Passengers:264 World's Best 2016 Award Rank: #3 Mid-Size Ocean Ship Best for: Well-heeled passengers looking for luxury and adventure
Sails: Alaska, Antarctica, the Arctic, the British Isles, the Caribbean, Central America, Hawaii, Northern Europe, the Panama Canal, South America, the South Pacific
At a Glance: A Travel + Leisure World’s Best 2016 winner, placing third in the Mid-Size Ocean Ship category. Essentially identical to sister ships L’Austral, Le Soléal, and Le Lyrial,Le Boréal feels like a private megayacht, albeit one 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 the itineraries lean toward the exotic, including expedition-style voyages to the polar regions.
Sailing aboard Le Boréal 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 Antarctica, Easter Island, Spitsbergen, and Greenland.
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. Grey-on-grey interiors are brightened up with splashes of red. 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 scallops in vichyssoise, roast tenderloin of Argentinian beef served with a Merlot wine reduction, and milk chocolate and caramel fleur de sel. (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 Neko Harbour in Antarctica, or Unalaska Island in Alaska. But there may be some days at anchor when you might just want to make use of Le Boréal’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.