Lyon, France — Yesterday, we stepped off A-ROSA Stella after a weeklong cruise on the Rhône and Saône rivers. During our voyage we saw lots of other river cruise companies offering programs in the region. If I were to cruise on this beautiful itinerary again, would I choose to do it on A-ROSA Stella for the second time or would I choose to cruise with another river cruise company?
I’d choose A-ROSA Stella, but perhaps not for the reasons you would immediately think.
I would not choose A-ROSA Stella for the cuisine, which was certainly a highlight on our cruise, but the fact is that other river cruise companies do it as well as A-ROSA, and some perhaps do it even better. That said, A-ROSA Stella’s cuisine was of an exceptionally high standard. Gourmet? I’m not sure, because I’m not a food critic. But certainly, at our tables during the week, with both novices and discriminating foodies, A-ROSA scored high marks for cuisine and wine.
I would not choose A-ROSA Stella for the stateroom, which was adequate in size (measuring 156 square feet) and generous in amenities (flat-panel television, French-style “Juliette” balcony and more), but some river cruise companies offer larger staterooms and a variety of balcony configurations, and with generous amenities.
I would not choose A-ROSA Stella for the shore programs. While A-ROSA Stella’s tours were enriching and fun, they were much like those of other river cruise operators in the region.
So now the reasons why I would choose A-ROSA Stella. The vessel and program have nine differentiating factors that make it a good choice for some cruisers. I realize that these factors will not be important to everyone, but at age 55, they appeal to me quite a lot.
Several river cruise companies offer bicycles for their guests to use at no extra charge. A-ROSA Stella’s bicycles, however, were exceptional in quality and size. I’m 6’5″ and easily found a bike that I could ride without my knees knocking my chin. Plus, A-ROSA Stella offers complimentary bicycle excursions. Some of the excursions can be challenging, including one that took us 40 kilometers (more than 25 miles) on one excursion during our voyage. We rode bicycles on seven of the eight days we were on board.
A-ROSA’s pricing includes air & transfers, taxes and gratuities, beverages and, like many other river cruise companies, shore excursions. Initially, I was confused about the beverage policy, as I wrote in an earlier post. But beverages are included for North American guests on A-ROSA Stella. Some river cruise companies are going all-inclusive, and many offer beer and wine with lunch and dinner, but A-ROSA is all-inclusive, all the time, now — with the exception of some premium wines and spirits that are indicated by an asterisk on the beverage menu.
3. Social Atmosphere
Thanks in part to A-ROSA Stella’s all-inclusive policy, the pool deck was busy during afternoons when we were cruising on the rivers and the lounges were active evenings after dinner. The reason: complimentary beverages. I saw people having mojitos by the pool, and nightcaps in the bar who might not otherwise be there if they were required to pay for their drinks. The all-inclusive policy brings people out into the public areas. Some of you may remember the days before Regent Seven Seas Cruises went all-inclusive. Guests would retreat to their staterooms to pour a glass of wine or spirits (Regent provided free booze in the suites but not in the public areas). After Regent went all-inclusive, public rooms on its vessels became lively social hubs.
4. Young clientele
I don’t have data from all of A-ROSA Stella’s cruises this year, but on our voyage, the average age seemed to be about 50 years old, perhaps younger. A significant amount of guests were in their 40s, some in their 30s and a few in their 20s. A-ROSA is targeting 40-year-olds and up. Many of the other river cruise companies are targeting the 55-plus demographic. I enjoyed the “youthful” feeling on board A-ROSA Stella.
5. Large pool
Before boarding, I wasn’t aware that A-ROSA Stella had a pool, but it was hard to miss on the top deck. The pool was the largest I have seen on a river cruiser, and it was well-used during our voyage.
6. Outdoor dining
A-ROSA Stella offers outdoor lunches, cocktail hours and other events on the top deck. The vessel features a large area covered by awning that can be raised and lowered for low bridges, making it tolerable to sit outdoors even on the sunniest of days.
7. Large gym/spa
I used the gym once during our voyage (thanks to the bikes, most of my activity was pedaling along the French countryside). The gym was large by river cruiser standards and with a good selection of cardio equipment. Body-builders, however, would be challenged. The availability of free weights and body-building machines was disappointing.
8. Gratuities included
There was some confusion here, because at the end of the cruise, a Trinkgeld (essentially, gratuities, in German) box was placed on the reception desk, with a note about gratuities being appreciated on a flyer in our stateroom and announced later on during a crew appreciation ceremony. Gratuities, however, are included on A-ROSA Stella. You’re covered, so don’t feel obligated to tip additionally.
One of A-ROSA’s best values at the moment is an eight-night all-inclusive Christmas Markets cruise on A-ROSA Silva. Fares are from $2,099, which equates to per diems of around $233 per person. The December 3, 2013 departure from Frankfurt features three overnights: in Strasbourg, Cologne and Koblenz. Plus, there is a limited time bonus. Those booking 2013 holiday cruises will receive a $500 American Express gift card (per cabin, based on double occupancy). When this is factored in the lead-in per diem comes to slightly more than $200 per person — a steal. For 2014, A-ROSA offers all-inclusive 7-night fares for as low as $2,779 per person if you book by December 31, 2013. Single supplements are 20 percent additional.
Having been on the same cruise described in Ralph’s article, we believe his comments present a fair and balanced assessment of A-Rosa Stella’s strengths and weaknesses. We offer a few additional thoughts based on our experience . . . the passenger mix on our cruise (about 25% German-speaking and the rest mostly Americans, including about 40 passengers who booked as a group) was, according to the boat’s cruise director, unusual and no doubt created the “all inclusive beverage policy” confusion Ralph noted in his related post. Indeed, as the bar and restaurant servers were supposed to track all beverage consumption, it was most awkward to be asked our cabin number whenever we placed a drink order. Like Ralph, we also noticed the “youngish” demographics of our fellow passengers, but we wonder whether that was primarily driven by the group booking arranged through a trendy restaurant in Palm Springs, California. Discounting members of that group, we suspect the average age among passengers is not atypical of other river cruise companies’ clientele. Further, we found the service staff (in both the restaurant and the bar) did an outstanding job dealing with a hybrid beverage policy and responding to the high number of drink orders from the “all-inclusive” crowd. All in all, we enjoyed ourselves on the cruise, although we do not feel that A-Rosa quite measured up to our Avalon and AMA Waterway experiences or (perhaps an unfair comparison) our previous “all inclusive” experiences on Silverseas and Regent ships.