This Week: Onward To The Adriatic For Ponant & Pedaling, With Backroads

On Monday, Tamera and I departed Asheville, North Carolina for a four-leg journey that would carry us to Charlotte, then to JFK, then to Helsinki, and finally to Copenhagen. In the Danish capital we are still a long way from our ship, Ponant’s Le Lyrial. But we have plenty of time. It won’t be departing from Venice until next Monday, and if all goes as planned, we’ll be on board.

Le Lyrial. Photo courtesy of Ponant

I’ll get to our Ponant adventure in just a moment. Actually it’s a Ponant and Backroads adventure. First, though, I thought you’d be curious about why we are in Copenhagen. We are here for three reasons. The first is to recover from the flight. Flying takes its toll on even experienced travelers, and we wanted to make sure we arrived at the ship refreshed, and with luggage in hand. That’s why I always advise arriving at your port of call, or at some place relatively nearby, a day or more ahead of embarkation. In this case, we’re seven days ahead of our embarkation on Le Lyrial, and during those days, we’re in the same time zone, less than two hours away from the ship by air, so with any luck, we’ll arrive refreshed and ready to sail and pedal.

The second reason we landed here in the Danish capital is that I wanted to revisit a place I lived for nearly a decade, and that is just across the Oresund in Sweden. Sweden can be exceptionally beautiful, especially when the weather participates. We are arriving during what a friend tells me is “one of the worst periods of weather during May in more than a decade.” Actually, it’s not that bad. We arrived to no rain and partly cloudy skies. Daytime highs are in the 60s, with lows in the high 40s. We’re hoping the sun will shine on us and Sweden will show its sun-splashed beauty.

The third reason we’re here is that business class air through Copenhagen was a heck of a lot cheaper than business class air directly to Venice. I saved enough by booking through Copenhagen, in fact, to pay for the entire week in Scandinavia, helped by the fact the US dollar is at a 17-year high against the Swedish krona. It’s like Sweden is on sale, and it is, compared to when I lived here and much of the time the dollar hovered around six to seven crowns. Today, we’re enjoying nearly 10 crowns to the dollar.

Though we’re intent on living in the moment while in Scandinavia, our excitement is growing for boarding Le Lyrial and beginning our Backroads trip. Our program begins next Monday when we will check out of the Hilton Garden in Venice and meet our Backroads group. I’ve traveled with Backroads before. Billing itself as the world’s number one active adventure company, Backroads delivers a stellar travel experience. I look forward to sharing some of our experiences here on Avid Cruiser and on our Instagram account, @avidcruiser.

Because we’re traveling with Backroads, my packing list was a bit unusual. I packed Spandex, chamois-crotchet biking shorts, as well as some of my favorite cycling jerseys. Passionate about cycling for as long as I can remember, I look forward to pedaling the Adriatic coast. 

Pondering Ponant

Of Ponant, I know little – except that I should know more. I have friends, professionals in the cruise industry, who rave about Ponant. I do know that the line is French, boasting a small-ship fleet focused on expeditions. Mike Louagie, a maritime photographer and a friend for more than a decade, says of Ponant:

It is French-flagged, with a French flair, but very international. They do their utmost best to be international. The gastronomy is definitely French. It starts with the breakfast, which has an opulent choice of food, with lots of French details, such as butter from Normandy etc. Bread and pastries are baked on board and one can tell the difference between this and industrial products.

There is a main dining room below (free seating for 2, 4, 6 or 8. / there is time flexibility too). There is a restaurant on the swimming pool deck. It is a buffet but with I would call ‘possibilities’ (you can order). Either you sit inside or outside. Often they will offer food outside (oysters, BBQ, pancakes….)

The lounge above the bridge is really nice for pre-dinner drinks (included, except some brands). The view facing the bow is what you want. People at reception are very helpful, and they know quickly who you are (CRM). Everything is relaxed, but on gala evenings you will see most people dress up (nice jacket, tie optional, just be elegant, fashionable)

I have sailed on several of their ships and I am a Ponant lover. Especially the nautical experience is important for me. All captains I had were so enthusiast. Captains in general are very enthusiast sailors, with a passion for seafaring (that’s the DNA of the company, founded by officers 30 years ago). They like to share this passion. Don’t hesitate to ask them for photo or video opportunities (zodiac).

When you sit on a zodiac you will see how elegant this ship is. It is one of the most elegant vessels in the cruise industry, something that struck me when the ships were new. It was love on the first sight.

But First, Scandinavia

This week, I’ll be showing Tamera my old stomping grounds, visiting friends, and soaking up the beauty that is Sweden. I’ll be running a few experiments, assessing how my plan worked to save on business class air and visit Scandinavia before heading off to Venice. I’ll also be checking which of my “Staying Connected” strategies works best. For now, I’ve signed up for T-Mobile’s Global Plus program for an additional $50 a month. I have Verizon and Google Fi as backups. 

One thing that I hope we don’t have to test is our insurance. I charged all travel on Chase Sapphire Reserve, which boasts excellent travel protection, and we signed up for a multi-trip travel insurance policy from GeoBlue, which came highly recommended by our readers. Total cost for GeoBlue: $200 for both of us, and it covers multiple trips of up to 70 days in duration for one year.

As I was boarding my first of four flights for this trip, I got an email from a reader. Ken from Vancouver wrote: “The one thing I hate about travel is that I stress (and obsess) over anything that could possibly go wrong on a trip, especially the possibility of missing connections or airport transfers (my cell phone plan doesn’t allow me to use my phone outside of Canada), so it would be nice to have an excursion where such stresses are minimized or eliminated.”

That’s what I am striving for, and even with the best-laid plans, things could go amiss. “Change of plans,” said our pilot, 10 minutes after we took off from Asheville. Not sure what the change of plans were – turbulence perhaps – but as it turned out, we landed in Charlotte ahead of arrival. So far, so good. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Join the Conversation

Al West says:

What about the health requirement certification? I booked a Ponant cruise and then cancelled because they wanted some form that is hard to get from an American MD but may be available in Europe.

Philip Hurst says:

I could not agree more with your friend Mike. Ponant is seriously chic, seriously classy and elegant. Everything he says about the ships is spot on; the food is excellent (yes, quite French) and the service is impeccable. I too am a huge fan of Ponant. In fact I’m heading for “Le Bougainville” in a couple of weeks.

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