River Empress is one of the older ships in Uniworld's fleet, dating back to 2002, and a one-off (not part of a "class"). Like its fleetmates, it goes through a regular series of refurbishments to keep it looking brand new, with the most recent taking place in 2013.
The good news is that everything looks so fresh out of the box, it's hard to tell that this 130-passenger Grand Dame is deep into her teenage years.
Since the ship's launch, however, river cruising has come a long way, and some of Uniworld's more modern river boats have features such as (small) swimming pools, hot tubs, multiple lounges and alternative restaurants.
River Empress has none of these, harking back to an era of more simple river cruising, with one main dining room, an al fresco dining area (in good weather), two small lounges and a large, open top deck.
But there are three aspects of River Empress that make it exceptional, despite its age. The first is the ship's extraordinary attention to detail, giving you the feeling that you really are staying in a luxury, country house boutique hotel (run your hands along the walls of the corridor, they are all padded). The second is the astonishing level of service. True, river ships are small and the atmosphere is far more personal than large cruise ships, but the staff and crew go out of their way from the moment you step onboard to make you feel at home. After a day or two they know your seating, drinking and dining preferences.
The third is the dining, which is outstanding. Often locally sourced, and reflecting the region, meals are complemented by local wines. River Empress sails along the Danube, Main and Rhine, so expect Rieslings and local Alsatian and Bavarian foods to appear on the menu.
Another highlight is that the ship often sails during daylight hours during particularly scenic stretches of the river, so passengers can enjoy the view while lunching. Docking at night means you have the chance to stroll around in town after dinner. On River Empress, you'll have the best of both worlds.