Launched in 2015, Gil Eanes became the fourth river vessel from French-owned CroisiEurope to ply Portugal's Douro river. Two more have since joined the fleet -- Miguel Torga and Amalia Rodrigues -- which have a more contemporary feel. .
Offering competitively priced itineraries, and more than a touch of French flair, the 132-passenger ship sails on five- and seven-night cruises out of Porto. Although the company is not as well-known as other operators, at least among North Americans, it was one of the pioneers of river cruising and celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2016.
In recent years CroisiEurope started marketing outside its homeland. Although most passengers are French, you can expect to meet a growing number of Americans, Aussies, Kiwis, Brits and other Europeans, which creates a fun, cosmopolitan vibe. Another big part of this international appeal is the onboard cuisine that features regional dishes and specialties, albeit restricted to set menus.
Smaller than ships that sail on rivers such as the Rhine and Danube, Gil Eanes doesn't have multiple dining venues, a spa, gym or other extras such as an enrichment program or onboard entertainer. However, the ship is well-designed with a bright, modern feel that makes the most of the available space. In a nod to the family heritage, contemporary wall decorations featuring funky designs created with feathers and colorful tiles are interspersed with artwork painted by CroisiEurope founder Gerard Schmitter.
The charming and friendly crew members -- French and Portuguese -- all speak excellent English and go out of their way to provide a great, personal service that includes bartenders remembering your favorite drink.
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CroisiEurope cruises have a more laid-back atmosphere than some lines, with leisurely meals and a less rigid adherence to time schedules. This might initially grate with clock-watchers, but it makes for a very relaxing experience and encourages passengers to go with the flow and simply sit back and enjoy the delights of the Douro.
With its Gallic pedigree, around half of CroisiEurope's passengers are French, but in recent years the line has been marketing to English-speaking travelers and other European nationalities. Expect to see the remaining 50 percent of passengers coming from countries such as the U.K., U.S., Scandinavia, Germany and Holland. This creates a much more cosmopolitan atmosphere than ships that predominantly cater to the North American market. All public-facing crew members are bilingual -- with several speaking three or more languages -- and announcements are in French and English.
The ship has a relaxed, Continental atmosphere with no set dress code. By day, passengers wear casual slacks, jeans and shorts with T-shirts, plaid shirts, sweatshirts or sweaters, depending on the weather. Some wear similar clothing in the evening, with a weekly gala dinner as an excuse to dress up (although the emphasis is on smart casual rather than any kind of formalwear). Sneakers or comfortable shoes are a must. There is quite a lot of walking on excursions and the terrain includes cobbled streets, vineyards and other uneven surfaces.
Daily shore excursions are included in the fare for U.S. passengers; they are not included in the price paid by U.K. passengers and guests booking in other countries. There is an open bar covering soda, alcoholic beverages, tea and coffee, which the exception of Champagne and a small number of premium wines and spirits that cost extra (€5 for a glass of Armagnac, €49 for a bottle of Moet & Chandon). Still bottled water is available on shore excursions.
Reflecting its French roots -- where tipping is viewed as a bonus rather than a given -- the line has a much more laissez-faire attitude toward gratuities compared with lines that cater to the U.S. market where tipping is an accepted norm. CroisiEurope does not include gratuities in the fares but operates an optional tipping policy, which is left entirely to the discretion of individual passengers. For guidance, the line suggests €5 to €10 per person, per day, and for passengers that want to tip, an envelope is left in cabins at the end of the cruise and there is a gratuity box on the reception desk. The onboard currency is the euro.