ABOARD LE LAPEROUSE -- As we boarded this stylish ship
for the first time after its christening, one of my fellow journalists
whispered, "It looks like a river ship."
I could see her point. Le Laperouse is intimate and
manageable, and has a light, appealing look that makes passengers feel relaxed.
"It's very homey," said Jennifer Tombaugh,
president of Tauck, which had chartered the Le Laparouse for its inaugural
cruise, a circumnavigation of Iceland. "It's just sort of, sigh," she
The ship is the first of six in Ponant's Explorer class, and
the first to be delivered since Ponant was acquired by the French luxury goods
conglomerate Artemis Group in 2015. Among the company's brands are Gucci, Saint
Laurent, Stella McCartney and Balenciaga, and while the ship isn't as high
style as some of those names suggest, there's obviously a heritage of good
French design at work in its interior spaces.
The cabin numbers on Le Laperouse are mounted on leather strips. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Particularly noticeable is the use of white leather, not
only for chairs but for bureau coverings in the staterooms, and in decorative
accents in the corridors. The lighting fixtures are contemporary, different and
tasteful. The Grand Salon, a central gathering spot on the 184-passenger ship,
is at once chic and comfortable.
As an expedition ship, Le Laperouse is equipped with all
manner of water sports toys, such as kayaks and paddleboards, which can be
deployed off an expansive marina in the aft. There's a highly inviting sauna
with an oval window and sensuously curved benches that looks out over the
And below the water line is the unique atmosphere of the
Blue Eye, an underwater lounge illuminated by cobalt blue lighting and
featuring two oval shaped glass eyes through which guests can observe marine
life or other aquatic phenomena.
Our post-christening cruise through the harbor in Reykjavik
included a salute from Ponant's Le Soleal, which circled the newer, smaller Le
Laperouse several times. On its last pass, it drew within 100 yards, and crew
from Le Soleal appeared on the top deck from bow to stern with lighted red
flares to make a dramatic image for Le Laperouse guests.
The older Ponant ship Le Soleal deployed crew carrying red flares in a sail-by salute to Le Laperouse. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Although the parallels to a river cruise ship are evident,
the differences are, too. At 9,900 gross tons, Le Laperouse is three times as
spacious as a typical river ship. It has four passenger decks, a theater, an
infinity-style pool, a photo/video gallery and comes equipped with 10 onboard
"Small is big," is how Tombaugh summarized the
ship. She said that from the perspective of exploring destinations, which is
what Tauck primarily sells to its ocean-going guests, the 184-passenger
capacity is a perfect size for the job.