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Ultimate Guide To Le Commandant Charcot - Expert Ship Review

Andy Marsh
A passionate explorer and expert in expedition cruising with extensive experience exploring the polar regions.
expedition cruise ships Le Commandant Charcot in the sea ice in Greenland

In this article

I recently joined an icebreaker cruise on Le Commandant Charcot to explore the wild and remote landscapes of East Greenland, somewhere that is rarely seen except by the Inuit that live there at this time of year. You can see the cruise I joined here.

In this ultimate guide, I share my first-hand experience to help you plan your cruise on Le Commandant Charcot. I cover everything you could want to know, from dining options, cabin types, and amenities to the onboard experience and expedition activities offered.

Remember, if you need any expert advice on planning your cruise on Le Commandant Charcot, please contact our Travel Experience Team.

Introducing Le Commandant Charcot – The World’s First and Only Luxury Icebreaker

When Le Commandant Charcot was launched in 2021, it became the world’s first luxury icebreaker. Its unique hull design and strength, coupled with powerful engines, allow it to crush through thick multi-year sea ice, and it is currently the only purpose-built cruise ship capable of reaching the North Pole.  

Built by the Norwegian shipbuilder Vard, a subsidiary of Fincantieri, it is one of the most technologically advanced cruise ships ever built. It has state-of-the-art hybrid engines that can run on both LNG and Diesel, allowing it to remain autonomous for up to four months. This gives guests unique access to some of the most remote places in the polar regions. 

Aside from its sheer capability, Le Commandant Charcot also excels with stylish interiors mindfully designed around the expedition experience. The interiors are designed by the Studio Jean-Philippe Nuel and Wilmotte & Associés and the attention to details and overall aesthetics set this ship apart. Large floor-to-ceiling windows in lounges and restaurants on the upper decks allow guests to soak in the captivating polar scenery which abounds. It offers a 5-star hotel experience in some of the world’s most remote places.

How Does Le Commandant Charcot Differ From Other Expedition Ships?

Expedition ships are rated based on their ice class, which dictates the type of ice they can encounter safely. Typically, expedition ships have an ice class between 1C and 1A. Le Commandant Charcot has the highest ice rating (PC2) of any cruise ship in the world, which allows it to explore sea ice up to 3 meters in thickness, making it a truly go-anywhere ship. 

What elevates Le Commandant Charcot to a league of its own is its ability as an icebreaker, which opens up a vast realm of possibilities for exploration. Its outstanding onboard comfort makes it an excellent choice for luxury and adventure travellers.

Le Commandant Charcot Itineraries & Destinations

Le Commandant Charcot offers itineraries varying between 11 and 29 days that explore seldom-visited parts of the Arctic and Antarctica that are inaccessible to regular ships and involve a great deal of actual exploration. The itineraries are designed around the ship’s unique abilities as an icebreaker and involve exploring areas with thick sea ice. New ground-breaking voyages are presented each year, offering explorers the chance to witness off-the-beaten-track places.

Arctic

Le Commandant Charcot offers North Pole Cruises 4-5 times yearly on expeditions that commence in Longyearbyen, Svalbard during July and August. For travellers looking for an extended expedition, it offers the Trans Arctic Voyage across the top of the planet via the North Pole from Longyearbyen to Nome in Alaska once a year.

While the ship is best known for its cruises to the Geographic North Pole (and is currently the only purpose-built passenger ship capable of reaching it), it also offers many other exciting voyages in the Arctic. 

Le Commandant Charcot offers pioneering icebreaker cruises to explore remote parts of Greenland early in the season when the coasts are still locked by thick sea ice from the winter months. 

The Last Guardians Of The North Pole is a new expedition to Northwest Greenland for 2025, organised in collaboration with Inuits in the remote village of Kullorsuaq, which is only accessible by icebreaker at that time of year. 

Other Greenland itineraries include Inuit Spring of Ammassalik, an early-season expedition to the remote hunting village of Tasiilaq when it is still locked in by sea ice; Northeast Greenland’s unexplored sea ice, which takes travellers up the seldom seen northeast coast of Greenland; and an icebreaker cruise from Greenland to Svalbard.

