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: 295 out of 400
Overall Score: 1509 out of 2000
Le Soleal Statistics
Size: Small Ship
Cruise Line: Ponant Cruises
Former Names: none
IMO Number: 9641675
Builder: Fincantieri (Italy)
Original Cost: $100 million
Entered Service: Jul 2013
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: 0
Dedicated Cinema/Seats: No
Onboard currency: Euros
French ambience and small mega-yacht chic
Overview. Le Soléal is geared to young-minded couples and singles who want semi-sophisticated facilities in a relaxed but stylish yacht-like environment quite different from most cruise ships, with reasonably good food and 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 a trio of identical sister ships catering mainly to French speakers, Le Soléal is contemporary - chic and uncluttered. With a dark gray hull and sleek white superstructure, the ship looks more like a large private yacht rather than a traditional cruise ship.
The ship has a smart ‘sponson’ skirt built in at the stern - this is for operational stability - and carries a fleet of 12 Zodiac landing craft for soft expedition voyages. There is some sunbathing space outdoors forward of the funnel and around the small pool - aft of a casual eatery located one deck below - together with a shower enclosure.
Almost all the public rooms are located in the aft section, 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. However, there are many reflective surfaces and the overall feeling of the decor is cool rather than warm and cosseting.
The focal point of the interior 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 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 - every cabin has an outside view. Cabin insulation is also good, so you won’t hear your neighbor easily.
The deluxe and standard cabins have 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 bathrooms are marble-appointed, but they have very heavy hand-held shower hoses. Amenities include a minibar, personal safe, hairdryer, bathrobe, and French (L’Occitane) personal bathroom products. Wi-Fi costs extra.
All other cabins have good-size beds, although the bedframe corners are square, - so 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 decent enough, although the doors, with nice 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 - or even warm. It accommodates all passengers in an open-seating arrangement and has two integral wine display cabinets (not temperature-controlled). The chairs are rather square and have very 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.
An indoor/outdoor Grill has casual seating for up to 130, with self-serve buffet set-up for breakfast and lunch, and a ‘fast grill’ dinner in an alfresco setting. The layout is disjointed, and port and starboard sides are separated by two elevators. There are two main buffet display units - one for cold food, one for hot, plus a separate table set-up for bread and an active cooking station (eggs for breakfast, pasta at lunchtime, for example).
Entertainment. The showlounge, which doubles as a lecture hall, has amphitheater-style seating for 260, and a raised stage for concerts and cabaret-style entertainment. The production shows are weak, repetitive, and loud, but they do have a sort of French flair about them. The venue is also used for expedition-style recaps and lectures, but 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 is no changing room. A wide range of massage and body treatments are provided by Carita of Paris, which staffs and oversees the facility.