Passengers:260 Best for: Well-heeled passengers looking for luxury and adventure
Sails: Africa, Antarctica, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, the Seychelles, South America
At a Glance: Launched in 2015 and almost identical to sister ships L’Austral, Le Boréal, and Le Soléal,Le Lyrial 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 Lyrial 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, the Falklands, Madagascar, and the Seychelles.
Like the rest of the ship, the staterooms were elegantly masterminded by Jean-Philippe Nuel, who has designed interiors for Sofitel and Taj Hotels. Greys and shades of white are brightened up with blues inspired by polar ice and the Mediterranean Sea. There are 10 fewer cabin on Le Lyrial than on her sister ship, allowing for some staterooms to expand. All but the eight smallest staterooms have a private balcony, and sizes range from 199 square feet for a prestige cabin to 581 square feet for an owner’s suite. (The latter’s veranda tacks on another 129 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 Nosy Komba (aka Lemur Island) near Madagascar, or Neko Harbour in Antarctica. But there may be some days at anchor when you might just want to make use of Le Lyrial’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.