Assessing A-ROSA Stella: 9 Differentiating Factors That Would Make Me Cruise Again | TravelResearchOnline

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Assessing A-ROSA Stella: 9 Differentiating Factors That Would Make Me Cruise Again

Lyon, France — Yesterday, we stepped off A-ROSA Stella after a weeklong cruise on the Rhône and Saône rivers. During our voyage we saw lots of other river cruise companies offering programs in the region. If I were to cruise on this beautiful itinerary again, would I choose to do it on A-ROSA Stella for the second time or would I choose to cruise with another river cruise company?

Cruising the Rhône and Saône rivers in southern France on A-ROSA Stella. Would we cruise on A-ROSA Stella again? © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

I’d choose A-ROSA Stella, but perhaps not for the reasons you would immediately think.

I would not choose A-ROSA Stella for the cuisine, which was certainly a highlight on our cruise, but the fact is that other river cruise companies do it as well as A-ROSA, and some perhaps do it even better. That said, A-ROSA Stella’s cuisine was of an exceptionally high standard. Gourmet? I’m not sure, because I’m not a food critic. But certainly, at our tables during the week, with both novices and discriminating foodies, A-ROSA  scored high marks for cuisine and wine.

I would not choose A-ROSA Stella for the stateroom, which was adequate in size (measuring 156 square feet) and generous in amenities (flat-panel television, French-style “Juliette” balcony and more), but some river cruise companies offer larger staterooms and a variety of balcony configurations, and with generous amenities.

I would not choose A-ROSA Stella for the shore programs. While A-ROSA Stella’s tours were enriching and fun, they were much like those of other river cruise operators in the region.

So now the reasons why I would choose A-ROSA Stella. The vessel and program have nine differentiating factors that make it a good choice for some cruisers. I realize that these  factors will not be important to everyone, but at age 55, they appeal to me quite a lot.

The vessel and program have nine differentiating factors that make it a good choice for some cruisers. I realize that these  factors will not be important to everyone, but at age 55, they appeal to me quite a lot.

1. Bicycles

Several river cruise companies offer bicycles for their guests to use at no extra charge. A-ROSA Stella’s bicycles, however, were exceptional in quality and size. I’m 6’5″ and easily found a bike that I could ride without my knees knocking my chin. Plus, A-ROSA Stella offers complimentary bicycle excursions. Some of the excursions can be challenging, including one that took us 40 kilometers (more than 25 miles) on one excursion during our voyage. We rode bicycles on seven of the eight days we were on board.

2. All-Inclusive

All-inclusive, all the time. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

A-ROSA’s pricing includes air & transfers, taxes and gratuities, beverages and, like many other river cruise companies, shore excursions. Initially, I was confused about the beverage policy, as I wrote in an earlier post. But beverages are included for North American guests on A-ROSA Stella. Some river cruise companies are going all-inclusive, and many offer beer and wine with lunch and dinner, but A-ROSA is all-inclusive, all the time, now — with the exception of some premium wines and spirits that are indicated by an asterisk on the beverage menu.

3. Social Atmosphere

Thanks in part to A-ROSA Stella’s all-inclusive policy, the pool deck was busy during afternoons when we were cruising on the rivers and the lounges were active evenings after dinner. The reason: complimentary beverages. I saw people having mojitos by the pool, and nightcaps in the bar who might not otherwise be there if they were required to pay for their drinks. The all-inclusive policy brings people out into the public areas. Some of you may remember the days before Regent Seven Seas Cruises went all-inclusive. Guests would retreat to their staterooms to pour a glass of wine or spirits (Regent provided free booze in the suites but not in the public areas). After Regent went all-inclusive, public rooms on its vessels became lively social hubs.

4. Young clientele

I don’t have data from all of A-ROSA Stella’s cruises this year, but on our voyage, the average age seemed to be about 50 years old, perhaps younger. A significant amount of guests were in their 40s, some in their 30s and a few in their 20s. A-ROSA is targeting 40-year-olds and up. Many of the other river cruise companies are targeting the 55-plus demographic. I enjoyed the “youthful” feeling on board A-ROSA Stella.

5. Large pool

We cooled off in the large pool on A-ROSA Stella. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

Before boarding, I wasn’t aware that A-ROSA Stella had a pool, but it was hard to miss on the top deck. The pool was the largest I have seen on a river cruiser, and it was well-used during our voyage.

6. Outdoor dining

A-ROSA Stella offers outdoor lunches, cocktail hours and other events on the top deck. The vessel features a large area covered by awning that can be raised and lowered for low bridges, making it tolerable to sit outdoors even on the sunniest of days.

