Overview: My trip was a week’s cruising down the Loire River with a woman friend. We both chose to have our own cabins so paid the single supplement. We flew from Southampton to Nantes and travelled up to Saint Nazaire and then down to Bouchemaine (near Angers) and back, so didn’t cover a great distance. The holiday was arranged by Blue Water Holidays (to have ABTA and ATOL protection) but run by the French company, CroisiEurope, and we travelled on the Loire Princesse paddleboat uniquely designed for this fairly shallow river.
Accommodation: Cabins were small but very functional with flat screen TV (rarely able to get English-speaking programmes), clean bathrooms with shower (but no basin plugs possible!), a safe and two large, comfortable beds. Mine was a lower cabin so at the waterline, but I could have upgraded to a room with a balcony. Instead, I spent time on the large, sunny top deck or in the lounge with open bar, sofas and English books and games. To reach the room I had to go down narrow stairs, so not good for anyone with disabilites.
Meals: The package was all inclusive and food was excellent. There was also free wine, beer, spirits and cocktails. One slight drawback was the little free time available to sample any local French food, but luckily the quality of all the meals onboard was high and we usually had a starter, main and dessert at lunch and dinner. On two days there was an extensive buffet dinner with hot and cold dishes. One slight gripe was the very poor coffee at breakfast (although proper espresso was available after meals and in the lounge). The staff tried to arrange for the 10 or so English speakers to sit together but things went a bit wrong and we ended up with French speaking Canadians – fortunately with good English who were a very interesting family.
Entertainment: Something was run every evening and sometimes in the day. It was a mix of homegrown (quizzes, dance music, staff show etc) that were poor but acceptable, a lovely wine tasting, a couple of keep fit sessions and some visiting musicians such as a jazz duet and some Bretan folksingers that were very good.
Passengers: These were mainly French, but this was not too offputting as organizers translated everything into English. The age range was roughly 50 – 90, and most people were in couples.
Visits: As you would expect, there were a number of coach trips to various places of interest such as chateaux and castles. Sadly, the guides were too keen on their subjects and we spent a great deal of time learning facts that were quickly forgotten, with little time to explore the places themselves or do any shopping. Very little free time was fine if on your own or preferring organised activities, but I would have liked more “down” time NOT stuck on the boat as we moved between moorings. The scenery was pleasant, but not amazingly interesting, and just sitting became a bit tedious after an hour or so. Apart from when we arrived early the first day and left out bags on the boat to explore Nantes before going onboard properly, our only really free time was the last Sunday when we moored in a small place where everything was shut!
Finally – would I go on a river cruise again? I don’t think so. But this was a well organized, good quality cruise that I would recommend to anyone wanting this type of holiday.