The Antarctica Diaries – Day 1 – Welcome aboard the L’Austral
by Deb Corbett – Commercial Director Asia Pacific – Ponant Cruises
Deb Corbett is one of our favourite industry professionals. She recently returned from an expedition cruise to Antarctica with her sister Annie. Deb recounts us on her personal cruise experience in February 2020 to Antarctica aboard Ponant’s L’Austral. We will be posting each day’s journal over the next few weeks.
Sunday 9 February 2020 – WELCOME ABOARD L’AUSTRAL
There she is…sleek, sophisticated, modern and sexy. We see our home for the next 9 nights from the warmth of a hot tub at the top of the mountain from Arakur Resort. We caught a taxi from the airport to Arakur as we had 5 hours to spare before boarding. Upon arriving at the resort, we enjoyed a fabulous buffet lunch and purchased a half day spa ticket where we swam in the heated pool and relaxed in the choices of hot tubs with the ice tip mountains as our backdrop.
The view to the harbour was breathtaking. L’Austral was docked opposite Island Princess (Princess Cruises’ Vessel) which carries 2,200 passengers to Antarctica but passengers only “cruise by the scenery” – they don’t get off. L’Austral sat elegantly in the water like a private yacht awaiting her celebrities to board. Was James Bond in sight? Was he sipping a Martini on the deck? Excitement builds as the hours slipped away in the hot tub talking about the experiences ahead.
Finally, it’s 4pm and time to head back down the mountain and board our luxury mega yacht bound for Antarctica. Upon arriving to the ship, we walk up the gangway and are greeted by Captain Christophe Colaris, Priscyllia Canabate, our Cruise Director and Megan Taisson, our Front Office & Travel Manager.
We stepped into the reception awe struck by the gorgeous Swarovski Chandelier elegantly hanging in the middle of the reception area taking up the height of two floors from deck 4 down to deck 3. Staff ushered us into the lounge where there were desks set up by deck. It took no more than 5 minutes to get our cabin key and photo taken for security, hand our passports in and be taken to our cabin. The cabin was spaciously designed with natural woods and white leather wardrobe doors with soft tones throughout. It was French elegance at its best! We had Hermes amenities in the bathroom, a Nespresso machine, a fully stocked fridge with spirits and non- alcoholic beverages and a Bose speaker to enjoy. A welcome note from the cabin and crew sat neatly on our bed as well as a card with the name of our cabin attendant and our welcome program. Unlimited WIFI is offered and the IT Manager was ready to assist at reception to get our phones set up which we greatly appreciated. We could also meet with the Chief Housekeeper to discuss our pillow requirements and any other requests concerning our cabin but everything was perfect so there was no need to meet with her. Sebastian, the Dining Room Manager was also on hand at reception to discuss any specific needs and requests we may have had for allergies etc but again there was no need for this. We therefore were free to unpack before our “Life Onboard Briefing”. My entire suitcase fitted into one very deep drawer which was wonderful. I also hung a few dresses in the wardrobe which I must say had the most fantastic number of hangers on offer that I’ve ever seen. There were extra drawers in the wardrobe but we didn’t need them.
5.45pm and we’re off to the theatre for our briefing by Priscyllia, where we learned everything about our life onboard for the next 9 nights. A great summary in both French and English. So clever the way she could switch so beautifully between both languages. At the briefing we met a lovely French family (Mum, Dad and son), a German family (Mum, Dad, daughter and son), two guys from Texas, a lady from New York with her maid and a couple from India. We forged an instant bond with them and quickly became a group of mixed nationalities from different cultures BUT with one common bond…a passion for exploring and a spirit for adventure. We were all excited to learn about the history of where we were going and wanted to experience lifetime memories. We were from all age groups and from different walks of life, but we wanted to awaken our sense of wonder and together this bond saw no boundaries of age or religion.
We were a united front exploring our minds and hearts together with one single focus…being a part of this incredible continent. A mandatory lifeboat drill followed, where we met the Head Chef, who was in charge of lifeboat #2. Great excitement as if we did need to abandon ship at least we wouldn’t go hungry! The Head Chef could bring all the snacks we need…we laughed with Chef Nicolas Dugue about this and instantly had a nice connection which would strengthen during the cruise at his many lunches and dinners. After a magnificent dinner, we headed to deck 4 to choose our parka which would be ours to use during the cruise and to take home. Upon returning to our cabin, I noticed on the back of the program there was a list of where all PONANT’s ships were positioned on that day. Would we see any of the sister ships in Antarctica? My sister and brother in law were on Le Boreal. It would be so cool if we saw Le Boreal on route and we did whilst having lunch one day. Le Boreal was anchored whilst doing zodiac outings. We ran to the side of the ship and yelled out Le Boreal Le Boreal – much excitement in the restaurant when we told the other guests.
Stay tuned for next week’s episode… The Drake Lake