A stateroom onboard Loire Princesse // © 2014 CroisiEurope
Feature image (above): CroisiEurope’s new shallow river ships will cruise through Loire Valley, along with other scenic regions. // © 2014 Thinkstock
CroisiEurope may not yet have high visibility in the North American market, but the veteran European cruise line with its 44-ship fleet is certainly making waves. Fresh from being an Editors’ Pick as Best River Cruise Line by CruiseCritic U.K., the company is constructing the perfect response to travelers who have sailed the Rhine and Danube rivers multiple times and are looking for something fresh.
The Loire and the Elbe rivers are plums of European river cruising. The only catch is that they are difficult, shallow-water rivers, with seasonal and geographic lows that have made it very hard to set up year-round cruising. But CroisiEurope believes it has the design that can do it.
“We have our own shipyard in Strasbourg,” said Nicola Iannone, executive vice president of USA/Canada for CroisiEurope. “But for these two ships, we have accessed the expertise of STX in Saint-Nazaire, France.”
The shipyard is responsible for a number of seagoing ships, including Norwegian Epic, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 and Royal Caribbean International’s upcoming Oasis 3. Basic construction is finished on the Loire Princesse, which debuts next year, and the company has enough confidence in the design to order a second, somewhat smaller, version for the Elbe in 2016.
Billed as the first overnight passenger vessel on the river, Loire Princesse is designed with two decks and two paddlewheels. These are placed about two-thirds of the way toward the stern and set rather high on the ship. With 48 outside staterooms (30 with balconies and one accommodating wheelchairs), the ship will have a lounge/bar with large picture windows and a dance floor, a patio, a single-seating restaurant, a sundeck with chaise lounges and a gift shop. Like the other CroisiEurope vessels, she will offer complimentary beverages, premium coffees prepared by a barista and free Wi-Fi access onboard, all at strong value pricing.
The region is very attractive: Val de Loire, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is famous for its fairy-tale castles, robust wines, elegant lifestyle and rich gastronomic heritage. The Loire is the longest river in France, and the temperate weather of Loire Valley drew the favor of French royalty who built their castles and cathedrals along it. They followed the lead of Roman settlers who established the town centers that have become legendary names in history: Blois, Orleans, Angers, Tours and Amboise.
Sailing between Saint-Nazaire and Angers starting next April, Loire Princesse will offer six- and eight-night itineraries, with calls in ports including Nantes, Ancenis, Saumur and Bouchemaine in the Muscadet region. Clients will also visit the castles of Loire Valley —Chateau d’Usse, which inspired Perrault’s “Sleeping Beauty,” and Chateau Azay-le-Rideau.
Details for the Elbe ship, the 80-passenger Elbe Princesse, are a little less firm since she will not be built until next year and there will undoubtedly be design tweaking after observing the performance of Loire Princesse. But she has the same double paddlewheel design, which the company said will allow her to be the first ship to navigate the Elbe’s shallow water levels year-round.
The ship is planned with 40 outside staterooms with Wi-Fi connectivity and flat-screen televisions, a single service restaurant, a lounge bar with a central dance floor and a large sundeck with lounges.
The Elbe has a very strong appeal for visitors, bringing together a star list of destinations on an itinerary between Berlin and Prague. Itineraries onboard the Elbe Princesse in 2016 visit ports along the Elbe and Moldau rivers, including Potsdam and the gorgeous gardens of Sanssouci Park, Wittenberg, Meissen (the cradle of Saxony and home to three centuries of exquisite porcelain). Other ports of call include Dresden, the dramatic mountains of Elbsandsteingebirge and Litomerice. Clients will have opportunities for pre- and post-cruise stays in both Prague and Berlin.
Both ships will have the signature fabrics of Missoni Home, and all CroisiEurope executive chefs will work with Michelin-starred chef Paul Bocuse.
“We have all the features river cruisers value, an all-inclusive product, great itineraries and exceptional dining,” Iannone said. “And we sell it at a price the others can’t match.”