The spare but stylish Loire Princesse is "the ship" on the Loire, France's longest river. After all, with the riverboat's 2015 debut, it is the only cruise ship on the Loire, opening a new river to cruisers.
CroisiEurope, which operates a French-based fleet of more than 40 ships, was the first to figure out how to design a river cruise ship 295 feet long while limiting its draft to 31.5 inches so that it can navigate the tricky Loire River. To achieve this goal, designers got creative. They added two paddle wheels and shaved 300 tons off the ship in part by using aluminum instead of steel for its superstructure. The Loire, commonly known as the last wild river in Europe, follows a natural path more than 600 miles long, but it can only be navigated between its mouth in Saint-Nazaire and quaint Bouchemaine, near Angers. Loire Princesse sails in that roughly 85-mile channel.
The carefully planned interior also stands out -- no nautical themes here but. Instead, you'll see fabrics, lighting and furnishings from well-known designers like Missoni Home, England's Tom Dixon Lighting and Rubelli, the Venetian textile maker. A soothing color palette -- dusty rose, copper, iced brown, burnt orange, sandstone and Bordeaux -- permeates the cabins, dining room and lounge. Lighting is used to optimum appeal and advantage. The soft lighting behind the bar in the lounge, for example, alternates artfully from one color to the next. It's very easy on the eyes.
Because of its size, the ship is lean. You won't find multiple dining venues or a spa, as you might on other riverboats. But designers did a nice job squeezing essentials into a small space in the cabins. And service is stellar throughout.
When booked to capacity, Loire Princesse accommodates 96 passengers. Most are French, although CroisiEurope is making a push to attract more Americans (who represent about 5 percent of the line's passengers). Part of Loire Princesse's appeal, however, is the international experience it provides. French is the official language onboard, but crew -- French, Hungarian and Portuguese, primarily -- speak English as well.
Travelers from France and Germany make up most of CroisiEurope's passenger base. English-speaking passengers -- and Scandinavians are included in the lot -- represent 15 percent of its cruisers. Most passengers are in their 50s and 60s.
Casual attire -- and comfortable walking shoes -- are your go-to for both ship and shore. Loire Princesse's five- and seven-night cruises run from April to October, so consider temperatures, of course. Shorts and jeans are the norm. The ship provides umbrellas, but a rain jacket is advised.
There are no formal nights onboard, and evening attire is pretty much what you want to wear. Some passengers opt to stay in their casual clothes. Others dress up a bit for dinner, especially for the captain's gala. Suits and ties or cocktail dresses are the exception not the rule.
CroisiEurope's La Belle de l'Adriatique, a 198-passenger oceangoing vessel, was purpose-built for coastal cruises and sails to Greece, Croatia, Montenegro and Cyprus.
The 142-passenger Infante Don Henrique is one of three CroisiEurope river vessels that sail on Portugal's Douro and measures 246 feet in length.
CroisiEurope's Princesse d'Aquitaine, a 138-passenger vessel based on the Gironde River, operates cruises through southwest France. It boasts spacious public areas and an emphasis on its French heritage.