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“We’re the best-kept secret in cruising,” said Nicola Iannone, executive vice president for the U.S. and Canada for CroisiEurope.
Yet 40-year-old cruise line CroisiEurope is a huge force in European river cruising, with 43 ships in operation and plans to add three new vessels this year and another four in 2017. The Strasbourg, France-based company offers great pricing and excellent itineraries with an unusual setup: Shore excursions are included in the fares for U.S. guests, who are accustomed to that arrangement in river cruising, while passengers from other countries can choose to have them included or separate.
The company offers high value, with unlimited complimentary beverages — including house spirits — and per diems ranging from $275 to $400. There is a fixed menu daily at lunch and dinner, but these are posted in advance, and guests can request other choices ahead of time. The food is exceptional French cuisine mingled with local specialties.
This year, the destination-rich Elbe and Vltava (also known as Moldau) rivers received the 80-guest Elbe Princesse, which uses the same side paddlewheel design introduced last year on the Loire River, allowing the company to operate in the various water depths of the rivers. Elbe Princesse, which homeports in Berlin, calls in Magdeburg, Wittenberg, Meissen and Dresden in Germany, as well as in Litomerice in the Czech Republic.
In addition, two new barges, Deborah and Daniele, will carry 22 passengers each on French canals. Deborah will initiate a new route for cruising on the Briare Canal, in the Upper Loire Valley and Sancerre, calling in Briare, Lere, Menetreol-sous-Sancerre, La Chapelle-Montlinard, Marseilles-les-Aubigny and Nevers. Daniele will sail the canals of Burgundy.
Next year, CroisiEurope will introduce a 132-passenger Douro River ship in addition to its current four vessels. It will sail eight-day cruises out of Porto, Portugal, calling in Regua, Vega de Teron, Ferradosa and Pinhao. The Mekong River will get a fifth CroisiEurope ship: Indochine II, which will carry 60 guests in colonial style, feature outside accommodations and large private balconies and sail between Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
On the Rhine and Danube rivers, the company will introduce Symphonie II and Douce France II; each will accommodate 106 guests.
Capping its 40 years as a European river specialist, CroisiEurope is also introducing a new ship and itinerary on Africa's Chobe and Zambezi rivers next year. Carrying 16 passengers in eight exterior-facing suites with balconies, the yet-to-be-named vessel will have a restaurant with panoramic views, a lounge bar and a rooftop patio with a pool. Five-night cruises on the Chobe and Zambesi will be coupled with a three-night stay in five-star accommodations owned by CroisiEurope, with safaris and a day at Victoria Falls included.
CroisiEurope cruises every European river and sails every month of the year on trips two to 12 nights long. Additionally, the line offers themed cruises highlighting wines, Impressionist art, Christmas markets, hiking and more. Ship decor is imaginative, with touches such as the poetry set into the corridor walls of last year’s Loire Princesse. Iannone says millennials on a budget are drawn by the itineraries and the all-inclusive policy.
Additionally, CroisiEurope now has air packages, and the prices are tempting: Eight-day Seine River cruises, for example, include air from $2,680, with gateways such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, Boston and New York. Iannone points out that the company rewards its loyal travel partners with higher commission rates.