While preparing for this cruise I found it very difficult to get any real information about Ponant cruises and our itinerary. I wrote some notes once I was on board and they are below.
Before that though I need to say one thing, and it mimics what some others have experienced, is that the French speaking passengers get much better service in the dining venues than anyone else. We were 2/3 English speaking on our cruise but many of the French staff either ignored us completely or made us feel like second class citizens. Other staff on board like the bar, room and service desk personnel were quite friendly. The on-board naturalists where always smiling and always had a friendly word no matter who you were. Ponant needs to deal with this issue.
Now my notes:
Ponant L'Astral Great Barrier Reef March 6, 2018
We found the Ponant site very confusing and it had very limited information. There was no-where to book excursions or any on board items. The site claims documents will arrive electronically 30+ days before departure. Ours were emailed to us 26 days before departure. We were already travelling so we were unable to make specific preparations based on this information.
We arrived at the White Bay Cruise Terminal in Sydney at about 2:00pm. Our bags were taken and we proceeded into the terminal. There were already about 20 people there. We were advised boarding would start at 4:00pm. There was plenty of seating (along 2 sides of the room), washrooms, free bottled water, but no wifi. There was a snack bar but it was not open. There was a vending machine where you could get pop and candies.
About half an hour prior to boarding, one of the ships staff started to hand out embarkation numbered tickets. These would be used to determine the order for embarkation. He had about 25-30 of each number starting at 1. He started to hand these out at one side of the room, from the front closest to the checkin counters, then after completing the row went to the top of the other side moving toward the checkin counters. Most of the early arrivals were given tickets about half way through, so arriving early did not necessarily mean you would board early. We just happened to be in the right spot to get a number 1 ticket. if you want to get on early watch for this process to start and go up to the man and get your teickets.
The staff also handed out a medical questionaire which need to be completed. The only items of concern were if you had a fever prior to boarding.
Checkin was quick, they checked our passport pictures to us then handed us our keys. We then proceeded through a quick security screening then on to the ship. On entry to the ship we had our photo taken for the ship security system (we have always had this done prior to boarding on other cruise lines), our sea passes were scanned and we were escorted to our rooms. Our bags were not yet in the staterooms.
Drinks and snacks were available in the main lounge on deck 3. The snacks did not last long.
Cabin seems very workable, no better or worse than other cruise lines we have been on. Other reviews have pointed out that the toilet is in a separate room from the sink and shower. We did not see this as an issue. The sink had 2 drawers below it, side by side with plenty of room to store toiletries. My bottle of mouth wash was able to stand up so it is quite tall.
Aircon worked well. Two wide air ducts sat along the top of the length of the room providing good coverage and air flow. There is a seperate temperature control in the room.
Fairly large flat screen TV which showed on demand movies and tv shows. Also has access to the front camera. Daily activities are also listed. One thing that is not available is your stateroom account. For this you have to see reception. There seemed no way to change the TV input but I was able to connect my iPad to the TV using an HDMI adapter and cable and play videos. Only issue was I was unable to change the volume.
There is a long flat surface along the wall that has space for your things. On it is a telephone, a table lamp, and a clock with iPod connector and speekers (will not fit a lightning device). Under this surface at one end are 2x2 drawers, about 18 inches tall by 36 inches wide. And a ottoman. On the wall above this surface are 2 power plugs. One has a single European 220V plug, and the 2nd has both a European 220V and an American 110V plug.
Storage is plentiful. Bed allows for multiple suitcases to be store underneath. I mentioned the 4 drawers previously. There is are 2 full height doors for wardrobe. One side has a couple of shelves and the safe. There are 4 drawers below that for storage, the top one has the hair dryer in it. The lefthand side is your typical wardrobe with hangers.
There is a small round table with a single chair. Not sure how 2 people have in-room dining in the cabin though. On each side of the bed there are shelves, open underneath. You also have reading lights.
The king size bed (which can be made into 2 twins) is comfortable and you get 4 pillows to start with. There is a page in the room binder showing other pillows you can order. We got 2 ergonomic pillows but our cabin steward didn't want to take away any of the existing ones. We also found the duvet to be quite hot so our steward added a sheet to the bed so we could throw off the duvet if we wanted.
The cabins on deck 3 all have balconies but the railing wall is sold metal, unlike the cabins on higher floors. This means you cannot sit on the balcony and see anything. Wasn't a huge deal for us. There were 2 wicker chairs and a small table. Note, because you are quite low on the ship our balconies were often wet and had salt spray. Parts of our trip were quite rough so this happened often.
