|CroisiEurope ship on the Moselle River // All photos by CroisiEurope|
The North American river cruise marketplace is filled with deluxe or luxury lines so what options do travel agents have if clients are seeking an affordable, contemporary line? One option is CroisiEurope, the oldest river line operating on European rivers.
Its top U.S. official, John McGlade, director of CroisiEurope’s call center in Nanuet, NY, says he’d use a hotel analysis in characterizing it as “four star with very nice accommodations, very clean, modern and functional, but not deluxe or luxury.” It's affordable and more a contemporary product, he says.
Another difference? It’s also decidedly international in scope, much the way Costa Cruises is on the ocean side. If guests sail on Costa or CroisiEurope, for example, they find a diverse mix of international guests onboard rather than mostly Americans.
Veteran European Operator
Late last week, Travel Agent interviewed McGlade about the line, its fleet, the onboard product and opportunities for agents. CroisiEurope has actually been selling in the U.S. for the last 12 years, although it’s just now making an effort to grow its North American business.
Founded in 1978, the river line is headquartered in Strasbourg, France with offices in Paris, Lyon, Nice, Brussels, Lausanne, Madrid, London and now the U.S. It's a family business that’s now being run by the founders’ children.
Last fall, CroisiEurope opened its North American call center; seven employees now handle reservations, agent inquiries and what typically might be considered “inside sales” functions. That said, McGlade says he expects CroisiEurope will likely have a dedicated U.S. sales and marketing executive by spring.
McGlade says previous agent exposure to the line was limited because the focus for sourcing was on Europe. In addition, French also was the prime language spoken onboard the line’s ships
But that's changed. Today, the line sources from all across the globe and both English and French are the official onboard languages spoken by 700 crew members.
“The German market is very big for us, we have an office in Spain, we have lots of Italians, a lot of French speakers and the English market is expanding," he says.
But it still remains an international product in its ambience so while more North Americans are coming onboard, he acknowledges, “it’s not for everyone” -- particularly for guests who aren't comfortable traveling with foreigners speaking a variety of languages.
“But if people want to travel to Europe and have exposure to Europeans, then CroisiEurope is a good product that can provide that experience," McGlade said.
Size-wise, CroisiEurope operates several dozen river ships, multiple barges and one small oceangoing vessel. Plus additional new ships and barges will be introduced this year and next.
Clients may choose from river sailings on the Rhine, Danube, Seine, Rhone/Saone, Garonne/Dordogne, Duoro, Po, Guadalquivir and Guadiana (Spain) rivers, as well as along European canals and on Asia’s Mekong River.
|Rendering of the new Loire Princess|
European River Cruises
Starting in April 2015, CroisiEurope will offer one new river itinerary no other major river line is doing – the Loire River in France. Because it’s a very shallow waterway, traditional river boats are unable to navigate it.
But CroisiEurope’s new Loire Princesse has been specially designed to have a draft of only about 2 feet 8 inches. It’s also a paddlewheeler. “It’s the first travel by a river vessel on the Loire,” McGlade says. “It’s one of the most beautiful regions of France."
The ship will operate six- to eight-day Loire River cruises. Many sites visited along the route are UNESCO-designated, including Nantes, Saint-Nazaire, Ancenis, Angers, the Castles of the Loire, Saumur and Bouchemaine.
The three-deck Loire Princesse will be 295 feet long and 49 feet wide. It will have 48 outside cabins and accommodate up to 96 passengers. One main dining room will accommodate all guests.
On the upper deck, the cabins will have 10-foot by four-foot balconies and staterooms will be equipped with the latest technology, including Wi-Fi, individually controlled combined air-conditioning/heating, plasma screen TV, radio, hair dryer, safe, mini bar and bathroom facilities.
|Seine Princess with Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris|
McGlade acknowledges that “certain itineraries are more attractive for North Americans.” That’s why CroisiEurope is introducing another new vessel, Lafayette, to sail between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland, an itinerary very popular with Americans.
In addition, a new 10-day itinerary will be introduced this spring from Amsterdam to Avignon, France covering the best of the Rhine and the Rhone rivers. Guests explore the Netherlands, Germany and France. Cruise departures start at $1,824 per person double occupancy. Shore excursions are optional and billed accordingly.
Another way CroisiEurope hopes to draw more Americans onboard is via its many short cruises. “Americans don’t have a lot of vacation time,” McGlade says. “They often want to do a portion of their vacation on land and on the river.”
So travelers like the line’s two-, three-, four- and five-day cruises, giving them the ability to combine that with a two-, three- or four-day land vacation. Clients might cruise on the Seine for four nights, then add on two or three days in Paris.
