We are serial river cruisers but this year we were only able to make a relatively late booking, due to unforeseen domestic circumstances. We had not experienced Shearings river cruises before but, at fairly short notice, Shearings were the only company that could fly us out of Bristol to Paris CDG.
Our transfer from CDG to the ship was by a private hire car - very impressive - although we were quite concerned about the driver who seemed to spend lots of time looking at his phone and drifting into adjacent traffic lanes! We didn't see any of the well known parts of the city during the 30 minute drive, and finally stopped at a small and un-cared for river berth in a seedy part of the city about 15 miles from the centre of Paris.
On all the other river cruise companies that we've used, a different and interesting excursion is included in the price each day. Shearings included only 3 excursions, and the others were 'optional' and had to be paid for.
The highlight of the cruise was an included coach trip from the rather insignificant town of Caudebec-en-Caux to the Normandy landing beaches, which were most interesting. But the long coach trip each way could have been significantly shortened if we had moored at the beautiful harbour town of Honfleur at which the more upmarket river cruisers moor. Honfleur is a great favourite of most travellers and many our fellow guests were quite disappointed not to visit there. Perhaps this was something to do with port charges,
In Rouen, we moored about a mile from the town centre while other river cruise ships were moored at the closest point to the town. Did this also have something to do with port charges for prime positions?
Apart from Rouen, all the other stopping places were pleasant - but small and quite insignificant towns along the river. We spent a day and a half in Rouen, which was far too long, but at Vernon we only had half an hour to go ashore, following an interesting excursion to Monet’s garden. Why were we charged £22 for that excursion when the ticket entry price was only 8 Euros and the Shearings coach we used had been shadowing us throughout the cruise?
Dining ! What can we say? There were two quite separate and different dining rooms available, separated by a kitchen and a mish-mash of alleyways in which buffet style food was laid out for each meal of the day. For almost £2,000 a week each, we would have expected table service, at least at lunch and dinner, and at no time were told that all meals would be buffet style. One of the corridors intersected at 90 degrees with the kitchen entry/exit door, resulting in frequent conflict with plate carrying stewards when removing plates from the tables or delivering drinks. In other areas of the buffet alley ways, passengers continuously got in each others' way which became frustrating at times – there simply was not enough space for passengers to easily access the buffet. The food was principally German in style and flavour - often salty or greasy and without any traditional English dishes available. e.g no bacon, beans, pork sausage or poached eggs for breakfast, and marmalade only available for 2 days before it appeared to run out. Also no British 'roasts' except for some pink-in-the-centre sliced beef and lamb on two occasions
The principal language on board was German, with about 120 Germans against less than 50 British guests However, we were only told that we would meet 'International guests' and nothing about the main language on board being German and that the German theme would also extend to the food and the music. We have nothing against our German friends, but we feel that Shearings were rather economical with the details in this area.
In general, cabin and catering staff were from various European countries, as seems to be the norm on river cruise ships, and they were generally very friendly and eager to please, although not all had a good grasp of English. We were happy to leave a gratuity which would be shared amongst all the crew. The German Cruise Director and the ladies on the reception desk all spoke very good English and were most helpful.
Basically a very, very poor pre-cruise description, leaving passengers to discover that everything is not always as the Shearings glossy brochure presents.
So our advice to potential guests would be to ask some searching questions about the above points before booking a Shearings/A-Rosa river cruise. For, unlike many of their competitors, Shearings don't have their own ships, so sub contract their passengers onto German flag vessels, which seems to be a consistent problem for several of the writers of some on line reviews I have read.
Shearings took four weeks to respond to our letter (above) but did not acknowledge or specifically comment on much of what we had said, except for saying ‘sorry’ several times. Would we choose Shearings for a holiday again? No. Would we recommend Shearings river cruises to others? Definitely not.
The ship was clean and tidily presented, as was our cabin, although it was rather tired with carpets faded at the edges and small chips on the edges of wardrobe doors. We fully understood that a double bed could not be provided, as per our request, and two single beds had been pushed together. However, it would have been nice to have had a double or king duvet instead of two singles. The bathroom was spacious but badly needed an effective exhaust fan to remove the shower steam build-up.