I have just returned from a 2 night ‘Week-end Break in the Romantic Rhine Valley’ on Croisi Europe’s MS Symphonie. Croisi offer a ‘cruise only’ product (for the main) in the UK, so we took an early morning flight from Manchester to Strasbourg, arriving at 1.30pm. This actually involved a flight to Frankfurt with Lufthansa and then an airport bus (all part of the flight price, but requiring a separate check in at Frankfurt) to Strasbourg XER (Central Train Station) as opposed to flying to Strasbourg International Airport (SXB). Embarkation wasn’t until 6pm so armed with a €1 map of central Strasbourg we set off on our own city walking tour. Lunch was eaten in a cafe in the square overlooking the 142m high spire of the Notre Dame Cathedral and next to La Maison Kammersall (the oldest house in Strasbourg). We crossed the river several times using the Covered Bridges and the Vauban Dam, wandered along the half timbered streets of La Petite France and re acquainted ourselves with Albert Schweitzer’s life in Strasbourg. We then picked up our bags and got a taxi from the station to the ship berthed at 3b Rue du Havre, where Croisi Europe have their berths as well as some warehousing and an admin facility. The ride cost €14.50 and Croisi send pre cruise information out about a preferred taxi partner, as well as suggestions for accommodation and cruise parking in Strasbourg.
MS Symphonie was built in 1997 (one of Croisi’s older craft) and refurbished in 2010. She is one of 19 two (passenger) deck ships operated by the Croisi brand, along with 8 three (passenger) deck ships and 2 river-coastal ships. The 2 deck ships carry 100 -150 passengers, whilst the 3 deck ships carry 140 – 180 passengers. There are only outside cabins on the 2 deck ships, with larger windows, some of which open, on the upper deck, whereas the 3 deck ships have French balconies on their upper deck. Bed configuration is either fixed twin or fixed double bed. Thirteen of the Croisi ships have between 1 and 3 single cabins each and there are 8 ships which have disabled cabins, most with lifts. Additionally, there is a sun deck on all ships, a library on some ships, a lounge bar with small dance floor, a gift shop (where purchases can be made in cash or credit card) and of course the restaurant –on the upper deck on the 2 deck ships and on the main or middle deck on the 3 deck ships.
MS Symphonie has 28 cabins on the upper deck (5 double and 23 twin cabins) and 51 cabins on the main deck (including 2 single, 10 double and 25 twin cabins). There is no lift and no cabins equipped for disabled passengers. All cabins are approximately 120 sq ft with the same green decor. The beds are fairly comfortable and the bathrooms are functional, if perhaps a little basic: there is a combination soap/shower gel/shampoo dispenser but no other complimentary toiletries and a circular pull around shower curtain within a wet room type concept, as opposed to a cubicle. Nevertheless, the compact design is good enough to prevent a flood developing every time you have a shower. The hair dryers work well and the TV shows BBC World News.
Despite Croisi advertising their 2 deck ships as carrying 150 passengers, MS Symphonie can take up to 160 passengers. There were only 124 fellow travellers on our cruise of whom 7 were English speaking (including 3 Brazilians). We were all placed on the same table for meals and the Hotel and Reception staff made every effort to provide announcements in English as well as separate menus and daily schedules for each of our cabins. All notices throughout the ship were in French and English, as were the river commentaries (which were narrated by a Miranda Hart sound alike!)
I would rate this ship as 3* (based on the assumption that AMA ships are 5* and the best Shearing’s ship also 3*) but the cuisine punched above this rating somewhat:
The food on Symphonie was very good: Breakfast was buffet style – a more than adequate choice of fruit (tinned, dried and fresh), bread, croissants and other rolls, jams, honey, cheeses and ham, an assortment of eggs and sausages (with timers for 3, 5 or 7 minute boiled eggs), a bewildering choice of yogurt and crème fraiche (but only 2 choices of cereal) and a very passable cup of tea!
Lunch and dinner were both 3 courses (sorry, I cannot bring myself to call a cup of coffee – a course!) but based on a typical plat du jour, set menu. Nevertheless, as the menus were unveiled the evening before, it was always possible to ask for an alternative. We tested out this theory at one meal time and can report that the alternative course that was provided was very good! Croisi will also cater for special diets. The food was French in style with a sprinkling of Germanic dishes. At the moment Croisi include wine, beer, water and fruit juice with lunch and dinner. There was a list of 8 house wines – including Alsatian white wine and French and German red and rose varieties, to choose from. All drinks apart from the ONE small demi tasse of black coffee are unlimited (the whole table ordered coffee and then passed it down to one of the Brazilian ladies, who I am sure, would have preferred a caffeine IV infusion, for as we know ‘There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil’). Between April and October 2014, Croisi ships will be ‘all inclusive’ with respect to drinks. Up until then, bar purchases are effected by buying a €30 drinks card prior to your first drink, which you can either renew as you go along or cash in the balance at the end of the cruise.
