I’m still pinching myself. After an unforgettable three days spent crossing the channel aboard the luxurious French ice breaker Le Commandant Charcot, I don’t know where to start with the superlatives. This is an ice-breaker which truly breaks the mould. The shipping company was created over 35 years ago by French sailors. Today they deliver a polished expedition performance without stinting on the comfort and elegance you might expect from a chic European operator.
Le Commandant Charcot is the world’s first hybrid icebreaker. She carries 200 guests in polar regions and luxury is her byword. Think all-balcony cabins, a superb 180 degree glass observation lounge, science lab with resident scientists, restaurant with floor to ceiling windows, walk round deck, indoor pool, spa, sauna, ice room and outdoor hot tub.
Whilst the ship’s elegant décor and numerous clever touches lend an air of luxury and comfort to the rugged destinations she visits, the emphasis on board is on reaching locations other ships cannot reach, and giving guests an experience like no other.
She offers some incredible voyages with a difference, but my signature trip has to be Snow Hill Island in the Weddell Sea. No other ship has the capability of cutting through the thick fast ice and reaching within 2-3 kms of the most northerly Emperor Penguin colony in Antarctica. While others may well have to helicopter in, with Charcot you are able to park up against land and it’s a short walk from there.
Hybrid power capabilities allow her to operate silently under battery power when approaching mammals and whales. The advanced ice sonar and hull structure allow her to seemingly float on the ice so you have none of the juddering and shaking of the old Russian ice breakers. For the trip of a lifetime seriously consider one of these:
Sailing 3 – 17 November 2023 the Emperor Penguins of the Weddell Sea is an expedition into the wildest corners of Antarctica, where emperor penguins, leopard seals, and humpback whales are among the wildlife you’ll see. From the Drake Passage, venture south to the frostbitten waters of the Weddell Sea, a landscape dominated by ice floes, gigantic tabular icebergs, and colonies of Adelie penguins to kayak, hike and snowshoe in this majestic environment.
Price from £30,600 per person voyage only.
In February 2013, Le Commandant Charcot completed her first Antarctic Semi-Navigation. The 28-day voyage covered 6,500 nautical miles, venturing as far as Pine Island Bay, at the southeastern end of the Amundsen Sea, where no cruise ship has ever gone. There, guests got a view of the earth’s largest iceberg, the B22, which is about four times the size of New York City.
In 2024, join one of two half-circumnavigations. The first, taking place from 7 January – 5 February will link the southern tip of America to New Zealand, Ushuaia to Lyttelton, sailing to some of the world’s most remote islands (Charcot Island, Peter I Island, and the Marie Byrd Land Islands) and crossing three southern seas. Price from £36,640 per person. Just add flights.
The second, from 6 February – 3 March 2024 takes inspiration from the Heroic Age expeditions of Jules Dumont d’Urville and Douglas Mawson, crossing five southern seas and attempting to reach the Magnetic South Pole. Price from £33,670 per person.