I want to say that, in general, we enjoyed our cruise immensely. The Loire Princesse is very well designed and appointed and kept in excellent condition. The staff are all lovely and the food, as I had expected from our previous experience of Croisi, was excellent.
We do, however, have some criticisms, which we have passed on to the cruise company. These relate, in the main, to the excursion programme generally and to some excursions in particular.
Firstly, though, when booking I would advise you to check out the cabin allocated to you very carefully before you accept it. The paddle wheels are quite noisy when running, so I would advise trying not to be too close to them. The other thing is that there are a number of cabins on both decks that are smaller than standard, due to the stairs between decks. We noticed that cabin 234, for example, which happens to be the one that we were originally allocated by Croisi before, at our request, we got changed to 243, is one of those smaller cabins. I have to say that we would not have been at all happy if we had had to keep cabin 234 and only found out that it was smaller when we got there!
In regard to the excursions, firstly, some general comments. As English speakers, we felt that we were disadvantaged by some of the guides who translated only a fraction of their French commentary into English. The notable exception to this was the guide Jean-Louis, whom we felt made every effort in that respect, switching between French and English commentary much more frequently than the others. We also had some concerns that one of the coach drivers spent an awful lot of his time speaking to the passengers with a microphone in one hand and only one hand on the steering wheel; even when executing turns, and negotiating roundabouts! It seemed to us that, on occasions, he was trying to usurp the function of the guide, and rather liked the sound of his own voice. We have suggested that if it is the intention that drivers should provide commentary, then for the safety of passengers, they should be provided with hands free microphones so that they can keep both hands on the wheel!
We felt, in general, that the excursion plan was a little too intensive, especially with so many early starts. I appreciate that we could have opted to not have taken the whole excursion package, but it is very difficult to know, beforehand, which excursions will really be worth going on, and which it would really be no loss to miss. We believe, also, that the planning and execution of some of the individual excursions could be improved. These are our comments on the particular excursions that we took.
Guerande - The visit to Guerande itself was lovely. The visit to the Salt pans was mediocre. The English translation here was particularly sparse. As there were other passengers who did the "dynamique" tour, so that the coach had to return to Guerande to pick them up, it would have been nice if we had had the option for some free time in Guerande instead of the Salt pans.
Nantes tour - We felt that less than a third of what our guide Eva said in French was actually translated into English. She also went into far too much detail in places. At the cathedral she must have spent at least 20 to 30 minutes going into every single detail of the tomb of Duchesse Anne's parents! Even French people were getting bored and wandering off. At the castle, it would have been better to have had a shorter guided tour and some free time to visit the walls and Royal rooms or, as there were only a few English, perhaps to have supplied them with the audio guides and arranged to meet later.
Erdre cruise - This was OK but I did not think it was worth the price to sit in a closed-in river boat on uncomfortable plastic seats. It was impossible to take any good pictures through the glass windows, but whenever they were opened, there was an overpowering smell of fuel.
Muscadet Road tour - From here on in Jean-Louis was our guide and the quality of guiding, and ratio of English translation improved immensely. The visit to Clisson was pitched perfectly in terms of timing and content. The visit to Cassemichère was also very good, with three very nice wines offered for tasting.
Saumur & the Cadre Noir - This excursion was a little disappointing. The visit to Saumur consisted only of seeing the town hall and the castle, fairly briefly, from the outside, before moving on to the riding school. There we were ushered directly into the arena to take up our seats. I have to say that I feel that we have seen better horse displays and it was disappointing that, although the audience was clearly an international one, commentary was solely in French.
Angers - The castle was interesting but we felt that far too much time was taken up in explaining almost every individual panel of the Apocalypse Tapestry. Again, a lot of people seemed to be getting bored and wandering off. An option here to either stay with the guide or for some free time to explore other aspects of the castle and meet up later would have been welcomed. The short walk through Angers and look in the Cathedral after the castle visit was interesting.
Castles of the Loire - A very full and quite tiring full day excursion, basically at least 10 hours away from the boat. The two castles and one garden visited, though, were all delightful.
Corniche Angevine - We felt that there really was not much substance to this excursion, other than the visit to Domaine FL and the wine tasting there, which took up a large part of the excursion time, although the scenery was pleasant enough and there were a number of short stops to see specific things. For us, a wine tasting that early in the morning did not seem ideal. Unfortunately, we were not alone in feeling that the wines offered for tasting were not very palatable, judging by the amount that was being tipped away by everybody, rather than being drunk!
Finally, so as not to finish on a negative note, I would just reiterate that we had a really lovely time, but we hope that, perhaps, improvements might be made in the excursions, and particularly for English speakers, as a result of the detailed comments that we have made. We have already seen that Croisi are commissioning a number of new boats over the next couple of years, so we will be looking at their itineraries in due course, with great interest.
Very well designed and immaculately kept. There is plenty of space for storage and a decent sized shower cubicle. It was lovely to have the outside space of the private balcony.