In the years when the ship doesn’t sail to Antarctica, it offers winter itineraries in the Arctic, which include the Frozen Saint Lawrence River in Canada and the Gulf of Bothnia in Scandinavia. 

Antarctica

Once every two years, Le Commandant Charcot ventures south to explore the frozen continent of Antarctica. 

Early in November, the ship offers unique icebreaker cruises deep into the pack ice of the Weddell Sea to search for Emperor Penguins, followed by expeditions that explore further south along the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula.  

For travellers looking for a longer expedition, there is an option to join a semi-circumnavigation of Antarctica from Ushuaia in Argentina to New Zealand, exploring the lesser-visited Ross Sea region. 

To see an overview of each cruise on Le Commandant Charcot, please visit our blog post, Best Icebreacker Cruises on Le Commandant Charcot

My First Impressions

Stepping on board the ship in Reykjavik, I was instantly taken aback by how well thought out the ship’s interior is. The spaces are open and uncrowded, each with a stylish and carefully considered design. Many key guest areas such as the observation lounge, the spa, gym, indoor pool with sauna and relaxation area and the Sila restaurant are located at the top of the ship on deck 9 with floor-to-ceiling windows to indulge in the extraordinary views. This creates a calm and laid-back feeling, helped by the ship’s light interior design, soft pallets and plenty of comfortable seating.

At 150 meters in length and 28 meters in width, the ship feels incredibly spacious, Its total capacity is 240 guests in the Arctic and 200 in Antarctica.

Cabins On Le Commandant Charcot

The cabins on Le Commandant Charcot feature the same tasteful design as the rest of the ship and are more akin to a luxury hotel room than a typical cabin on an expedition ship. There are six main cabin types: Prestige, Grand Prestige, Deluxe, Privilege, Duplex, and Owners Suite. You can see inside all the cabins here.

For the luxury traveller, the Duplex suites are spacious two-story apartments at the ship’s stern. They have private decks and a private hot pool. The palatial owner’s suite is one of the largest I have seen, occupying the entire rear deck of deck 8. It has a private dining area, wraparound deck, and jacuzzi. 

The Prestige and Deluxe staterooms offer the best rates. All cabins are spacious and feature private balconies with heated decks, floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, a sitting area with a sofa, and a large ensuite shower with a toilet separated from the bathroom by its own door. 

I stayed in a Deluxe Suite on Deck 7 in the middle of the ship. One of the nice touches is the floor-to-ceiling window in the shower room, which allows you to enjoy the view with a sliding door to close it for privacy. The cabin was furnished with a very comfortable king-sized bed and a selection of plush pillows, a TV that displayed the route map, a minibar restocked daily, and a Nespresso machine.

Le Commandant Charcot Prestige Cabin Deck 7

Deluxe Suite on Deck 7

Dining Options on Le Commandant Charcot

The food at Le Commandant Charcot was one of the many highlights. I was always impressed with the overall quality and variety of the cuisine on offer. 

The Sila Restaurant on deck 9 was my favourite place to enjoy food. With floor-to-ceiling windows, it’s impossible to escape the breathtaking views of Greenland from the top of the ship whilst dining. It’s the ship’s informal dining option with a laid-back seating layout. It’s an excellent choice for those looking to enjoy a meal without the formality in casual but stylish surroundings. You can turn up anytime during the serving hours for breakfast lunch and dinner and choose your seating.  

The restaurant’s format is a freshly cooked buffet, allowing you to choose your desired plate from a good range of offerings. Breakfast had a great choice of options, including fruits, meats, pastries, croissants, and a variety of freshly prepared hot options such as eggs benedict, sausages, eggs, pancakes, and French toast.

Lunch and dinner offered a wide choice of cooked international options, including steak, beef Wellington, chicken, a selection of fish, curries, and noodle dishes. There was also a decent selection of salads, cold meats, cheeses, hot soups, and desserts on offer at each service. 