As it was only a 2 night cruise, the ship was moored up in both Strasbourg and Rudesheim well into the evening, if not overnight. In Strasbourg, the evening excursion (all Croisi shore excursions are sold as optional extras) was a Batorama canal boat tour round the city, which we didn’t do, but the other British couple did and enjoyed. Again, every effort was made to provide English translations, although Croisi will not guarantee an English commentary on all their shore excursions, with it depending on the actual numbers of non French speaking guests they are catering for.
The nice thing about this particular itinerary was the amount of time spent cruising the Rhine during daylight hours. On the first full day (Saturday) we sailed past Speyer, Mannheim, Worms, Mainz and the start of the Main-Danube Canal, before reaching Rudesheim. Unfortunately, the weather and a lot of the scenery, was not conducive to spending too much time on deck, so as a result, disembarking after lunch was a good time for a brisk walk. Armed with a town map from Reception, we set off to explore the area. We took the cable car up to the Niederwald Monument (built towards the end of the 19th century to celebrate German Unification, the main figure on the monument is a large bronze statue of Germania). We travelled over a peacefully quiet hillside, passing vineyards still with a few bunches of grapes hanging on the vines and sailing over the heads of walkers and runners zig zagging up the hill side for the view, which at 250m above the Rhine was magnifcent. Then back down for a guided tour (with a limited written translation in English) of Siegfried’s Mechanical Museum, housed in part of the imposing Brömserburg Castle. Even if you are not a museum buff, the display of old and, in many cases, still working musical boxes, mechanical pianos and violins and early gramophones, is impressive. Rudesheim caters for the river cruise ships with its host of souvenir shops, restaurants, bars and cafes and so after a stroll down Drosselgasse (trying to spot a suitable bar for our intended night cap, later on), we stopped off for an obligatory coffee and apple strudel. I have to confess, I was a little disappointed with Rudesheim at night –any romantic notion of Oompah bands and clashing steins was quickly dispelled by the choice of either sedate wine drinking with a quick twirl round the dance floor or raucous discos. As we made our way back to the ship later on, the twinkling fairy lights set in the bar ceiling welcomed us back to a packed dance floor with electric keyboard accompaniment from the resident pianist.
Sunday morning saw a large number of passengers on deck as we cruised along what is arguably the most beautiful stretch of the Rhine Gorge (the approximately 65km stretch from Bingen to Koblenz). I lost count of the number of castles, little villages and vineyards we passed which were very picturesque, but would have been even more stunning if the sun had been shining! The ship almost keeled over as we sailed past the Loreli Rock (120m above the waterline, it marks the narrowest part of the Rhine between Switzerland and the North Sea and has been a UNESCO World heritage site since 2002), with everyone going starboard side, taking pictures and gazing at the statue of the Rhine mermaid sat at the base of the rock. The scenery continued until we eventually berthed on the Moselle side of the Deutsches Eck in Koblenz (the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle), signalling the end of our cruise.
Included in the cruise price was a coach transfer back to Strasbourg, but we had elected to get a train back from Koblenz to Frankfurt airport and so had a few hours to stroll round Koblenz. There were several river cruise ships already moored in Koblenz and ‘Serenade 2’ sailed up the Moselle and turned north up the Rhine while we were there.
We strolled back to Deutsches Eck (German Corner), a ‘V’ shaped promontory marking the confluence of the two rivers and after a quick look at the giant equestrian statue of William I, a 1990’s replica of the original and a reminder of German Unity (along with a large national flag and those of the 16 landers (states or sub divisions of Germany)), we took the cable car across the Rhine to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. Although we didn’t go in, a stroll across a large grassy area led us to a spectacular viewing area, looking back to the Moselle and north up and around another bend in the Rhine.
Symphonie is a relatively old ship by current European river cruise standards and ship design has changed considerably over the last 16 years, but she bears up adequately within these confines and is well looked after and maintained. Her decor is understated and emanates an atmosphere, which for 2 nights provided us with a very pleasant and relaxing trip with excellent food and service.
I would certainly consider a cruise with Croisi Europe again in the future. They offer one to 7 night (or longer) itineraries which can slot in nicely with other European travel plans and/or offer a short taster cruise for those wanting to dip their toe into the proverbial river cruise experience. It is an ideal cruise for groups of friends or family and also for individuals with better linguistic capabilities than me !! Croisi also offer itineraries on rivers where other cruise lines have either no, or very little, presence and all at a competitive price.