|Viking Expedition Cruises||Ponant Expedition Cruises|
|Where do they cruise?|| |
|How many passengers are on board?||378||184 - 270 (200 in the Polar Regions)|
|What type of cruise line are they?||Premium||Luxury|
|What are they known for?|| || |
|What is the average expedition cost per day?|| || |
|Are fares all inclusive?||Viking position themselves as an all-inclusive line, however, house beers and wine are only included at mealtimes (premium beverages are at additional cost) and there are optional paid excursions as well as included experiences.||Ponant position themselves as an all-inclusive line, however, shore excursions on classic cruises are not included and top shelf premium spirits and champagne are not included in the Open Bar. Gratuities are also not included|
|Are gratuities included?||Yes, for Australian and New Zealand Passengers||No. Tipping the staff is customary but is completely at guest discretion. Guests will find an anonymous envelope in their stateroom which they can drop in the box provided at reception. Ponant guide that this is generally in the range of €10-12 per day per passenger|
|Are there any additional gratuities payable on board?||No. Only at guest discretion||No. Gratuities are at guest discretion|
|Can I get any reciprocal loyalty club benefits?||No. The Viking Explorer Society offers credit and referral rewards to past passengers of Viking Cruises only||No. Ponant Yacht Club only|
|What is the onboard currency?||USD||EUR|
|What language is spoken on board?||English||French & English|
|Who cruises with them?|| || |
|What is the average passenger age?||Primarily 50+||Primarily 50+|
|Are they good for families?||No. No children under 18 years of age||No. Six years of age minimum for Polar Expedition cruises. Children must meet height requirements and the ability to receive and respond to instructions on Zodiac excursions and have their own parkas for polar excursions|
|Are there children’s programs?||No||No|
|Is there childcare and/or babysitting?||No||No|
|What are the accommodation options?||Nordic Balcony Staterooms & Suites||Balcony & Suites|
|Are there accessible staterooms?||Yes||Yes|
|Are shore excursions included?||A minimum of one shore excursion per landing day is included; there may be two on some days. On some expeditions, there may also be optional excursions available for purchase|| |
|What types of onboard activities are available for free?||Activities such as lectures, film screenings, presentations and daily briefings from the expedition team as well as scientific programs hosted in The Laboratory||Guest lectures and naturalist specialist lectures, live music in lounges such as piano and duets, dance shows, and film screenings|
|Are there any onboard activities that I need to pay for?||No. All onboard activities are included||No. All onboard activities are included|
|Is there free evening entertainment?||Yes||Yes|
|Is there any paid evening entertainment?||No||No|
|Are there complimentary dining options?||Yes||Yes|
|Are there specialty restaurants?||Yes. Complimentary||No|
|Are there dining packages for purchase?||No||No|
|Are non-alcoholic beverages included?||Yes. Purified water is provided in all staterooms. Soft drinks are included with lunches and dinners onboard. Specialty coffees and assorted hot teas are available 24 hours a day||Yes. Mineral water, soft drinks, coffee and tea|
|Are alcoholic beverages included?||Complimentary house wines and beers are served with lunches and dinners on board||Yes. There is an Open Bar for Charles Heidsieck champagne, beer, wine and spirits – excludes premium label spirits and champagne|
|Can I purchase a beverage package?||Yes. For premium cocktails or wines and spirits, Viking offers the Silver Spirits beverage package||Yes. Guests can purchase the Premium Open-bar to enjoy top-shelf spirits and Veuve Clicquot.|
|Is there room service?||Yes. Complimentary 24/7||Yes. Complimentary 24/7|
|Is there Wi-Fi on board?||Yes. Complimentary||Yes. Complimentary|
|Can I purchase Wi-Fi packages?||No||No|
|Is there a Spa?||Yes. Access is complimentary||Yes. Access to the steam room is complimentary|
|Are spa and salon services available?||Yes. Charges Apply||Yes. Charges Apply|
|Is there a gym?||Yes||Yes|
|Are there group fitness classes?||Yes. Specialised classes such as yoga may attract a charge.||Yes. Occasional group fitness sessions may be offered and may incur charges|
|Is there personal training available?||No||No|
|Is there a self-service laundry?||Yes. Complimentary||No|
|Is a laundry service available?||Yes. Charges Apply||Yes. Charges Apply|
|Is there a casino on board?||No||No|
Please Note: There may be additional inclusions and privileges for select stateroom and suite guests or select loyalty member tiers. Activities and entertainment vary by ship, itinerary and departure and are a guide only.
Viking is launching expedition cruising in 2022 with two new ships, Viking Polaris and Viking Octantis. These purpose built expedition ships will primarily cruise to Antarctica, the Arctic, and Canada’s Great Lakes, expanding the offering of Viking’s current ocean fleet.
