River Countess Cruise Review by JohnnyBumpo: Great cruise even without the Po river
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Great cruise even without the Po river
This Uniworld cruise was supposed to start in Venice and then cruise the lower part of the Po river. Because of low water levels on the Po (a chronic problem), our riverboat spent more time in Venice and cruised the Venice lagoon - this was better in most respects then cruising the Po. The lagoon is a very large body of water with fascinating towns and construction of the inlet barriers. Spending evenings and afternoons topside viewing Venice and the lagoon was wonderful.
The River Countess can carry about 120 passengers (we had 96) in three levels, mainly differing in window size. The rooms are small but very well organized and furnished with high quality materials and fixtures. The common rooms are spacious for the passenger size and include an ornate dining room, cocktail lounge/multipurpose room, library, laundry, fitness room, topside snack bar (limited breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and two topside areas with chairs, umbrellas, and awnings. The fitness More room had five high quality machines and a TV - can't ask for more on a riverboat. In our room on the 300 level, we had a super AC system that was easy to control, three 110V outlets, plenty of storage areas, very comfortable bed (two twins into a queen), fresh water every day, two metal water bottles for day trips, nice lighting, small marble bathroom but with a good sized shower (easily controlled water), Plan on dressing at different times to avoid collisions.
You always got a Hello or How Are You from every staff member you passed. Very friendly staff and very competent. The star was Gyongyi, the Cruise Manager - she put together the daily excursions, was always around to answer questions, and would do special favors if you asked. She went on every tour to ensure it went well. Meanwhile, the Captain was pleasant and seen very often. When cruising, a number of us asked to join him in the pilot bridge and were welcomed. The maitre d was super efficient and his staff was competent if not always friendly. The front desk personnel were awesome - distributing maps, answering questions, and exchanging dollars for Euros (an making change for the E50 bills you got out of the ATMs). Several folks really liked the massur. Nicola.
Breakfast in the dining room was buffet with a good selection of eggs, meats, waffles, fruit, yogurt, breads, and extras. Always, there was a special area, like an omlette chef. Lunch in the dining room was again a buffet, but with a mix of dinner style entres (like beefsteak and potatoes), salads, pastas, olives etc, sandwiches, breads, and a nice selection of deserts with gelato. Dinners were more formal (wear long pants for the men) with a two sided menu with healthy dishes and traditional dinners, with a meat, fish, and veggie options always available. Portions were right-sized, good but not overwhelming. The pastas at lunch and dinner were awesome - I had the best lasagna I have ever had the last night. Specialties like osobuco were first rate. Wine and beer at lunch and dinner were free - the wines were excellent and the beer was Moretti. The topside dining area had limited menus but fit many cruisers just right. On the second floor is a coffee machine that makes coffee, capacino, hot chocolate, etc. And cookies too!
First rate. No glitches. First day, we walked (yep, a river boat can be parked 10 min from St. Marks square) through Venice with Suzzane (Venice native) and saw some of the major Venice areas and background, then to the Doge's palace (right in with special tickets - awesome), then we were on our own. St. Mark's square is awesome but CROWDED. You are better off walking some of the other areas. That night, we had a water taxi tour of the Grand Canal, then a private night time visit to St. Mark's. There, they did a special illumination of the church and Suzzane gave us a splendid history of the church. The other tours were by large coaches - comfortable, each with a guide and driver, water and a bathroom. The destinations were Padua, Ravenna, Bologna, and Verona. We had wireless headphones on each tour so the local guide (yep, another guide) could reach everyone. On a couple of tours, we had lunch - best one was in Bologna with a pasta making demo. Awesome. Another one was outside in a patio. The wine flowed freely! Be prepared to do some walking. This is not for handicapped. Also, be prepared to tip the guides and drivers. This is how they make a living. One negative was that the drive time to the tour areas was longer because we were not on the Po. But, the sailings on the lagoon make up for it...
We repositioned our boat several times and did a couple of other lagoon sailings. These were delightful. By all means, go topside during these sailings. To see Venice from the water is a special treat. And, to see the different areas of the lagoon was inspiring. We docked in Chioggia (a fishing village on the south side of the lagoon) a couple of nights. Some of the passengers skipped the tours and toured Chioggia, which they found to be a great mix of working class folks and some tourist areas. Sorry I missed that. We also went to the north side and saw where the Venitians first settled to escape the barbarians. Great history. And, we passed the construction where Italy is building movable barriers to stop water entering the lagoon during storms. Venice is sinking. On one afternoon, the ship had a PHD talk about the history of Venice and the environmental problems the city now faces. Excellent!
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