My wife and I are in our late 50’s and describe ourselves as “discerning travellers” and have undertaken many ocean and river cruises. I regularly review trips/hotels etc and never shy away from making “constructive comments” should the service/standards dictate. The very positive nature of this review is a true reflection of the highest standards that are achieved by Uniworld.
We have recently completed our 13th Uniworld cruise from Basel to Cologne onboard the magnificent SS Antoinette. As soon as we boarded the ship on the 8th December in Basel my wife and I knew that we were in for another holiday of the highest standards, superb service, great amenities and, of course, food of a quality to match our high culinary expectations - in essence a week of total indulgence.
The ship itself is decorated in a very opulent style (no minimalist or contemporary feel) and boasts some beautifully appointed suites and staterooms. Whilst the sizes and facilities in the rooms may change according to the category, the quality and standards remain the same. The swimming pool and spa area (all under glass cover and perfect in any season) provides a tranquil escape from the busy markets and the excellent on board masseur is available, by appointment, to sooth those aching muscles. If you prefer more exercise, the well equipped gymnasium is available.
The cruise was a Christmas Markets cruise and the itinerary was from Basel to Cologne calling at ports including Mainz, Koblenz, Mannheim (For Heidelberg), Strasbourg and Rudesheim. All the stops had superb markets and provided a true taste of the German seasonal celebrations. By the end of the week I had become a little “marketed out” but I was in the minority and indeed my wife was more than happy to see yet another Christmas Market together with Gluhwein and Bretzls. The other guests, mainly American, could not get enough of the markets and enjoyed the vast opportunity for other shopping and cultural tours. All ports have an included tour, most of which were walking with knowledgeable guides who were able to indicated cultural sites and give detailed information about them. There were optional tours (at an extra cost) in all ports and all who went on them agreed these provided value for the cost.
Carefully selected and seasonal films were shown either in the on board cinema or through the stateroom televisions and although, on this occasion, we did not take advantage of this, we know they were well received by other passengers.
The professionalism of all staff of the SS Antoinette shines through; they are all totally efficient, always available and always deliver service with an honest smile. What particularly impressed us is their willingness and desire to work together as an effective team. We can fully appreciate that this harmony is not always easy to attain but is exemplified on board the SS Antoinette. In fact, on this cruise, the captain was seen to ‘roll up his sleeves’ and join the chain of staff loading the fresh laundry. His wife (the hotel Manager) was at the other end of this chain.
River cruising at this standard is a very different experience to Sea cruising and has a much closer more ‘personal’ feel about it. All of the management team, including the captain, are part of the social scene and there are many opportunities every day to speak with them and to enjoy their company. They spend a considerable amount of their time making themselves available around the ship and mingling with the guests.
We splashed out on a suite and our stateroom was always tended to the highest of standards twice daily- never anything out of place and spotlessly clean. Having a suite we also had a Butler. Two were assigned and they were the epitome of decorum and would grace any English Country Mansion. It was a treat to have them looking after us on this cruise.
Dining is always one of the highlights of our Uniworld trips and the chef once again showed that he was the culinary wizard we have come to expect from Uniworld. The food was outstanding in quality, preparation and presentation. The manner in which the chef always presented himself in the dining room and spoke to all guests after the meal was welcomed by all and displayed a most professional touch. It is pleasing to see that there is a restaurant manager (Maitre d’), he was delightful, pleasant and an efficient leader of the restaurant - clearly respected by his waiting staff but never shied away from assisting with the serving at appropriate times.
All of the waiting staff were amiable, professional and highly efficient and they all enhanced our dining experience markedly and were a credit to the Uniworld ethos and standards. My wife and I have taken about 35 cruises both on sea and river and we cannot recall having better attentive personal service by waiters on any other cruise.
The Cruise Manager showed his knowledge of the area and speaks in a fluent, precise and entertaining manner, we noted that he always raised many laughs during his talks and always “left them laughing”- a very precious skill.
The website CruiseCritic.co.uk recently voted SS Antoinette the most luxurious river cruise ship of 2013- having sailed on her for the second time this is clearly an accolade well deserved. We look forward to taking our next trip on the SS Antoinette or her sister ship SS Catherine which is due to be launched in 2014.