Pre-Cruise: We arraigned our own pre-cruise in Munich as we have stayed there many times, but never for the Christmas Markets. It was a wonderful market spreading out many directions from the Marienplatz. The variety of goods was very nice and there was an abundance of places to eat or drink the Gluhwein. (try it with rum added) On the morning of the cruise, we took the train from Munich to Nuremburg. Once in Nuremburg , we took a taxi to the boat (about a 15-20 minute drive (20 Euros) from town) and boarded at about 11:AM.
Check-in: Quick and painless. As we exited the taxi at the ship, crewmen were right there to take our bags to the ship. Walking up the short gangplank takes you straight to the check-in desk. A minute later, one of the cabin attendants (all lined up smartly on the steps) took our bags to our room.
Public Areas: Small but cozy. The River Duchess was decorated for Christmas and holiday cookies were available in each public room. The central lobby has the main desk, Cruise Managers desk, and sliding glass doors on either side for those wishing to take a picture. Smoking is allowed outside on one side (away from the ventilation intake). There is a large lounge in the front of the ship and the dinning room was at the aft end. The little exercise room downstairs had two treadmills and two elliptical machines. There was a massage room about the size of a closet, but it was big enough for an excellent massage. There was also a small gift shop that had some nice Christmas items at a reasonable price.(some we never saw in any of the markets) The internet connection was rather slow so the two computers in the library and the wi-fi was free for the entire cruise. There was some entertainment in the lounge provided by local talent. There was an excellent piano player every day (husband of a crew member) in the lounge.
Stateroom: The room was about average for a river cruise boat with a small, but well appointed tiled bathroom. There was plenty of storage and closet space. The bed was very comfortable - the best of and ships we have been on. The room was quiet except when passengers would be talking loudly while walking down the hall towards the dinning area. (We never set our alarm in the morning)
Food: Overall food was very-good to excellent. The "Pasta alla Carbonara" was the best I have ever eaten anywhere. Breakfast included a hot bar with scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, pancakes, sausage; cold cereal, yogurt, fruit and breads. There was also an Omelet/egg station where they made excellent omelets.
Lunch was usually our favorite. It was a similar set-up to breakfast, with two hot courses; bread, an excellent salad bar, and a carving/specialty station.
Dinner was open seating and include beer and wine (both red and white). Service the first night was slow, but improved to excellent. Except for the two Captain's dinners, (fixed menu) there were always three choices of a main dish: one meat, one fish and one vegetarian. There were always "alternate" choices of steak, chicken or salmon if none of the main courses suited you. Dinner was fairly formal (but you never had to dress up!) and as such could take a long time. My wife and I often skipped desert as we were getting tired of sitting.
Service: This was our fourth Uniworld cruise and it has been the excellent staff that keeps us coming back. This cruise was no exception. 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 was very visible on the ship and the tours.
Nuremberg: We skipped the bus tour since we had done it 3 times before. The front desk called a taxi for us and it picked us up right at the gang plank. The Nuremburg Christmas Market is the largest and most popular in Europe. As such, it can also be the most crowded. We were lucky in that we were visiting on a weekday and it was the least crowded we have ever seen. Prices in Nuremburg are usually pretty good and the selection is wonderful, so if you see it and want it, buy it.
Bamberg: (half day)
The Christmas Market was small with a mix of crafts and typical commercial items. There were more craft items available than in most markets.
Rothenburg is a wonderful little walled city that seems to be Christmas Central. It is the headquarters of Käthe Wohlfahrt, who is like the Martha Stewart of Christmas. There are a number of excellent shops in this little picturesque town. Unfortunately it is not on the river and requires a 45 minute bus ride to and from the ship. We ate lunch at an excellent restaurant (that used to be included with the cruise).
Wurzburg: (Half Day)
The buses dropped us off downtown right in front of the Wurzburg Residenz and we had an excellent 45 minute tour of the Palace followed by a guided walk to the Main Square and Christmas Market. We split from the tour before it was over so that we could spend more time in the Christmas Market. It was a nice Christmas Market, but nothing outstanding.
Wertheim: (Half Day)
Since it was Sunday, the stores were not normally open. Our Cruise Manager arraigned for two stores (both owned by the glass blower who had done a demonstration on the ship). We did find a few wonderful items in these stores. I also found a fabulous bakery in town.
We love the Frankfurt Christmas Market and so we did not take the optional Heidelberg tour. We took a short bus and walking tour, prior to leaving the group and exploring on our own. The Frankfurt Christmas Market has grown a lot over the last 5 years. The boat docked next to the Lower Main Bridge and it was about a half mile walk to the Christmas Market. This is a very busy Christmas market and is fun to see in both the day and night. My wife found some great buys on linen and lace as well as some miniatures. I found some outstanding huge chocolate covered pretzels. Our favorite little restaurant had been torn down as part of a new development so we just ate at the outside stalls.
Rudesheim: (Half Day)
We rode the "mini-train" to the Musical Museum for an hour tour of antique self-playing musical machines. 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.
After leaving Rudesheim we cruised along the Rhine River Valley. This is Castle central and we quickly saw them on both sides of the river. At first the weather was clear (but very cold) and there were great opportunities for pictures. The weather turned quickly and it started snowing so we had a hard time seeing 100 yards.
There was a large convention in town and many river boats were rented out as hotels and so they were docked closest to town. This required us to take a 15 minute bus ride to get to the Christmas Markets. There are three Markets within easy walking distance from where we were dropped off. The Cologne markets appeared more polished with more permanent stalls than in the smaller town. We noted that these stalls sold more items that were not made in Germany.
Disembarking: Bags were left outside our room at least 30 minutes prior to our taxi pick-up time. (we did not use the ship transfer as we were taking a train back to Frankfurt). The bags were held in the lobby until we were ready to leave. We then identified our luggage and it was loaded into the taxi by a crew member.
Overall: The Uniworld ships are very nice. Their commitment to Customer Service continues to be impressive and we will take another Uniworld cruise.