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7. Large gym/spa

I used the gym once during our voyage (thanks to the bikes, most of my activity was pedaling along the French countryside). The gym was large by river cruiser standards and with a good selection of cardio equipment. Body-builders, however, would be challenged. The availability of free weights and body-building machines was disappointing.

8. Gratuities included

There was some confusion here, because at the end of the cruise, a Trinkgeld (essentially, gratuities, in German) box was placed on the reception desk, with a note about gratuities being appreciated on a flyer in our stateroom and announced later on during a crew appreciation ceremony. Gratuities, however, are included on A-ROSA Stella. You’re covered, so don’t feel obligated to tip additionally.

9. Value

One of A-ROSA’s best values at the moment is an eight-night all-inclusive Christmas Markets cruise on A-ROSA Silva. Fares are from $2,099, which equates to per diems of around $233 per person. The December 3, 2013 departure from Frankfurt features three overnights: in Strasbourg, Cologne and Koblenz. Plus, there is a limited time bonus. Those booking 2013 holiday cruises will receive a $500 American Express gift card (per cabin, based on double occupancy). When this is factored in the lead-in per diem comes to slightly more than $200 per person — a steal. For 2014, A-ROSA offers all-inclusive 7-night fares for as low as $2,779 per person if you book by December 31, 2013. Single supplements are 20 percent additional.

An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com

  2 thoughts on “Assessing A-ROSA Stella: 9 Differentiating Factors That Would Make Me Cruise Again

  1. dcta says:

    Hmm…almost all the lines have bicycles and will offer then free of charge at every stop (unless of course they are offering a bike excursion – many are free – and need the bikes for that). Uniworld will be “all inclusive” beginning in January. Numbers 3 and 4 – can’t really say anything having only been on three ships and don’t really know how to compare. Pool? How much use over a year does a pool get? It’s really the last amenity my clients have ever been interested in. AMA, Uniworld, Viking, Avalon and Tauck all offer outdoor dining in one form or another. Gym and spa – may have both but one truly can’t call them “large”, so here’s something ARosa may really have over the others – but honestly, I’ve never found time on a river cruise for a spa treatment! Tips – included on UNI in 2014.

    But most importantly, what you did not mention is guest:staff. While I don’t have the numbers for all the lines, and I don’t have ARosa (and would like to), I do have Uni’s and Viking’s at hand: 2.9:1 and 4.2:1 respectively.

  2. genew says:

    Glad to hear you had a good time. We stepped aboard the A-ROSA Stella as you were stepping off and made the same cruise the following week. We did enjoy the experience, but, having made ten previous river cruises with such companies as AMA Waterways, Uniworld and Avalon, we found this one wanting in some key areas.

    This is a German company catering to German clients. With a claimed crew of 45, we found only one, the cruise director, who spoke fair (not good) English. The rest of the crew are trained to give memorized responses to key words. They do not speak or understand English! The captain doesn’t speak English or German, only French. Now there’s food for thought.

    One of our companions is a vegetarian and told A-ROSA this in writing before the cruise. She was served meat dishes at every dinner on the cruise (breakfast and lunch are buffets) and was met with blank stares and general confusion from the staff every time.

    Bus excursions were conducted in two languages, one bus in German and one or two buses in English. The excursion director did not speak English well enough to get people to the correct buses. English-speaking passengers were constantly switching buses and tour groups during the excursions in order to find a tour guide they could understand. This resulted in three people being left behind during the course of the week.

    The quality of the food was good, however, at the sit-down dinners, there were no choices. The menu is set with one item for each course. If you are allergic to fish or just don’t like lamb, too bad.

    As to your items setting A-ROSA apart:

    1. Bicycles.
    All three of the cruise lines I mentioned above have bicycles available for no extra charge. This is not an issue for anyone not of your exceptional size.

    2. All-Inclusive?. NOT TRUE.
    – Some excursions are included at no additional charge. Some are extra – hundreds of Euros extra.
    – Many “call” drinks are extra – a lot extra.
    – Laundry is extra – a lot extra. (Returning Uniworld passengers get free laundry service. First-timers can use the free washer and drier. Uniworld even gives you the detergent!)
    – Only some tips are included. Tips for the “All Included Excursions” are NOT included, so get your wallet out and dig deep. As many as four tips per day are needed. You are reminded with notes in the daily information sheet, announcements on the PA system, requests and instructions for additional tips in the daily talks and must pass the TIPS box in the lobby daily.
    – Since pre-paid tips are shared equally by the crew, bad service is rewarded equally with good. Overall service declines as there is no incentive for hard workers. This is obvious on A-ROSA as the German speaking passengers get first, last and best service while the “All Inclusive” passengers are ignored on a regular basis. (This is the only cruise I have been on where I was required to carry my luggage up the gangway. Of course, they get their prepaid tip anyway.)

