Alex's Le Soléal cruise review
My wife and I recently went on the Le Soliel cruise entitled The Saga of Erick the Red from July 17—29. The trip started in Iceland and spent most of the time combing the Greenland cost up to Kangerlussuaq.
We were both impressed with the level of service on the ship. The housekeeping as immaculate, the meals were wonderful and the entertainment was fine. We are looking forward to spending another cruise with Ponant.
However, the one serious drawback to the trip was the quality of the expedition guides (also known as naturalist guides). The expedition leader was overmatched in her role. While all the naturalists seemed to be good people, essentially, there wasn’t much guiding going on. We were usually dumped onto land and were on our own to “use our imagination”. The naturalists were not very helpful in identifying flora and fauna or explaining the site we landed at. All the naturalists would do is spread out and watch us as we walked around.
Here are some examples to illustrate my point:
• There was no emphasis on wildlife ethics. The Arctic growing season is short and plant life is precious. Yet the staff made very little effort to educate the visitors on how to behave in these wild places and how to best preserve them. Visitors would be wearing big, rubber boots and would trample over delicate flora.
• Naturalists were frequently unable to answer the most basic questions about the flora, fauna, geology and history of a landing site. A naturalist should be able to identify the basic flowers and birds of an area. Yet frequently, we got the “I don’t know” response or an outright misidentification.
• One hike we went on was a disaster. My wife and I were one of the first off the ship but we waited over an hour until the entire ship unloaded before we started the hike. Then about 200 passengers all crammed along the same trail. We received no guiding input on the hike. Instead, why not divide the passenger up among the guides and go on smaller group hikes?
• The Viking ruins were special but the naturalists were not located at the actual ruins to identify them and give historical background. In fact, the first Viking site we landed at, my wife and I had no idea where the ruins were and when we finally saw the 1,000 year-old ruins we had no idea whet we were looking at. At one point we wandered right over one of the Viking long houses, not realizing where we were.
• Frequently, guides were taking pictures for their own personal needs instead of guiding.
• Their PowerPoint presentations on the landing sites were of marginal use. Some of the information presented on the Vikings was shallow and incomplete.
• Lastly, the naturalist team almost always dined separately as a group. Occasionally the passengers could sign up to dine with a guide but we could only to that once and on only select ties. Why not spread out and eat with the rest of the passengers on a regular basis? They seemed to enjoy segregating themselves.
With that said, we talked to other passengers who were on other Ponant ships and they said their pervious experiences with the naturalists was must better. Perhaps we just hit a dud. Despite the poor guiding experience, the rest of the ship was good enough that we will give Ponant another try.
This Le Soléal cruise review is the subjective opinion of CruiseOyster member Alex. It does not reflect the views or opinions of CruiseOyster.