River Countess Cruise Review by Kathie859: Italian Splendors--Cruise Plus Land Tour Option
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Italian Splendors--Cruise Plus Land Tour Option
This cruise+tour was the second we have done with Uniworld. In May, 2012, we did their 10 day Nuremburg-Paris trip so we knew that Uniworld does a good job with land touring as well as cruises. Splendors of Italy was well done--ESPECIALLY the land part. Of the 90 cruisers, 26 opted to take the extended land trip and most agreed that the land portion was more enjoyable than the cruise portion. The reason being two-fold. 1) the land tour guide, Damiano, was exemplary. Not just "good" or "knowledgeable" but exemplary. Our local tour guides were "good" to "excellent"--Damiano was on another level altogether.
And 2) the bus transportation used for the land portion of the tour was far superior to the buses used during the cruise to get us to Padua, Ravenna, Verona and Bologna.
So the trip went as expected. We were met at the Venice Airport but our transportation to the ship. Our flight arrived an HOUR early so the greeter apologized and told us we'd have a little wait for More another flight due to arrive within the hour. No problem--we grabbed a seat in the terminal and did some serious people-watching. In no time, we were escorted to the ship where our room wasn't ready but a lovely lunch was set up in the lounge. We had a nice bite to eat and was told that our room was ready about 2:30. We were escorted to our room where our luggage was already in place. This ship is similar to the River Princess which we were on last year so we knew where everything was.
The room and bed were comfortable, spotless and the a/c worked very well!
So the week on board went like this:
Walking tour of Venice where our charming guide got a real kick out of tourists taking pictures of Laundry day (envision clothing strung out windows and balconies sometimes across canals) and of the garbage boats picking up the weekly trash. During this tour, we walked past the long lines into the Palazzo Ducale and were given a very nice tour. After dinner, we were put in water taxis and treated to a 45 minute ride down the Grand Canal and through a few smaller canals and were let off at St. Marks. We met up with our fellow passengers and went into a side door at St. Marks where we were treated to a brief explanation and history and allowed to take pictures and even visit the crypt under the church which is normally off-limits. We were escorted to the vaporetto (water bus) which we took back to the ship. It was an intensive day 1.
Next day was Padua. I LOVE this city. I particularly was moved by the shrine of St. Anthony and seeing the Scrovegni Chapel was magnificent.
Ravenna was next with the fantastic mosaics--I especially enjoyed those in the mausoleum of Galla Placidia. the ceiling is stunning.
Bologna was next. An interesting enough place--but a long, tiring bus ride to get there. The highlight was seeing pasta being made by hand and enjoying a marvelous lunch.
Verona provided an opportunity to see a smaller colosseum (again, walking by long lines to do so) and, of course, seeing where Juliet "may" have lived--Romeo, too. Eh, not so interesting. But the city marketplace and the city square were lovely to see. We had lunch on our own at the restaurant across from the colosseum.
Today we cruised the Lagoon for 2 hours. Some passengers were upset that we were unable to cruise the Po due to low water; however, the captain took us to Choggia where we docked for a few evenings and where we met the buses for the daily tours and we cruised up past Burano. The weather was perfect and it was a lovely experience. We had time in the morning to take in an optional tour to the Accademia and was escorted by an art historian who made the tour perfect! Where we docked, we could walk to the Accedemia in 10 minutes, so we had time to do this in the morning and be back on board for the afternoon lagoon cruise.
Finally it was time to leave the ship. Of course, our luggage was handled for us and we found ourselves on a roomy, comfortable bus on our way to Florence. Where was this bus when we went to all those cities last week???? We stopped on the way to have lunch at a restaurant with an outside garden. It was beautiful. Again, a perfect day with a gentle breeze and a welcome aperitif. We sat down to a sumptuous lunch with 3 different wines with a guitarist and a vocalist who insisted on dancing will all the women. It was a HOOT! So much fun. Finally it was time to get back on the bus and by late afternoon, we had been escorted past another incredibly long line into see Michaelangelo's "David". Then a little walk to our hotel. It was a 4 star hotel--now our room was fine. Very large and a comfy bed with a gazillion pillows and 2 easy chairs and a large bath. I gather a few people were assigned smaller rooms and were unhappy. Also, wifi was iffy. Free--but iffy.
Next day was a walking tour of Florence with plenty of time to explore on our own. We hit the church Santa Maria Novella with it's marvelous stained glass and art works. Note--the Uffizi is closed on Mondays!!! DRAT!!!
We packed up and hit the road to Rome; BUT we stopped at Castell Di Verrazzano wine estate for a tour and yet another lunch with regional specialities and wine. And more wine.......We arrived in Rome in the early evening and the guide asked if we wanted to go to the hotel or did we want to see some of the city at night. Of course, we all wanted to see the city--we even stopped by the Trevi Fountain and had an hour to grab a gelato and pizza. Eventually, we arrived at our hotel which was MARVELOUS. Definitely a 5 star.
We took a day tour of the city and did the Colosseum--again walking by the crowd to go in. We spent the afternoon having a lovely lunch and finding the Spanish Steps and took a cab back to the hotel.
Our final tour day brought us to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's. Talk about sensory overload!
So to sum it all up--the cruise is not a typical river cruise. I found the bus transportation part during the cruise uncomfortable. I'm 5'7" and husband is 6'1" and our legs were squished. OTOH, the tour guides were really good and we covered a lot of Italy in a short period of time. The staff of the cruise ship were stellar. Once they figured out my "wants" (think massive coffee infusion in the morning) they were quick to refill my cup. The lovely lady who serviced our room was unobtrusive and accomplished in her job. The entertainment on board was good (and this surprised me). The first Uniworld cruise last year, the "talent" played the melody line on a keyboard and used synthetics to fill in. On the River Countess, the pianist could PLAY! And play well! One time a lady gave a scientific overview of the lagoon--how is was formed, what is happening to it and how they are trying to save it--she was awful. It was like she had a power point presentation from something else and was using it for this discussion. One night 2 opera singers and their pianist came on board and gave an excellent performance.
Food on the ship was good. Italy has fantastic fruit and they had luscious apricots, cherries, grapes, etc. and the cheese selection was lovely. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style and ample. Dinners were good. I think the dinners on the River Princess were better. One night there wasn't anything on the daily specials that interested me and I ordered a steak. Steak, salmon and chicken are always available, by the way, so no one is going to starve.
We've already booked our next Uniworld cruise (Christmas Markets, 2013) so I guess they're doing something right. Less
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