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A look inside Ponant's first Explorer-class ship, Le Lapérouse

PHOTO: © L. Patricot/Ponant
World-champion free diver Aurore Asso swims up to a Blue Eye window
Le Lapérouse, the first ship in Ponant's new Explorers class, has the sleek, super-yacht look of the existing fleet, but is slightly smaller and sports a unique feature: Blue Eye, a multi-sensory underwater lounge.

Le Lapérouse debuted in Iceland this week, where it was christened and carried VIP guests, key tour operator partners and international media for a spin along the coast.

Navin Sawhney, CEO, Americas, for Ponant, called it 'a very intimate vessel. Its design is very beautiful, crafted to bring the light in from the outside and showcase the destinations. You will get a feeling of being connected to wherever you are.'

The breathtaking Blue Eye

The most breathtaking aspect of Le Lapérouse, Sawhney added, is the Blue Eye lounge. 'It envelops you and makes a modern-day explorer out of you,' he said.

Dark and intimate, Blue Eye has two portholes shaped like a cetacean's eyes. Integrated digital screens project the live images captured by three underwater cameras, and hydrophones pipe in the natural symphony of the sea. This can also be felt through the 'body listening' sofas that vibrate softly to the sounds.

It's an extraordinary place, secluded on Deck 0 and open without booking or special programming.

This world-first feature was designed by Jacques Rougerie, an architect with a passion for the sea, while composer and sound design expert Michel Redolfi was responsible for the sound effects.

Three-position marina platform

Le Lapérouse is a luxurious expedition ship, with elegant appointments, delicious French cuisine and an infinity pool. Another new feature for Ponant is the marina platform with three positions, for use as a sun deck, as a launch pad for kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling and other water sports, and as the embarkation point for a flotilla of 10 Zodiacs.

A 1C ice-class rating allows the ship to operate in polar regions.

Vard, the Norwegian shipbuilder, has decades of experience with ice-class ships, president and CEO Roy Reite noted. The good cooperation between Fincantieri—which built Ponant's four earlier vessels, starting with Le Boréal in 2010—and Vard facilitated the new Explorer series.

'This is an important cruise ship, delivered on time and with good quality, the result of joining the experience of Vard and the experience of Fincantieri,' added Loris Di Giorgio, head of cruise ship marketing and sales for Fincantieri.

Dan Mahar, CEO of Tauck, the deluxe US-based tour operator that has had a 25-year partnership with Ponant and frequently charters its vessels, thinks Le Lapérouse is 'a great ship for destination exploration.

'These products for us are the first to sell out ... with zero discounting. That speaks to the good quality of the product and brings us repeat customers,' Mahar said.

Stirling Design International, based in Nantes, France, is responsible for the Explorers' exterior design and naval architecture, while the interiors are by the French designer Jean-Philippe Nuel.

'Yacht-chic elegance'

Le Lapérouse has 'understated, yacht-chic elegance,' said Edie Rodriguez, Americas brand chairman and corporate special adviser for Ponant.

The decor imparts a contemporary Scandinavian feel, with light woods and neutral colors accented with nautical blues. Natural forms, reminiscent of the sea, characterize the art pieces and the lighting. For example, lamps above the beds resemble large sand dollars, while the lights in the reception area look like ethereal jellyfish.

The single, open-seating restaurant also offers tables on an outdoor terrace. Large windows open the Grand Salon and the observation lounge to sweeping sea views, and the 188-seat theater houses enrichment lectures, movies and evening entertainment such as classical singers.

The top deck spa has light woods and an ocean-view sauna and treatment rooms. A small fitness area is stocked with treadmills and cycles.

All the staterooms have balconies, and the four spacious suites facing aft sport giant terraces. The owner's suite is equipped with an outdoor hot tub. Flat-screen televisions, Nespresso machines, a mini-bar replenished daily (on Ponant, all drinks are included in the fare) and Hermés bath products are standard, along with 24-hour room service.

The French-flag ship is served by a fully bilingual (French and English) crew of 110. The classification society is Bureau Veritas.

Le Lapérouse measures 10,000gt, with a length of 131 meters/430 feet and a beam of 18 meters/59 feet. It carries 184 passengers, compared to 264 passengers for the three ships beginning with Le Boréal and 244 passengers for the fourth ship in that earlier series. Those vessels are 11,000gt, 142 meters/466 feet in length and, like Le Lapérouse, 18 meters/59 feet at the beam.

Five more to come

Vard is building five further ships for the Explorer series, with Le Champlain due for delivery this autumn, followed by Le Bougainville and Le Dumont d’Urville in 2019 and Le Bellot and Le Surville in 2020.

The hulls are being constructed at Vard Tulcea in Romania, with outfitting and delivery by Vard Søviknes in Norway. In addition, Vard will deliver Ponant's luxury expedition icebreaker in 2021.

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