This was our third trip on CroisiEurope - the previous were also short 5 day cruises to the Rhine and the Douro. CroisiEurope is a family owned company and this is the atmosphere that their staff try to create. It is very low key and friendly. The crew are quite small and double up on duties (the Captain and Cruise Manager were helping serve dinner on the Gala evening for instance), but the lynch pin of the team is the Cruise Manager, who on our Bordeaux cruise was Jose. He was excellent. Although predominantly catering for French speaking passengers (it is a French company), most of the crew are bi- or even trilingual and all announcements are in French and English. The tours are run in both languages too. Sometimes here more emphasis and lengthier explanations are given to the French contingent, but this is understandable. Passengers are given the wireless audio guides to use, but none of our tour guides used them as the groups were quite small. On previous cruises there have been enough English-speaking passengers to warrant a dedicated English-speaking guide with separate tour bus for our group, but on the Bordeaux trip we were only six english speaking passengers (ourselves, another English couple, and two Australians). Likewise, dining is grouped by language, so we have always had english-speaking dining companions.
CroisiEurope caters for a number of groups but they have never been large enough for one to feel that the cruise has been taken over by the group.
On this cruise, we did take all the excursions, and were told by Jose, the host on board, that the newer lines to the region (Uniworld, Viking) have based all their tours on CroisiEurope's so are in effect offering the same tours. The tour round the Haut Medoc region was the weakest. We found that the guide directed her comments at length to the French contingent, and the English group, being only 4 on this occasion were given short shrift. If you look at the reviews on the Viking Forseti Bordeaux cruise, people there were also not happy with the 'drive past' of the major chateaux. Our guide also took us to a Chateau Beychevelle to which she had exclusive private access which was a nice extra. Our wine tasting was at Chateau Loudenne which interestingly is now Chinese owned. Both these properties had lovely river front settings.
Embarkation and disembarkation were swift and efficient and we were not pushed off the ship early as happens so often - if one was spending the day in Bordeaux you had the option of leaving your luggage on board to pick up later, as the following cruise was not departing until the next day.
We travelled to Bordeaux by Eurostar and TGV with an overnight stop in Paris on the outward journey. The quai is an easy tram ride from the the railway station (with a single change) costing Euro 1.40 or a quick taxi ride costing about 15Euro.
The cabins are basic but comfortable with large picture windows (some of the newer ships have French balconies) - Holiday Inn as opposed to Inter-continental (which maybe equates to Uniworld or Viking). The shower is particularly small but very powerful with plenty of hot water. Towels were replaced daily. Toiletries are provided. The cabins are made up early. This may be a three star ship but I do not think you get a three star experience. The ship was sparkling having had a complete refit in 2011. The carpets and soft furnishings look new. This year for the first time all drinks (except for champagne and premium wines) are included not only at meals but at all times. This is a nice touch - I like not having to worry about payment for extras whilst on board. The lounge-bar is where all activities and relaxation takes place, there is also a small library collection and travel guides relating to the destinations. At each stop, maps were distributed as well as information about the ports of call. The dining room has one sitting and once allocated a table you remain there for all meals. There was an excellent buffet breakfast with fresh fruit, cereals eggs,hams cheese, breads, pastries etc. Juices, teas and coffee were served too.
The two other tours were both excellent, one to the corniche along the river at Blaye, the troglodyte houses and the fisherman's huts plus the village of Bourg (where there was a local market, but not enough free time here) and a tour of Blaye Citadel,and the third and final tour (we were on a four night itinerary) was to St Emilion, which was just marvellous and was only marred by poor weather as it was cool and raining. This is such a picturesque village and the visit to the winery Chateau Soutarde was outstanding. This was in contrast to the the Haut Medoc visit as we were given a number of wines of differing vintages to taste and the process of tasting and manufacturing was fully explained. This chateau has had major investment in it by a French finance house and is now equipped with state of the art equipment. The tour guide and the chateau guide between them ran an excellent simultaneous commentary in both languages.
At all stops and we could get off and wander on our own when not on tours - entry on and off the pier were secured by code locked entry gate. We disembarked at Liborne, Blaye and Paulliac, all of which were pretty sleepy, Liborne more so as it was a Sunday and everything was shut. We also elected not to take the Bordeaux at night tour when we returned on our final evening, and spent some time wandering round this attractive city on our own.
We found the crew to be delightful and very helpful. The Captain and the Purser even helped with the service on the Gala evening. The purser, Jose who I thought was excellent told me that he had originally started at CroisiEurope as a waiter and had been promoted. This strikes me as a very positive sign: a good company that promotes their own staff from within the ranks. We were even asked if we would like a drink when we were relaxing on the sun deck. However, (thankfully it would seem), there were no entertainments offered other than the crew show, the wine tasting on board, and the daily exercise class. That suited us just fine. There was a musician in the lounge most of the time but we did not care for his heavy handed plonking on the keyboard!
We found the food not as good as on previous trips but it did get better towards the end. There are certain things we don't eat and as long as we gave notice we were always given acceptable alternatives. We had a superb magret de canard on the last evening. The gala evening meal was also good: Foie gras, quail, baked cheese, and baked alaska, all served with aplomb. I think a choice of wines - three reds, whites and roses at each meal and in the bar is more than acceptable - I'm not sure that we've been offered more on Seabourn or Silversea as standard! We also found plenty of choice in the breakfast buffet with different fresh fruit on offer each day. I don't drink coffee at breakfast so can't comment but there was a good selection of teas, and the coffee from the espresso machine in the bar was very good (at no extra cost). Free wifi was a bonus since our trip last year, as well as all inclusive drinks at all times including meals, and we found it worked in the cabin too.
In summation, we would return on CroisiEurope - we like the short itineraries they offer and the pricing is very good, and as long as one is aware of the limitations it's a very good river cruising option