Ponant’s Le Commandant Charcot has a secret weapon

The full list of amenities and activities is too long to write here, but a typical day might include options to join a morning yoga class, learn how to make a French pastry, attend a lecture on the Antarctic geology, or drinking a glass of champagne late in the morning. , have lunch in the buffet restaurant (champagne optional), take part in a strength training session in the afternoon (if you’re not too full of champagne), learn origami, eat some more French pastries on the observation deck, go to a thematic afternoon tea (champagne again) , try to stay awake for a lecture on pelagic seabirds, hit the bar for live music (where the magnums of champagne remain bottomless), and then check out the day’s summary and briefing for the next day, before heading to the Alain By Ducasse designed fine dining restaurant on deck five, where it would be downright strange to walk in without a glass of bubbles for the tasting menu.

Despite the brutality of the excess, there is still a sense of adventure among travelers. For the majority, this is not their first time in Antarctica and knowing that the route would take them to places few others have ever been was a powerful motivator for booking. However, despite the extraordinary bragging rights, the ship has fewer than seventy passengers on our voyage, meaning the occupancy rate is only about 30 percent.

There is adventure among excess.

There is adventure among excess.

There are strict rules on the number of people allowed on land in Antarctica, with landings generally limited to three hours per ship with no more than 100 passengers on land at any one time. If we had 200 we would have had to split each landing to meet requirements, but the low occupancy means we can maximize every opportunity that arises.

This won’t normally happen on these massive expedition cruises (the next one after us will have twice as many passengers), but we make the most of it on Sims Island with tens of thousands of Adelie penguins, on the little-explored Brownson Islands, and on most triumphantly especially in Captain Scott’s cabin at Cape Evans, where the men of his disastrous Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole from 1910 to 1913 had lived in unimaginable hardship and misery.

Captain Scott's cabin where the men of his group lived in unimaginable hardship.

Captain Scott’s cabin where the men of his group lived in unimaginable hardship.

Another missing element that will come later is the hybrid fuel system, something that Ponant has loudly touted as an environmentally friendly (or at least less harmful) feature of their remarkable vessel. Unfortunately, while the Charcot has the ability to run on liquefied natural gas, the bunkering facilities in the Argentine port of Ushuaia have not yet been developed. Moreover, the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent the price of gas into the stratosphere and the desire to develop transportation around it in the opposite direction.

Captain Devorsine is disappointed that he does not have alternative fuel. The captain can often be found on the bridge working long hours, chewing a quantity of gum that I estimate is the size of a golf ball. The captain is very public, personally makes most announcements to passengers during the day and is happy to answer any questions about his decision-making.

When we speak on board at his office at the end of this month, he is understandably happy with his work. His expert reading of the weather and control of the ice has allowed us to reach waters that have not been navigated by other ships for more than a decade. We saw twenty large groups of killer whales, the incredibly rare Ross seal and countless penguins. It’s also his first time completing a semi-circumnavigation of the continent – ​​his first time navigating the mighty Ross Ice Shelf, the ice surrounding Mount Siple and the haunted waters of McMurdo Sound.

“One day I would like to do a full circumnavigation,” he says when we speak in his office at the end of the cruise. After working on icebreakers for more than a decade, he thinks it could be done in three stages, with stops in Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa. “I hope so, but we’ll see. This ship can certainly do it. If we had to, we could continue for weeks even now.”

The details

Cruising
The 2025-2026 season for Le Commandant Charcot includes two routes to Charcot Island and the Bellingshausen Sea. In the wake of Jean Baptiste Charcot’s $32,640 per person Prestige Stateroom; The Emperor Penguins of the Weddell Sea from $33,280 per person in a Prestige Hut. Ponant’s 2025-2026 Antarctic season will include a nearly complete circumnavigation of the continent.

The writer traveled as a guest of Ponant.