A 500m cruise on Ponant’s luxury icebreaker in Lyttelton Harbour

Living in Lyttelton, I see a lot of cruise ships arriving and departing each summer, but Ponant’s luxury icebreaker the ‘Commandant Charcot’ is unique, so when I was offered the opportunity to enjoy a overnight aboard in the harbour, I jumped at the chance. The Charcot had just voyaged from Antarctica and was turning around here before heading back into the ice. She’s been at sea since July 2021, so still very new and it has a real ‘wow’ factor, currently the only luxury tourist icebreaker in the world

It’s the first passenger ship to have visited both the Geographic North Pole and reached the most southerly point on the planet in Antarctica. It is the only passenger ship in the world with a Polar Class 2 hull, which allows for navigation through multiyear ice, with the ship’s hull rising up onto the sea ice and breaking it with its weight. It’s operating regularly in East Greenland, the North Pole, North West Passage and can complete a semi-circumnavigation of Antarctica from Ushuaia to Lyttelton! It’s a hybrid electric polar exploration ship, featuring advanced technology for sustainable cruising in environmentally sensitive areas, equipped with a hybrid propulsion system combining liquefied natural gas (LNG) and electric batteries, reducing its environmental footprint compared to traditional vessels.

Until the Charcot was launched, the only icebreaker options for tourists were Russian ships that resembled floating Soviet style apartment blocks; this could not be more different. The rooms are very spacious with incredibly comfortable beds and top-spec ensuites and all have balconies. We were accommodated in a Deluxe Suite, which was lovely, but we also enjoyed a ship tour where we had a chance to view the remarkable Duplex (split level) Suites and the enormous Owners’ Suite – wow. We even enjoyed a short cruise during our delicious buffet breakfast, 500m from the passenger terminal to the oil terminal and back again!

There’s a impressive gym, bar, theatre, indoor and outdoor pools, spa, dry sauna and even a snow room so it does feel rather like a luxury small cruise ship, especially with the top-end French gastronomy (caviar and champagne anyone?) but of course, it has unparalleled expedition capabilities as well. The Charcot is equipped with the usual fleet of zodiacs and around 20 naturalist guides per departure, so the lecture program will be comprehensive.

The Commandant Charcot is a true ‘bucket list’ travel experience – it’s not cheap of course, but if you want to experience the furthest reaches of the planet, voyaging where no other tourist ship can go, and do it in considerable style, this is the ship to do it on.