Le Bellot: Bringing French class to cruising

Richard Humphreys sails on Ponant’s newest Explorer ship ahead of its christening ceremony in Honfleur
Le Bellot: Bringing French class to cruising
Ponant's Le Bellot sailed from Tower Bridge in London to Honfleur, France, for its christening ceremony (Image: CFR)

By Richard Humphreys |

French-owned luxury cruise operator Ponant recently held a private christening ceremony for Le Bellot in Honfleur, France.

The ship, which is is the sixth in Ponant’s Explorer class, was launched in March 2020 but did not have a christening ceremony due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Over two years later, the ship, which has sailed to various destinations during this period, including the Seychelles, Norway and the South Pacific, has finally been officially named during a ceremony in the presence of the ship’s godmother, Adélaïde De Clermont-Tonnerre, and other dignitaries.

Following the christening, Le Bellot will soon be cruising again, starting with its ‘Iceland Voyage: Land of Fire and Ice’ on 6 June. Following its stint in Iceland, the ship will cruise to North America, with itineraries such as, ‘Natural wonders of Greenland and Canada’, ‘A voyage along the Great Lakes’ and ‘From Canada to the American East Coast’. In winter 2022-2023, Le Bellot will visit the Caribbean, Central America and the Azores.

For Le Bellot’s ‘Voyages’ to Iceland and the Great Lakes, Ponant is collaborating with Smithsonian Journeys, the travel programme of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum, education and research complex. Ponant offers 36 Smithsonian-partnered itineraries across its fleet, and all are focused on culture and history. Two experts from the Smithsonian Institution will board Le Bellot to deliver reports, lectures and presentations in the 188-seat theatre, which is equipped with the latest sound and lighting technology and a LED wall.

Ponant also has an exclusive partnership with National Geographic, typically on polar and tropical expeditions. This partnership covers the entire world, except for the USA where the luxury cruise operator has an aforementioned partnership with the Smithsonian instead.

Guests sailing on the National Geographic expeditions will be joined onboard their ship by two experts that specialise in a particular field relevant to the destination where the ship is sailing. They could include photographers, marine biologists, glaciologists, and others.

These experts will have conversations with guests about what is seen not seen while at sea, their experiences, the destination, and conduct onboard presentations, briefings and debriefings about their research pertaining to the region they’re in.

Excursions are also a key part of a Ponant cruise, so much so that it has a fleet of Zodiac boats to take guests to various locations for onshore excursions and remote exploration. These Zodiacs allow Ponant to take guests further inland than they could go on a cruise ship can, as well as to remote locations for activities such as diving.

Le Bellot, like the other five Explorer ships, can carry 184 passengers in 92 cabins, all of which have a balcony or an outdoor area. Renowned architect and interior designer Jean-Philippe Nuel was responsible for the interior design on Le Bellot, and all Ponant’s Explorer-class ships. The interior of Le Bellot feels like a rustic, boutique hotel. Generally, guests will find that there is a lot of open space and natural light – even in the cabins where the design allows natural light to reach the shower.

Nuel used bespoke designs from Ulster Carpets as part of a signature style on Le Bellot. He has also undertaken a similar approach with Ulster Carpets on Ponant’s Le Lapérouse, Le Champlain, Le Bougainville, Le Dumont-d’Urville, Le Jacques Cartier and Le Commandant Charcot. (Find out more about the design considerations for Le Commandant Charcot in our interview with designer Jean-Michel Wilmotte and Ponant’s Mathieu Petiteau in Cruise & Ferry Interiors 2022, which will be published in June).

A highlight on all the Explorer ships is the Blue Eye Lounge – a multi-sensory area where guests can enjoy a glass of champagne and the underwater experiences from the safety of the ship. The lounge has two large windows that look out onto the seabed, while non-intrusive underwater spotlights reveal the views and hydrophones built into the keel that carry the underwater noises. ‘Body Listening’ sofas also add to the experience, vibrating in unison with the sounds. It is typically open on select evenings, although access can be requested by guests with advanced notice.

Guests aboard Le Bellot will also enjoy French hospitality in the ship’s dining venues. The main restaurant, located on Deck 4, can accommodate all 184 guests in one sitting and has panoramic views. It has also been designed differently to other Ponant ships as the dining space opens on to an al fresco area. Since 2016, Ponant has partnered with Ducasse Conseil, a catering centre of excellence run by French chef Alain Ducasse (owner of 21 Michelin stars), so guests can expect fine dining throughout their cruise.

Guests can also visit Deck 3 for a more relaxed atmosphere, with an outdoor grill serving grilled meats, salads and desserts.

With fine dining, unique excursions and destinations, and partnerships with National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institution, Ponant’s motto of ‘Explore to Inspire’ seems a fitting one.

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