As ocean cruise lines continue to push back their return to sail dates, European river companies have dipped their proverbial toe in the water by starting up selected sailings. Jeannine Williamson is onboard a CroisiEurope ship and tells us what it’s like.

To date the majority have been for domestic passengers from the line’s country of origin, however French-based CroisiEurope has bucked the trend by being the first to open up itineraries to international passengers.

The largest European-based river cruise line – which operates more than 50 ships and canal barges – resumed sailings last month and is now welcoming multi-national passengers aboard.

So what can people expect from life afloat in the time of COVID-19, social distancing and all the associated health protocols with life in the time of pandemic?

In August CroisiEurope’s 174-passenger Cyrano de Bergerac set sail on its first round-trip Bordeaux cruise for 2020 along the Garonne River with 124 guests from five different countries on board. We were there to find out what it is like to cruise right now.

It’s river cruising – almost as you know it.

Travelling in these times is a very different experience and as long as you go with this in mind you will have a good time. CroisiEurope has put in place a set of health protocols which begin with a pre-boarding health questionnaire that you hand in at check-in; plus you have your temperature checked prior to boarding and on return from shore excursions.

Once you’re settled into your cabin you will find a list of measures set out on a sheet along with face masks and sanitiser gel.

Face coverings have to be worn all the time when you are walking around on the ship, and there is no denying that it feels odd at first and you often forget to put it on (crew members gently remind you to do so!).

However, it soon becomes easy to slip into the “new normal”.

Pre-COVID CroisiEurope already operated a system whereby passengers are allocated the same dining table for the duration of the cruise – unlike the free seating arrangement offered by many lines – so mealtimes are not hugely different. Being a French line, lunch is always an institution so, along with dinner, this has always been a meal served to the table. The only buffet meal is breakfast and now croissants, French bread and cold cuts are set out on the table and staff serve other hot and cold dishes.

OK, some things such as dancing on the small dance floor, are not allowed, but nobody really looks as if they are missing out and there is a very convivial atmosphere on board (which could partially be down to CroisiEurope’s open bar that is included in the fare!).

On shore excursions passengers have to wear face masks on the coach and the majority keep them on for the city tours.

It is undoubtedly cruising with a difference, but if you are happy to go with the COVID-19 flow you can still have plenty of fun and a culture-rich experience.

The staff onboard CroisiEurope
The staff onboard CroisiEurope