CroisiEurope's Van Gogh, which cruises from Lyon on the Rhone and Saone rivers, visits ports like Avignon and Arles, where passengers can visit some of the same spots the ship's artist namesake used to haunt.
Completely refurbished in 2018, the ship sports a new cabin reconfiguration, offering more space and lots of welcome innovative amenities. It accommodates 105 passengers, in 20 upper deck cabins and 34 main deck cabins, all of which are generously proportioned and offer full views of the river. The new decor throughout the ship is a big departure from its former bright, and perhaps slightly dated, color scheme. Now it features a sophisticated and chic taupe color palette with little pops of color. Artwork throughout pays homage to Van Gogh.
With such an intimate number of passengers, cruisers quickly get to know each other and friendships often spring up quickly. The general vibe is convivial and relaxed. Other than the daily excursions off the ship and a few activities offered onboard, there is not a lot to do other than relax and watch the world go by. This is probably not the cruise for anyone looking to be constantly entertained.
Thoughtful and attentive crew members go above and beyond to make sure everyone is happy, learning guests' names and drink and food preferences within a day or two. Other than a few specialty items, all alcohol is included, so passengers know that the all-inclusive rate is truly all-inclusive.
CroisiEurope is a French line, and the majority of the passengers are French. Onboard announcements are tailored to the nationalities of the passengers, however, and the front desk staff are all fluent in French, English, Spanish and German. On our cruise, we were the sole American onboard and the charming purser often called me out by my name during announcements.
The meals are French too, with a fixed menu. Expect three-course meals at lunch and dinner, with a very French bent, such as duck confit with potatoes and carrots or rack of veal with shallots and tarragon. People with food allergies or special dietary needs can be accommodated, but you'll need to make your preferences known.
As one of Europe's biggest riverboat operators, CroisiEurope is well known throughout France, Germany, Spain, increasingly in the U.K. and, more recently, it is pushing to attract U.S. passengers. The nationality mix varies from sailing to sailing with French still the main base. That said, the line has been pairing up with more U.K. and U.S. tour operators and charter companies. In 2017, U.S. company Road Scholar had such a success with CroisiEurope, it has booked more charters for 2018.
Overall, most passengers are in their late 60s or early 70s and are quite active, participating not only on the daily excursions, but also happy to dance into the night.
Other than the final "gala" evening, when passengers pull out their ties and heels, casual clothes -- even jeans -- are the order of the day. No official dress code is specified by CroisiEurope, but they suggest passengers will be comfortable in "smart casual" clothing, except for the gala. Other than perhaps changing into slightly nicer shirts and shoes at dinner, comfortable clothing dominates (we packed several cocktail dresses that we never ended up wearing after realizing how casually everyone else dressed).
CroisiEurope has an all-inclusive price, which includes everything from food to excursions to most alcohol (Champagne and top shelf liquors cost more). Beverages include mineral water, fruit juice, tea, coffee and a large selection of house wine, beer and liquor. In addition, depending on the cruise, transportation to and from the ship may be included.
You don't need cash onboard until the last day. Gratuities are not automatically added to your bill or included in your fare, as is the case on most other cruise lines, and it's important to note that they can't be charged to a credit card. The last night of the cruise, guests are informed that an envelope will be delivered to their cabins and a box is placed on the reception desk for passengers to leave tips. The money is shared between all the crew. Most passengers tip in euros, but pounds or dollars are acceptable if that's all you have. Suggested gratuity is 8 to 10 euros per person per day.
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.