I want to share with you our recent sailing (12/21/13) on Uniworld Holiday Markets, starting from Nuremberg and ending in Frankfurt.
Our family (6 of us) have travelled with Uniworld on the Danube in the summer of 2011 and had a wonderful time. We had high hopes this time around, having heard and read so much about the wonderful Christmas markets in Europe, and seeing that we would be visiting them just about every day, as publicised in the travel brochure/catalog from the company.
We were terribly disappointed.
Day 1 was spent lolling in the lounge of the river boat, and the staff were quite adamant about everyone checking in at 3PM. For those of us who had arrived early on Day 1, it was a complete waste of our time and no activities were planned.
Day 2 was a day tour of Nuremberg plus a visit to the local Christmas market. That was kind of fun, as we could stay on at the market till evening on our own. However, for those passengers who had adverse flight logistics (missing bag, late arrival, ..), and missed this outing, it would prove disastrous.
This was the only outing to a Christmas market, as on the rest of our trip (Day 3 - 8), all the markets had shut down.
I found out from the locals that 12/24 (from around 1PM) through 12/26, and in some cases, 12/27, were holidays taken very seriously as non-working days, to be spent with family. The markets were completely shut down/dismantled, and most of the local shops in the towns on our cruise were closed. Even the museums, some churches (e.g. Nativity Walk) were closed.
The guides were a missed bag: some of them were young and relatively inexperienced, and generally not as enthusiastic as I would have expected. Some of the key highlights of the places listed in the brochure, and even from what I had read before the trip, were not touched upon.
There were 3 optional excursions listed prior to departure, 2 of which were not even offered on the trip. I understood on the one remaining excursion (Nuremberg Documents Center), there were only 2 takers.
On board the ship/boat, in spite of the brochure listing "Welcome Gala" and "Captain's Farewell Gala", there was no special event. This cruise taking place over 12/24 and 12/25, and given that the paucity of programming over the Christmas holidays with everything shut down, the least one could have expected is some kind of attempt to put on a festive celebration, Christmas music, party favors, etc. Evening recap time in the lounge seemed to be an occasion to get the guests together to partake of (self-paid) alcoholic and other "cocktail (alcoholic or otherwise!) of the day."
On the cruise on the river, there was no commentary at all - no one pointed out what towns we were passing by, let alone any special features, cuisine, traditional crafts, or history and how the war affected these German towns. There was no commentary about the locks system, the number on the trip or how the system worked.
Aside from the dining room and cleaning and engineering staff (who were extremely hardworking and pleasant), I found the administrative and nautical officers, including the cruise manager, very nonchalant and not very interactive with passengers. There were comments from some passengers about how they could allow "girlfriends" (e.g. of the captain) to sail on the boat.
This sailing (12/21) should never have been offered, or at least if it was, the promotional material relating to the holiday market sailings should not have been given to the passenger. The cruise manager made it clear at the last presentation in the Lounge that she was an independent contractor dependent on gratuities as she was not paid by Uniworld. However, I fail to comprehend how Uniworld did not know that everything shuts down by 1PM on 12/24, and in some cases, through 12/27, and the cruise ends on 12/29 (disembark from ship), and offered a cruise that promised Christmas markets for 80% of the sailing. Extremely disappointing trip.