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MS Gil Eanes


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Smaller than ships that sail on rivers such as the Rhine and Danube, Gil Eanes 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 colourful 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 favourite drink.

CroisiEurope cruises have a more laid-back atmosphere than some lines, with leisurely meals and a less rigid adherence to time schedules. This 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.

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.

Gil Eanes Inclusions

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. Still bottled water is available on shore excursions.

Shore Excursions

There is a good choice of tours (10 on our weeklong itinerary), including coach tours, guided walking tours and wine-tasting trips. They range from a 90-minute tour of Porto by night to half-day tours of local cities such as Braga and a full-day excursion over the border to see the Spanish city of Salamanca. Some, such as a drive along the scenic port wine route followed by a tasting, are suitable for people with mobility issues. At the daily briefing, the purser advises on the amount of walking involved. All English-speaking passengers have a dedicated guide.

Daytime and Evening Entertainment

As with most river cruises, exploring the destinations visited and enjoying the passing scenery is the main entertainment.

On some mornings (usually two per cruise), the host or hostess will organise light-hearted games and quizzes, which are made all the more enjoyable by a pregame aperitif such as port or a glass of sparkling wine. On our cruise, they included a film quiz; with nobody keeping a proper score, the prizes bottles of port and wine were opened and amicably shared between contestants at the end.

Gil Eanes does not have a resident pianist or musician, but the selection of CDs played in the lounge in the evening were enough to get some passengers up on the small dance floor; particularly on the last night. On one evening, a group of local entertainers came onboard to perform traditional Portuguese fado -- songs and music inspired by the sea -- and another night the crew members displayed their talents in an entertaining show.


There are no onboard lectures or workshops.

Gil Eanes Bars and Lounges

Lounge and bar: The ship has one main lounge bar situated forward on the middle deck. This roomy area, with panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows, has a modern feel and is decorated in attractive shades of blue and fawn, with clusters of armchairs and couches set around tables. There is a large TV screen next to the entrance to the lounge that is used to screen the daily program, as well as lunch and dinner menus. On request, passengers can also watch TV with the sound turned down low.

Toward the front of the lounge is the rectangular bar, with seating along two sides, where drinks are served with bowls of snacks. In addition to the regular open bar, there is a featured daily cocktail, also complimentary, such as piña colada, along with a virgin non-alcoholic cocktail. The bartenders also serve tea and coffee throughout the day. The bar typically stays open until midnight. In front of the bar is a small dance floor with twinkling blue lights overhead.

Gil Eanes Outside Recreation

The sun deck is a relaxation area that runs the length of the top deck. It is set out with loungers -- towels provided -- and tables with four chairs. Umbrellas are provided on sunny days. Aside from the balconies connected to the two suites, the sun deck is the only place on the ship where smoking is permitted, and it is allowed along the entire deck, not just in a designated area.

When the ship is cruising, there is an open-bridge policy and passengers can visit the bridge to chat with the captain and officers.

Gil Eanes Services

The entrance to the ship is on the middle deck, and the lobby houses the reception desk that is manned from morning through evening. On the same deck is a shop selling a selection of souvenirs, locally produced handicrafts and jewellery. Opposite the reception desk is the entrance to the lounge and bar where passengers can pick up free copies of condensed daily newspapers, including an English version.

From the lobby, a staircase leads down to the dining room on the lower deck, and spiral stairs lead to the upper deck where there is a small library of books, mostly fiction, in English and French, that are free to borrow for the duration of the cruise.

Complimentary Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship. A complimentary tablet is available for passengers to use.

A lift links all three passenger decks. The sun deck can only be accessed by outside staircases located on the middle deck.

The ship has a swimming pool on the sun deck.

A gentle early morning stretching and exercise class is offered once or twice a week on the sun deck, weather permitting, or inside the lounge.

All meals, plus free-flowing wine with lunch and dinner, are included in the fare and served at one sitting in the ship's one dining venue; a light, well-appointed room located on the lower deck. CroisiEurope is unusual, as lunch and dinner both feature a set menu with no alternative choice unless passengers have requested specific dietary requirements, such as vegetarian, prior to the cruise. That said, minor adjustments can usually be made if you aren't partial to something on the menus, which are posted each morning. Similarly, the line doesn't operate the same open seating setup common on most riverboats. At the beginning of each cruise, the maître d' will allocate tables of two, four or eight, which are kept for the duration. Couples can request a table by themselves (only one pair did on our cruise) and groups of friends will be put together. The remaining passengers are placed with their fellow countrymen or English speakers.

Main Dining Room (lower deck): Breakfast is typically served from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., sometimes from 7 a.m., depending on the itinerary. Lunch is at noon and dinner at 7:30 p.m. Dining times are generally more flexible than some other lines; if an afternoon excursion runs late, the dinner will be moved back 30 minutes or so to allow passengers time to freshen up on return.

There is no early-bird breakfast or tea and coffee station, but early risers will usually find an obliging crew member who is more than happy to fetch them a coffee.

