River Ambassador, which entered service in 1993, is one of Uniworld's older vessels. But following refurbishments in 2006 and 2011, the age of the 120-passenger ship is hard to distinguish, thanks to the light, fresh and stylish interiors.
These are all down to Beatrice Tollman, president and founder of Uniworld's sister company, Red Carnation Hotels. Her idea was to create a genuine feeling of a ‘boutique' hotel on board the ships, and in an era when the word ‘boutique' is used in far too broad a sense, she's certainly succeeded. European river cruisers are pretty similar in size, restricted by the bridges and locks of the waterways they transit, and many ship designers opt for safe, fairly bland decor. But Uniworld's fleet feels genuinely individual. You board the ship and the reaction is ‘wow'. It's the fabrics that do it: dove grey silk walls, heavy cream silk drapes and sofas in silver crushed velvet.
Just about everything about this Rhine cruise was exceptional. The service was excellent; attentive and friendly without being obsequious. The food genuinely reflected the region in which we were sailing and was elegantly presented, accompanied by regional wines selected by Uniworld's wine buyer, who happened to be on board and circulated in the dining room, enthusing about the wines he'd chosen. Excursions were varied and interesting and the atmosphere on board convivial, despite the almost total lack of nightlife, as everybody went to bed after dinner.
Passengers are mainly North American with a handful of Brits and Antipodeans. Most were well-travelled and many had never cruised but were regulars on the escorted tour circuit. Uniworld does a couple of family-friendly cruises every year and I was on one of these, so there were a lot of families on board.
Dress code is country club casual. During the day, that meant casual trousers and skirts; shorts were fine for sunning on the top deck. At night, men wore polos and jackets; for women summery dresses or trousers and smart top. There's one night hosted by the Captain, during which some men wore ties.
Fares are inclusive of gratuities for onboard and onshore services, including pre- and post-cruise extensions.