The French cruise line Ponant has teamed up with Smithsonian Journeys on a series of co-branded sailings for 2023 designed to enlighten and inform travelers with the in-depth knowledge of Smithsonian experts.
Two Smithsonian Journey Experts—who might include an art historian, a solar astrophysicist or an international relations expert—will accompany each of the 21 sailings. Itineraries explore various European routes—from Iceland to the Greek Islands—as well as the Americas from Canada and the Great Lakes to Panama and Costa Rica.
In addition to attending the experts’ informative talks, guests can immerse themselves in the local environment and culture of each port of call, accompanied by an experienced expedition team who provide insight into the region’s history, culture, geology, flora and fauna.
One standout itinerary on board Le Lapérouse will make a 16-day sailing to eastern Indonesia, East Timor and the Kimberley region of Australia, timed to the total eclipse of the sun that will take place on April 20, 2023 (rates from $20,480 per person). Alex Young, associate director of science at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and Australian-American historian Craig Benjamin will guide guests’ viewing of the three-plus hour cosmic event and other trip programming.
Guests board the ship in Bali as the voyage kicks off with swimming, snorkeling and watching the mythical Komodo dragons in Komodo National Park, before proceeding to East Timor to discover the recently-independent country’s cultural and natural wonders—from the capital city of Dili to the Coral Triangle with its abundant coral reefs.
After crossing the Timor Sea, guests arrive in Wyndham, the northernmost township of Western Australia and the gateway to the Kimberley region with its rushing waterfalls, white sandy beaches, dense mangrove forests, rugged sandstone gorges, and the largest population of migrating humpback whales on the planet. Activities include Zodiac tours of King George River (including the 260-foot-high King George Twin Falls) and viewings of aboriginal Wandjina and Gwion Gwion rock art of Swift Bay, cruising the Ord River, flying over the Bungle Bungle mountains, and exploring the El Questro outback station, one of the world’s last remaining frontiers.
Le Lapérouse then returns to the Timor Sea for optimal viewing of the solar eclipse on April 20, when the sun will be blocked by the moon in totality for just over one minute. Following the eclipse, the ship will return to the Kimberley region to further explore its natural wonders, including Collier Bay, where extreme tidal ranges have created dramatic landscapes and natural phenomena, like the Montgomery Reef, the world’s largest in-shore reef system. At the southern end of the Bay is the world’s only “Horizontal Falls,” described by Sir David Attenborough as “one of the greatest wonders of the natural world,” where tidal movements create a waterfall effect between narrow gorges.
The ship will also visit the Lacepede Islands, a rich breeding habitat for green turtles, brown boobies, lesser frigatebirds, and other species before reaching the voyage’s conclusion in Broome, on the far north coast of Western Australia.
Le Lapérouse can accommodate up to 186 guests in 92 staterooms and suites. The ship features a hydraulic platform for easy embarking and disembarking as well as for swimming and watersports, such as standup paddleboarding and kayaking. Restaurants include a gastronomic venue and an al fresco grill, and guests can catch a glimpse under the waves in the Blue Eye, a multi-sensorial underwater lounge.