Munich: With Munich only a one hour train ride away from Nuremberg, it was the obvious choice for our pre-cruise City.
Christmas Market: Munich has several markets that blend together in the Marienplatz. We also found a nice one near our Hotel at Weissenburgerplatz. The Munich Christmas Markets seemed to have the right mix of glitz, crafts, and coziness. It's sad to say, since it wasn't on the itinerary, but we probably liked Munich's Christmas market better than those on the Cruise. There is also a small Christmas Market at the Munich Airport. A lot of passenger's we later met on the Cruise also did a pre-cruise in Munich. We took the train from Munich to the Nuremberg Train Station, hopped on the U-Bahn to the Airport, and picked up the Uniworld bus for the transfer. Odd that Uniworld train station transfers were available for disembarking, but not for transfers to the Boat.
Public Areas: Small but cozy. The River Duchess was decorated for Christmas and holiday cookies were available in each public room. The central atrium has the main desk, Cruise Manager desk, and sliding glass doors on either side for those wishing to take a picture or engage their smoking habit. The Cruise desk had maps of the each city available the night before. The exercise room had two treadmills and two elliptical machines. The internet was slow to non-existent on the two computers in the Library so both the internet and wi-fi was free for the entire cruise. There were some shows in the Lounge provided by local talent. The sun deck had wind protection, but due to the cold was rarely visited until the Rhine Valley. The passengers were almost all Americans with a few from England, Australia, and the Republic of Texas.
Room: About average for a Cruise ship with a larger than normal shower. The bathroom was elegant with soap, body wash, conditioner, shampoo, plus complimentary vanity kit, Emory boards, shower caps, show polish kit, and sewing kit. Many fellow passenger mentioned that regardless of room location both the room floors and bathrooms were cold. Room noise was noticeable whenever going through the 41 locks on this voyage. Plenty of hangars in the closets.
Food: A little above average.
Breakfast (7:00am-9:00am) was the same every morning. A hot bar with scrambled eggs, bacon (plus crispy bacon), pancakes, sausage; cold cereal, yogurt, and fruit; breads; a custom Omelet/egg station, plus a "specialty" item-of-the-day.
Lunch (1:00pm-2:30pm) was better than average, although there were less options then larger Cruise ships. Same set-up as at breakfast, with two hot courses; bread and salad areas, and carving/specialty station.
Dinner (7:00pm-9:00pm) was open seating. 4-5 courses. Beer (Beck's) and wine (both red and white) was free at dinner and quickly refilled. Except for the two Captain's dinners, there were always three choices of a main dish: one meat, one fish and one vegetarian. There was always steak, chicken or salmon if none of the main courses suited you. Since this was the only option for dinner, it became my least favorite part of the cruise. If you are tired from a long day in port, you are not always eager to sit down for a two hour formal dinner. A "light dinner" option such as was available for breakfast and lunch would have been nice. The open seating reminded me of High School with everyone scrambling for seats and table pairings until friends were made and favorite waiters were discovered. Desserts and the Pastries provided during tea time were among the best I have had on a cruise in both variety and quality.
Staff: The staff was equal to any 5-star resort. This was a welcome change from the diminishing service standards found lately on most large Cruise ships. The Ship's Crew was primarily Dutch, with the Hotel/Wait staff mostly from Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Mirella, the Cruise manager, was a joy and seemed to be everywhere including on the tours.
Check-in: Quick and painless. Probably faster than many Hotels I've stayed at. Upon leaving the bus, ship's crewman were available to take our bags to the ship, (which was 12 feet away). Walking up the short gangplank takes you straight to the check-in desk. Two minutes later, one of the cabin attendants (all lined up smartly on the steps) took our bags to the room.
A personal note: I always arrive at least a day early and take the opportunity for a pre-cruise tour. On the first day of this Cruise, all flights from Frankfurt were canceled due to snow, and 35 passengers straggled to the ship over the next two days, most without their bags. As of day 5, at least two parties still hadn't received their bags. Scheduling your arrival on the day of departure and risk missing your ship or ruining your vacation is not an itinerary I would ever recommend.
Docking location: About a 20 minute drive from town at the Nuremberg Port.
Bus tour and pickup: Bus pickup was next to the boat. The day started with a 90 minute bus tour at 9:00am, with a 10 minute stop at the Nazi Rally grounds and a 30 minute stop at Nuremberg Castle (Kaiserburg), ending at the Christmas Market. With few exceptions the tour buses ALWAYS left on time, as did the boat. This was not a cruise for those that amble out a few minutes late expecting the buses or boat to wait.
Christmas Market: The main market is in front of the Cathedral on the Main Square. However, there were stands spread out along several connecting streets. The buses picked us up two blocks from the "Beautiful Fountain" and the "Nuremberg Ring". For those interested in returning to the ship for lunch, buses picked up at 12:30 with hourly returns to the market area. The Nuremberg Christmas Market is famous for the Lebkuchen (gingerbread). There was "Nuremberg Gingerbread" available at several of the subsequent markets, but by the time we left Bavaria it was getting hard to find. Prices here were cheaper than average so if something catches your eye, don't expect a significantly better price at other markets. There was no x-ray or security when returning to the boat. The only requirement upon returning was to drop off your boarding card.
Bamberg: (half day)
Docking location: In a light industrial area, with a 5 minute walk to the bus pickup.
Bus tour and pickup: 9:00am bus pickup and about 15 minutes to town. We met our guides in town and followed them through a 90 minute walking tour of Bamberg, the Town Hall, and the Kaiserdom. Since this was a half day, with the bus leaving at 12:30, I could have passed on the tour, which left us less than two hours to explore the Christmas Market and town.