Nuna is Le Commandant Charcot’s more formal a la carte dining option, located on Deck 5. It serves breakfast, lunch, and evening meals. This sophisticated restaurant features large windows with views over the stern of the ship. In the evening, it serves a four-course tasting menu by French chef Alain Ducasse, complete with its own wine cellar. 

Two formal nights are hosted at Nuna throughout the voyage, where guests can dine with the Captain and officers. 

Both the ship’s restaurants cater to vegetarian and gluten-free diets, with a number of different options for each.

In-room dining is included and available 24 hours per day. The menu consists of hearty favourites such as steaks, burgers, and pasta, as well as a choice of starters and desserts for guests who want to dine in their suite’s privacy.

The Ineq BBQ, situated outside on Deck 9, is open between midday and 6 p.m. and offers classics such as burgers, club sandwiches, and a daily special. Guests can relax in the warmth next to the fire pit. 

Overall, I found the food options at Le Commandant Charcot to be some of the best I have experienced at sea.

Silla restaurant with a view on le commandant charcot

Dining with a view in the Sila Restaurant on Deck 9

Expedition Activities on Le Commandant Charcot

One of the reasons to undertake an expedition cruise is to experience the destination you are visiting through activities. 

Expedition activities are included in the experience on Le Commandant Charcot and vary between voyages depending on the destination. The ship is equipped with a fleet of Zodiacs, kayaks, and snowshoes. 

On the East Greenland cruise I joined, I was able to go dog sledding with locals from the village, Kayak, polar hike, and ice fish. These activities are highly weather-dependent, and we had to try several times before we were able to go kayaking due to the sea fog. The only extra activity is a two-day overnight polar camping expedition aimed at experienced hikers. 

As this was an early-season cruise, we did not do any Zodiac cruising. The places we visited were stopped in the ice, and we were able to go ashore from the ship’s gangway. The guide team set up a perimeter, and we were able to roam freely on the sea ice, which was quite an experience.  

On other voyages to Greenland, Svalbard and Antarctica, a great deal of exploration and shore landings are done on the Zodiacs with the guide team. Cruises on Le Commandant Charcot are active, and each day you explore a destination, expect to be kept busy by the ship’s guide team. 

For the brave and hardy, a polar plunge is offered as an activity on all polar cruises, subject to weather conditions.

Polar hiking in East Greenland with Le Commandant Charcot in the background

Polar Hiking was one of my favourite activities in East Greenland

The Expedition Experience

Overall, I found the expedition experience at Le Commandant Charcot outstanding. The team was highly organised, and there was no waiting time. 

The expedition leader conducts briefings and recaps in the ship’s theatre, comfortably seating all guests. For activities, guests are split into groups with timings to ensure the operations run smoothly.

Two spacious expedition rooms are located on Deck 3. Here, you can swap your footwear for rubber boots supplied by the ship and get prepared to go outside. 

Each guest swipes on and off the ship using their room card. In our case, it was a mere step from the expedition room to walk down the gangway and onto the ice. This will be the embarkation point for Zodiac cruising on other cruises. Expect to find hot ginger tea awaiting for your arrival back into the expedition rooms.

As part of the expedition, you are given a very warm and comfortable expedition parka, which you keep at the end of the cruise. Rubber boots are loaned to you free of charge throughout the expedition. The ship has an Open Bridge policy, and it is possible to enter the bridge to observe the navigation. Occasionally, however, the bridge is closed when undertaking complex navigation. 

Lounges Onboard Le Commandant Charcot

There are two guest lounges on Le Commandant Charcot. 

The Observation Lounge Anori (meaning wind in Inuit) is located on deck 9 at the top of the ship, overlooking the bow. This was my favourite hangout onboard and offers the best views through the wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows. The lounge has doors on either side that provide access to the observation deck. 

This is by far the best space on the ship to witness the surroundings, and I was in a zen-like state of calmness sailing towards the mountainous scenery of East Greenland. Often, in the afternoons and evenings, a musician would play background classical music. 

The lounge features a bar serving cocktails, coffee, and afternoon tea with table service. It also has comfortable sofas and chairs, some with reading tables and chargers. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a drink before dinner or sit and contemplate the stunning nature. 

