A family-owned French firm based in Strasbourg that started up in 1976 now operates one of the largest inland waters’ fleets in Europe with both river and canal boats. The river cruises travel on waterways throughout Europe, providing one of the main attractions for those looking for less traveled destinations. In addition, coastal cruises fan out from Naples to the Amalfi Coast, Aeolian Islands, and Sicily, from Naples to Greece, and along Croatian coast and Montenegro. Additional river and island coastal cruises, beyond Europe, appear below. The total fleet worldwide now numbers almost 50 vessels. The firm caters to English speakers as well as European nationalities, and obviously the French.
Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers
The river fleet numbers 40. A sample listing follows. A “P” following a ship’s name indicates Premium, the newest and heavily remodeled vessels with larger cabins and more amenities.
Rhine & Danube: LA BOHEME (built 1995, 162 passengers, 108 sq. ft. cabins); BEETHOVEN (b. 2004, 180p, cabins 140 sq. ft.); LAFAYETTE-P (b. 2014, 86p cabin size N.A.); VIVALDI-P (b. 2009, 176p);
Rhone & Soane: MISTRAL (b. 1999, 158 p, cabins 118 sq. ft.), VAN GOGH-P (b. 2018, 110p);
Garonne/Gironde: CYRANO DE BERGERAC-P (b. 2013, 174p, 140 sq. ft.);
Loire: LOIRE PRINCESS-P (b. 2014, 96 p, cabin size N.A.);
Douro: GIL EANES-P: (b. 2015, 32p, cabin size N.A.); VASCO DA GAMA (b. 2002, 142p, cabins 129 sq. ft.);
SW Spain: LA BELLE DE CADIZ-P (b. 2005, 176 p, cabins 118 sq. ft.);
Po (Italy): MICHELANGELO (b.2000, 158p, cabin size N.A.);
Elbe & Moldau: L’ELBE PRINCESSE-P (b. 2016, 80p, cabin size N.A.) and L’ELBE PRINCESSE II-P (b. 2018, 86p, cabin size N.A.);
Russia & the Volga: ROSTROPOVITCH (b.1980, rebuilt 2010, 212p, cabins 126-243 sq.ft).
In addition, the CroisiEurope also runs LA BELLE DE L’ADRIATIQUE-P (b. 2007), a five-deck oceangoing 198-passenger ship operating in the Mediterranean (Italy, Sicily, Croatia & Greece) with all outside 151sq. ft. cabins; the currently not operating GALATEA (b. 1964), an 8-passenger motor/sail yacht; INDOCHINE, a colonial-style boat operating on the Mekong (b. 2008 and taking 48 passengers in 172 sq, ft. all outside cabins); in 2017, newly introduced INDOCHINE II-P; and four hotel barges taking 24 passengers on French waterways.
A relatively new offering is the riverboat AFRICAN DREAM operating on the Chobe & Zambezi rivers in Botswana, southern Africa. The 7-night itineraries comprise 3 nights aboard the boat and 4 at a high-end game lodge that includes a visit to Victoria Falls across the border in Zimbabwe. The vessel takes just 16 passengers with 8 suites, including two with balconies.
While the first language aboard is French, English is also used for all announcements and entertainment, and is widely spoken amongst the crew. For some British and North Americans, the international experience is a major plus, though you will likely be in the minority. German, Italian and Spanish passengers may also be aboard.
The riverboat fleet includes three and four deckers, including the top open deck.
All drinks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are included during the main season from April to October. Shore excursions are extra, something that breaks from the norm with river cruises and helps lower the per diems. However, in many instances the principal sights may be accessed on foot from the boat’s gangway.
The usual rivers are included such as Rhine, Moselle, Elbe, Main, Danube, Seine, Soane, Rhone, Douro (Portugal), Gironde and Garonne (SW France), and St. Petersburg to Moscow along rivers, canals and across lake and reservoirs. More unusual are the Guadalquivir and Guadiana rivers in Andalusia (Southern Spain); the Po in Northern Italy; the Loire from St. Nazaire inland to Nantes and Angers (via shallow-draft paddleboat); Amsterdam to Berlin via waterways that connect the Rhine and tributaries with the Elbe across Northern Germany; and the Elbe and Moldau inland as far as central Prague by new shallow sternwheelers 80-passenger L’ELBE PRINCESSE (in service) and L’ELBE PRINCESSE II (2018) taking 86 passengers. European river cruises operate near year round.
Beyond Europe, the Chobe River in southern Africa plus Victoria Falls, and Mekong in Cambodia & Vietnam, are exotic options.
In another category, canal cruises operate on waterways throughout France using 22-passenger barges. Coastal cruises operate from Naples to Italian ports, islands and Sicily, and in the Adriatic to mostly Croatian ports and Montenegro and Greece, including Corfu.
New for 2018 will be 9-nights cruising the St. Lawrence River aboard the newly rebuilt MS JACQUES CARTIER, calling at Quebec City, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and Niagara Falls and passing along the St. Lawrence Seaway.
A French cruise line with an international passenger list may appeal to English speakers who would like to travel with Europeans (with French, Belgian and French-speaking Swiss in the majority), rather than just mostly North Americans.
When to Go?
The cruises operate during the best weather seasons, and the busy travel months of mid-June to September can often be avoided by choosing a spring or autumn date. Some departures are geared to the flowering bulb season in Belgian and the Netherlands, grape wine harvest in France and Germany, and a European-style Christmas (with markets) and New Year’s.
Most are of small to moderate size, outside with windows, beds in twin or double configuration. Some newer boats have larger cabins if that is an important factor, and some offer a few single cabins. Amenities include radio and TV.
All boats offer a forward lounge with bar for viewing and enjoying the entertainment, a dining room that seats all at the same time, and a top deck with both open and sheltered seating. During passages under very low bridges, the deck may have to be cleared of seating and railings.
Breakfast is a buffet while lunch and dinner are fine French cuisine set served three-course meals with complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks. It pays to like the local food. Passengers are assigned tables according to their language. Some North Americans may find the full lunch menu a bit much, so you may wish to skip a course.
Activities & Entertainment
Pre-dinner and sometimes post-dinner games, dancing and live music from a duo on the electronic piano and guitar. Basically, the it’s social interaction amongst the passengers that holds sway rather than sophisticated entertainment.
Consider the international flavor, which might be a plus or minus for you.
Along the Same Lines
CroisiEurope is probably the most international of the riverboat lines. Others may cater only to English speakers (including those who speak the language well in addition to their native tongue) or specific nationalities such as German and Swiss or Spanish.
Go to www.croisieuroperivercruises.com; 800-768-7232
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