We sailed the August 26, 2015 Uniworld River Empress 7 night Castles on the Rhine cruise from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands. Uniworld picked us up at the Basel airport. We did the two night pre-cruise stay sponsored by ... Read More
We sailed the August 26, 2015 Uniworld River Empress 7 night Castles on the Rhine cruise from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands. Uniworld picked us up at the Basel airport. We did the two night pre-cruise stay sponsored by Uniworld in Basel at the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois which I wholeheartedly recommend, a true luxury hotel directly on the Rhine, spectacular stay. Uniworld picked us up at the hotel and transferred us to the River Empress and our luxury cruise adventure began. Full disclosure, this was our first river cruise.
The reputation of Uniworld as arguably the best river cruise line precedes itself which is why we chose it - top food, top service, top educational enrichment programs. We are passionate devotees of Celebrity Cruises when it comes to ocean cruising. From the moment we arrived at the dock, we discovered how different river and ocean cruises are - of course, we knew that, but it was very interesting to experience it. For instance, the captain of the River Empress met us at the van and took our luggage from us, yes, the captain! Every staff member on a river cruise does double and triple duty. These boats are small, the River Empress holding only 130 passengers, so the staff has the time, the inclination and yes the duty, to wear lots of hats, but it's clear they are enjoying themselves. The captain on the River Empress also is very young, coming from a long familial line of Rhine River captains, and I think he just enjoyed being front and center, playing a very active role in the guest experience at all levels, which the guests definitely appreciated!
Our cabin, 312, was small, but we knew it would be. It was gorgeously appointed, top amenities and features, beautiful marble bathroom. Very posh. We loved our very large picture window which was like a giant flat screen TV frame looking out at the passing scenery as we would cruise along. We would sit on the chairs, our small table between us, enjoying the views. Going through the many sets of locks, looking out from your cabin, was very interesting, as the walls of the locks would be only inches from your window, the room darkens as if it's night, fascinating! Of course we spent most of our time when cruising on the top deck, moving all about the boat - there are many places on board to enjoy the views. There is actually little cruising time while you are on board, though, as travel is primarily at night, and during the day, you are on shore. The main body of cruising was the day when the boat sees the majority of the castles, a stretch on the Rhine when there are castles on both sides of the river, your head bobbing from side to side! The cruise director that day broadcasts a live commentary in the public areas explaining the historical significance of each of the castles, excellent.
The ports of call are undeniably amazing, picturesque medieval village after picturesque medieval village. We enjoyed the Alsace area of France and the Rheingau of Germany. All excursions were expertly curated by top guides. Like everything on Uniworld (food, adult beverages), the shore excursions are included, no extra fee. However, three supplemental shore excursions are offered and they are timed such that you can do the free excursions AND the additional cost excursions. The cost for the additional excursions is remarkably low, so we took all three and are thrilled we did. After all, when will we ever be back here?? Our philosophy is to enjoy now, because who knows what tomorrow will bring - and who would want to miss a tour of the Black Forest or a tour of the Heidelberg Castle or a tour of the Marksburg Castle?? Not us, we did the tours, and they were some of the best and most memorable. But, like I said, all excursions offered were wonderful, lots of information provided by dynamic guides.
The food on board was truly remarkable. Each dish at dinner felt like it was coming out of a 5 star kitchen, each dish individually prepared, fresh, bright, gorgeous presentation, excellent flavors - nothing bland or milk toast about the food. The chef is cooking for people who know and appreciate a quality experience. Breakfast is served as a buffet but you can also order many dishes made for you off the menu. Lunch is also served as a buffet, all beautiful fresh items. The chef cooks locally - items on the buffets and menus reflect the local produce and products of the various ports we stopped in daily. Produce and food products are brought in at the various ports of call. That is a very special thing and a highlight of the Uniworld experience.
A special Savour Dinner was served three times on our cruise, three times so that every guest had a chance to experience it - you sign up for it - no extra cost, remember, everything is included on board (except for a few high end liquors, but their standard pours and vintages are exceptional). The Savour Dinner is served outside on the top deck with an even more special menu than the menu that is already special in the dining room! The chef comes and talks to the Savour guests about the dishes, the sommelier discusses the wine pairings - very lovely, fabulous meal as we drifted past the unparalleled scenery of the Rhine shores.
Food is available throughout the day - the dining room has specific hours but at the bar, (the bar being the heart of the ship for the guests, BTW, as that's where all talks are given, entertainment is performed, etc) a light late breakfast is served and then sandwiches can be ordered in the afternoon in between the dining room hours for lunch and dinner. No need to ever be hungry, exceptional food is always available. I spoke to one guest who was suffering from insomnia and was served a lovely snack at 3am. The passenger comes first and foremost with Uniworld, that was clear.
Being a small boat, you pretty quickly get to know your fellow guests which is a very nice thing, or not, up to you! Key to note is that no seats for meals are assigned, you can sit anywhere you want in the dining room during the dining times - you can sit alone, you can sit with new friends - there is no pressure at all. There are no huge communal tables, but if you choose to sit with new friends, then the staff is happy to push several tables together for you. So you can make friends, or not, it's your choice.
The gym on board the River Empress is of necessity, pretty small, but it has everything you need, including a great view out of the windows as you workout on the elliptical or treadmill! A word to the wise, as I'm so very sorry we missed this opportunity - there are roughly a dozen bicycles on board that the guests can take out on their own in the villages when the boat is docked. The Fitness Director led a group of passengers on a bike ride from Boppard to Koblenz, Germany, while the ship cruised that route - thus, a dozen-ish passengers biked to the destination to which the ship sailed, a very fun experience for them! We didn't sign up in time to do this, maybe next time!
We appreciated the washers and dryers for the guests' use - no charge, and the ship provides the laundry soap.
Our experience with Uniworld was wonderful - first class, but not in the least stuffy, the staff made us feel very welcome! Read Less