Le Soleal has just left the IJmuiden locks after her first visit to The Netherlands at the 10th of may 2017.
The Compagnie des Iles du Ponant was formed in 1988 by several French merchantmen and started operations with a 1489-ton barque named Le Ponant. Another small ship followed in 1998, Le Levant, but she was measured at 3500 tons so almost double the size of the first ship. In 2004, they again took a large leap forward by aquiring the 8282-ton Le Diamant, the former Song Of Flower of Radisson Seven Seas Cruises. The company combined with Tapis Rouge Crocieres to buy the ship. She was very different in size, but also very luxurious and the basis for the new ships the line would be building from scratch. These ships could be ordered, because the large French company CGM-CMA had taken a major stake in the line. Of course, CGM-CMA is the former Compagnie Transatlantique, the French Line. So with the stake in Compagnie des Iles du Ponant, they again entered the field of passengershipping.
At the end of the first decade in the new millennium, Compagnie des Iles du Ponant was ready to order those new ships in the style of Le Diamant, but then modern. Le Diamant was built in 1974 as a roro trailership so just later rebuilt into a luxury passengerliner. In the new class, that would be four ships, CDIP could perfection their own sophisticated style.
Construction and general statistics
Originally, two ships were ordered with the first being Le Boreal, launched in 2010. A sistership, L'austral, came in 2011. Still before Le Boreal had entered service, a thrith ship was ordered and later even a fourth, Le Soleal came in 2012 and Le Lyrial followed in 2015. The older Le Levant and Le Diamant were sold so the company now could sail with a very modern luxurious fleet.
The Boreal-class measure some 10.992 tons. Their lenght is 142,10 meters, are 18,00 meters wide and have a draft of 4,90 meters. The capacity is 264 passengers in 132 staterooms and suites and they are pampered by 139 crewmembers at the ships seven decks. The ships are driven by two propellers instead of modern pods. The homeport is Mata-Utu and she is flying the flag of the Wallis and Fortuna Islands. The islands are part of France, so the company is definitely French.
At the 6th of december of 2012, Le Soleal was launched from the Fincantieri Yards at Ancona in Italy. In june 2013, the completed ship was accepted by her owners and christened by Kiki Tauck Mahar, daughter of Arthur Tauck, Chairman of the travelcompany Tauck. The Tauck company organizes regular sailings aboward the ships of Ponant.
The ships' main reataurant has an elegant, chique style and serves mainly french cuisine. As an alternative, there is also a more casual grill restaurant aboard. Furthermore, there are three lounges, a theater that is used for lectures and entertainment, a beauty and fitnesscenter and several observation lounges. In style, the ships of Ponant are in the luxurious end and placed somewhere between true expeditioncruising and small-ship luxury cruising. All suites have oceanviews and 95% of those do have a balcony also. There is a flat-screen TV with satellite channels available, just like an iPod docking station, video-on-demand possibilities, an electronic safe and of course a minibar.
The ships interiours were designed by the French architect Jean-Philippe Nuel who also works for several hotelchains to the likes of Sofitel, Westin, Taj, Mariott, Le Meredien and Club Med. He mostly used white, ivory, grey and blonde woods in his design for Le Soleal, creating very open and roomy spaces. He dislikes the darker, classic style and did not want to create an Edwardian ship as he doesn't feel this style recreates the sea itself.. Also many artworks are aboard, especially created for the ship. Centerpiece in the lobby is the dominating transversal mobile created by Marie-Andree Cote.
Very important now is also environmental design and Le Soleal is equipped with a navigational positioning system to prevent the need for dropping anchor in precious seabeds and she also had wastewater and solid waste procession systems installed, next to even a detectionsystem to avoid collissions with whales. The propulsionsystem of the ship is also electrical, so it is very quiet to not disturb marine life too much.
As early as the end of 2012, even before the ship was officially launched, she was named one of the best new cruise ships by Travel & Leisure magazine.
Le Soleal started her Maiden Voyage at the 1st of july 2013 and settled in for her first season. She immidiately made headlines in her first year, as she departed the Greenland port of Kangerlussuaq at the 26th of august that same year for the first crossing of the Northwest Passage for a ship under the French flag. The passage was a success under the command of Captain Etienne Garcia and the ship entered the Russian port of Anadyr safely on september the 16th. The ship is not tied to just one region in the world, as she is more likely to roam the oceans. I was very happy that she also visited The Netherlands in 2017 as I think that these ships are among the most striking new expedion-style cruiseliners afloat.