If you haven’t heard of CroisiEurope and Douce France, you’re not alone. CroisiEurope is a family-owned cruise line based in Strasbourg, France. The company started in 1979 as many do by chartering their boats. By 1990, they were building their own ships. Now CroisiEurope owns and operates 49 river ships and one sea ship.
My ship for the week, Douce France was built in 1996 and just renovated in 2017. I was curious to see how CroisiEurope had refurbished this older river ship. It would also be interesting to experience this slightly different 8-night Rhine river cruise – Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam itinerary – navigating the Rhine for 517 miles. An eight-night Rhine river cruise rather than the usual seven nights as all the other river cruise lines offer would be interesting with the extra night.
The afternoon of the cruise, I arrived into Basel by train, actually two trains from Rome, in about six hours. A taxi arranged by CroisiEurope met me at the platform. After a winding walk through the train station, I was in the car and off we went. Boarding is requested no sooner than 5pm so I was a little bit early. Plenty of time to unpack and walk around the ship before the rest of the people arrived.
Day 1 – Basel, Switzerland – boarding day
Day 2 – Basel with optional tour to the Rhine Falls – evening departure to Breisach, Germany
Day 3 – Breisach free time or optional tour of Colmar
Day 4 – Strasbourg, France
Day 5 – Mainz, Germany – afternoon cruise through the famous Romantic Rhine Valley – overnight in Koblenz
Day 6 – Cologne or stay onboard and cruise to Dusseldorf. Cologne people were bussed to meet the ship in Dusseldorf.
Day 7 – Xanten, Holland with excursion to Arnhem Open Air Museum
Day 8 – Amsterdam – all day and overnight
Day 9 – Departure after breakfast. Au revoir, Douce France!
First Impression – Welcome Aboard!
My cabin aboard Douce France
Signed in, luggage delivered, I headed to my cabin, #202, at the end of the corridor, right next to the restaurant entrance. It turned out to be a great location.
Nice and bright and I love that the bed faces the sliding doors. The two twin beds, a little narrower than in the USA, were put together though made up as two separate beds. Very soft sheets with a not-too-heavy duvet and square-shaped pillows. I folded the blue bed drape back at night or I’d roast. All in all, I slept great and for me, that’s important when traveling.
Tip: Be sure to stow the TV when you are finished watching it. It’s really easy to hit your head on it in the down mode.
Dining aboard Douce France
Being my third CroisiEurope cruise, I felt like a pro. Dining is a little different on a CroisiEurope river ship than other cruise lines.
First, all English-speaking guests are grouped together at assigned tables, usually near the entrance. No open seating for any of the guests. As a solo on a small ship, I appreciate assigned tables. Guests are grouped together by language. Lunch and dinner are at fixed times so don’t be late. Three courses comprise your meal; starter, main course and dessert. Everyone gets the exact same food, unless you request vegetarian, vegan etc.
Always a buffet with loads of cheeses, deli-type meats, yogurts, fresh baked croissants and rolls. Slice-it yourself whole grain breads and a water boiler for eggs are usually the busiest sections. You can also order eggs, too. Coffee is already on your table when you arrive – breakfast opens usually at 7:30am. Assigned tables, please.
Usually table service but twice on our cruise there was a buffet. I was told that it was buffet for the English-speaking passengers…that Europeans prefer table service over buffet. When it was table service, it was very elegant and proper.
It almost seemed like Douce France served duck in some form or another almost every night; duck confit, duck magret, duck fois gras and duck Terrine. Veal and pork were served too, but for me, the chef was fabulous at creating tasty vegetarian options. Desserts were fabulous and très French.
Tip: For those who didn’t order meat, after your waitperson takes your order, this is what you do:
If you’ve seen one river ship, you’ve pretty much got this down pat. The lounge is at the bow of river ships in Europe, connecting from the reception area. The bar is also there, front and center.
Complimentary cocktails are a very nice inclusion. Wine, beer, soft drinks and bottled water at meals for no charge. In addition, every night there’s a specialty drink.
Similar to other river cruise lines, there’s a small dance floor but that’s where the similarity ends with CroisiEurope. There’s a actual DJ booth and a DJ every night playing music for dancing. No piano player using a iPad and an electric keyboard. They’ll also bring in guest performers, too. Of course there’s always someone to sing French songs, some familiar and some not so much. But it’s totally enjoyable and fills the lounge every night after dinner.
Tip: You’re never too old to have fun on a river cruise. Dance like no one’s watching, right?
Douce France doesn’t have an elevator that reaches the sundeck so be prepared to walk up a steep flight of stairs…with handrails on one side. On a side note: almost no Europe river ships can build an elevator to the sun deck, due to the height needed to fit under bridges.
Douce France Review: In Conclusion
There’s no better all-inclusive Europe river cruise, dollar for dollar, than CroisiEurope. The investment by the company in Douce France was a wise choice, in my opinion. It’s a lovely smaller river ship, yet it has nearly all of the same features and amenities that the other guys have on their bigger river ships.
On the other hand, and this applies to all CroisiEurope ships, if you’re English-speaking, you very well may be in the minority onboard. Unless of course there happens to be two motor coaches from England carrying guests as part of a retirement community getaway. But most times, English is not the majority language. I think that’s a wonderful opportunity to meet people from around the world, if only through a smile.
Getting used to fixed seating in the dining room for breakfast (always a buffet), lunch and dinner plus fixed meal selection might put off those who expect several menu selections. As a solo passenger, I like knowing that I don’t have to wander aimlessly trying to find a seat in the dining room. It’s nice to have a certain table…like traditional dining on cruise ships.
Douce France was spotlessly clean. The crew is meticulous and with so much bright white walls and daylight beaming in throughout the ship, it’s the attention to detail that really shows.
As I mentioned, most passengers are European. They’re generally 55 years and older, and flock to a relatively inexpensive holiday (no long flights to get to the ship). Guests are casually yet elegantly dressed – I never saw denim jeans worn by the Europeans. Leave your fancy clothes and stiletto heels at home. Men can bring a sport coat for Gala Night at the end of the cruise.
Food was very good. Portions are European size. But you’ll never go hungry if you finish your meals. There is a coffee, tea and cappuccino station almost always open.
If you arrive in Basel by train, it’s a 15-20 minute taxi ride weaving through the city to get out to the docking space on the other side of the river. Be sure to have a written note to show the driver so you won’t be taken to a different river ship dockage. CroisiEurope will tell you what dock to go to for embarkation.
A tip between $5 and $10 per day from each guest is the average, but each passenger is free to give what they want.
An envelope is left in your cabin during your last evening on board. Put your gratuity in it and drop it in the box provided at the reception of the boat before disembarking. It’s shared equally among all the crew, staff and sailors.
Douce France Profile
Cabins: 55 – including four solo staterooms
Category: Mid-range ($$+) – Nearly all-inclusive – Excellent value for the price
Shore excursions: Complimentary
Internet/wifi: Free internet and wifi is available throughout most of the ship. However, best connectivity is in the lounge.
Name of itinerary: Treasures of the Celebrated Rhine River
Date of travel: April 13-21, 2018
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Disclosure: I was a guest of CroisiEurope aboard the Douce France. However and as always, all opinions are my own.