Why CroisiEurope’s Newest Ship Is Worth The Trip
CroisiEurope’s brand-new Elbe Princesse rumbled to life for the first time during our short preview cruise today, as we sailed down the River Havel from Berlin to Potsdam. It’s a short journey of approximately 30 kilometres, but just long enough for us to enjoy some scenic cruising and see how the ship handles when she’s in motion.
Paddlewheels and Pump Jets
By now, you probably know that Elbe Princesse is the second CroisiEurope vessel to feature paddlewheel propulsion, following in the footsteps of the line’s Loire Princesse, which debuted in April of 2015 on the Loire River. But, like me, you may not have known that the ship doesn’t necessarily have to fire up the paddlewheels to get moving.
Elbe Princesse is also equipped with a propulsion system called pump jets, which are pretty much exactly as they sound: jets powered by sea water sucked in through an intake, then expelled rapidly through the other end. This system allows the ship to move with more precision than the paddlewheels allow (though, when fired up, the wheels really get things moving along).
The ship has been well-designed, placing accommodations all the way forward and the ship’s public rooms directly over the engines. This was a good decision on two fronts: when in motion, there is some engine noise and vibration bleed-through that is noticeable in the ship’s Lounge and Dining Room, but nothing that would cause undue discomfort. When the paddles are in motion, there’s also a rather pleasant bounce to the stern as the paddlewheels bite into the water and drive the ship forward.
At full speed, the ship vibrates and bounces more than traditional river cruise ships. Glasses and flowers rock gently back and forth on tables. It’s novel rather than irritating, but it’s something you should be prepared for.
A New Baby In 11 Months
CroisiEurope planned and built Elbe Princesse in just 11 months, drawing on the company’s experiences on the Loire with the trendsetting Loire Princesse. How quickly the ship came together is remarkable: the design phase commenced just one year ago, in April 2015. The first steel was cut in June of last year, and the ship’s two construction blocks were moved into drydock in October.
Float-out was done in November, and by January of this year, the ship’s two giant paddlewheels were installed. Sea trials were conducted in February, and the final fitting-out work was completed shortly thereafter. It took five days to transfer the ship from the Loire Estuary to its home in Berlin; a process that only took place this month.
A Family Cruise Experience
This is my first CroisiEurope experience. My colleague, Ralph Grizzle, has done several sailings with the line now, and has always come back with positive experiences. I can understand why: though CroisiEurope is not a luxury product by any means (nor does it intend to be), it delivers a remarkably comfortable, friendly, European river cruise experience that feels a bit like you have close friends in France who just happened to invite you on a river cruise.
It is, of course, international; if you’re expecting things to be American in style onboard, you’ll be disappointed: this is a French and European experience through-and-through. But, in many ways, that’s advantageous. CroisiEurope has been doing this for 40 years now, and they’ve learned a thing or two along the way. The company has also stuck close to its roots: after being founded by the late Gerard Schmitter in 1976, the Schmitter family still largely runs the company, with the third generation of Schmitters poised to lead the company into the future.
Several family members mingled with the small group of journalists and travel professionals onboard, and they exhibit a kindness that clearly passes down to the ship’s crew. They’re also smart: they know the industry as well as any person I’ve met. Respectably, they have good things to say about competitors like Viking River Cruises and AmaWaterways. But they feel they can always improve and innovate, and the Elbe Princesse is an example of that innovation – on both technical and itinerary sides of the spectrum – at work.
Did We Mention It’s Sold Out?
Now, for the kicker: Elbe Princesse’s entire 2016 season is already sold out, according to CroisiEurope officials. Next year is booking up rapidly, too. That in itself is remarkable because the line is eager to court guests from both Canada and the United States, yet has such a strong passenger base within Europe that the latest departures and itineraries are booked solid by some of the line’s most loyal repeat guests.
Still, English speaking guests are always welcome aboard CroisiEurope’s ships, and the line really goes out of its way to court those guests and make them feel at home with the ship’s European passengers. While guests can certainly mingle, CroisiEurope makes special effort to seat English-speaking guests together at the same tables for lunch and dinner; a nice touch that’s made those of us onboard who speak few (if any) other languages feel right at home.
Elbe Princesse Sails On
With sailings for 2016 sold out, English-speaking guests that find the idea of sailing the Elbe from Berlin to Prague intriguing are wise to look at departures in 2017. On April 19, Elbe Princesse sets out on her very first revenue voyage. For a ship that only took 11 months to construct, it appears CroisiEurope’s return-on-investment will be a good one, indeed.
Our Voyage Report from onboard CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse will continue with our guide to A Day in Berlin. Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.