Christmas Market: The Christmas Market was smaller but nice, with a mix of crafts and typical commercial items. There was a higher percentage of craft items here and for a better price than I found elsewhere. The Schlenkerla Brewery, famous for its smoked beer, was a nice stop for those looking for a real German beer Hall. They literally rolled out the wooden beer barrels into the beer hall when it was time to change the keg.
Docking location: Docked in Wurzburg with a nice view of the Marienberg Citadel. There was a Multiplex theater next to the ship for anyone that felt the need to go for a Movie after dinner.
Bus Tour and Pickup: 9:00am departure. Short walk to the bus pickup and about a 45 minute drive partly on the A-7 Autobahn to Rothenburg. The bus parked outside the city walls, where we met our guides for a 45 minute tour of the City. Pickup was 4:30pm with an hour drive back.
Christmas Market: Rothenburg is a walled City with good shopping and a small Christmas Market. The Meter-long Hot Dogs were a favorite of many here, as well as the all-year-long Christmas shops like Käthe Wohlfahrt.
Wurzburg: (Half Day)
Docking location: Same as Rothenburg.
Bus Tour and Pickup: 9:00 departure. The buses dropped us off downtown right in front of the Wurzburg Residenz and we met our guides for a 45 minute tour of the Palace followed by a guided walk to the Main Square and Christmas Market. The Residenz was worthwhile, but once again, it gave us less than two hours to explore the town and Markets.
Christmas Market: A nice but not spectacular Market with about average prices.
Wertheim: (Half Day)
Docking location: Right in town along the River.
Bus Tour and Pickup: None. Some Passengers left the Boat early since we were docked overnight and everything was right across the street.
Christmas Market: None. It wouldn't open until Dec 12th. This was a Sunday, so very few shops were open. The Fortress could be walked to from town and gave a great opportunity for pictures from the walls. This was a nice town and it's unfortunate it was a Sunday. The older part of town was easily walkable from the boat. Luckily the bakeries and bars were open before our 1:00pm departure!
Docking location: Next to the Lower Main bridge
Bus Tour and Pickup: We opted for the Heidelberg tour for 43 Euros pp. The buses picked up at the Boat and left promptly at 8:30am for the 60 minute drive to Heidelberg.
The guide narrated a quick tour of Frankfurt as the bus made its way to the Autobahn. In Heidelberg we began with a 45 minute tour of the Castle and then the bus dropped us off downtown near the Tourist Office. The bus back left at 4:30pm and arrived at the ship at 5:30pm.
Christmas Market (Heidelberg) There were some small markets in some of the squares, but nothing memorable. The market at Karlsplatz had an ice skating rink with a few stalls and a view of the Castle. The pedestrian shopping street had more to offer for shoppers. The town itself was the main attraction.
Christmas Market (Frankfurt): The Christmas Market at Römerplatz was 15 minute walk from the ship. If the previous Christmas Markets resembled a County Fair, Frankfurt's' resembled Las Vegas with lights, rides, and what seemed like a 50/50 mix of food stalls to craft vendors. It was also packed shoulder-to-shoulder with locals (Frankfurters?) We never regretted skipping dinner on the boat and eating here. There were street performers, Carousels, and plenty to see and do. Prices in the stalls were slightly higher typical of a large city, but there were no special items here that we hadn't seen elsewhere.
Rudesheim: (Half Day)
Docking location: In town about a 5 minute walk from the Christmas Market and Shops.
Bus Tour and Pickup: No bus. We took the "mini-train" to the Musical Museum for an hour tour of antique self-playing musical machines.
Christmas Market: Rudesheim is a tourist town and the shops near the boat were a good place for cheaper souvenirs. There was nothing spectacular about the Christmas market which wound around downtown with additional stalls along the edge of town near the river.
Some of the stalls substituted Rudesheim coffee for Gluhwein.
After leaving at 1:00pm we cruised along the Rhine River Valley. The Castles appeared quickly on both the left and right as soon as we shoved off. These would be worth seeing again during the summer. Unfortunately it was dark after we passed Lorelei Rock and we missed several of the remaining Castles, Koblenz, and the former location of the Remagan bridge.
Docking location: On the other side of the river from the Chocolate Museum, although the provided City map listed alternate docking locations nearer town.
Bus Tour and Pickup: Buses picked up at three different locations while we were here, but all were no more than 10 minutes from the boat. Bus transfer was about 15 minutes, with a drop off next to the Tourism office, which is two blocks from the Cologne Cathedral. This was followed by an uninspired 60 minute tour of the outside of the Cathedral and the surrounding area.
Christmas Market: There are three Markets within easy walking distance. After the quaint markets we had seen up until then, the Cologne markets were more polished. The stalls were more permanent, and the items for sale were more commercially available type goodies you could pick up in the local stores. The market at Rudolphplatz had a Fairy Tale-inspired theme more reminiscent of Disney World. The Medieval Market was in front of the Lindt Chocolate Factory, and was 3 euros for entry to about 20 stalls. There were some renaissance acts every hour or two. We decided to pass. There was also a Christmas Market Train that drove between all five Markets for 5 Euros
Disembarking: Bags were left outside our room at least 30 minutes prior to the bus pickup time. Ship's crew picked up the bags and took them to the bus where each Passenger was asked to identify their bags prior to loading. On our transfer, the crew underestimated the number of bags and we took a 30 minute delay while bags were loaded.
Overall: The commitment to Customer Service was impressive and I would absolutely do another Uniworld cruise.