    3. Social Atmosphere.
    We have enjoyed a pleasant social atmosphere on every river cruise we have taken regardless of the bar policy. Of course, we don’t need to be drunk every afternoon and evening to have a good time. Dinner takes in excess of three hours ending around 10:30 PM, Breakfast around 6:30 AM and morning excursions require you to be ashore at 7:50 AM. If you can prepare for bed in 30 minutes and get up and prepare for the day in 30 minutes, you will be limited to 7 hours of sleep.
    Every dinner includes a different wine with each of the four courses with as many refills as you want.
    Of course, if your reason for cruising is a continuous drinking party, perhaps this is for you. We came to visit and learn about France and enjoy socializing with like minded folks.

    4. Young clientele
    On our cruise, the age group was higher with most passengers being retired (oldest was 87). Some age differential is accounted for by the fact that this boat has no accommodation whatsoever for limited mobility. No cabins can be reached without stairs.
    Being against cruises targeting 55-plus clients, this reviewer at 55-plus, must have felt very out-of-place on this cruise. I’m sure all of those 20 – 40 year-olds would have had a better time without the old geezers.

    5. Large Pool
    Yes, it was great. It was used by six passengers on our cruise (out of 120). If it’s important to you, this may be the cruise boat for you.
    For the sake of other potential customers, let me quote from the A-ROSA Journal for Saturday, August 24, 2013:
    “Attention: The rear of the sundeck and the pool are closed most of the time during cruise due to security laws.”

    6. Outdoor Dining
    Every river cruise we have been on has had outdoor dining options (exception: Mekong Pandaw in Viet-Nam). Of course, the service was good on A-ROSA . . . if you were German.
    Every river cruise boat we have been on has awnings and railings that can be lowered for low bridges. No exceptions, but, let me quote from the A-ROSA Journal for Saturday, August 24, 2013:
    “Attention: The rear of the sundeck and the pool are closed most of the time during cruise due to security laws.”

    7. Large gym/spa
    Since passengers wearing street clothes are never allowed to see the gym/spa, I have no idea what it looks like. Let me quote from the A-ROSA Journal for Tuesday, August 27, 2013:
    “IMPORTANT INFORMATION: Please only enter the SPA-ROSA Wellness area with appropriate swimming or fitness clothes or a bathrobe . . .”
    I got adequate exercise by taking every included excursion most of which required considerable walking and many hundreds of steps and stairs. In spite of good food and all the booze I could drink, I actually lost a couple of pounds on this trip due to the active excursions.

    8. Gratuities included
    As I mentioned earlier, all gratuities are NOT included. Plan on around $10 per person per day for tips that are not included. The difference in service in the dining room, on the sundeck and in the bar was grotesquely obvious. The crew had to make an effort for tips from the Germans, so they were always served first, second and third while the “All-Inclusive” English speakers were left to wait. We waited 25 minutes for an after-dinner cappuccino. It seems that several Germans also wanted after dinner drinks and they had to be accommodated first.
    Gratuities are a means of thanking specific individuals who have done special things for you, like remembered your name and favorite drink or made an extra trips to the kitchen to get something special for you. Gratuities are not, and should not, be paid up front, and never, ever shared.
    This item alone would be enough for me never to book with A-ROSA again, and I would have reservations booking any cruise with included or shared gratuities.

    9. Value
    This cruise was priced lower than the competition (Viking has some super deals next summer). Since we were in Lyon, we joined the cruise there. Bundled flights and transfers did not help. (It took us several phone calls and e-mails to find where the boat would dock. All communication with A-ROSA must be relayed through a translator which is time consuming and often lost in translation.)
    While chatting with some of the German passengers, we discovered that this was an experimental cruise to determine the viability of a bi-lingual cruise. If A-ROSA is successful in capturing a share of the North American market and can keep costs down, this could still be a desirable choice for budget-minded travelers. You might want to check out the other guys before you buy.

    Note for dcta: We had 120 passengers of a possible 174 while they claimed a crew of 45. That would be a guest:staff ratio of 3.8:1 for a full boat and 2.6:1 for our cruise.

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