The main lounge on deck 5 is opposite the theatre. It has large windows looking onto the promenade deck and ample seating down either side of the ship. The lounge features a bar, afternoon tea served daily, a separate cigar lounge, and a small stage for musical acts. Guests often gathered here before dinner, although my preference was the observation lounge. 

Observatory on a luxury icebreaker ship

Observation Lounge Deck 9

Outside Spaces

The exterior spaces on Le Commandant Charcot allow guests ample room for wildlife watching and appreciating the extraordinary views, a feature often overlooked on smaller ships. 

One of my favourite features is the promenade, which extends around deck 5. It’s a great addition and something that is missing on many ships this size. The deck is heated by the ship’s recycled energy to prevent freezing and features heated benches strategically located around the deck. It’s the perfect place to enjoy an evening stroll, sit and enjoy majestic scenery, or spot wildlife through the on-deck scopes.  It provided an ideal vantage point when we had a polar bear sighting in Greenland. The section around the ship’s bow is covered, providing some protection from the elements.

The helideck on the bow of deck 6 is accessible when helicopter operations are not taking place. The ship has an onboard helicopter that is used for scouting and to assist the ship in finding the best route through thick sea ice. The helideck offers uninterrupted views from the bow of the ship and is an excellent place to observe ice navigation.

The observation deck, situated at the top of the ship on deck 9, offers a great vantage point complete with viewing scopes. It is connected to the observation lounge, making it easy to walk outside and view wildlife. 

At the rear of deck 9, there is a seating area with tables and chairs sheltered from the wind by large screens and a fire pit to provide warmth on the colder days.

Observation deck 9 on Le Commandant Charcot with guests watching the ice navigation

Leisure Facilities on Le Commandant Charcot

Le Commandant Charcot has ample leisure facilities in a well-thought-out design on Deck 9 to take advantage of the far-reaching views for a small-sized expedition ship.

It features a compact Indoor Swimming Pool and Relaxation Area. To my delight, the swimming pool has a water stream that generates a current you can swim against, and the water was heated to a balmy 38 degrees. The pool is surrounded by comfortable loungers that look out through the floor-to-ceiling windows to take in the breathtaking views. 

It also features a detox bar that serves freshly prepared juices and herbal teas. The space was uncrowded, making it the perfect place to indulge in some relaxation time during sea days.

Adjacent is a spa with treatment rooms and a range of therapies available at extra cost, with pre-booking required. Within the spa area, there is a decent-sized sauna with floor-to-ceiling windows. Nothing quite beats enjoying the heat whilst looking out over the icy expanse. Close by, there is a snow room, which provides the perfect antidote to the heat.

One of the highlights of Le Commandant Charcot is the heated Blue Lagoon Pool, situated on the outside of Deck 9 and overlooking the stern of the ship. Heated by the ship’s recycled energy, it provides some of the best views from the ship while bathing in the warm waters. Close by is a fire pit, outdoor seating, and a bar, which is the ideal place to enjoy a drink on the warmer days.The ship features a compact Gym, also located on deck 9, which has several running machines, bikes, rowers, and weights, all looking out through floor-to-ceiling windows.

blue lagoon pool on Le Commandant Charcot

The Blue Lagoon on Deck 9

Other Amenities

Located on deck 5, you will find the onboard boutique selling travel clothing and essentials. There is a photography studio where you can purchase your favourite photographs and video moments from the ship’s photographer. Next door is a travel shop where you can make enquiries or book your next expedition.There is an onboard hospital on deck 4 for medical issues or emergencies.

Onboard Activities

Each evening, a programme is delivered to your cabin highlighting the expedition and onboard activities for the following day. On sea days or when there are no expedition activities, expect more on-ship activities. 

Activities include film screenings in the ship’s theatre, lectures by different guides, naturalists, and the onboard photo ambassador, and shows in the theatre on select evenings. The evening we visited Tasiilaq, a local choir came onboard to share Greenlandic singing and drumming. 

You can also join gym classes and participate in a morning fitness routine on the promenade deck.

