Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 (Berlitz Cruise Guide) (2016)
Ship: 404 out of 500
Accommodation: 155 out of 200
Food: 284 out of 400
Service: 299 out of 400
Entertainment: 72 out of 100
Cruise: 293 out of 400
Overall Score: 1507 out of 2000
Size: Small Ship
Cruise Line: Ponant Cruises
Former Names: none
IMO Number: 9502518
Builder: Fincantieri (Italy)
Original Cost: $100 million
Entered Service: May 2011
Registry: Wallis & Fortuna
Length (ft/m): 465.8/142.0
Beam (ft/m): 9.0/18.0
Draft (ft/m): 15.4/4.7
Propulsion/Propellers: diesel-electric (4,600kW)/2
Passenger Decks: 6
Total Crew: 140
Passengers (lower beds): 264
Passenger Space Ratio (lower beds): 41.4
Passenger/Crew Ratio (lower beds): 1.5
Cabins (total): 132
Size Range (sq ft/m): 215.2-301.3/20.0-28.0
Cabins (for one person): 0
Cabins (with private balcony): 125
Cabins (wheelchair accessible): 3
Wheelchair accessibility: Fair
Cabin Current: 110 and 220 volts
Casino (gaming tables): No
Slot Machines: Yes
Swimming Pools: 2
Hot Tubs (on deck): 0
Self-Service Launderette: No
Dedicated Cinema/Seats: No
Onboard currency: Euros
A contemporary ship and style to suit French speakers
Overview. L’Austral is best suited to young-minded couples and singles who want sophisticated facilities in a relaxed but chic yacht-like environment quite different to most cruise ships, with very good food and decent service. The ship is often chartered or part-chartered by ‘premium’ travel organizers who prefer smaller ships, such as Abercrombie & Kent, Gohagen, and Tauck Tours.
The Ship. One of three identical sister ships (the others are Le Boréal and Le Soléal) catering to French speakers, L’Austral (South Wind) is a gem of contemporary design - chic and uncluttered. With a dark gray hull and sleek white superstructure, it looks like a large private yacht rather than a traditional cruise ship. The passenger/space ratio, a healthy 53.5, decreases if the 40 suites that convert into 20 are all occupied by two persons.
L’Austral has a smart ‘sponson’ skirt built-in at the stern for operational stability, and carries a fleet of 12 Zodiac landing craft for soft expedition voyages. For Antarctic voyages, passenger numbers are kept to a maximum of 199, although the ship does not have boot storage lockers.
There is some sunbathing space outdoors forward of the funnel and around the small pool - aft of the casual eatery one deck below - together with one shower enclosure. Aft of the funnel is an outdoor bar (Copernico) and grill, but seating is limited.
Almost all public rooms are aft, with accommodation located forward; the elevators go to all decks except the uppermost one (Deck 7). The decor is minimalist and super-yacht chic - relaxing and pleasant, with lots of browns and creams and a splash of red here and there. Glitz is entirely absent, although there are many reflective surfaces and the overall feeling of the decor is cool rather than warm.
The focal point is the main lobby, with a central, circular seating and tiled floor surround; its small central section spans two decks. The other flooring is wood, which can be noisy. The lower decks of the main stairway are made of faux gray wood, while the upper decks are carpeted - a strange combination that somehow works.
This is all-inclusive cruising - except for spa treatments - with drinks, table wine for lunch and dinner, bottled mineral water, port charges, and Zodiac excursions on expedition-style cruises all included in the fare. The crew is English- and French-speaking, with many hotel service staff from Asia.
Passenger niggles? There’s no outside walking or jogging deck. The interior stairways are a quite steep and have short steps. The restaurant is noisy. The entertainment system is not user-friendly and internet connection is slow and expensive. Overall, it’s difficult for French-speaking and non-French-speaking passengers to mix.
Accommodation. Of the 132 suites/ cabins, there are three Prestige Suites with 301 sq ft plus a 54-sq-ft balcony (28 plus 5 sq m). Forty of the 94 deluxe cabins - 200 sq ft plus a 43-sq-ft balcony (18.6 plus 4 sq m) - can be combined into 20 larger suites, each with two bathrooms, and separate living area and bedroom. All cabinetry is made in elegant dark woods. A real plus is that there are no interior (no-view) cabins - all cabins have a view of the outside, and cabin insulation is good.
Each deluxe and standard cabin has a large ocean-view window, two beds that convert to a queen-size bed, and a long vanity desk with good lighting. Facilities include a TV set, DVD player, refrigerator, and personal safe. The marble-appointed bathrooms have large, rather heavy hand-held shower hoses. Amenities include a minibar, personal safe, hairdryer, bathrobe, and French bathroom products. Wi-Fi costs extra.
All other cabins have good-size beds, although the bedframe corners are square, so you need to be careful when passing between bed and a storage unit that’s quite large, with two deep drawers, refrigerator, television, and wall mirror. Other facilities include good-size wardrobe-style closet (armoire) with personal safe, and a vanity desk with drawer and a small shelf.
The small cabin bathrooms (the entrance door is only 20½ins/52cm wide) also have a sliding partition window that enables you to see through the cabin to the ocean, and a deep, half-size tub/shower combination. The lip between floor and bathroom is just over 6ins (16cm) high. Bottles of L’Occitane toiletry items are provided.
There are no shelves for toiletries, but there are two drawers under the washbasin - although they are not really practical in use. A separate cubicle houses the vacuum toilet. Balconies have faux wood decking and a fine (real) wood handrail, although solid paneling obstructs views when seated and makes the cabin seem dark - glass panels would have been nicer; the balconies are also narrow. The closet space is quite good, although the doors, with excellent white leather handles, are wide - at 31ins (79cm), they are wider than the cabin door, and can’t be opened without first closing the bathroom and toilet doors which are directly opposite.
Good quality bed linen, overlays, and cushions are provided, although there is no choice of pillows.
Dining. The main restaurant is chic but not pretentious. It accommodates all passengers in an open-seating arrangement and has two integral wine display cabinets (not temperature-controlled). The chairs are square and have thin armrests and low backs - but they look good. And the food? While appetizers and main course items are reasonably good but nothing special, the cakes and desserts are delightful.
A casual indoor/outdoor Grill (although there is no actual grill) has seating for up to 130, with self-serve buffet set-up for breakfast and lunch, and a ‘fast grill’ dinner in an alfresco setting. But the layout is disjointed, and the port and starboard sides are separated by two elevators. There are two main buffet display units (one for cold food, one for hot), and a separate table set-up for bread, and an active cooking station (eggs for breakfast, pasta dishes at lunchtime).
Entertainment. French Line, the showlounge/lecture hall, has amphitheater-style seating for 260, and a raised stage suited to concerts and cabaret. The production shows are weak, repetitive, and loud. The venue is also used for expert specialist lecturers, and expedition-style recaps. Two large pillars obstruct the sight lines from several seats.
Spa/Fitness. The Yacht Spa facilities include a fitness room with starboard-side ocean views, adjacent kinetic wall, and a steam room, but there’s no changing room. A wide range of massage and body treatments are provided by Carita of Paris, which staffs and oversees the facility.