We’re just back from Elbe Princesse, CroisiEurope’s latest river cruise ship, christened in Berlin on April 14. While the experience was not like any one we’d had before on the rivers — no menus, multiple languages, very small passenger base — that doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy it.
If you’re an Anglophone in German waters on a French cruise ship, here are five reasons you might enjoy one of CroisiEurope’s nine-day river cruises on Elbe Princesse (and a few why you might not).
CroisiEurope is known for unique destinations from the Guadalquivir in Andalusia to the Amazon, Volga and Mekong Rivers. The line understands the appeal of lesser-traveled ports. The main reason to book a river cruise is the places you’ll be visiting; even the largest river ship won’t have enough attractions onboard to distract you from your idyllic surroundings. So if it is the small cities along the Elbe you seek — Nedlitz, Wusterwitz, Madgeburg, Lutherstadt Wittenburg, Meissen, Bad Schandau, Lovosice and Litomerice — then Elbe Princesse will take you there, churning its charming paddlewheels.
We wouldn’t call about three grand per person bargain-basement pricing, but an Elbe river cruise with CroisiEurope will probably save you a solid $2,000 per couple over some competitor cruise lines. Inclusions run about industry standard with tips, most drinks (including regional beer, wine, specialty coffees and some cocktails) and Wi-Fi rolled into the price. So if you’re looking to see the Elbe as cheaply as possible, forgo pre- and post-cruise stays and stick to the standard sailing offered. Single supplements do apply, but one single cabin available on the ship offers the solo traveler their own room at a lower price than standard fare.
With modern black-and-white patterns in the carpeting and throw pillows; Berlin city maps in the hallways; pops of deep teal and magenta-fuchsia throughout the vessel; and light wooden latticework featured as partitions in the lounge, Elbe Princesse is stylish. Think the Scandinavian stylings of Ikea with the youthful color and fun of the Aloft Hotels brand. Luckily, the ship’s plush furniture and crisp white comforters are also comfortable. Although river cruising generally skews to an older audience, the vessel never feels stuffy. Instead, it retains the exuberant vigor of Berlin and Prague, its embarkation ports.
Elbe Princesse is a lovely little vessel to get you from Berlin to Prague and vice versa. In fact, due to its low-draught design, it’s the best ship sailing on the mercurial Elbe River that can navigate its low waters and avoid cancellation or significant busing. (While Viking also has ships made for the Elbe, Croisi’s are even lower).
Beyond the mechanics of shallow draughts and paddlewheels, the crew and their genuine service make it a pleasant journey, no matter the language. With 24 crew for 80 passengers, the ship’s service is personal, but also genuine. Servers must translate between French, German and English — with maybe none of them being their native language — to make sure you have exactly what you need. If you’re sitting in the lounge, it only takes a few moments before a crew member asks if you’d like anything to drink; they remember who you are and will be sure to address you in English, even if you’re the only native speaker onboard. Cabins are kept orderly, cruise directors are constantly wishing you a good day or evening, asking if everything is to your liking, and it’s all done with a smile.
French and German are Greek to You
Beyond the language barriers (English finishes in third after announcements in French and German), the culture of the entertainment and programming are also distinctly European. It’s not that you won’t have a perfectly lovely time on the Elbe River, exploring palaces in Potsdam or castles in Prague, pairing foie gras with sweet French wine or sipping a sinfully good chocolate cappuccino in a surprisingly modern lounge. The ship just wasn’t made with you in mind. While CroisiEurope is working hard to attract a North American audience — it’s not there yet. The majority of the French company’s passengers on the Elbe will likely be Continental Europeans. The language onboard is primarily French and German. That’s not to say English isn’t available — just about every crew member speaks it and speaks it well. But on a ship that carries just 79 other passengers at full capacity, Americans may find themselves wading through translations, fumbling with adapters, grinning politely through the boisterous European sing-alongs and trying to be gluten free in the land of bread aplenty. If you’re not up to go with the flow, you will stick out.
Food is Excellent (If You Like What They’re Serving)
If you like cuisine with a French twist (game in gravy, pates and Chantilly creams) and you don’t have any major dietary concerns, you will quite enjoy the selections made for each meal onboard. This omnivore with no allergies ate rack of veal with mushroom gravy, delicate al dente haricort verts and carrot slivers, peach cake with fresh cream, mouth-watering soups made from pumpkin and potato and salmon folded around rich cream cheese and vegetables; and she ate it with enthusiasm. However, If you have an allergy or an aversion to nuts, meat or gluten, state that fact early and often. The ship provides no menu at breakfast, lunch or dinner because there are no other options (breakfast is the same spread each day). Unless you make it clear that you need some component of the next meal replaced (the day’s selections are shown on the TV screen near reception the morning of), that’s what you’ll be served. Following lunch and dinner, espresso is served; it’s one European touch that was more than welcome to this jet-lagged American.