A different Seine experience with CroisiEurope
26 December 2016 • Have you seen my blogpost about the Amawaterways cruise on the river Seine?
I have to confess something: three weeks before the cruise with "Ama" I did another cruise, on the same river, with the SEINE PRINCESS, from the French company CroisiEurope.
Twice the same river, with less than a month in between? It was not on purpose. First I was reluctant to accept the second invitation.
At the same time I saw the unique opportunity to compare two brands, two ships, and two cruises with a different duration and different port of calls.
On October 12, after having taken the fast Thalys train from Brussels to Paris, followed by two RER trains to a station nearby the Eiffel Tower, we embarked on SEINE PRINCESS. She was alongside a quay within walking distance of Paris' most famous landmark.
Let's have a look at the main experience differences between this cruise with CroisiEurope, and the other cruise with AmaWaterways.
Difference n°1: Paris by night
Both Captains maneuvered their ships in front of the Statue of Liberty, and aligned the monument with the Eiffel tower, much to the delight of the onboard photographers.
The big difference is that CroisiEurope has an exclusive license to sail with their ships upstream, through Paris. To see the "Ville Lumière" from the water is quite a unique experience.
Difference n°2: Versailles
The day after we arrived around noon in Poissy, after a leisurely morning on the water. Again, we did something different: we had a guided excursion to the world-famous Château de Versailles.
The Château de Versailles, which has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for 30 years, is one of the most beautiful achievements of 17th-century French art. The site began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge before his son Louis XIV --le Roi Soleil-- transformed and expanded it, moving the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Each of the three French kings who lived there until the French Revolution added improvements to make it more beautiful.
Unfortunately we had to be happy with the gold cladded fences, as the real sunshine was totally absent.
First our guide showed us the famous gardens, designed by André Le Nôtre.
It was the end of the season and most flowers were gone. Never mind, it was impressive to see the vastness.The Orangerie
I particularly loved the strange perspective towards the Grand Canal, as if there was a bend into the landscape.
Thanks to our guide we were inside rather quickly. You cannot imagine how many people are queuing for a visit to Versailles.
Having everything organised by CroisiEurope definitely felt as an advantage. No worries to get there, to purchase tickets and to get proper information.Hercules drawing roomA victorious King Louis XIV in the War Room.The famous hall of mirrors.
I did especially enjoy the art installations from Iceland-born, Danish artist Olafur Elliasson."Deep Mirror (yellow)" by Olafur Elliasson.
After our visit to Versailles we continued to sail, from Poissy to Vernon, where we stayed overnight.
On Day 3 we cruised the whole morning, towards the capital of Normandie, Rouen. It was nice to wake up early and to be out at dusk. I was surprised to see the landscapes. Especially the "white cliffs" where totally unexpected.
(later, on the second Seine cruise with "Ama" I would discover the beauty of the chalk cliffs of Les Andelys).Blue hourMeeting VIKING ROLF from Viking River Cruises.Relaxed onboard atmosphere in the lounge.
Difference n°3: no bikes
We arrived in Rouen around noon. It is a very attractive city, which we also visited during the AmaWaterways cruise. The big difference on this call was the guided tour of the city. With Amawaterways we went by bicycle. With CroisiEurope it was a normal walking tour.
Some photographic impressions.
In the French history books Rouen is important, especially for Joan of Arc. On the place where she was burned at the stake, for heresy, in 1431, a new church has been built in 1979, next to the ruins of the 16th century Church of Saint Vincent.
The hypermodern Eglise Sainte-Jeanne d'Arc is controversial, to say the least. It took a lot of convincing to have the church built... and I am still not convinced.
Difference n°4: all the way to Honfleur with CroisiEurope
CroisiEurope's ships have the permission to sail all the way down to the pretty village of Honfleur, on the west bank of the Seine estuary. Some other companies go down to Honfleur as well. Unfortunately AmaWaterways has to stop in Caudebec-en Caux, because the vessel is too large to pass the locks in Honfleur.
AmaWaterways does offer an excursion to Honfleur and to the Normandie landing beaches of World War II, but that means a rather long bus ride from Caudebec-en-Caux.Passing the seaport of Radicatel in the early morning.Pont de Tancarville.Approaching the Pont de Normandie.Morning fitness.When the Pont de Normandie opened in 1995 it was the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world.Entering the dock in Honfleur.Picture perfect HonfleurThe Pont de Normandie dominates the landscape.Good old wedding folklore.The 14th century Saint-Etienne church is the oldest church in Honfleur. Since 1897 the building is used as a maritime museum.Honfleur is also known for its many art galleries.If you're looking for local specialties you could either go for cider, or better, for a local beer: the La Fessée Triple, which translated means "a triple spank".
From the dock where the SEINE PRINCESS was berthed, to "downtown" Honfleur, takes only a five-minute walk.
I enjoyed the fact that we stayed in Honfleur the whole day. That's including an overnight stay. Plenty of time! It gave a lot of freedom to visit the town and to walk back to the ship at my own pace, and according to my own mood.
If I could give one advice: have lunch or dinner in one of the many restaurants. Especially the oysters are outstanding.
That brings us to:
Difference n°5: onboard SEINE PRINCESS
CroisiEurope is a well respected French family-owned business. As we know, food is an important thing in France. So, indeed, you will love the onboard cuisine.
If AmaWaterways offers an à la carte menu, with plenty of options, CroisiEurope works with single set menus. Everybody eats the same, except if you have certain allergies or if you are vegetarian. No worries, in that case you will get something adapted.
In general the food on CroisiEurope is good. By offering one set menu, food cost can be kept low, without compromising quality.
On the AmaWaterways ship there was one extra restaurant --The Chef’s Table--, an intimate specialty restaurant where you can watch the chef prepare a lavish dinner right in front of you. On a cruise each passenger gets the chance to dine there once.
Food on Ama is more sophisticated. The company does its utmost best to surprise the passengers with extra's, like a French cheese buffet, a lunch with Normandie oysters etc.. Also the breakfast had much more options than on CroisiEurope. Which is normal, since the French are happy with coffee, bread (baguette), butter and marmelade, croissants, pains au chocolat etc...
With CroisiEurope all drinks are included, even those at the bar, except if you want some more exclusive drinks. Dinner drinks are included with Amawaterways, but at the bar you'll have to pay.
CroisiEurope's SEINE PRINCESS is a comfortable, unsophisticated ship. AMALEGRO from AmaWaterways has better cabins, a more sophisticated interior, a nicer sundeck (with a Jacuzzi). But the price tag is different too.
Both vessels offered free WiFi. That worked extremely well throughout the AMALEGRO. On SEINE PRINCESS you have to sit in the lounge, and the Internet was rather slow.BOTTICELLI is a near sister to SEINE PRINCESS, and berths alongside.
What about the guests? On CroisiEurope most passengers were French-speaking. There was a group of English-speaking guests and a couple from Spain. Cruise director Fabiola was very good in handling all these languages.
What I did not like on CroisiEurope was the audiotape with the three-language explanation. "On your left you see this... and on the right you see that..." I love to receive information, but it should be live. Result: I ignored the recorded voice.
On AmaWaterways most guests were English speaking, with a dominant American accent.
Cruise director Annie often went to the wheelhouse to give live comments, in her very own personal style. It was a pleasure to listen to.
Comparing a four-day cruise with an eight-day cruise is not easy. Both ships, both companies have their character and advantages. I hope you have found some trends in my blogpost, which will help you to make a choice.
The biggest surprise for me was the Seine River. I would never have expected the landscapes we've sailed along. And starting a cruise from Paris, talking about doing something really unique.