1st time river cruising, and after checking around, the dates suited us and we attended a dinner talk about Uniworld. The sailing date (29th April08-Days Bordeaux, Vineyards & Chateaux @ River Royale) that we took was promoted at the talk as an epicurean journey with fine wines, different from the other sailings. We booked our cruise based on that. Unfortunately, we were most disappointed to conclude that Uniworld over promises and under delivers....The wines were really not great (although these were regional wines) and what we had at the wine tastings at the wineries were much better, except for one winery in St. Emillion. On querying the sommelier on board, we were informed that the table wines were available at the supermarkets for about Euro 10-15 per bottle. Fine wines are not that cheap, no? The sommelier did produce another range on a later night, which was better. The others in our group found the wines served so unpalatable that they had to buy their own when there was an opportunity. (One of us is a great wine expert.) We were greatly disappointed with the food served. Portions were big and quality was just not there. There was hardly any french dishes/meals served except for the last night, the gala night. Hello... French epicurean meals was definitely mentioned at the presentation talk? When we complained, the restaurant manager's reply was that the cruise was catered for Americans! Well, that certainly put us in our place, as we were not Americans! There were Canadians, Australians, Mexicans, Spanish, English, Malaysians etc on board. French food is dainty & light on the servings, being more quality than quantity. In this case on the River Royale, it was all quantity that mattered. The fish dishes every night were pretty bad....one would think cruising up and down the river, we would get fresh French fish at every meal! The only thing that was actually good was the constant item on the menu every dinner, the steak, cooked American style! There was NO French dessert! We never had any escargot, truffle, fois gras, french specialites etc. White asparagus was in season which we saw in the fresh markets, huge stems, but we never saw them except finally on the gala night, on one dish(if you got lucky and ordered that dish!), and these were the skinny ones, 4 pcs only. Epicurean? So saddd... Dessert was another great disappointment as that is always my highlight, and being in France, French pastries & cakes are delightful. When did Uniworld think Bombe Alaska is a French dessert? Or brownies... you get the picture... it was American desserts all the way. And another great disappointment! You would think being in France, with all those utterly lovely bakeries, we would definitely get a variety of French breads for breakfast? NOPE! OK, the chefs were Spanish (the senior chef Manuel, who seems to be the PR guy) and a very young, junior sweet Bulgarian chef who tried very hard to cook whatever we requested. So, even if the kitchens can't cope or are unable to make those lovely French breads and pastries, all they had to do was go off the boat and get them fresh off the local bakers on the riverside! We saw quite a few, and these are beautifully delicious breads! Instead, we get American style croissants (huge and non buttery flaky - hydrogenated oils I am guessing), muffins, danish, etc... HUGE disappointment on the breakfast breads. The eggs benedict was done well, though not consistent (perhaps different chefs, different ingredients). First 3 mornings, it was creamy and delicious...after that, it was wateryyyy... Lunches were ok, nothing great, being buffet style. I enjoyed the salads and the cheeses and the Rose that was served. Funnily enough, it wasn't offered to us until the 3rd last day, when we noticed other tables drinking the Rose, then did we realised that it was served.
We checked and double checked with our Uniworld agent about the laundry services and were assured that one can do self laundry without charge. When we were on board, we found out there is NO self laundry and everything was to be handed to housekeeping and were chargeable.
The morning exercises were interesting, but only 30 min which does not do much. 30 min is just warm up! The "gym" was very small and I think there were 4 exercise equipment but no treadmill. One cross trainer and the other 3 were cycling machines.
The rooms/cabins are the smallest I've ever seen (we took the window cabin and not the balcony, as the balcony eats into the room), but we have only cruised on the big ships. For my husband to pass at the foot of the bed, I either have to hop onto the bed or sidle to the side of the bed. And I am of petite frame and he is of average built at 5ft 8inches. There are 2 upright chairs at the window next to the bed, but one would have to put both legs up on the bed as there's no place for your legs. The bathroom shower is tiny! I hate to imagine how the bigger size men and women close the shower door let alone have a shower in there! Both my husband & I have to flatten ourselves literally along the shower wall to enable the shower door to close!
Well, those are the bad points about this Uniworld cruise on River Royale.
But of course, there are lots of good points too!
The staff work really hard, doing whatever they have to do (and everyone has to lend a hand in everything except housekeeping & front desk seems to be standalone depts). The wait staff are serving at the bar, and then at the dining room and then back at the bar too! The wait staff were always cheerful and smiling, ever willing to assist or listen to suggestions/complaints and pour wines/drinks. At dinner times, one could see them working under pressure, with a few tables to wait on, so taking orders and serving and clearing took some time. We appreciated our sommelier's efforts, Nico, for trying to give us better wines at dinner but he was limited by Uniworld's regulations. He was most helpful and informative. The restaurant & bar staff were very hardworking indeed. Housekeeping was always excellent, kept the cabin very clean, topped up the lovely complimentary chocolates, and always gave extra water after my request on the 1st night. Very efficient and fast, in and out before we realised it! Toiletries were by Occitane but did Uniworld really have to screw down all the dispensers? LOL...
The tours were very much enjoyed and were good. Very well executed, very good guides (especially our Irish lady guide) who made the tours very interesting, good and interesting wineries were visited, good lunch at a chateau, the optional wine cask factory visit was greatly enjoyed, the Remy Martin excursion was really worthwhile and enjoyed by everyone. The buses were comfortable, and the drivers were good.
We greatly appreciated that Uniworld (Thanks, Pierre - Entertainment Manager) made extra effort to pick up our group upon arrival at the Bordeaux airport very late at night and a light supper was prepared at the bar for us. Due to unforeseen circumstances, our connecting flights were cancelled and we had huge problems getting another flight to Bordeaux.
Entertainment on board was limited. There were 2 nights where we were entertained by different artists who came on board to sing (and these were good) and the rest of the nights, we had a resident singer, and she was good too.
If it were not for the extremely disappointing meals & wines, I would give this cruise a 5 star rating... as it is 3.5 stars ..
It was our first river boat cruise, so we had high expectations, having heard great things from friends and family members (but they did not sail on Uniworld). We purposely chose this sailing based on the selling point and description of "epicurean meals & fine wines" and to our great disappointment, Uniworld did not deliver on these 2 points. We were so looking forward to the French meals and wines on board. Sad to say, we felt very short changed on these 2 items.
We will try the other river boat cruise companies next time, to different places and hopefully, have much better reviews to write about.
I have actually forgotten my cabin no. but it was one deck below...in the middle of the boat.