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Cruise the Fjords and Glaciers of Spitsbergen with Ponant

Friday 7th Jul 2023

One of our cruise specialists, Emmy, was lucky enough to join Ponant on an adventure of a lifetime to Spitsbergen. Read Emmy's blog for a full insight into how truly amazing this journey was.

I was recently given the incredible opportunity to join Ponant on their cruise to the majestic fjords and stunning glaciers of Svalbard, which is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to a bucket-list destination. I couldn't believe my luck, and I can honestly say that it exceeded all of my expectations. Ponant is a French cruise line that specialises in expedition cruises while maintaining an unrivalled level of luxury. They provide five-star cruises on their mega-yachts, which are designed to cruise to the most remote areas of the world in style and luxury while serving the highest standards of French cuisine and providing world-class service.

Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago located between Norway and the North Pole in the Arctic Ocean. Previously known as Spitsbergen, the archipelago was discovered in 1596 by a Dutch navigator who wrote in his diary that he had sailed into the 'Pointed Mountains,' which is the direct Dutch translation (Spits = Pointed and Bergen = Mountains). To protect this area of natural beauty, the 'Svalbard Treaty' was established in 1920, and Norway took over the territory and renamed it Svalbard. It is home to some of the most spectacular wildlife on the planet, including Arctic Foxes, Walruses, Wild Reindeer, a variety of bird species ranging from Guillemots to Kittawake, Whales, Seals, and, of course, the king of the North, the POLAR BEAR! It is also home to impressive glaciers and scenic fjords. Relatively untouched by human presence, it is a truly off-grid fragile yet spectacular environment. A true adventurers paradise.

Emmy and Sam Onboard L'Austral L'Austral's Onboard Pool The Group on a Shore Excursion L'Austral My Cabin for This Adventure The Cabin's Vanity The View From The Cabin Balcony Chartered Flight from Charles de Gaulle Airport

The luxurious experience began when we arrived at Charles de Gualle airport for our charter flight to Longyearbyen. We checked our bags in Paris, and the next time we saw them was in our cabins in Svalbard! Ponant invited us to a welcome breakfast in the airport, which allowed us to meet our fellow passengers before embarking on an adventure together. Ponant chartered our flight to Longyearbyen, and we were blown away by the service, which was impeccable, as was the food! There was a sudden chorus of WOWS as we descended into Svalbard. It's probably one of the best views you'll ever see from a plane. The vast landscape of snow-capped mountains with the backdrop of the glistening sun was breathtaking. A real insight into what you were about to experience on the week ahead. After landing and exiting the plane, we were in our cabin in under 20 minutes. The smoothest and easiest travel experience I have ever had. I even saw a wild reindeer on the way, just the first of many wildlife sightings I would have in the coming week.

My first impressions as I saw the L'Austral in the distance was that of surprise and excitement. Excitement for the adventure laying ahead of us and surprise as she looked like an elegant yacht you would expect to see moored off the coast of Cannes, not a Class 1C ice breaker capable of sailing the icy waters of the Arctic. This theme carried on throughout, a crystal chandelier spanning three decks adorns the atrium, a very classy touch. The entire ship exuded a warm and welcoming atmosphere while maintaining an utterly timeless elegance. We were led to our cabin, which was immaculately clean and well-appointed. We stayed on deck four in the Prestige stateroom, which is 58.8m2 and has a 4m2 private balcony. The cabin was large and full of amenities, including a mini bar and a coffee machine, as well as 24-hour room service. I frequently had breakfast delivered to my bed, which was extremely comfortable and had a large pillow menu! Everything was done to make your stay a home away from home. My top recommendation for this cruise is to spend a little extra money on a balcony cabin. Summer in Svalbard is a unique experience because the sun never sets, resulting in 24 hours of daylight, also known as "The Midnight Sun." The balcony was great for spotting wildlife; in fact, I saw a seal laying on an ice flow right next to my cabin!

Aside from my cabin, one of my favourite areas on the ship was the heated outdoor pool. It was quite special to sit and relax while the sun was beating down on you, but also to have the crisp Arctic air and the passing snow-capped mountains reminding you of where you were. In your spare time, you could also use the Hammam sauna and gym, or simply relax in the panorama lounge, watching the world go by while being serenaded by live singers or pianists. The crew onboard is faultless, taking the time to learn your name, favourite drink at the bar and even where you prefer to sit in the dining room. On our sailing, there were more crew members than guests, which allowed them to go the extra mile and provide the extra attention to detail that distinguishes Ponant as truly luxurious.

