Spotlight on Croisi Europe - January 2019
GoCruise – 18th January 2019
Croisi Europe are a French family run company with a Head Office and boat yards in Strasbourg and a fleet of over 50 ships. They predominantly sail in France on the Rhone and Saone, the Seine, the Gironde, Garonne and Dordogne in the Bordeaux region and the Loire (on the ‘Loire Princesse’ a ship with a paddle wheel to circumvent low water levels), but also have ships on the Douro, Danube, Rhine and Elbe (as well as the Oder, Havel and Vltava rivers) and are one of only two river cruise companies sailing a river cruise ship around Venice and up the Po river (view this as an affordable floating all inclusive hotel right in the centre of the city, offering a significantly more reasonably priced alternative to a land stay in Venice). Further afield, Croisi offer river cruises on the Volga in Russia, the Mekong and in South Africa. They have recently started cruising on the St Lawrence River and Lake Ontario in North America. Whilst larger, main stream ocean cruising companies sail up the St Lawrence River, their ship size precludes them from sailing this particular route to Quebec City, which is French speaking, so a natural affinity for the majority of Croisi guests. Croisi also offer canal cruises in France on six mainly 22 berth barges (each complete with a jacuzzi) along the likes of the Marne Canal, the Upper Loire and the canals of Provence, ideal for (large or multi generational) family holidays or groups of friends. Completing the fleet are two coastal ships – La Belle de Cadix (176 passengers) sailing on the Guadalquivir and Guadiana rivers, linked by the Atlantic Coast and La Belle de L’Adriatique (200 passengers), Croisi’s only true maritime vessel, sailing the coasts of Croatia, the Greek islands, Sicily, Malta, Cyprus, Israel and Montenegro.
Croisi river ships have quite a unique ship design with shallow drafts. This means, for example, that they can moor in Honfleur town itself, as well as sail on the Elbe and Loire rivers (as above). They are the only river cruise line to my knowledge where the lowest deck cabins have picture windows (as opposed to half height river view windows) and were the first company to offer river facing bed configurations. They offer standard and premium ships, with either 2 or 3 accommodation decks. One of the main differences between the standard and premium ships is their age – new ships are premium and standard ships are being upgraded to premium – like the ‘MS Renoir’, which looks like a totally new build! Premium ships offer river facing cabins and some have French balconies but none of the ships have full balconies. The size of the picture window increases as you move from bottom deck cabins upwards.
The ships are best described as comfortably functional with compact cabins. As there are different sizes of ship (partly depending upon the rivers on which they sail) cabin sizes are not the same across the fleet, but vary between 75 and 180 sq ft, with the majority measuring 140 sq ft. However, cabin size is uniform on individual ships. 20% of the fleet offers lower deck cabins with Pullman beds for 3rd or 4th occupancy, more suitable for children sailing on Family Club cruises, as the cabins are the same size as those for twin occupancy. 40% of ships offer single cabins, others have suites (accommodations that are typically 30% larger than other cabins on the ship) and there are one or more adapted cabins on most ships in the fleet. Having said that, like the great majority of river cruise lines, Croisi ships do not have a lift that extends to the sun deck, so river cruising is not particularly suitable for guests confined to a wheelchair most of the time (My rule of thumb is whether you can walk up 20 steps with minimal support or not).
Croisi ships do not profess to be luxury vessels and have no additional facilities like an alternate restaurant, on board musician, gym, spa or hair dresser, but they sail interesting and unique itineraries in an unashamedly French style and do include complimentary wifi. There are no bikes available for use, apart from on the barges. The menus are plat du jour (no choice within courses, but alternatives will be offered if required), with a buffet at breakfast and waiter served 3 course lunch and evening meals. As Croisi attract an international audience, open seating does not operate in the restaurant, but care is taken to seat guests speaking the same language on the same dining table. Free flowing French wines and other alcohol is available 24/7 as part of their all inclusive deal, but they do not offer early risers breakfasts or midnight buffets!
Shore excursions are an optional extra (as opposed to a lot of other river cruise lines) apart from on the barges, where they are included in the price. It is possible to choose from a ‘Classic’ or ‘Discovery’ package (must see sights of historical, cultural and architectural interest versus out of the way visits, walking and bike tours or helicopter trips). On board lectures and demonstrations are not as prolific as on other river cruise ships and neither is the presence of local musicians or folk groups. French is the first language on board, with English second. Quizzes, games and other on board entertainment is difficult if you do not have a more than working knowledge of French, but all signage and announcements are multi lingual and crew members speak good English. On one cruise, I was one of only 5 english speaking guests and great effort was made to ensure that all communications were relayed in English as well as French.
Itineraries on Croisi ships range from 3 – 20 nights duration and conveniently, there are often different length cruises sailing broadly the same itineraries. This opens up the opportunity to take a river cruise along the Rhine, for instance as a long weekend or to have a mini break in Paris, staying on a river cruise ship. Longer itineraries give the option to sail a combination of rivers like a 10 night cruise from Amsterdam (Rhine) to Avignon (Rhone), via Basel, a 12 night cruise from Strasbourg (Rhone) to Budapest (Danube) or a shorter 8 night itinerary to Vienna. It takes 20 nights to sail from Strasbourg to Tulcea in Rumania, on the Lower Danube and 17 nights to link Berlin (Elbe) with Strasbourg, via Amsterdam.
Like most of the other river cruise lines, Croisi offer cruise dates with specific themes, within their itineraries. These include music cruises, The Seine and Impressionism art cruises, hiking, biking and golfing active cruises, family cruises in July and August (where under 16 year olds cruise for free and there are children’s activities on board. The single supplement is also waived for single parents), French cuisine, beer and wine tasting options and festive cruises. These are not just at Christmas but also include Carnival (February) and the International Film Week (August/September) in Venice, the Feast of St Anthony celebrated in Lisbon on 24th June, the Movie and Music Festival held in Vienna in July/August and the ‘Rhine in Flames’ firework displays held along the banks of the Rhine to celebrate the completion of the grape harvest (September).
As one of several river cruise lines that do not include gratuities in the fares, there is an optional tipping policy on board. Any gratuity is entirely at the discretion of individual guests and involves leaving an anonymous brown envelope in a bowl on the Reception desk.
Croisi are also one of the few river cruise companies offering cruises nearly year round. Whilst European river cruising stops in January, Croisi offer cruises on the Mekong and Chobe rivers. February sees the advent of mini cruises in Paris and Venice, followed by spring flowers in Holland and Belgium. The main European river cruise season commences in May and is in full flood until late October/November when cooler months are also quieter, but there is still good weather to be found around the Mediterranean. December heralds Christmas markets and cruises over Christmas and New Year.
Overall Croisi offer a decent 3-4* (depending on the ship) river cruising experience at a reasonable price. The stand out features are their destinations and itineraries. But on many fronts it is true to say that Croisi Europe really are a company for all seasons!
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