MS Van Gogh
If you’re willing to go with the flow and want to immerse yourself in the provincial charms of France’s Rhône River, this newly renovated ship operated by French cruise line CroisiEurope is a terrific option. There’s a spare, modern simplicity to both the ms Van Gogh and its itineraries, which range from four- and five-night cruises to a full week on the Rhône and Saône. And the all-inclusive pricing (with certain wines and some spirits extra) offers exceptional value.
What We Love
The European Experience: On ms Van Gogh you’ll trade exclamations of “marvelous” for “magnifique” and “good morning” for “bonjour” (or “guten tag”). Some cruises have more Americans aboard than others, but the Croisi experience is distinctly European (don’t worry, the multilingual, international crew speaks English).
The Newly Enlarged Cabins: The ms Van Gogh received an extreme makeover in March 2018 that transformed her from a 154-passenger ship with dark, dated decor to a 105-passenger one that’s bright, airy, and inviting. The interiors are a neutral white, beige, and gray palette, and hand-painted recreations of Vincent Van Gogh’s works hang in the public spaces. Cabins are now a generous 168 square feet with brush-stroke-inspired drapery patterns in cheerful orange and blue. Beds face the windows, which feature sliding doors and French balconies on Deck 2 and three non-opening windows on Deck 1, and the bathrooms are clean and modern.
The Ship’s Range: Designed with just two passenger decks and a collapsible navigation bridge that allows the ship to pass beneath low spans on the Rhône and Saône rivers, ms Van Gogh can cruise even when water levels are too high for other ships. Reclining on a lounge chair on the top deck while passing so closely beneath the illuminated bridges of Lyon at night is an experience you’ll long remember.
Best Known For
Affordable, Non-fussy Ambience: Strasbourg-based CroisiEurope is a family-owned company that has steadily grown to 55 ships (about half of them now renovated to five-anchor status) since its founding in 1976. Its philosophy is one of personal attention paired with a spirit of fun and games (there’s a gregarious animator onboard to generate laughs and oversee a variety of activities).
Satisfying and Flavorful Cuisine: Unless you’re a particularly fussy eater, the buffet breakfasts and four-course lunches and dinners won’t leave you feeling deprived. While not as fancy or finessed as on some other river cruise lines (aside from two buffet lunches, meals are set menus, although special dietary needs can be accommodated), the culinary style feels regionally authentic, and the soups and desserts in particular are truly delicious.
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Who It's Best For
Cruisers Seeking History-Rich Guided Excursions: This itinerary booked with a “Classic” tour package includes tours of the Roman architecture of Arles, the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, the traboules (hidden medieval passageways) of Lyon and the stunning 15th-century Hospices de Beaune. All feature multilingual guides who really know their stuff. More adventurous cruisers can opt for a “Discovery” package that includes several hikes and a Jeep safari in the Camargue.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
The Guest Mix is a Toss Up: Unless the cruise has been chartered by a U.S. tour company, chances are there won’t be many Americans onboard—which could be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how at ease you are with non-English speakers (often French, Belgians, Swiss, and Germans). But no matter what the nationality mix, CroisiEurope goes out of its way to accommodate each group’s needs.
The Pace Can Be Challenging: You might need a vacation after your vacation. This region of France requires a good bit of mobility and stamina to enjoy all that’s offered. For example, a morning tour of the Camargue, with stops at a manade (bull ranch) followed by an hour to explore the pretty beach town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on foot, is followed by lunch on the ship and then an afternoon walking tour of the cobblestone streets of Arles. The longest day (bus tours of the stunning Ardeche Gorges in the morning and the mountainous Vercours in the afternoon) doesn’t require much walking, but may leave you feeling car sick.
You May Become Part of the Crew Show: Sit close to the action and you might earn a starring role, but it’s highly entertaining and all in good fun—just like the cruise itself.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.