’s worth mentioning that all accommodations benefit from a private balcony, though the lower grades have a steel facade rather than glass.

The amenities in my suite were comparable to those I’ve experienced on several six-star cruise lines. The bed provided two nights of excellent sleep, and room service is only a telephone call away. There’s a sitting area with a reading lamp, a vanity area, and a decent-sized wardrobe with plenty of hangers and shelves.

The entertainment centre was easy to use, boasting a vast library of movies and TV shows. I loved watching the views from the Bridge camera channel – though I’d prefer not to have seen the North Sea’s rolling waves ominously laying in wait! Those looking to bring their electronic gadgets will get plenty of use from the USB charger points, while the black-out curtains did a great job of cutting out any natural light, especially at sunrise.

The bathroom layout was a surprise, with the toilet in a separate room to the sink and shower. It’s slightly strange that there’s no sink nearby, but you get used to it. According to Ponant, they wanted guests sharing the suite to be able to access the toilet even when the shower is in use.

That’s not the only oddity either; the bathroom wall has a clear glass panel, from which you can see directly out into the bedroom and through the veranda. Again, Ponant is always looking for ways to connect the ship with nature. Thankfully, including a sliding panel means you can always opt for more privacy (I’d imagine this comes in handy when docked in a busy port).

The Cuisine

Nautilus is the main dining venue on Le Champlain. Breakfast and lunch consist mainly of buffet options, but you can order hot dishes if you choose to do so. The evening meal is à la carte with two or three choices for each course.


Restaurant Le Champlain


I found the cuisine to be of a high standard, and despite the Ponant’s origins, it’s not all French fine dining. For instance, if Foie Gras isn’t for you, the mouthwatering prime rib eye steak may satisfy your tastebuds. If not, you’ll find the alternative menu brimming with standards such as burgers, avocado salads, and locally-sourced fish.

Three reasons to choose Le Champlain

#1 – The best of both worlds

Le Champlain is the perfect combination of a five-star yacht and an expedition ship. This vessel fits the bill if you’re looking for adventure-ready facilities but don’t necessarily want to compromise on onboard luxury.

#2 – Sustainability

Ponant Cruises is committed to protecting the environment. Le Champlain and her sister ships have catalytic converters running 24 hours a day, meaning there’s a 90% reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions. Like many, they’ve banished single-use plastics (all guests receive a complimentary metal water bottle). Furthermore, Ponant partners with organisations such as the Respect Ocean Network and carry CLEANSHIP certification, attesting to responsible tourism.

#3 – The itineraries

Le Champlain is the ideal choice for exploring a range of destinations worldwide. We highly recommend the ship’s sailings in the Indian Ocean, particularly the Essential Seychelles voyage. The nine-day itinerary offers immerse exploration of the archipelago’s inner islands, including a visit to Sainte Anne Marine National Park. Alternatively, choose a journey in partnership with National Geographic, and you’ll benefit from a fantastic programme of guest speakers and a series of curated excursions.

Find out more

If you’d like to learn more about Le Champlain or find out more about Ponant Cruises, please call our team of Voyage Consultants on 0800 008 6677. Also, if you’d like to discuss the ship in detail with me, you can email david@cruiseline.co.uk or message us via our Facebook page.

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