Expedition cruising to the Arctic and Antarctica gets more popular every year, and sailings usually fill up as far as two years in advance. So we were excited to learn that Adventures by Disney (ABD) still has limited space on its December 2023 trip to Antarctica, chartered through the luxury line Ponant Cruises. Ciao Bambino Advisor Melissa Smith and her family recently had the opportunity to travel with ABD and Ponant to the Arctic and loved their experience all around. In her own words, Melissa shares what made the trip so special and why she recommends Ponant for families.
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The ship that we were on was 100 percent ABD clients, and so they had completely chartered the whole ship — we got to experience all of the things that are Ponant, with Disney added into the mix. ABD has one more [sailing] in December, and that is a shared ship. So there are going to be people from other companies, but there will definitely be ABD-specific activities for the clients who book through them.
For our sailing, we had four Disney adventure guides on the ship with us [handling] the shipboard activities for ABD guests. They really were age-appropriate and fun; it was not all Disney. There was adult trivia, we had bingo one night — just different activities that they organized for the families. They had one Disney trivia night, but there really was not a lot of heavy Disney stuff. My son is 18, and they even had a special happy hour for the 18- to 29-year-olds.
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Ponant is definitely a luxury line, and the experience was elevated, from the food to the service level and the staff-to-guest ratio. The expedition crew were all Ponant staff, so the ABD adventure guides were taking the same zodiacs with us to go out with the Ponant expedition crew. Their people had the experience and knew their own ship, and then we had the additional four people who were aboard for our entertainment, more or less.
The ship had a very small kids’ space — it was just an open area on one of the decks. They had a video game system and a couple of games, and that was pretty much the extent. So if the kids are looking for something to keep them truly entertained all the time, then they’re going to be missing that. When you take one of these expedition cruises, the focus is not on all of the shipboard things; it is on the landings and the zodiac trips and the nature and getting off the ship. You do roughly two excursions a day; that’s what they try for. You also have science talks and everything else happening between your landings.
The big thing that you need to know is that it is nature. You could go on a zodiac for an hour and cruise around and never see anything, or you could go on land and see nothing but really beautiful views. Seeing an aquatic animal or anything else is not guaranteed. There was one [excursion] that we literally saw nothing the whole time we were out. We had gorgeous pictures and we had a great time, but it’s kind of what you’re getting.
Especially in the Arctic, you’re seeing a lot more of the environmental impact. We were in Svalbard — it’s the fastest melting place on earth. Polar bear sightings are becoming fewer and fewer. We were there a week and we saw two polar bears; the cruise before ours saw none and the cruise after ours saw one.
Expedition cruising is fantastic. It comes down to: If you want to see these destinations, you just have to do it. You need to understand that the focus truly is about nature and being where you are and the access that you’re not really getting in another way, and then try to make the best of the time that you have on the ship. That’s where I really did like ABD, because I felt like my family spent more time outside of our stateroom than on our last expedition cruise. And if you’re wanting that luxury experience, then I think Ponant is a great way to do it.
Editor’s Note: Photos courtesy of Melissa Smith.
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