Passengers:264 Best for: Well-heeled passengers looking for luxury and adventure
Sails: Asia, Australia and New Zealand, the South Pacific
At a Glance: Almost identical to sister ships Le Boréal, Le Soléal, and Le Lyrial,L’Austral feels like a private megayacht, albeit with an ice-strengthened hull and the conveniences of a small luxury cruise ship. Owned by French line Ponant, the vibe is upscale and European, but L’Austral is also an expedition vessel, so expect itineraries on the more exotic side.
Sailing aboard L’Austral is like hitching a ride on the megayacht of your richest, most adventurous French friend. Nothing about it feels like a conventional cruise ship—not the sleek exterior, not the stylish, straight-out-of-Paris crowd, not the Zodiacs on the top deck. But what distinguishes this luxury ice-strengthened expedition ship most are its itineraries to far-flung, less-traveled regions and ports: think Papua New Guinea, Australia’s Kimberley Coast, New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands, and the Malay Archipelago.
Like the rest of the ship, the staterooms were elegantly masterminded by Jean-Philippe Nuel, who has also designed interiors for Sofitel and Taj Hotels. Greys, taupes, and shades of white are warmed up with splashes of caramel and cinnamon All but the eight smallest staterooms have a private balcony, and sizes range from 200 square feet for a deluxe cabin to 484 square feet for an owner’s suite. (The latter’s veranda tacks on another 100 square feet of space.)
This is a French ship, and the menu reflects just that. Most passengers have dinner in the Gastronomic Restaurant, lingering over dishes like pan-seared duck foie gras, roasted veal loin with port wine and truffle sauce, and vanilla cream choux. (The menu changes every night.) On warm evenings, make a reservation at The Grill for a casual al fresco buffet under the stars.
The ship’s Zodiacs are there to take guests to places they might not otherwise be able to reach, like the mangroves of Australia’s Hunter River, or an uninhabited island in Indonesia’s Saronde Islands. But there may be some days at anchor when you might just want to make use of L’Austral’s marina and swim your day away around the ship.
A partnership between Ponant and French beauty house Sothys Paris, the spa sees brisk business thanks to post-excursion massage seekers and fans of its facials and anti-aging treatments. There’s also a hammam and a balneotherapy area, along with a small fitness room with views of the sea.