As you might expect from a French-owned line, the simple breakfast buffet always features baskets of fresh croissants, French bread and preserves, plus pots of coffee, which are placed on every table. Passengers help themselves to hot and cold items from the buffet that includes a choice of juice, fruit, yogurt, cereal, cheese, cold cuts, sausages, bacon, eggs (usually scrambled, boiled and fried) and pastries such as pain au chocolat and, usually once a week, delicious Portuguese egg tarts. Usually once a week, the chef sets up a cooking station at the entrance to the dining room for made-to-order omelettes and fried eggs.

At lunch and dinner, tables are beautifully set with crisp white table linens. In France, lunch is an institution and viewed as a proper meal, not a quick snack, and Gil Eanes doesn't disappoint; expect several courses and some time at the table. A typical lunch might be spinach and ricotta cheese in puff pastry, lamb cooked in spices and served with broad beans and mashed pumpkin, followed by crêpe Suzette, or honey chicken kebab followed by sea bream fillet with Parisienne potatoes and île flottante (meringue floating on vanilla custard) to follow.

Try and walk it off in the afternoon, as the evening meal is a four-course affair that includes a cheese plate prior to dessert. Dinner might be smoked salmon on toast, chicken breast with asparagus and wild rice, Brie cheese, and natas do céu (cream from heaven -- a blend of lemon, cinnamon, vanilla egg cream and crumbled cookies). Another typical menu would be a trio of chorizo sausage followed by cozido (Portuguese stew), Portuguese Serra cheese and crème caramel. Each cruise will feature a gala dinner rounded off with flaming baked Alaska paraded around the darkened dining room.

Lunch and dinner are both served with a choice of complimentary white, red or rose wine. Bottles of wine can also be ordered off the wine list at extra cost, such as Mateus Rose. Espresso or coffee with milk is served at the table after both main meals.

In keeping with the French love of good food and wine, service is prompt and efficient but meals are enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

All 66 cabins, comprising 64 standard cabins -- one accessible -- and two suites, are river facing and located on the lower, middle and upper decks. The standard cabins are compact, but well-designed to make the best use of the space. The clean blue and white décor gives a bright, airy feel with a splash of colour.

All cabin categories have comfortable beds that can be configured as doubles or twins and have individual duvets. There is room for suitcases to be stowed beneath the beds. The cabins all come with climate control, TV, radio, hair dryer, full-length mirror and safe that is large enough for a laptop. TV programming includes CNN, BBC and various European channels along with a basic interactive menu showing the bow webcam, ship information and an overview of the daily program and menus. All cabins have a volume switch that allows onboard announcements to be heard in the cabin or turned off. There is a telephone that can be used to call reception, other cabins and be programmed for a wake-up call, but it cannot be used to make or receive outside calls.

Cabin lighting is good and includes bedside reading lights. Another nice feature is the generous number of electrical outlets; five in total. The onboard voltage is 220 volts with European two-pin sockets, so passengers need to bring adapters for their electronic devices.

The bathrooms are white with tiled floors and a band of mosaic tiles around the wall. While they are relatively small, the best use is made of the space, with plenty of storage above, beside and below the sink for toiletries, along with hooks and hangers for towels. The shower is a good size, with folding doors and plenty of room to turn around. The position of the showerhead can be altered and there is decent-size soap dish.

As a budget line, you won't find bottled water, fruit, flowers, an ice bucket, fridge or other extras in the cabin. The chocolate hearts put in the cabin on arrival are a cute touch.

Standard Cabins: Virtually all of the ship's cabins fall into this category and measure 139 square feet. There are 18 on the lower deck that have two rectangular windows that don't open. These are much larger and fixed lower in the wall than most other river ships, so passengers in these waterline cabins don't have to crane their necks to see passing views.

There are 14 more standard cabins on the middle deck and 32 on the upper deck, all with French balconies and sliding floor-to-ceiling windows. A plus in all cabins is that the beds face out toward the window. There is one wheelchair accessible cabin, 224, situated on the middle deck and close to the elevator. It features a much larger bathroom that the other standard cabins, which is fitted out with grab rails and has a plastic stool that can be used in the shower.

A neat feature in the cabins is the retractable TV that is set flat into the ceiling and lowers at the press of a switch on the bedhead. Every cabin has a closet with two shelves and ample hangers. A small desk area, with a round stool, is situated behind the headboard along with a built-in chest with two shelves. Two handy hooks are located in the cabin and two more in the bathroom.

Suites: The ship's two suites are located on the upper deck at the rear of the ship. Measuring 204 square feet, they comprise one room with a French balcony at the side and a panoramic floor-to-ceiling window that opens onto a spacious balcony overlooking the aft of the ship. The veranda comes with two cool cone-shaped plastic chairs (more comfortable than they look), a table and lounger. The balcony doesn't offer privacy as it overlooks the neighbouring veranda, with the two verandas separated by a small walkout area that other passengers can access from a door at the end of the corridor.

In the suites, there is ample room to walk around both sides of the bed. These cabins feature additional storage space, including a shelving and cupboard unit running along one side of the bed with a large mirror that extends along the length of the wall, a double closet and a dressing table/desk with two chairs. In the suites, the TV is fixed on the wall and can be swung around to face the bed.

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