Sydney doctors Anthony and Karen Leung are on board their sixth Ponant cruise – this time, a $100,000, 27-day extravaganza from Christchurch, New Zealand to Ushuaia, Argentina…via the White Continent of Antarctica.

The intrepid pair have already done the Northwest Passage, the North Pole, Alaska, and the Kimberley. And they are big fans of the ship they are sailing on – Le Commandant Charcot.

“It’s definitely worth it,” says Karen. Anthony describes the experiences of sailing on the ice as “spectacular”.

“I chose this voyage because this new route has not been offered by any other cruise company in a luxurious icebreaker – and we are able to reach places in Antarctica that no other living beings have been to,” he added.

A vessel that combines incredible luxury with an expedition heritage, Le Commandant Charcot is the world’s only luxury PC2 icebreaker, capable of plowing through the ice sheets of the North Pole while serving caviar and champagne to around 240 guests.

But she is also a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde. On one hand, the two-year-old Ponant flagship has already performed a number of expedition firsts, from rescues to pathfinding destinations. On the other, famed three-Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse designed the menus at her restaurants and her owner’s suite is one of the biggest at sea.


You can smoke a Davidoff Winston Churchill cigar along with a glass of rare single malt whisky, then tear off in a Zodiac to hunt Polar bear pictures.

Don’t be fooled, though. Yes, you can bask in an outside heated pool with a glass of champagne. But beating beneath the surface is an adventure ship able to take guests further and deeper into the ice and snow than any other.

With Antarctica facing a season where more than 90 ships will visit, Ponant sees getting off the beaten track as the way of the future. And it seems to be paying off.

At a special event to mark her first visit to our region – she sailed from Argentina, and is now sailing back – Ponant APAC chair Sarina Bratton announced the first two months of 2023 had already broken records.


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Antarctica and our own Kimberley region were up there as the top places where Australian adventure seekers want to sail.

Like the Leungs, Australians are determined to shrug off the pandemic years and do what they’ve dreamed of while they can. And do it in luxury.

But the Charcot is not just any ship. She sets a new standard in sustainability. Her captain, Stanislas Devorsine, says she will be sailing on LNG and electric this year. She is ready – but South America doesn’t yet have the fuel.

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She can go through 2.4 metres of ice at two knots, and she can smash ice flows at both ends: her bows small ice under the hull, while her anzipod propellers can chew it up travelling in reverse. She has already performed a rescue of a research vessel that became stuck. It’s a “mind-blowing performance”, according to the ice veteran. And he should know – he helped design her.

He is particularly proud of the science, with research partnerships all over the planet.

Ms Bratton said the Australian office, opened eight years ago, now contributes a fifth of the global revenue for the 13-ship line. This year is on track for another record.

So what makes her so special?

We are welcomed with a champagne and caviar reception that would be right up there with any ultra-luxury line.

There is a spa, theatre, and cuisine that would be at home in a Parisienne five-star hotel.

The owners’ suite – in Ponant parlance the Suite de L’Armateur – on deck eight is 115 square metres with a panoramic terrace of 186 sq metres.

At the rear of decks, 6 and 7 are four 94 m² (1,011 ft²) duplex suites equipped with private terraces and jacuzzis.

Our cabin – suite 637 – is beautifully designed with a wall of storage, a neat balcony, and a great seating area for sitting out the bad weather while watching the wildlife.

The lounges are filled with books, nooks, and crannies for the kind of deliberation and self-awareness that is an important part of expedition cruising. And the bars are resonant with stories – from their pictures of bygone explorers to more books on the great expeditions.

All of this is the kind of luxury you expect in the Med or the Caribbean.

It’s a magic combination. But there is no doubt her heart belongs to the ice.

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