One of CroisiEurope's older river ships, MS Renoir received a total overhaul in 2018. Now designated a "five anchor" vessel, it carries fewer passengers (105) in larger cabins. Interior design is crisp and modern. The light-filled cabins have French balconies -- sliding-glass doors than can be opened -- ideal for cruisers who appreciate some fresh air. To their programming, they've added "Discovery" shore excursions -- unique things to see or active pursuits like hiking and biking -- along with their usual "Classic" options. This ship sails the Seine river from late March through late October, always from Paris to Honfleur or the reverse, or round trip from Paris, with journeys lasting from four to seven nights.
Operated by the third generation of the Schmitter family (they own 45 ships and charter 10 others), Renoir has a decidedly French feel. About 55 percent of the guests are French-speaking, while 45 percent typically come from Germany, the U.K., Scandinavia and the U.S. Before 2013, CroisiEurope -- which has been one of the largest river cruise lines, in terms of fleet size -- didn't promote itself to a North American audience. They do now, and the number of passengers from the U.S. is growing every year, they say. Onboard announcements are made in French and English, and most of the staff speaks some English. Dining tables are assigned, and they'll place you with others who speak the same language. It isn't necessary to speak French to feel comfortable on Renoir, but you'll definitely enjoy yourself more if you can understand a little. If you're a Francophile at heart, you'll enjoy the cultural immersion aspect of this cruise.
Into French food? Prepare to be delighted. CroisiEurope's executive chef, Alain Bohn, has crafted a menu of gorgeously presented (and delicious) classics, offered on all of their ships. Think duck terrine, fish in puff pastry and crepes Suzette. If you're keen to have lots of choices, or are a picky eater, beware: the three-course menu for lunch and dinner is set. (This can be modified for dietary restrictions like gluten-free and vegetarian; let them know before you sail.) And some of the staff is still getting used to American tastes; ask for a diet soda, for example, and you may get a raised eyebrow (but you will get your drink.) There also isn't much choice for shore excursions; you'll select either a classic must-see (i.e., a chateau visit) or a more active or off-the-beaten-path option.
On the plus side, this cruise is truly all-inclusive, including wines and shore excursions. The only add-ons are for specialty wines (beyond the pairings offered at lunch and dinner), Champagne and some premium beverages as noted on the bar menu. Servers aren't aggressively upselling these. Plus, the small size of the ship makes it easy to navigate and easy to get to know fellow cruisers.
Essentially, this is river cruising, streamlined -- there aren't many bells and whistles (no pool, spa, or fitness center) -- and there are few decisions to make, since meal times are set, shore excursion options are minimal and there are only two cabin categories, not five or six.
For many travelers, the main benefit is the price point: CroisiEurope is known for delivering lots of bang for the euro, and Renoir is no exception. Prices tend to be about 30 percent less than the competition. Not bad, since you'll feel like you're touring the Seine in a floating boutique hotel. The international mix of travelers (as opposed to all English-speaking) aboard Renoir adds a dash of cultural flavor.
Passenger age range is typical for a river ship. What's different about CroisiEurope's ships is that they draw from a mix of countries, with about half of the group French-speaking and the rest a smattering of other languages. Onboard announcements are in French and English, and they employ multilingual guides for excursions. You'll be seated at meals with passengers who speak your language -- unless you'd rather be seated with Francophones to practice your French.
Dress aboard Renoir is casual by day, and "smart-casual" by night. There's no dress code, even for gala evenings. A simple dress (for women) and collared shirt and slacks (for men) will suffice. Since you'll spend some time sightseeing in Paris, it's good to err on the side of "city chic" by day (skip the hoodies and ripped jeans) so you won't feel out of place. Your favorite blazer will be a workhorse on this cruise.
All meals are included in the cruise fare, plus daily soft drinks and alcoholic drinks during meals and at the bar while onboard. Shore excursions are included for passengers from North America. Wi-Fi is free, as are headsets used for excursions. The euro is the currency used onboard. Tipping is at the guest's discretion; suggested gratuity is 8 to 10 euros per person per day, placed in an envelope on the final day of the cruise. Tips are pooled among the crew.
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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.