Or, alternatively, they might sail three nights on the Rhine River from Koblenz to Strasburg or on many short cruises from Bordeaux.
On the Danube, most Europeans cruise roundtrip from Passau, McGlade notes, because “they really just want the cruise experience.” But Americans prefer a one-way trip so the line now offers a six-night option between Passau and Budapest or in reverse.
Another differentiator? Kids are perfectly fine to bring on CroisiEurope. “We take children and we have a much more European stance on travel with children,” he said. Europeans view a river vessel as a hotel that moves and since they’d bring their kids along to a hotel, they’ll definitely take them on a river cruise.
Parents are expected to entertain their own kids, however, as the vessels have no dedicated kids facilities. But he says the family typically spends the day ashore, then they go to dinner and soon it’s time for bed. Some itineraries have options that are kid-friendly, such as time at a swimming hole.
|Sun deck on the MS Belle de Cadix|
Barge and Ocean Voyages
He also said the line is a bit different from U.S. river lines because it also offers barge voyages; three more new barges will be introduced this year, and one newly rebuilt one.
The new Raymonde will sail France’s Champagne region, the new Madeline in Alsace and the new Anne-Marie in Provence. The rebuilt Jeanine will sail in Burgundy.
All will carry 22-24 guests. “It’s quite unusual for barges,” he notes, “and as a consequence, these are the perfect size for a small group.”
Fares for these barges also start at about $2,500, very low compared with smaller barges. So, he suggests agents consider these for families who want a slower pace and more intimate product, yet affordability.
In addition, the line’s existing 200-passenger Belle de L’Adriatique is an oceangoing ship that essentially operates like a river ship. Its itineraries are designed with one or two ports of call every day and no days at sea. In summer, the vessel cruises Croatia, Montenegro and the Adriatic Sea.
In winter, Belle de L’Adriatique sails seven-night roundtrips from Limassol, Cyprus to Haifa, Israel for several days, as well as calls at two other ports in Cyprus.
|Bar on the MS Cyrano de Bergerac|
Pricing-wise, the line’s cruise fares are lower than those of many river lines dedicated to the North American market. One reason is that “we design [river vessels], we build, we operate and we sell them,” says McGlade, stressing “there are no other hands in the pie.”
In fact, CroisiEurope’s ship have been chartered in the past by Uniworld and other river lines, and today they’re chartered on a frequent basis by Mayflower Tours and Collette, among others. “We’re constantly trying to introduce product, expand our product line and get in front of more people,” he notes.
Onboard product news? For 2014, shore excursions are optional so they're not included as part of the cruise fare. But for 2015, the line plans to include shore trips within the cruise fares for Americans.
Moving forward, though, fares for Europeans will still be priced without shore options, as Europeans prefer to do their own thing ashore, he said.
Onboard, all guests already enjoy wine and beer with lunch and dinner, as well as an open bar. That doesn’t include champagne or wine by the bottle.
McGlade says all seven-night cruises typically have some type of entertainment onboard. An employee onboard is dedicated to assure guests are entertained. He describes the entertainment as “light” and says guests can expect music nightly.
In addition, during one night of a Danube River cruise, for example, a gypsy band might come onboard, or alternatively, on a Portugal cruise, a folkloric group might perform onboard. Guests also play games and have “typical river cruise entertainment,” he said. All ships have Internet access.
On certain routing, during Vienna and Budapest calls for example, the onboard staff will make arrangements if guests wish to purchase tickets for a symphony concert or cultural program ashore.
What about bicycles? While bicycles aren’t carried on river boats, they are onboard all barges the line operates, McGlade said.
In terms of dining, generally the onboard restaurant seats everyone at one time as does one main lounge. Some of the newer ships also have an additional lounge aft, McGlade says. “These are much smaller and provide rear and side views. They’re very comfortable and more quiet.”
Ships also have sundecks. Some ships sailing in warmer climates like Portugal and Spain have swimming pools. But it varies by ship, he says.
If agents have client who need an accessible cabin, the European Union (EU) policy is that all new ships being built in 2014 must have accommodations for handicapped guests. Some of the line’s existing ships already have accessible cabins, but agents should ask when making reservations.
English brochures are available through the call center at 800-768-7232. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.
CroisiEurope pays 10 percent base commission, higher for volume. It also offers agents the opportunity to earn commission on groups or, alternatively, to take a net rate.
If agents have clients seeking an affordable, four-star approach to river cruising on a contemporary styled product, McGlade says, “our product is going to open up river cruising.”
To learn more about CroisiEurope, visit www.croisieuroperivercruises.com.