With their new ships and expanded portfolio Viking will also compete in the expedition space, a specialty of Ponant who have over 20 years’ experience in the Polar regions. Ponant offers both Polar and tropical expeditions in their cruise collection, with the most popular destinations for the line being Antarctica, the Australian Kimberley Coast, and Northern Eruope. Luxury expedition cruising is at the centre of the Ponant brand, however, they also offer traditional cruising in mainstream destinations such as the Mediterranean and Western Europe, also serviced by Viking’s classic ocean fleet.
Viking and Ponant are more likely to be compared in terms of their expeditions. Therefore, we’ll focus on their Antarctic and Arctic voyages in this comparison.
At the heart of Viking’s inaugural Antarctic season will be the 13 Day Antarctic Explorer which operates as a round trip from Ushuaia and allows for seven days exploring Antarctic waters. This key itinerary has multiple departures, and there are also variations with fewer sailings that allow for an extra couple of days in Antarctica, or that combine an Antarctic adventure with the Falkland Islands and cruise up the South American coastline to Brazil.
Viking’s maiden voyage into the Arctic will be the 13 Day Arctic Adventure, also offering multiple departures. The inaugural season of this round trip from Tromsø explores the islands of the Svalbard archipelago and takes in the Polar Ice Cap on a scenic cruise. At this stage, this is the sole Arctic itinerary released by Viking Expeditions.
Ponant’s core Antarctic itinerary is their 11 Day Emblematic Antarctica which is also a round trip voyage from Ushuaia, with a couple less days cruising around Antarctica than Viking’s Antarctic Explorer. Ponant also has longer voyages that take in the Falkland Islands, as well as more variations available to clients than Viking’s initial release. This includes itineraries that extend to the South Orkney and South Georgia islands.
Ponant is also launching their Polar Explorer, Le Commandant-Charcot, in 2021. This innovative Icebreaker has the capability to cruise further into the remote reaches of Antarctica than any other luxury small ship in the market. This adds itineraries to the Ross Sea and the Bellingshausen Sea, where passengers can discover two islands beyond the Antarctic Polar Circle – Peter I Island and Charcot Island.
In the Arctic, Ponant has a wide collection of journeys that explore the Svalbard archipelago, including Longyearbyen round trips, journeys between Tromsø and Longyearbyen as well as other European ports. There are also combination voyages that include visits to Greenland and even a Northeast Passage from Tromsø across to Nome in Alaska. Le Commandant-Charcot will also offer unique itineraries in the Arctic, with the ability to cruise through the ice floes to the Geographic North Pole.
Both Viking and Ponant offer enriching expeditions with specialists on board to deliver lectures and presentations and a comprehensive excursion program complete with Zodiac adventures and expert led shore experiences. Each line includes excursions in the cruise fare on expedition sailings, with some optional paid experiences for further exploration offered on some itineraries.
While they are yet to undertake their maiden voyage, Viking is set to ‘wow’ science enthusiasts with their onboard and onshore programming. Over 25 scientists and experts from a range of disciplines will join every expedition thanks to Viking’s strong partnerships. The line has joined forces with the University of Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute whose scientists will undertake fieldwork throughout the journey, and guests will get the opportunity to join them. Ornithologists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology will also regularly join expedition sailings to conduct field testing and data collection. Viking Polaris and Octantis will also come equipped with two submarines for underwater excursions.
Ponant has some impressive partnerships of their own, and along with their usual expedition team and guest speakers on dedicated sailings, Ponant also has a collection of National Geographic expeditions. On these trips, two National Geographic specialists will also join the specialist crew – one photographer and an expert from another field. The Le Commandant-Charcot will also have participatory science experiences, with additional facilities such as a research lab on board. The Polar Explorer also has extra expedition equipment not found on other vessels, offering hovercraft, tethered hot air balloon, and snowmobile experiences.
Viking Polaris and Viking Octantis share an identical design and accommodate 378 guests apiece. Signature elements feature on these Viking expedition vessels, with a Scandinavian design and an abundance of windows for lots of natural light and ample viewing areas. While the new fleet retains the Viking feel, these ships are designed as working research vessels. As such, they are equipped with spaces and innovations tailored to their expedition journeys.
The Hangar is a highlight, with an enclosed marina offering a sheltered space for guests to board small excursion craft, protected from the elements. The Hangar is also home to The Laboratory where scientists will undertake their research throughout the voyage. Guests can join these onboard specialists as they analyse field samples and share their expertise. There is also an auditorium spanning two decks to host lectures and presentations, with a retractable screen spanning almost the full width of the room. When not in use, this screen gives way to floor to ceiling glass windows for guests to soak up the incredible surrounds as they learn about them.
While they are designed to seamlessly cater to the expedition experience, the Viking ships don’t compromise on creature comforts. The accommodation is spacious, ranging from 21 m² (222 ft²) Nordic Balcony Staterooms to the Owner’s Suite coming in at 114 m² (1,227 ft²) with a 74 m² (792 ft²) private garden lounge area complete with a hot tub. The entry level staterooms through to the Junior Suites have a Nordic Balcony. Rather than a traditional outdoor space, these have floor to ceiling glass with a retractable upper panel. This allows guests to enjoy the views from indoors or convert the space into an al fresco observation area. If guests are looking for a classic balcony, they can opt for the Explorer Suite with both a private veranda and a Nordic Balcony, or the Owner’s Suite.
