This was on Uniworld’s River Ambassador “Castles Along the Rhine” cruise, September 27 to October 4, 2009. The itinerary was “up the river” from Amsterdam to Basel. I had Trafalgar/Uniworld book my flights to Amsterdam and handle my airport/boat transfers. Both were flawless. Cruise check in was very quick, no waiting. My bag was quickly carried to my cabin. Cabins were on two decks, first and second. All were window cabins with a common corridor down the center of the boat. Mine was on the first deck, one flight of stairs down from the reception area. The cabin was very clean, bright and cheerful, but small. Closet space was somewhat limited but sufficient. The bathroom was in very good condition, but the shower was small. All bed linens and bath towels were monogrammed with “uw,” Uniworld’s logo, giving a nice classy touch. Bath towels were thick but a little rough because fabric softener apparently was not used. Bathroom amenities featured quality body lotion and shampoo, both could be purchased in the gift shop. The bed was very comfortable. A flat screen TV was mounted on the wall at the end of the bed.
I’m a single male senior citizen, and I was traveling alone. I chose this river cruise specifically because Uniworld had dropped their single supplement on many cruises to help fill their boats due to the bad worldwide economy. I think the maximum passengers on the boat is about 128. There were 103 on this cruise of which 21 were singles. I can imagine how many cabins would have been vacant without singles.
The dining room was on the first deck at the front of the boat. The lounge and bar were on the second deck immediately above it. Breakfast and lunch were buffets. The breads were all baked on the ship, typically German and European types, and I found the whole grain loaves to be exceptional. At lunch there were two entrée offerings plus a daily pasta. A dessert table often featured regional specialties, and a good selection of cheeses was offered as well.
Dinner was served from 7 pm to 9 pm. There was only one seating, and it was open seating. You could sit with someone different every night, or sit with the same persons. This was a great way to meet and create friendships. Waiters were efficient and helpful. Red and white wines were always complimentary with dinner. All courses covered a spectrum of cuisines and were presented in creative ways.
Dinner was usually preceded with a presentation of the next day’s activities by the Program Director in the lounge. And dinner was followed by keyboard entertainment and dancing there, as well. On our second night in port at Strasbourg, France, we were treated on board to local talent of a very humorous accordionist and a very talented female vocalist, presenting predominately French music. Much was lively and fun.
Outside the lounge entrance was a small coffee and beverage area open 24/7. Complimentary coffee, cappuccino, hot chocolate and several teas could be freshly brewed by the cup on demand. Usually fresh fruit was available, too. In the morning there were pastries and in the afternoon dessert pastries and small sandwiches. Two small tables with eight chairs provided a comfortable place for a relaxed snack or casual conversation.
The top deck was open air with seating for viewing and relaxing. A roofed area with all glass sides and an open end was situated near the front just behind the bridge for protection from the weather. The bridge was glass on all sides, and one could view the activities of the captain and his assistants as they monitored radar of the river, river depth and traffic, and navigated the boat accordingly. The Rhine River was suffering from low water depth (9/2009), a two year problem from insufficient rainfall. Numerous river boats of other lines were stranded, unable to complete their voyages due to shallow water. But because of the unique design of Uniworld boat’s underside, we were able to complete our journey from Amsterdam to Basel without a problem. Of interest to some is the fact that the boat passes through 14 locks between Amsterdam and Basel.
At each port an included walking tour with a local guide was provided to orient passengers with city history, famous sites, etc. Detailed maps of the areas were provided. Uniworld also provides receiver sets and headphones for all passengers and a mike and transmitter for guides to use so everyone can clearly hear the guide’s commentary, even if one lags behind the group taking photos. This is a nice feature, not always offered by other companies. At some ports optional tours were offered for purchase. The only optional tour I did was to Heidelberg with a visit to the castle ruins and included a set German lunch in town, plus free time to explore and shop. The tour was worth doing. NOTE: Climbing some of the inclines from bus parking to the castle can be a little challenging for some.
On the morning we cruised through the Rhine castle region most everyone was on the top deck with their camera. Over 40 castles are along the river. At 10:30 am the deck was turned into a German party with oom-pha music courtesy of the resident keyboardist. The kitchen staff set up a buffet with German sausages, kraut, mustard, and freshly baked soft pretzels and beers.
At Rudesheim an included tour transported us to Schloss Vollrads’ centuries’ old palace and winery. Wine production dates from 1211 AD. Their vineyards grow only Riesling grapes from which quality wines are produced. Only a limited amount is exported to the USA. A resident guide informed us of Schloss Vollrads’ history and wine production, and treated us to three wine samplings as we toured various areas of the palace.
Strasbourg was an interesting port. Bordering on the west bank of the Rhine in the Alsace province of France, it’s in close proximity to the Black Forest region of Germany, on the east bank. Strasbourg has changed national ownership six times in history between Germany and France. We were here two days. On our arrival we had an included canal boat cruise around the city, and then a walking tour to the cathedral. We also had free time to shop. One could tell they were in France from the abundance of pastry shops and the beautiful pastries and breads in their windows.
The following day we had a full day excursion via motor coach along the Alsatian wine road with 27 thousand acres of vineyards and several wineries. Grape harvest was in progress. We visited a small town having a wine harvest festival. One could smell grapes being crushed at the town’s winery. Local organizations were selling local food specialties, pastries and “neu vin” (lightly fermented grape juice. The cafes were busy serving lunch to attendees on their outdoor terraces.
In the afternoon we journeyed to Colmar for more historical sightseeing, and then joined up with our cruise boat.
The following morning we woke up in Basel, Switzerland where we said our good-byes to our new friends and the Rhine. Ship personnel efficiently handled transfers via coach to airlines and railroads.
In conclusion, Uniworld did a great job with service, room keeping, food and sightseeing. The program director was exceptional and very thorough, plus being a lot of fun. Ages of cruisers ranged from 40 and up. Because there are no elevators on this boat, I would not recommend it for handicapped cruisers.