Cruise ship tours: Ponant’s Le Soleal

France-based Ponant's 264-passenger Le Soleal was christened in 2013. Six decks high and 466 feet in length, it is one of four nearly identical vessels at the line that debuted between 2010 and 2015.

France-based Ponant’s 264-passenger Le Soleal was christened in 2013. Six decks high and 466 feet in length, it is one of four nearly identical vessels at the line that debuted between 2010 and 2015.

┬ęStudio PONANT/Nathalie Michel

Far smaller than most cruise ships, Le Soleal was designed to offer a high-end, yacht-like experience while sailing to some of the world's most far-flung destinations including Antarctica.

Far smaller than most cruise ships, Le Soleal was designed to offer a high-end, yacht-like experience while sailing to some of the world’s most far-flung destinations including Antarctica.

Nick Rains

Le Soleal’s small size is evident when it docks next to the vessels of such big-ship lines as Germany’s Aida Cruises.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The exterior decks of Le Soleal include a lovely pool area overlooking the back of the ship.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Located on Deck 6, Le Soleal’s pool area features a small, rectangular pool surrounded on three sides by upscale lounge chairs.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal’s pool is located just in front of the ship’s casual buffet eatery, the Compass Grill.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

In keeping with Le Soleal’s upscale design, lounge chairs on the ship are covered in thick, comfortable cushions.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Overlooking the pool area from a deck above is a small open-air bar that is hot spot for drinks when the ship sails from ports.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

More outdoor lounge seating is available at the front of Le Soleal on Deck 6, just outside the ship’s observation lounge.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The outdoor lounge area on Deck 6 offers a sweeping view over the bow of the ship.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

More deck areas that can be filled with lounge chairs on sunny days are located along the sides of Le Soleal on Deck 7.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Deck 7 also is home to Le Soleal’s 12 motorized Zodiac rafts, which are used for exploration and passenger landings on some itineraries. Ponant is known for itineraries to off-the-beaten-path destinations with little infrastructure such as the Arctic and Antarctica, where such landing craft come in handy.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A mechanical arm on Deck 7 is used to lower Le Soleal’s Zodiac boats to the water.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A marina located at the back of Le Soleal is used to load Zodiacs and also for occasional swimming stops in the ocean.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A close-up shot of the marina area of Le Soleal. It’s located on Deck 2 just behind the ship’s main restaurant.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

While Le Soleal doesn’t have a traditional wrap-around promenade for strolling, it offers small promenade-like viewing areas just outside its main lobby. The spaces double as entryways for passengers when the ship is docked.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Two more small outdoor viewing areas are located just outside the theater on Deck 4. This also is where Le Soleal’s life boats are located.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Small walkways along the side of Deck 6 just behind the main pool area also are open to passengers for viewing.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Like other Ponant ships, Le Soleal flies the flag of France off its stern. Ponant is the only France-based cruise line.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The hub of Le Soleal’s interior is its small but stylish lobby. It’s located at the center of the ship on Deck 3.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The lobby of Le Soleal is home to a reception desk and a customer relations/excursion desk.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The customer relations desk in Le Soleal’s lobby is sometimes used by representatives of tour companies such as Tauck that have blocked space on the ship.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Comfortable leather chairs fill a corner of the Le Soleal lobby.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal’s main indoor gathering spot is The Club, a large and comfortable lounge located at the back of Deck 3.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Filled with comfortable seating and featuring a dance floor and bar, The Club features live entertainment in the evenings that includes singers, pianists and guitar players.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Just behind The Club overlooking the back of the ship is a small outdoor lounge area.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The outdoor lounge area behind The Club features wicker-like furniture topped with thick cushions and pillows.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal also has an observation lounge overlooking the bow of the vessel. Offering bird’s eye views of the ocean, it’s called the Panorama Lounge.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The Panorama Lounge at the top of Le Soleal.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A pianist often plays in the Panorama Lounge, which is home to a grand piano.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A five-seat bar at the back of the Panorama Lounge serves coffee and other drinks throughout the day.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A nook at one end of the Panorama Lounge serves as a combination library and game room for the ship. It offers two card tables that often are the site of lively card games during voyages.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A small library of books in English and other languages is located in a nook at the back of the Panorama Lounge.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The Panorama Lounge also has several computers that can be used to access the Internet.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal has a large main dining room that can seat all of the passengers on the ship at once.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Called The Restaurant, Le Soleal’s main dining room is located on Deck 2 and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The dining room offers come-when-you-want open seating.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A stairway on Deck 3 near the lobby leads down to the ship’s main dining room.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal has a second, more casual eatery called the Compass Grill located on Deck 6.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The Compass Grill is a buffet eatery that opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The Compass Grill serves a wide range of cuisine.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A food station at the Compass Grill.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Nearly half of the Compass Grill’s seating is located outside in a covered area near the ship’s pool.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A dessert buffet at the Compass Grill.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The Compass grill is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Passengers need to make reservations for the eatery for dinner only.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A theater on Deck 4 of Le Soleal is used for lectures as well as evening entertainment. Le Soleal carries nearly a dozen performers, including five dancers and two piano players — a large number for a ship of its size.

