We had wanted to try a River Cruise for a long time, and finally decided to take the plunge and booked a 7 day cruise on Uniworld's River Beatrice, going from Budapest, Hungary to Passau, Germany along the often very scenic Danube, which is a funny shade of green - certainly not Blue! We had attended a number of presentations by River Cruise operators at a trade show last autumn, and felt that Uniworld came out on top. I would say, based on a week on the Beatrice, that we were correct in that assessment.
We flew from Canada on Swiss International (Montreal to Zurich, connecting to a Swiss flight to Budapest). I would have to say it was one of the most uncomfortable flights I have ever taken and will try very hard to never fly on Swiss again. Many passengers seemed to arrive on either Lufthansa or British Airways.
We arrived quite early on Sunday morning in Budapest and after a wait of 45 minutes or so at the Budapest airport, were taken to the Beatrice, arriving around 10 am. Staff from the boat rushed up the gangway to fetch our luggage and usher us on board. We were able to relax in the very comfortable loungers on the top deck, and enjoyed a quick lunch in the lounge, before our room was ready at 2 pm.
We had booked a Suite, not because we wanted it, but because we were told that was all that was left when we booked about 8 months in advance. In fact, we had the last suite available, so we were told. We found out later from other passengers that Cat 1 or 2 rooms were available later due to cancellations, but despite our standing request to be "downgraded" to a regular cabin, this never happened. The ship sailed with 158 passengers - capacity is stated to be 164.
Our Butler Danny introduced himself to us quickly and promptly handled a couple of requests. We called upon him and his colleague a couple of other times during the week, but really the Butlers serve no useful role. They are busy at mealtimes attending to the Captains Table, or serving in the intimate Captains Lounge at the stern, where several small dinners are held during the week. We enjoyed the spaciousness of the Suite, which is 50% bigger than a regular cabin. The bathroom seemed quite large and there was more than adequate storage for a 7 day cruise. The bed was ultra comfortable and the air conditioning seemed to function very well. But we often slept at night with our French balcony door open, as we prefer fresh air.
We enjoyed all of the included excursions, and took in the optional evening classical concert in Vienna. This should not be missed. Many of the afternoons were free and we enjoyed just relaxing after the morning outing and the delicious lunch. The Tour Manager Marela was absolutely fantastic, and gave very detailed and precise descriptions of every place where we were to stop.
Speaking of meals, the food was generally fabulous, far superior to what you would get on an ocean cruise. The flavours were fantastic. Breakfast and lunch are buffets, with hot options available, and dinner was served course by course. One thing we did not think was great was the Captains Table - we never ate there (nor did we want to), but everything came to a halt when it was time for them to be served another course. The Butlers orchestrated their serving but it seemed to involve every waiter in the room, while the rest of us watched and waited. I thought this was very poor thinking on the part of Uniworld - if they wanted to be specially treated, it should have happened somewhere else on the ship, and not in front of everyone else.
The ship, at least in our cabin, was very quiet, and we never really could hear the engines when underway. We slept like babies each night.
Our cruise ended all too soon in Passau and we were taken to the Munich airport (1 3/4 hour drive) in an ultra comfortable coach.
We will certainly consider doing another river cruise again, and would give first consideration to Uniworld. Too bad river cruises are so expensive compared to ocean cruises, but nevertheless they seem to be very well booked.