My husband and I just returned from our very first river cruise. We are fortunate in that we have been able to enjoy 15+ ocean cruises and have visited 67 countries. We were a bit skeptical about river cruising, but Uniworld's Eastern European Highlights itinerary look interesting & different, so we decided to book it.
We returned last week from our 8-day trip from Belgrade to Vienna. We absolutely loved river cruising and especially the outstanding service of Uniworld. From the minute we got close to the ship to embark, we realized the service was going to be special. We hadn't even gotten on the boat yet when the staff saw us walking toward the boat and came up to take our bags on and right to our cabin. (We had gotten to Belgrade a couple of days ahead of time and made our own arrangements to get to the boat.)
The service level was truly one of the best if not the best we have experienced on a cruise. (We have sailed on 9 other cruise lines. ) Uniworld personnel bent over backwards to make sure we were happy. Constantly. And we had the lowest cost cabin on board, so it wasn't just because we were in the Owner's Suite! Our cabin, though a bit small (I think they are all pretty much the same size unless you get a suite on this boat) , was tastefully decorated and had plenty of storage space for our 8 day cruise. Our first night on board, we were overnighting in Belgrade so our boat was docked, my husband and I were sitting on the deck by ourselves. Our captain appeared and came over to introduce himself. Instead of making a quick introduction and moving on, he actually sat down with us for about 15-20 minutes to chat. He was very personable and we appreciated the gesture. (I realize the captains of large ocean-going vessels can't do this sort of thing, but here is another example of the "personal touch" service we experienced the entire time.)
The food was excellent--certainly one of the top 3 food experiences we've had on cruises. Beer & wine were included during meals--even champagne/mimosas at breakfast. Not sure about hard liquor because we don't drink it. During non-meal hours, you had to pay for alcohol & sodas (in the lounge and on top if you were lounging outside) though they always had coffee, tea, iced tea, and water available free of charge. They even provided reusable water bottles for every passenger which could be refilled onboard rather than trying to sell you bottled water. My understanding is that in 2014 Uniworld will include beer and wine at all times, not just meals.
They do allow you to bring liquor purchases on board (some cruise lines don't). Example, we bought a bottle of chardonnay in Croatia, brought it on board and simply chilled it in our ice bucket. We definitely recommend river cruising. You do not feel any boat motion at all and the boat pretty much docks in the center of the cities (vs. large cruise ships that often dock in ports which are a significant distance from the city centers).
The tours were great, most were included, i.e. no additional charge, and, as the no. of passengers was ~100 (we were only 2/3 full, apparently our itinerary did not do well so they aren't doing it again
next year) they were very well organized with the best guides I think we've ever had. There were a few optional tours that cost--example, our last night on the boat which was in Vienna, we went to a concert
(Strauss, Mozart, complete with ~16 piece ensemble, both a male & a female opera singer, and both a male dancer & a female dancer) which was excellent and cost 49 Euros per person. The only thing is they do require a minimum no. of people for the optional tours, so if that minimum is not met, they will cancel as they did with a horse show.
Bottom line is we highly recommend Uniworld. If we can find the right itinerary for us, we would love to do another river cruise and would definitely look to travel again with Uniworld.