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Le Commandant Charcot
Photograph: Ponant / Nicolas Debreuil

The world’s first ice-breaking cruise sails to the North Pole this summer

Le Commandant Charcot combines icy exploration with mind-boggling luxury

Ed Cunningham
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Ed Cunningham
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Always wanted to visit the vast, endless cold of the North Pole, but don’t fancy trekking through the icy wilderness, potentially getting some serious frostbite and, erm, dying? Well, there’ll soon be a much more comfortable, less potentially-lethal alternative. The world’s first ice-breaking cruise ship is set to sail for the Arctic Circle this summer.

The ship is called Le Commandant Charcot and it’s operated by French cruise company Ponant. Running on a special hybrid engine that uses liquefied natural gas and apparently has minimal impact on the environment, the Charcot has the capacity to take up to 270 guests right the way through the ice to the actual North Pole.

The Charcot isn’t just the first ice-breaking cruise of its kind: it’s also a really, really luxurious liner. On board are swishly-designed suites, several lounges, a viewing deck, a theatre, some boutique shops, a spa, a pool deck (with both indoor and outdoor pools) and two restaurants, one of which is run by Alain Ducasse – a chef best known for earning a whopping 21 Michelin stars.

If all that wasn’t enough, the Charcot also offers loads of off-boat experiences, from snow trekking and kayaking to exploration by dog sled and helicopter. The crew apparently includes one naturalist guide per ten passengers, all to help guests navigate fjords and icebergs – and maybe even spot the odd polar bear. Here are a few extra snaps of the ship. 

Le Commandant Charcot
Photograph: Ponant / Gilles Trillard
Le Commandant Charcot
Photograph: Ponant / Gilles Trillard
Le Commandant Charcot
Photograph: Ponant / Olivier Blaud

As well as offering people the chance to visit the far north, the Charcot also has a research wing with two on-board laboratories. Working with the Polar Citizen Science Collective, the Charcot’s team provide feedback on the Arctic environment and help provide supplies to research centres.

As for whether icebreakers are bad for the environment… well, ice melts faster when it’s been broken up. So if they’re used on a huge scale, icebreaking ships could pose a serious problem by accelerating the melting of ice caps. The Charcot, as just one ship, is unlikely to make much real difference. But let’s hope the idea doesn’t get too popular.

The cheapest cruise starts at £11,600 ($14,800) for a ten-night trip, but more luxurious packages cost upwards of £30,000 ($38,000). Cruises leave either from Reykjavik, Iceland, or Longyearbyen, Norway, with pricing for the latter often including a flight from Paris to the frozen island of Svalbard.

So avid explorers, now’s your chance to join the handful of people who have visited the North Pole. And if polar bears ain’t your vibe, fear not. Later this year the Charcot will be doing trips to the Antarctic too.

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