Morgan Sloan

An opening at the center of the ship on Deck 4 offers views down to the main lobby on Deck 3.

Morgan Sloan

Deck five also offers a sitting area that contains a future bookings desk.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A small lounge area on Deck 5 is home to computers that can be used to access the Internet and view photos taken by the ship’s photographer.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Also on Deck 5 is a small entertainment room with games.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The entertainment room on Deck 5 contains a small sitting area.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Children’s books and puzzles are available in the entertainment area on Deck 5.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal offers a small spa located at the back of Deck 5.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal’s spa has three treatment rooms.

Morgan Sloan

Le Soleal offers a small fitness center that is part of the spa complex on Deck 5. Open to passengers at no extra charge, it holds five bike machines and three running machines.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The fitness center also has a single Kinesis workout machine.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Hidden behind the spa and fitness center on Deck 5 is another small outdoor deck area.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The small deck area behind the spa on Deck 5 is little visited by passengers.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal operates with an open bridge policy that allows passengers to visit the bridge at any time the ship is not in the midst of difficult maneuvers.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal’s bridge offers some off the best views on the ship.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal offers 132 cabins of varying sizes. Most of the cabins, including the one shown here, measure 194 square feet. A few larger suites are as big as 484 square feet.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Cabins on Le Soleal have a sleek, contemporary look with natural woods and shades of grey and white.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Bathrooms in basic Le Soleal cabins have a single sink and an adjacent shower.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal cabins feature a compartment for the toilet that is separated from the main bathroom.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The shower area in the bathrooms of basic Le Soleal cabins are relatively spacious for a cruise ship.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Cabin bathrooms on Le Soleal feature upscale Hermes toiletries.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Standard cabins on Le Soleal feature built-in closets with room for hanging clothes, drawers, shelves and a personal safe.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal cabins feature both U.S.-Style and European-style electrical outlets.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal cabins have miniature refrigerators with drinks available at an extra charge.

Morgan Sloan

Cabins on Le Soleal come with a desktop iPhone player.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

The most luxurious accommodation on Le Soleal is its Owner’s Suite. It measures 484 square feet, not including a 97-square-foot balcony.

Morgan Sloan

The Owner’s Suites features several rooms including one that has a dining area.

Morgan Sloan

The Owner’s Suite on Le Soleal has a separate bedroom with a king size bed.

Morgan Sloan

The Owner’s Suite bedroom looks out toward the living area.

Morgan Sloan

The Owner’s Suite on Le Soleal has double sinks, a shower and a separate whirlpool tub.

Morgan Sloan

The whirlpool tub in the Owner’s Suite.

Morgan Sloan

A feature of the Owner’s Suite on Le Soleal is a personal espresso drink maker.

Morgan Sloan

Narrow but long, the Owner’s Suite balcony offers chairs and a small table.

Morgan Sloan

A small shop selling Ponant logo wear, jewelry and other items is located on Deck 3 of Le Soleal just outside the The Club.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Passengers board Le Soleal via a retractable stairway that sails with the ship.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal sails with two life boats that can accommodate all of the ship’s passengers.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Ponant is a leader in voyages to remote destinations such as Antarctica and the Arctic, where Zodiacs are used daily to land passengers.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A view from the top deck of Le Soleal.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A narrow walkway along the side of the ship on Deck 5 is open to passengers for sightseeing.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Le Soleal features centrally located elevators that access all five main passenger decks.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

A central staircase also connects Le Soleal’s five main passenger decks.

Morgan Sloan

A life buoy on the top deck of Le Soleal.

Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

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