River Ambassador Cruise Review by beesKate: Late Summer River Cruise
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Late Summer River Cruise
My husband & I recently returned from the early September sailing of the River Ambassador on the Treasures of Prague, the Rhine & Main. This was one of the best vacations we've ever had (maybe because it was the first one by ourselves without our daughters who are now in college?). We have cruised on large ships (Carnival out of Galveston and an Alaskan cruise on Holland American), but have only traveled out of the country to London and Costa Rica. We plan to cruise with Uniworld again. We were curious about the age group of passengers on the cruise. I would guess the average age was the lower 70's, maybe upper 60's. My husband and I are 50 & 52. We did meet several other couples who were near our age and part of what made the cruise such a great experience were the passengers we met and enjoyed spending time with.
We arrived at Dusseldorf airport around 7:45 AM, on time via Lufthansa. It was fairly easy to find our way to baggage claim. We did stop and ask if there was More an ATM on our way to baggage (and it's best to refer to the ATM as a cash machine or in German as Geldautomat), but the ATM's are located after you pass through the secure doors after getting your luggage. We easily found the Uniworld representative after collecting our bags and exiting through the sliding doors to the unsecured area of the airport. She checked us off her list, showed us where the ATM was and instructed us to meet them in about 10-15 minutes at the Ronald McDonald benches a little further down. We had time to use the ATM to get Euros, buy a quick coffee and pastry, then waited a short time for the rest of our bus load. Our bus wasn't full, but they were retrieving people off several different flights that arrived around the same time I doubt anyone waited more than 20 minutes after retrieving luggage.
It was a fairly short ride to Cologne, but there was a bicycle race through downtown Cologne that morning. Our bus driver had a hard time because the normal route had roads closed due to the race. We circled the area around the cathedral trying to find open roads. He eventually dropped us off across the street from where the boat was docked because he couldn't get any closer with the bus. We retrieved our bags from under the bus, walked across the street and found our ship a little ways down the paved sidewalk along the river. As soon as the crew saw us arriving they rushed up the gangway to collect our bags. It was around 9:30 AM when we boarded the ship and found beverages, pastries and fruit in the lounge as well as several other passengers stretched out, napping an the banquettes.
Our goal for the day was to keep moving, so we could stay awake and reduce the impact of jet-lag. Our main goals for the day were to the see the cathedral and have our first local beer. The ship was docked an easy walk to the cathedral, and the front desk had maps (with the ship's location clearly marked). We were successful with our sightseeing and headed back to the ship by mid-afternoon to check into our cabin. We were on the lower level, about mid-ship.
All the rooms (except for suites) are the same size, the only difference is the window. The website's picture is a very accurate depiction of the category 1 & 2 staterooms. The bed takes up most of the room, with enough space around for one person to walk around it. The beds are raised enough off the ground for even large suitcases to fit underneath. There is not a lot of drawer space, but there is quite a bit of hanging space. However, all the hanging space is split horizontally; so long items don't have space to hang freely. Also, the hangars need to be at a slight angle for the door to close and the automatic lighting to turn off. There is a small table with a glass water flask to use for filling glasses, 2 plastic water bottles (which they ask you to refill at the self-service beverage area), an ice bucket (go to the bar or restaurant to ask for ice) and your vox system charging station. There was also a set of outlets here (include one US outlet) for charging. There's a chair at this table, but we didn't use it to sit in, just to put clothes over the back of. In the picture you'll see a mirrored door next to the bed with the reading light. There is one of these on each side of the bed with 3 or 4 drawers at the bottom, a table top and several shelves. There was a gap between the shelving on the far side and the exterior wall which seems like it could have been better utilized (maybe a higher hanging bar or a couple of hooks?) The bathrooms were tiny but efficient. The back of the door should have had 2, not quite hooks, but more like knobs for hanging robes. Our room only had one (but we never reported it either). The showers did not have much of a ledge to contain the water. I don't know if the floor didn't slope to drain or if the ship isn't level, but we had problems with water seeping under the shower door onto the floor of the bathroom area. We just put down an extra towel in addition to the bathmat. The bathroom had a nice storage area under the sink, a row of electrical outlets (including US 110v) and a lighted, magnified mirror. There was also blue LED lighting when the main light was off. The rooms did have alarm clocks, but the instructions were somewhat hard to decipher (the instructions were in the information you received with the room). The flat screen TV showed a variety of tv show (both English and German) as well as the ship-camera.
Our luggage was in our stateroom when we arrived and we found room to stow everything. The beds are made up European style, with a bottom sheet and a duvet (comforter) no top sheet. If you'd like a top sheet, just ask and they will make your bed up American style. There is a safe in the room on one of the shelves. I've uploaded pictures of the room and around the ship on Flickr http://www.flickr.com//photos/68205622@N04/sets/72157627679246543/show/
Back in the lounge, there were tea-time snacks (cookies and cakes). The self-serve beverage area always had both sweet and unsweetened ice tea (the sweet was fruity, like peach tea). There was a water dispenser and coffee dispenser where you could select regular coffee, mocha, hot chocolate, hot water, etc. There was always a nice selection of tea bags. Any time of day, there were normally snacks of some kind in this area, generally cookies. They also had sandwich fixings on arrival day for those who remained on the ship to eat lunch.
The first evening there was a basic information session before dinner in the lounge. It was good to see that not all the passengers were 20 years older than us. We met wonderful people in the dining room who we ended up spending the rest of our trip with.
