Perhaps river cruising is somewhat a well-kept secret as we found very few reviews across multiple sites prior to our booking and our hope is that this review will introduce you to a new way of travel and/or influence your decision to experience UniWorld.
We are 40/50ish couple from Sonoma/Napa Valley with a passion for food, wine and sailing and while this was not our first Luxury Link (LL) purchase, it was our first cruise and organized tour of any kind. This was a last minute getaway (within 3 weeks from departure) and LL and UniWorld collaborated seamlessly to finalize logistics timely (ticketing, transfers, land extensions, etc.) for the Imperial Cities Danube River cruise starting in Instanbul (land extension) and finishing in Vienna.
From the moment we stepped aboard our floating boutique hotel to disembarkation, we received continuous outstanding service, ate exquisitely prepared meals with local influences paired with delicious wines, enjoyed onboard entertainment (either by classically trained house musician Freddy or local musicians/performers) and explored each destination with expert guides.
Boutique Boat: Overall, we consider Uniworld's website extremely resourceful and accurate at representing the boat, the itinerary, and all other aspects of the cruise. The info and photos were accurate, in other words, there were no surprises. We were greeted by the ships crew in Guigui, Romania where we boarded our ship. My heart skipped a beat at first; as there isn't much curb appeal to the Princess from the exterior (or any other river cruisers we passed along the way); however, a modern with European bistro flare, well equipped, meticulous boutique ship awaits you on the inside. The ship is plenty large to accommodate guests and crew for all on board activities. We enjoyed lectures and entertainment in the lounge, relaxing and dining on the patio deck at lunch or while cruising, and strolling through towns and cities on the free bikes offered by UniWorld.
Stateroom: We upgraded to a Category 1 stateroom (Cabin 423) which gives you a room on the Rhine Deck (top floor) and a door that opens to the great outdoors (not more square footage). The use of space in the stateroom is brilliant with plenty of closet space and luggage storage under the bed (2 x 29, 1 x 20 inch luggage, camera bag). The beds were extremely comfortable with linens like silk. Bathrooms are small compared to hotel standards, however, as boat owners, offered more than enough space, were totally functional and equipped as described with L'Occitane shampoo, conditioner, hand soap & lotion.
Food & Wine: We ate exquisitely prepared meals with local influences paired with delicious wines. The variety for breakfasts (served buffet style with made to order chef specials, eggs, omelets, etc.), lunches (patio or dining room options available) and 4 course dinners was typically a spectrum of delicacies with fantastic quality. They catered to specific needs and half way through the cruise requested a guest survey to improve the dinning experience. The next day, guests including our suggestions were implemented. The complimentary wines were worth exploring and for those interested in expanding their tasting horizons, the wine list was interesting and fairly priced.
Excursions: We took advantage of most included and many optional excursions (additional fee) and considered the majority to be fantastic with tour guides that were subject matter experts and enthusiastic teachers. Often there were overlapping excursions and choosing was difficult; however, there was typically an overview tour (e.g, city) and an alternative more specific tour (e.g., fine arts museum). Uniworld had excursions for both the first time or repeat visitors and did a wonderful job ensuring enough guides to accommodate group size and ensure a more personalized experience. We appreciate the balance required for each tour and time needed. While many excursions are half or full day and guides are sensitive to group pace, many are fast paced for content and so the time allocated may not be enough for all (e.g., a half day at a fine art museum may be frustrating for a real art buff.) For the adventurous (us) with time to research/plan in advance (not us), you may consider planning your own excursions/ exploration which adds to the overall experience, explore at your pace, and this approach could also be money saving if cost is your concern. Given the nature of this specific cruise, there was a significant amount of motorcoaching involved for some destinations and each time, the accommodations were top notch (brand new coaches with AC and WCs). The convenience of the excursions adds to the overall relaxation. Guests are expected to tip the guides and drivers (and they are so good you'll want to). Uniworld does a fantastic job to recommend customary tipping guides, however, we look forward to 2014 and our understanding that UniWorld will adopt a truly cashless system and include all gratuities for excursions in the package price. We considered the following Optional Excursion highlights: Bosphorous cruise, Spice bazzar, Night in Budapest, Bodor Mayor Horse Farm,
Service: The service we received was as wonderful as the places we visited. The entire River Princess crew is to be commended for delivering exceptional professional, helpful, and friendly service. It is clear that UniWorld prides itself on service delivery. Our expectations were exceeded in every level and we look forward to going aboard a UniWorld river cruise in the very near future. Our only dilemna, which one?
Thank you LL for introducing s and UniWorld for providing a most memorable vacation.
River cruising is a wonderful way to experience a destination and will certainly become a new way of travel for us!