In the public spaces, guests can expect some familiar venues from the Viking ocean fleet such as the Nordic inspired spa, the Living Room, and the Explorer’s Lounge. There are also three different temperature pools, a fitness centre, and a library. Guests can choose from six complimentary dining options on board each ship. Regional cuisine and classic favourites can be found in The Restaurant, the World Café serves up a range of international flavours, and Manfredi’s takes its inspiration from Italy’s trattorias. Guests can also enjoy Norwegian specialties at Mamsen’s Norwegian Deli, sip some traditional aquavit in the aptly named Aquavit Bar, enjoy breads and pastries at any hour from the bakery, or dine in with 24 hour room service.
Ponant’s fleet is comprised of three ship categories. The six Ponant Explorers (Le Jacques Cartier, Le Bellot, Le Dumont d'Urville, Le Bougainville, Le Champlain and Le Laperouse) are the smallest, accommodating 184 passengers on expeditions and luxury small ship cruises around the globe. These ships don’t undertake Antarctic sailings, and like the classic Viking fleet, their foray into the Arctic region extends only as far as Iceland and the occasional crossing of the Arctic Circle as they cruise along the coastline of mainland Norway.
The four Sisterships (Le Lyrial, Le Soleal, L’Austral, and Le Boreal) operate expedition cruises to Antarctica and venture further north to the Svalbard archipelago within the realms of the Arctic Circle. The Polar Explorer, Le Commandant-Charcot will undertake both Antarctic and Arctic expeditions from 2021, venturing further than any other luxury small ship can.
The ships are designed to feel like being aboard your very own private yacht while visiting places impossible to access independently. There is a similar décor across the fleet with elegant styling, neutral tones and sophisticated touches. Cruising under the French flag, guests can expect a distinct experience. Both English and French is spoken on board with bilingual lectures and announcements. Guests will enjoy macarons for afternoon tea, Veuve Clicquot champagne served at gala dinners, and French inspired cuisine. There are two complimentary restaurants on every ship with the Gastronomic Restaurant serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner in an elegant setting, while the grill has a more relaxed atmosphere hosting breakfasts, buffet lunches and themed dinners.
The Ponant Sisterships deliver everything you would expect from a small expedition ship. Each accommodates up to 264 guests, however, passengers are limited to 200 on Antarctic voyages to deliver a luxury adventure on an intimate scale. They have a fleet of Zodiacs to undertake excursions and a marina off the aft to facilitate easy access. There is a theatre that doubles as a multi-purpose auditorium, three lounges to relax or mingle with fellow cruisers, and a wellness area where guests can enjoy massage and salon treatments, a workout in the fitness studio, and free access to the hammam (steam room).
Le Commandant-Charcot has some unique spaces on board, boasting a research laboratory and The Blue Lagoon, an outdoor area with a heated pool and a giant fire pit. There is also an indoor pool surrounded by a winter garden and illuminated by Polar light through the glass roof, and a snow room in the wellness area to alternate with the sauna.
Ponant’s entry level staterooms are a similar size to Viking’s, and all but a handful on the Sisterships come with a private outdoor balcony. The largest option on the Sisterships is the Owner’s Suite coming in at 45 m² (484 ft²) on most vessels, and 54 m² (581 ft²) on Le Lyrial. Le Commandant-Charcot has the most generous suite in the fleet, with the Owner’s Suite on the Polar Explorer offering 114 m² (1,227 ft²) of space.
Both Ponant and Viking expeditions are considered all inclusive, offering complimentary dining, Wi-Fi, and a selection of non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages as part of the cruise fare. Expedition excursions are also included and vary depending on ship facilities, so it is worth looking closely at each itinerary and the operating ship to determine which is right for you.
In the Polar regions, both lines provide guests with a parka to keep, as well as the use of boots for the duration of the journey. Viking also provides waterproof pants and excursion gear such as trekking poles complimentary, whereas guests cruising with Ponant will need to buy/rent their own gear beyond the parka and boots provided.
Ponant’s alcohol offering is more comprehensive with an open bar for beer, wine and spirits (excluding premium label spirits and champagne). Viking includes house beers and wine at lunch and dinner only and guests can either pay per beverage outside of this offering, or upgrade to a Silver Spirits Package.
When it comes to gratuities, these are included in Viking’s fares, but not with Ponant. Gratuities are not required when cruising with Ponant and are payable at guest discretion. If passengers do wish to tip, it is general practice for an envelope to be provided at the end of the cruise for guests to return to reception. Ponant guide that this is generally in the range of €10-12 per day per passenger.
Expedition cruising comes with high operating costs and choosing the right cruise line comes down to which delivers the right inclusions, itinerary, and experience for your investment. This is a highly personal decision but once made will be one that gives you an unforgettable experience in the world’s most remarkable locations.
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