The meals were always fantastic, and even my very picky-eater of a husband never resorted to ordering the steak and fries. You normally had a couple choices of each (appetizer, soup, entr'e, dessert) to choose from. There were two nights where there was a set menu, and my husband (who does not eat seafood) felt there should have been a little more variety (or less seafood) on the set menu nights. No one went hungry. We did learn to have our wine glasses refilled before we left the dining room (and pick up a selection of cheeses and breads/crackers from the cheese board) to take to the lounge after dinner.
Breakfast always had a nice selection of hot items, pork products, made to order omelets, great Swiss Muesli (I need to find the recipe!), fruit, cheeses, meats, etc. There was also a special every day. I didn't learn until halfway through the cruise that you had to order this from your server. You could also order oatmeal from the server. The coffee was wonderful French-press and much better than the coffee from the machine upstairs (I am someone who drinks my coffee black, I also heard people say they liked the machine coffee more than the French press).
Lunch was always a buffet with 3 or 4 hot main items, and 3 or 4 hot sides. There was normally a hot sandwich available, soup, fruit, cheese, salads, etc. The desserts at lunch were great and there were always a couple of flavors of gelato as well as nuts, etc. for toppings.
The downside of being on a cruise (or any organized tour) is your time in any one location is limited. There were towns I would have liked to have spent a little more time in but the organized tours were great. If you have an opportunity to tour Aschaffenburg with Jean as your guide, you will enjoy her stories. We enjoyed her so much; we specifically requested her mother as our guide in Miltenberg and were not disappointed. As I mentioned the average age earlier in this review Europe is old and is not necessarily ADA compliant. The towns have cobblestones; there are hills and steps. Uniworld did try to make one tour group the pacer group. This group went at a little slower pace and may not have seen everything (but then, with half a day in town, no one saw everything). We did have one tour guide who I felt slowed our group down attempting to accommodate one of the passengers.
Neither my husband nor I enjoyed the tour guide in Bamberg. She was very knowledgeable, but I felt like we'd walk a few steps and she'd stop and lecture for 10 minutes. I wanted to see more of the city and knew we had limited time before the bus took us back to the ship. We left the tour outside of the Imperial Cathedral and explored it on our own (the group eventually came in). We missed out on touring the rose gardens as we wanted to look at some of the shops in town. When I went back and looked at the itinerary for the day, it mentioned we'd spend time at the New Residence. The tour guide never mentioned this (we were going to the Cathedral and then the rose garden). Our friends didn't mention they visited the residence either so I'm guessing there was no group tour. This was probably the one disappointing tour of the whole trip. This was the first town we were in (besides Cologne) were there were shops aimed at tourists the other towns really just had shops for day-to-day living (clothing, groceries, housewares, etc) which was kind of a mixed blessing. We did want to bring gifts back, but really didn't find anything.
The tour guides all have vox speakers and each cabin has a pair of vox recievers. You are responsible for bringing it with you and recharging after the tour. The great thing about the vox system is you could wander away from the group and still hear the guide. You are told you can break away from the tour at any time but you are responsible for getting back on the ship by sailing time. When you leave the ship you are supposed to pick up a card that corresponds to your cabin. You return it when you get back on board. This way the staff know if someone is missing and they will make announcements on the ship before setting sail to see if you're on the ship but just didn't turn in your card.
The schedule was very well planned and we were very lucky with wonderful weather only one morning of rain. There was a good mix of getting up early (for 8:30ish tours) and being able to sleep in for afternoon docking. We generally had half a day of touring on land and half a day of cruising and enjoying the sundeck. The afternoon cruising down the Rhine was one of the highlights of the trips. I can't imagine enjoying the castles any other way than sitting in a lounge chair on a sunny afternoon, enjoying the towns, vineyards, castles and countryside.
This is a river cruise, and it goes through many locks and areas of the river are not exceptionally deep. The ship itself is small and the rooms are small. However, I was enjoyed this cruise so much more than big-ship cruises. We spent very little time in our room. I liked that we didn't need to dress for dinner. Although you could tell a few people changed clothes, most of the ship just wore what they wore during the day. The staff is small, but very efficient. When we boarded, it was the hotel manager who helped settle us in the room. I had the impression everyone pitches in to do what needs to be done.
Another thing to be aware of is if anything is happening in the town you're docked in (especially on the weekends). The Sunday we were in Nuremberg, Red Bull had an extreme biking-type event in the middle of the square, with ramps, etc. It limited what we could do and there were crowds everywhere! Apparently the cruise that returned just before we arrived was in Koblenz on the day there was a music festival with tens of thousands of people and they couldn't take the aerial cable car.
We did end our trip with 2 days in Prague. I am really glad we started our trip on the ship. I think friendships made over the 7 days on the ship made our time touring Prague and dining with new friends much more enjoyable. You also just don't have as much interaction with the local host at the hotel in Prague as you do with your cruise director. I was impressed with our tour guide in Prague and the tour of the cathedral was awe inspiring!
The transportation Uniworld provided from the hotel in Prague to the airport was excellent. I was worried they'd try to group as many people together as possible to minimize trips, but they had groups leaving every 15-20 minutes. Our trip to the airport was in a minivan with one other couple. The driver was great, rolling our luggage into the airport and showing us where we needed to check in.
We definitely plan to take another Uniworld cruise. Less
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