She’s a beauty, the new Loire Princesse, that is. I will be showing you plenty of her when I step aboard April 9 for a six-day cruise along the lazy Loire River, with its shallow depths (hence, the vessel’s new paddlewheel technology) and UNESCO World Heritage attractions. Loire Princesse is the first hotel ship ever to explore the Loire and its tributaries, and while mine promises to be an exciting journey, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the people behind the river cruiser and their ever-expanding company.
Patrick and Daniele Schmitter co-own CroisiEurope along with three brothers and sisters and their spouses. Some of the children work for the company, including Patrick and Daniele’s son Lucas, who oversees the company’s website and e-commerce.
I met Patrick and Daniele at this past weekend’s christening events and a two-night preview cruise that followed. They’ve been a couple for nearly 30 years, and as with any relationship, theirs has not been without challenges along the way. “It helped us to have a common project together,” Daniele told me. And what a project the two have going: a rapidly expanding armada of ships, including coastal cruisers, river cruisers and canal cruisers. More than 40 so far — with more to come.
The challenge for CroisiEurope has been growing beyond its European roots. CroisiEurope is to Europe what Viking is to North America, yet few people outside of Europe know about the Strasbourg-based company. You won’t see television ads touting CroisiEurope’s all-inclusive cruising. To spread the word, the company recently recruited Nicola Iannone to build awareness in North America, and Cindy Christen (formerly of Uniworld) to head up sales. The two are making headway. This past week they traveled with journalists and travel sellers from the United States and Canada to experience CroisiEurope’s river and canal cruisers.
One takeaway from a veteran journalist who traveled with our group: The food on CroisiEurope is as good as it gets.
Loire Princessse will certainly please palates. Like her fleetmates, she’s all-inclusive — or soon will be. Tours – or shore excursions in ocean cruise parlance – join the list of inclusions in 2016. Adult beverages and speciality coffees, along with bottled water, are available 24/7. The key attention-getter, however, is CroisiEurope’s pricing, 25 percent to 50 percent below its competitors, and with no single supplements on ships such as Loire Princesse, which features four single cabins (and one cabin for guests who are mobility impaired).
As on Avalon, beds on Loire Princesse face the balconies. Cabins are stylish and well thought-out, with features such as large flat-panel televisions that retract into the ceiling. Bathrooms are spacious, with large showers with showerheads that I, at 6’5″, could get under. The river cruiser’s overall design is intended to evoke l’élégance à la française, featuring rich colors, beautiful fabrics by Missoni of Milan, copper light fixtures by Tom Dixon, an award-winning English designer, a roomy lounge with lots of seating and a dining room one deck below that comfortably sits the ship’s capacity of 90.
Daniele was responsible for the design, her husband in the technology to power the ship up the exceptionally shallow Loire River. The solution: paddlewheels attached to each side of the vessel, around midships, to propel the ship up (and down) the river. The concept was inspired by the paddlewheelers that ply the Mississippi River, and today, Loire Princesse rules as Europe’s largest such vessel. The accompanying podcast includes some interesting information about the technology, even as to how every aspect of the vessel’s superstructure was considered to shave 400 tons off the displacement weight.
The hardware was indeed innovative and impressive. I was equally impressed by the incredibly friendly and eager-to-please staff on Loire Princess. Monica, bottom left in the photo up top, had worked on the company’s Botticelli, which I cruised along the Seine last June (read more about that cruise here). She has grown even more gracious in the months that have passed, and that smile in the photo was pretty much permanent this past weekend. Staff hails from France, Portugal, Hungary and other countries in Europe.
As someone who has done more than my share of river cruises, I stepped off Loire Princesse with several thoughts. The onboard experience was personable and warm, much like the Schmitters themselves. The dining was, as my colleague pointed out, as good as it gets. I appreciated the open bar policy and the hardware and technology that allow the ship to operate on this storied river. But there is something else. As if she were personified, Loire Princesse seemed to breathe the hard work and caring of an exceptional family and crew. She appeared to be a ship with a heart – and a whole lot of soul. I look forward to the experience she will provide to all of us who step aboard her this coming Thursday.