River Empress Cruise Review by Sam Barnhart
- Sail Date: August 2017
- Destination: Europe River
- Cabin Type: Suite with French Balcony
We have now cruised twice with both Viking and Uniworld. We even cruised this itinerary two years ago with Viking. We loved Viking and don't have anything bad to say about them but there are some differences between Uniworld and Viking that are worth considering.
The Viking longboats are very Scandinavian and all of them are exactly the same while the Uniworld boats are very European and eclectically decorated. The Viking boats hold 190 passengers and are usually full. The Uniworld Empress and several others hold 120 passengers and both of our cruises with Uniworld only had about 80 passengers on board. The obvious difference is that the crew to passenger ratio is dramatically better on Uniworld. For example, each line had one bartender and cruise director. The Uniworld crew got to know us by name almost immediately and we got a lot more attention.
The Empress is older but is absolutely perfectly maintained. Everything sparkled and worked perfectly. The technology is all up to date.
The Empress has a very unique configuration different from the Viking boats and the River Baroness we cruised on last year. It has a glass walled room on the upper deck that can be used for relaxing or eating. The bar serviced the room and were constantly bringing extras such as hot chocolate up to the room. The front deck is lower than the rest of the sudeck. This allowed passengers to sit outside when the sundeck was closed for low bridges. Because there were fewer passengers, no one was ever jockeying for chairs as on the Viking boats.
We found it interesting that Uniworld had a bus that travelled the entire itinerary with us from Amsterdam to Budapest. The driver.... darn, we forget his name... was great and got to know us. It just made for a great experience.
The excursions were excellent and we even got to tour a BMW factory. OK, so it wasn't another cathedral, but it was very interesting and not a lickety split tour. It was over two hours and we were right on the factory tour watching a roll of steel being turned into a BMW. Really fascinating.
We would be remiss in not mentioning how nice it was to not have to deal with gratuities at every turn and to have all wine and spirits included at all times....even Jonny Walker Black. On one of our Viking cruises, we were in line to pay our bill the last night. The very nice lady taking care of everything asked the lady in front of us if she wanted to add a crew and program director gratuity to hir bill. The passenger responded that she did not believe in gratuities. We also saw the same thing happen at the end of tours when it was time to hand the bus driver and tour guide a gratuity... many times we saw other passengers stiff them. We love the Uniworld inclusive plan and feel that should become the norm.
One more thing, the dining room director only had 80 passengers to deal with. My wife has an onion food allergy. At EVERY meal, he would greet my wife and actually walk around the buffets at breakfast and lunch and show here what did or did not have onions in the recipe. For dinner, he would come right to our table and review the menu with her.
Just some things to consider when choosing between Uniworld and Viking. We are signed up for a Viking Ocean cruise in 2018.
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