What Are The Languages Spoken on Le Commandant Charcot?

Le Commandant Charcot is a bilingual ship with English and French as the main languages. Although the ship is French, I found all the announcements to be in both English and French, and this wasn’t a problem. When the Captain made announcements, he would switch between French and English with ease. All the staff are bilingual, and they deliver two languages with ease. If you are an English speaker, you will feel at home on this ship. 

English and French grouped the main safety presentations for efficiency. For the zodiac briefing, translations were provided for guests who spoke non-English or French. For guests who did not speak English or French, a translation was provided during safety briefings.

The Dress Code On Le Commandant Charcot

The dress code on Le Commandant Charcot is smart casual. During the day, casual clothing is the norm when preparing to embark on outings or enjoying your time at sea. There are two formal evenings on each cruise when formal attire is recommended for the captain and officers’ dinner.

In general, the ship was laid-back and not too formal. Travellers who prefer to avoid the formality of other luxury ships will feel comfortable with Le Commandant Charcot. 

Wifi on Le Commandant Charcot

The ship has satellite Wi-Fi, and I found it reliable. I was able to access my email, make calls, and access web pages throughout the voyage. The Wi-Fi is included in the cost, and one device login is allocated per cabin.

As the Wi-Fi is satellite-based, reception could vary depending on the ship’s location, and trips to higher latitudes, such as the North Pole, might not be as reliable.

Sustainability On Le Commandant Charcot

When building Le Commandant Charcot, much thought and development went into the ship’s sustainability. Its ability to run on LNG, a cleaner fuel with far fewer particulate emissions than marine diesel, was a huge step forward. The ship incorporates giant battery banks, which allow it to run without any emissions for short periods and help reduce overall energy usage. It also features an advanced water treatment plant, further reducing its impact. 

The ship has an environmental officer onboard who is tasked with measuring and reducing the ship’s impact on the fragile polar regions. 

There has been a great effort to reduce single-use plastic onboard. Water is delivered to the cabins in glass bottles fresh from the ship’s water plant, with not a plastic bottle in sight.

Who is Le Commandant Charcot Aimed At?

The main appeal of Le Commandant Charcot is its ability to explore exceptionally remote places in the polar regions that are off the routes of other expedition ships. It’s ideally suited to travellers who may have visited the polar regions before and are now looking to explore a more remote location.

Whilst the ship delivers a 5-star experience, it is aimed at travellers looking for an expedition experience. The onboard luxury is independent of the fact that this ship is built for exploration, and the expedition team is highly experienced and knows how to deliver. 

Le Commandant Charcot is also an excellent option for travellers looking for both luxury and the opportunity to explore an off-the-beaten-track destination.

Solo Travelers on Le Commandant Charcot

I joined an expedition as a solo traveller and found it an easy experience. There were options to join dining groups with the guides and naturalists. In the middle of the trip, there was an outdoor Parka Party on deck 9. I found other guests onboard to be friendly, and during activities such as kayaking, you will be paired with another solo traveller. 

Le Commandant Charcot offers no single supplement on a variety of cabins and cruises throughout the season. These cabins are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, and my advice is to book early, as they are often all fully booked towards the departure date.

If a no single supplement cabin is unavailable on your chosen departure, then you can pay for an additional supplement, which varies depending on the availability of your chosen cruise.

a person standing in front of Le Commandant Charcot on the sea ice

A huge advantage of an icebreaker is you can explore places out of the reach of regular ships.

Final Thoughts

Le Commandant Charcot is a unique expedition ship that seamlessly blends luxury travel with an adventurous expedition. I met many travellers onboard who had already signed up for their next expedition, and I can see why.

From the stylish interiors, gorgeous food, relaxing amenities, and high levels of onboard comfort to adventurous activities and an expedition programme, this is a ship that ticks all the boxes of the discerning explorer. 

If you would like to join a cruise on Le Commandant Charcot, please don’t hesitate to contact our Travel Experience Team. They will be happy to assist you and answer any questions you may have. 

You can view all our cruises on Le Commandant Charcot here. 

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