The chief onboard activity on Elbe Princesse is watching the world go by. Half of the time is spent cruising in the morning or afternoon to your destination (commentary is provided), while the rest is exploring the cities on your itinerary. There's nothing in the way of onboard games or amusements, so you are forced to relax and take in the sights.
City tours are the standard excursion in each port, and for North American passengers, all shore excursions are included in your cruise fare. Expect to board a coach bus and listen to a guide explain history and background before visiting a site or taking a further walking tour. A tour of Potsdam outside Berlin provides a historic visit at Cecilienhof, where Truman, Stalin and Churchill met after World War II, followed by a scenic walk around the gardens at Schloss Sanssouci palace and a quick stroll through the endlessly charming Dutch Quarter in downtown Potsdam. Throughout the other eight days, you can get to know the lesser-visited German cities of Magdeburg, Meissen and the Czech cities of Litomerice and Lovosice. Groups are divided by language, but there were times we felt we were receiving a translated version of our fellow French or German passengers' tour, rather than having a guide fully comfortable with English. This might depend on how many English-speaking passengers are onboard at any given time. Tours were not divided into walking ability groups.
Entertainment is held nightly in the lounge, and is typically a song-and-dance routine put on by Animation, the term for the crew members (also cruise directors and other staff) who perform. Sometimes the ship brings on a special performer. On our sailing, Catarina Conti did her best to get the crowd moving (sometimes with surprising force -- we were grabbed into a conga line). Songs were mostly in French or German, but dancing proved lively quite late into the night, which was surprising for a small river ship. Once per cruise the crew show is performed, put together in honor of the line's 40th anniversary. In an attempt to cater to all audiences, the dialogue in the show -- which is multiple acts with seemingly nothing stringing them together -- is a series of noises or "blah, blah blahs." The humor doesn't necessarily translate, leading to a bizarre, but well-meaning performance. Trivia is also held in the lounge one night per nine-day sailing. (We're not sure how this would work with multiple languages.)
Commentary is provided as you sail, meaning the history of the places you are passing is explained as you take in the scenery. Other than that, there are no talks or lectures available onboard.
There is one bar and one lounge, found on the upper deck, immediately to the left as you board; this is the ship's social space. The bar is all the way to the back, in front of the dance floor and entertainment area. It's crisp white with about six pink cushioned chairs at the counter, and serves German and French beer, French wines and a heavenly cappuccino made with chocolate and always served with a treat like a small cookie or chocolate. Most drinks are included, and a small menu at each table in the lounge will indicate what has an upcharge. For-fee liquors (aperitifs and digestifs), wines and cocktails run between 4 and 6 euros a glass; three bottles of wine (one cremant and two Champagne) are available from 19 to 45 euros. A cocktail of the day is offered, but we found it was a fruity concoction you would probably find in the Caribbean, not something that represented Germany or France. Either way, it makes for yet another free option to choose from the drink list.
The lounge has plenty of teal and pink couches and chairs for chatting, small tables for enjoying a coffee and sending an email and ample seating near the nine full-length windows on either side. Funky throw pillows in furry white, black velvet or stitched textures are abundant. Small pots with flowers such as an orchid dot nearly every table, indoors and out. A 'fireplace' with a small bookshelf above adds to the ambiance.
A sun deck is located on the top of the ship, and it extends the length. In the middle there are small, square, white metal tables with four folding chairs around each. Tons of gray chaise loungers flank both sides -- perfect for reclining, taking in the fresh air and scenery with a drink. Umbrellas above some of the tables as well as an area with a canopy offer shade. Sailing on this itinerary involves crossing under some very low bridges, so at times, access is restricted to the sun deck area.
A small patio can be found through automatic sliding-glass doors at the back of the ship, past the bar, near the paddlewheels. About three small metal tables with a dozen chairs each can be found here. At night, the paddlewheels put on a show as glowing lights surrounding each wheel change color.
A small lobby can be found as you enter the ship; the front desk is here, with a couch to the side. This is the meeting place for most tours. Also here is the boutique, which consists of three shelves of souvenir items -- branded hats, silk scarves, blown-glass figurines and stuffed animals or coloring books from the line's mascot, a traveling Croisi kangaroo -- behind glass doors. A public bathroom -- one men's and one women's -- is located just off the lobby to the right, with a shared sink space.
There are no spa or fitness facilities onboard CroisiEurope's Elbe Princesse.
Elbe Princesse is not suited to families with young children; there are no activities or clubs available to accommodate kids of any age. However, children ages 2 to 9 are eligible for discounted cruise fare. In terms of cabin size, rooms do not connect and a third full berth is not possible in any of the staterooms -- a family would have to purchase multiple cabins to travel together. A baby cot can be accommodated.