My wife and I just returned home from a wonderful vacation in France, the centerpiece of which was Uniworld's 15-day “Grand France” itinerary. This included 7 nights cruising the Seine River on the River Baroness, and 7 nights ... Read More
My wife and I just returned home from a wonderful vacation in France, the centerpiece of which was Uniworld's 15-day “Grand France” itinerary. This included 7 nights cruising the Seine River on the River Baroness, and 7 nights cruising the Rhone River on the SS Catherine.
Among the many positives:
*** Our first Uniworld cruise was in 2009 on the River Duchess (Bucharest to Vienna on the Danube). We had a terrific experience then, but Uniworld is even better today. We appreciate their evolution to “all-inclusive” river cruising. When we go into the lounge, we don't want to be thinking of nickels and euros when considering what to drink. We also appreciate the complimentary laundry service for past guests. It made packing for the trip a lot easier and more compact.
*** We loved having bicycles on board. My wife and I rode around in several ports, and I chose the “go active” bike rides in Giverny and Lyon. Good exercise and a lot of fun.
*** The crew on both ships was excellent. We've been on many small ship cruises, and A.J. (on the Baroness) was one of the best cruise directors we've ever had, (right up there with Marella on the Duchess in 2009). He was personable, knowledgeable, fun and funny, and he worked his tail off. The dining room staff was friendly and efficient. Being of Hungarian descent, (my father was born in Gyor), I bonded especially well with the many Hungarians on staff, especially Otto (my father's name), Karoly, Miklos and Laszlo on the Baroness, and Joseph, Richard, Sandor and Laszlo on the Catherine.
*** We experienced consistently excellent service throughout our cruises, but I'd like to highlight – and perhaps bore you with – two notable examples:
Example #1) I hate asparagus! Even the smell makes me nauseous. I happened to mention this to Christina the first night we were on the Baroness. Six days later . . . Unbeknownst to me, the entree for our farewell dinner came with a garnish of asparagus. Everyone else's did, but not mine! Christina had notified the kitchen ahead of time to leave the asparagus off Mr. Molnar's plate. I appreciated that.
Example #2) We hate duvets! That thick comforter sandwiched between the two-sheet duvet cover is usually much too heavy. But it's all or nothing, and nothing is too little cover. So, on our first night on the Baroness, we took the duvet apart. That way, we could cover up with just the sheets, or pull up the comforter if we got chilly. The next morning, our cabin attendant asked if we'd prefer she make up the bed with just a sheet and blanket. We said “Oui” and that's what she did the rest of that cruise. I expected to have to repeat the same process the second week on the Catherine. But much to our surprise, when we got to our cabin, the bed had already been made up with a sheet and blanket. We subsequently found out that our bedding preference had worked its way up to the Hotel Manager (Marcus) on the Baroness, was communicated to the Hotel Manager (Astrid) on the Catherine, and resulted in our cabin being made up exactly how we liked it. Great communications and great customer service!!
*** We expected wonderful food with Uniworld, and we weren't disappointed. The food on board - selection, quality, variety, and presentation - was marvelous. (I especially appreciated the choice of both "regular" and "extra crispy" bacon.) Dinners were usually excellent, and the modest portions were just right. On two nights, when I had trouble choosing between entrees, I was offered the option of ordering a half portion of each. A perfect solution! Desserts were outstanding.
*** The wine offerings were very good and allowed us to experience a wide variety of regional favorites. (I must question, however, the occasional inclusion of South African wines. They seemed as out of place on a “Grand France” cruise, as would have wines from Chile, Argentina or the Napa Valley. They are all good, but come on, we're in France!!)
*** The River Baroness is the oldest ship in Uniworld's fleet, and the cabins are tiny. However, we still loved it! It is extremely clean and well-maintained and service was impeccable, (perhaps even a little bit better than on the Catherine). With about 105 passengers on board, we never felt crowded.
*** The Catherine is a magnificent ship! It's the most beautiful, elegant and well-designed river ship we've ever seen. Three years ago, Kathy and I did a “Tulips & Windmills” cruise on the then brand-new Viking Freya. Never again! The Catherine wins this comparison hands down. With 20% fewer guests, the Catherine is far less crowded and noisy. The balcony design on the Catherine is brilliant!! (The balcony space is useable no matter the weather.) And the roll-down screen kept the bugs out.
*** The included tours were mostly very good, as were most of the guides. A few standout guides include Sandria and Martine (I probably spelled them wrong) on the Baroness and Geri on the Lyon biking tour. Our favorite, however, was Frances in Viviers. She was warm, witty, knowledgeable a little bit irreverent, and she opened up her magnificent home to us. A few of the guides were a little difficult to understand, (especially our Colombian guide to the Moulin Rouge).
Alas, all on the cruise was not “perfect”, so here are a few reflections:
*** I wish the WiFi worked better. It was extremely slow and more typically seemed to not work at all.
*** I wish there had been more opportunities to socialize and interact with the Captain and senior crew. Each ship had a dining room table reserved just for the staff. There were never (as far as I am aware) invitations for guests to dine with the Captain. I realize that language was an issue, but the Captains on both ships often seemed a bit aloof. On recent AmaWaterways and Windstar cruises, we interacted with the Captains a lot, and we liked that.
*** I wish that Uniworld promoted – and invited - passenger participation in the lounge or bar, (eg., karaoke, sing-a-longs, etc). We did this six years ago on the Duchess and it was great fun for everyone.
*** I wish the bathroom toiletries included bars of soap. Bath gel is fine, but we prefer bars.
*** Uniworld has made a conscious effort to eliminate public address announcements so as not to disturb and disrupt passengers. Mostly we appreciate that, but perhaps there is some middle ground which would permit announcements in the halls and lounges for important activities or especially impressive scenery.
*** I understand that the Baroness is scheduled for retirement pretty soon, but the chairs and sofas in the lounge are really long in the tooth. Many are badly worn, sagging and uncomfortable, and detract from the Uniworld image.
*** I came to this cruise expecting to use the pool, but I never did. Nor did I ever see anyone using it. The pool is pretty, but it's small, indoors and awkward to access from the bar area, and the water was kept too cool. Instead of the pool, I wish that space included a hot tub, sauna and shower. I would have used – and appreciated – all of those. (This comment is intended for whoever designs the next Uniworld ship.)
Thanks to Uniworld for providing an enjoyable and memorable French holiday. We love the Uniworld brand and look forward to our next Uniworld cruise. Read Less