The Atrium Onboard L'Austral L'Austral at Sea Caesar Salad Dessert L'Austral Sailing Through Ice Floes

The food was excellent and plentiful, as it is on most French cruise lines. The ship has two restaurants: the grill restaurant, which has a more relaxed atmosphere and serves buffet breakfasts, lunches, and themed dinners, and the Gastronomic restaurant, which is more of an elegant affair and serves refined French cuisine. If you wanted something more relaxed, you could order from the daily specials menu or the 'always available' menu. Each restaurant could seat all passengers at once, and all passengers were invited to the captain's dinner and farewell evening. It gave you a chance to put your best outfits on and enjoy a 7-course set menu featuring dishes ranging from duck Fois-gras to Halibut fillet with caviar thrown in for good measure... a true taste sensation. After dinner, it was nice to head up to the theatre for the evening entertainment, which included a cocktail or glass of champagne. The beverage menu was extensive. The ship's lounge or theatre hosted the entertainment, which ranged from hosting country music evenings to a full-fledged showgirl production.

The landings are, of course, the main attraction on an expedition cruise. On the first day of the cruise, we were invited to the theatre for a full safety briefing on 'what to expect' from boarding and disembarking the Zodiacs to keeping an eye out for Polar bears! This was our first chance to meet the entire expedition team and learn about what we would see and experience over the next week. We were all given free Ponant parkas and boots to get us ready for the adventures that lay ahead. We're keeping our fingers and toes crossed for a polar bear sighting!

Each day, we eagerly walked down to the platform to board our Zodiacs for the landing. We were able to visit Brepollen and Gnalodden fjords and hike to a viewing point where a waterfall descended from the glacier. This was a fantastic spot for keen photographers and birdwatchers, as it was home to many different species of birds. We also went to Bamsebu, a private cabin on Cape Tuscany that is more famous for 'Kvitfiskstranda,' a beach with an estimated 550 beluga whale skeletons - a whale bone graveyard! Whaling is now illegal in Svalbard, but it is a valuable piece of history to remind us of how far we have come. We also visited Recherchefjorden where a lagoon was present after the winter thaw. It was an eye-opening experience because this lagoon exists only when the glaciers recede due to warmer summers. It was teeming with wildlife; we saw two types of seals swimming in the lagoon: the bearded seal and the harbour seal. We then came across a wild reindeer resting in the afternoon sun before heading to Ny-Alesund, the world's most northern town. Ny-Alesund is primarily populated by scientists who study the Arctic and its ever-changing landscape. We went to the museum as well as the world's most northerly post office to send home a postcard stamped from Ny-Alesund as a memento of our wonderful cruise. We were fortunate enough to do expeditions from the Zodiacs, navigating the ice with our expedition guide to cruise to other beautiful glaciers. We were extremely fortunate to come across a herd of Walruses on land; it was a magical experience getting up close and personal with the magnificent mammals. To top it all off, a curious harbour seal approached our Zodiac. Our local guide told us that this was the closest encounter he had ever had with a seal!

Zodiac Boats Zodiacs Heading Back to the Ship Onboard a Zodiac The Mountains Viewd From L'Austral Bambesu, Svalbard

After all that adventure and once safely back aboard we were greeted with hot chocolates to warm us back up and were also offered decedent treats from fresh crepes to English high tea. A very ambient time to wind down and appreciate every wonderful sight you had seen that day. We were also invited to a debrief with the expedition team who would give you an in-depth lecture of the wildlife, fauna and geography from the day's expeditions and a brief summary of what was to come the next day. There were also regular lectures in the theatre where they would share their firsthand knowledge on the region's wildlife. The expedition guides came from various polar regions so had lots of wonderful stories to share and you even have the opportunity to dine with them in the evening.

The great thing is you don't have to be on an expedition to spot the wildlife, we were lucky enough to see a pod of 200 beluga whales in the 4th July bay from the lounge. This was a nature phenomenon, even the guides were in awe! My favourite part of the cruise happened to be on a day when we had unexpected bad weather. The weather in the Arctic can change quickly, and the captain is an expert at navigating these changes. It only adds to the cruise's intrepid adventure and explorer nature. He'd decided to sail through the sea ice into the Arctic Ocean. The ship sailed majestically through the ocean, and the scenery was breathtaking, with vast expanses of ice flows unlike anything I had ever seen before. In the afternoon, I went to a Polar Bear lecture in the theatre, and as it ended, as if by magic, the captain came over the Tanoy to announce a Polar Bear sighting! Our entire trip had been building up to this point, so I ran to my cabin, grabbed my binoculars and dashed to the top deck for the best view. A Polar bear in all its glory was seen striding across the ice. There's something magical about seeing these endangered animals in their natural habitat. We really felt like we had accomplished our goal of seeing the King of the North! A memory I'll never forget.

I had so many hopes and expectations for this trip, and it completely exceeded them in every way. I was in awe of everything, from the onboard experience to the wildlife and scenery. Taking an expedition cruise to the Arctic places you in a very small club, a club of only a few people who have visited this amazing part of the world, a true Arctic adventurer. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending this experience to anyone. It was the trip of a lifetime, and I can't thank Ponant and Blue Water Holidays enough for making it happen.

Click here to experience this cruise for yourself!

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