Bathroom has a makeup mirror and a power plug for raisers. 2 small shelves, maybe 4" by 12" on the left beside the sink for toiletries. On the wall between the bathroom and bedroom there is a sliding door which opens a glass wall looking into half of the bathroom. Presumably for light and to make the room look bigger. Wasted space in my mind. Shower is a good size, rectangular and a good shower head streaming lots of water. No problem getting hot water.
They offer 3 plans: 100 minutes for 30E, 240 minutes for 60E, and 1,000 minutes for 180E. I opted for the 240 minute plan. You can log only one device in at a time and must log off that device to let your roommate log in. We used a router which allowed us to run multiple devices at the same time. Worked well for us. For quick logins to check email, weather, etc the 240 minute plan worked for us. I think we had maybe 7 minutes left on it at the end of the cruise. You must remember to log off though.
Internet is satellite based so slow but I was able to use a virtual desktop and response was bearable. Outlook IMAP syncing was slow so I used my iPhone for email most of the time. Everything I tried worked. It did not seem like they blocked any sites.
Guests from deck 3&4 met with the captain at 7:00 on deck 6. Guests on deck 5&6 met at 7:15. The doors to the MDR were to open when this event completed. The event started late and the speeches ran long. Doors opened just before 8:00. Dress was more upscale, no shorts etc. Most men did not wear ties or jackets but some did. All were in long pants and at least a shirt with collar. Dinner was a fixed 6 course menu, 2 choices, regular or vegetarian. You could switch mains or appetizers but hot for hot or cold for cold. So limited choices. It was all very good but with an 8:00 start we left at 9:30 before dessert was served.
The deck 6 (buffet) menu was more extensive and included roasted turkey which we were told was very good.
This was a 2-stage process. First we were all required to attend an introduction in the theatre where the staff was introduced and a welcome message from the Captain. We then had a life on board presentation. This lasted about 1 hour. Next everyone went back to their rooms and got their life jackets, put them on with the help of staff, and we returned to the theatre. Each person was checked off a list so that all guests were accounted for. This was followed by a talk on the process in the event of an evacuation. There are 2 lifeboats, one for each side of the theatre.
The cruise is drink inclusive, which means there is always a white, rose & red wine available. These are supposed to change daily but our experience was they changed maybe 3 times during the cruise. Some were better than others. Also included are a couple of types of beer, Heineken and bud light if memory serves, and many cocktails; none top shelf. For top shelf you pay full price. A grey goose martini set me back 9 euros for a shot and a bit. For the most part it was free flowing and the included stuff you could order from anyone. The lounge often had a couple of different reds and whites on offer.
A number in our group required the services of the doctor due to chest problems. The doctor and nurse were friendly and for a short visit and some small drugs cost about 70 euros per person. Longer term treatments would be more.
On our first day to stop we had a dry landing so they used the tenders. On one of the sea days prior they gave a presentation on the activities available. There was an included 4 hour excursion and a few optionals. Some of the optionals would only run in the morning or afternoon because of tides so we were asked to sign up for the optionals by noon the following sea day. Once they had this info they placed each cabin into one of 4 colors, red, yellow, blue and green. These would be our colors going forward. That afternoon we collected our snorkel gear by cabin numbers. At that time they gave us a color sticker for our sea pass. That evening we had a briefing about the next days excursions at which they identified which colors would go out at which time. The actual process of getting on the tender and returning was a breeze.
The Main Dining Room on deck 2 is full table service. Doors open at 7:30 (or per daily plan) but you can come any time after that (except on gala nights where everyone is served at the same time). There are usually 2 soup and 2 salad choices, and 3-4 appetizer, main and dessert choices. There are also 3-4 always available mains such as a hamburger or rib-eye steak, and a couple of always available desserts such as Creme Brule. Dining is leisurely, especially if you are not french speaking, and you will likely take a good 90 minutes for dinner. Longer on gala nights.
The more casual dining room on deck 6 is always a buffet with a main carvery that changes daily. Reservations are required as it cannot hold all of the guests but we never seemed to have a problem getting one. Dining here can be as fast or as slow as you want but we always felt rushed to finish. The staff did not do anything to speed us along, it is just the buffet style seemed to foster a much faster meal.
We took almost all of our meals in the MDR but then a couple in our group did the opposite so it is really a personal choice. All in all the food was quite good in both venues although my wife had difficulty finding a main she wanted in the MDR. One night they had 3 fish selections out of 5 choices.
That's all I have for now. If you have specific questions feel free to ask.