I was desperate for information about Uniworld, and this particular itinerary, after we booked more than a year in advance. So, I'll do my best to review and help others out.
After having been on several ocean cruises, our first impression was "wow, this is really small!! lol We identified our luggage next to the coach, then some of us checked in, but instead of standing in line, Ken and I went for lunch! The "light" lunch buffet was delicious and varied - a dozen different salads, meats and potatoes in steam trays, Panini sandwiches, a carvery, and the most delicious soups! If this was an introduction to Uniworld, it was already a GREAT cruise! As we sat visiting after lunch, the announcement came that our cabins were ready, no later than 2:30 or 3 pm. We were impressed... once again!
So, the stage was set for our daily routine. The restaurant had plenty of seating for everyone, and breakfast was either buffet or a menu if you wished. The buffet varied from day to day, sometimes mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and beans for breakfast, always potatoes, always bacon and sausages, always a cheese board. Lunches were buffet-style, with a different soup every day (tomato, cheese, potato, cauliflower, leek, all delicious), always a carvery always a grilled sandwich option. Always an ice cream bar, too! Yay! Several different flavors of ice cream, with a variety of toppings, to well... top off your lunch. We were very pleased with the quality and variety of the food - something for every palette. Dinners were menu-based, with a variety of dishes, and always at least one local favorite was included on the menu. You could always get a New York strip steak, chicken, or a vegetarian option, plus 5 or 6 different entrees, which changed each night. Substitutions were allowed with a smile, and all (except one) of the wait staff had a ready smile for each of us. They learned our coffee or tea preferences, whether we wanted bread with our meal, and whether we drank red or white wine. They spoke of their homes and families, but were very proud to be employed by Uniworld, and spoke highly of the company.
Our favorite bartender, Branislov, (Branny), figured us out the first day, and he never forgot. Two beers (Becks on tap all week), and he kept our glasses full. Salty bar munchies in the afternoon, and a decadent Mozart chocolate liqueur and a B & B after dinner made us a couple of very happy campers indeed! They had every brand of liquor imaginable, plus 6 or 7 different craft beers in bottles, served cold. They switched up the brands of wine, depending on the region we were sailing through, but were always open to corking a favorite if requested.
Each evening at 6:45, in the lounge before dinner, our delightful Cruise Manager Ann gave a detailed overview of the next day, which excursions would be going where, and reminders of where we would be docking, and when we would be setting sail again. We found the included excursions very well planned for the most part, with a few hiccups, but nothing earth shattering. There were a couple of popular tours (Marksburg Castle or the Bike to Boppard) that filled up quickly, so I would recommend signing up for the tours you want earlier rather than at the last minute. We did not sign up for any optional tours on board, and we were kept very busy.
The first full morning on board at 9:30 am, Cruise Manger Ann presented a Cruise Overview in the lounge to detail all activities and port excursions for the week. Don't miss this presentation! It was full of information and insights you might otherwise miss out on.
There was entertainment every afternoon in the lounge, either piano or the resident house musicians Greg and Margaret. After dinner, there was always music and dancing in the lounge, but we were usually too tired to enjoy it. One morning before Koblenz, a young German historian made a very interesting presentation on "Do I feel European", and shared his perspective on identity from the middle ages to modern days.
The lounge also had two automated 24/7 coffee/tea/ or specialty push-button drink machines available, along with sweet snacks or pastries in the early morning. The wellbeing coach Andrei led stretching or light yoga each morning at 7 am, and there were movies in the cinema available. The World Cup matches had started, so 3 games a day were shown in the cinema.
There were very few sports jackets worn by the guys, and no one felt under-dressed in a collared shirt without a tie. The ladies wore a variety from dressy pants to skirts to capris and a dressy top.
I managed to get in a load of laundry done while sailing, and the machines worked well (3 washers and 3 dryers all complimentary). Complimentary washing Tide-like pods are given readily at the reception desk, but no dryer sheets if you use them.
We took part in a "Sharing Dinner" onboard, a German family-style meal in L' Orangerie, where we were served mounds of sausages, kraut, ham, soup, pretzel logs, pork chops, salmon, potatoes, cauliflower, and a chocolate coma dessert plate. Wonderful experience, and limited in the number of guests, so sign up early.
We also signed up for a Wheelhouse Visit with 1st Captain Menno one afternoon. This was interesting, learning how the nuts and bolts of the ship work. Maximum of 10 guests on this tour, and it was only offered this once during the week.
On the last day, we came back to the ship, and found lunch in both the restaurant, and a hamburger station, which had been set up in L'Orangerie, for a change of pace. The last night's dinner was bittersweet, but delicious.
Only once did I hear the words "Gentle Walking" all week. We saw some folks really struggle getting up to the sun deck, as the elevator does not go there (there is a chair lift on one side), and struggle to walk to the bus, which has to park some distance away sometimes. We're in fairly good shape for our age, and get around well, but our knees were sore from the climbs and steep stairs. We had to raft another ship once, in Breisach, and a couple of folks really struggled to walk up and down and over the other ship. In our opinion, to do this itinerary right, you need to be able to walk a half mile without resting, stand for 15-20 minutes without sitting, and climb some steep stairs as needed.
All in all, it was a top-notch adventure with Uniworld, and we are already scheming to find another itinerary we like. We were offered a 5% discount on our next Uniworld cruise if we booked on board, but we just weren't ready to choose a date and itinerary, and pay right away. I wish you could just purchase a voucher, like some cruise lines offer, and redeem it at your leisure.
I hope you enjoyed reading along as much as I enjoyed re-living the journey.
We had chosen Deluxe Balcony cabin 431, the last cabin in the back, close to the swimming pool and spa, and right downstairs from the Leopard Bar. Sorry to say, we did not take advantage of any of those all week! We found it to be small, as expected, with two soft chairs out in the balcony area with a small table. The French balcony worked seamlessly, and we took advantage of lowering the window every day. The bathroom was, again, small, but had a nice big drawer under the sink to store toiletries, and a stand-up shower with a glass door. Lots of mirrors gave me a fright several times (ha ha). The bed was very comfortable, and we took advantage of the pillow menu to customize. Our room steward was efficient, friendly, and when I asked for a top sheet for the bed, instead of just the duvet, it was done without hesitation. We found candy and mints each day, and she was like a ghost, tidying up several times daily. We would have liked for the next day's daily program to be delivered earlier than dinnertime, but we made do. The air conditioner worked well, and cooled the room quickly if needed.
The 1-hour canal cruise was a great way to get a feel for the city, and see some beautiful architecture. We took our cruise on our own (vouchers included in the pre-cruise extension) as soon as we had dropped our bags at the hotel. We were tired, but needed to power through the day. The boat provided earphones and commentary in English along with about 10 other languages, depending on the channel you tuned to. It was very informative, not very well suited for wheelchairs or scooters. We had a passenger really struggle to board and disembark.View All 311 Canal Tour Reviews
We chose the Cologne walking discovery tour, and visited the UNESCO designated Gothic Cathedral there, which was fabulous, actually breathtaking. Our guide used the VOX system (included in your cabin), so everyone could hear. We were dropped off a couple of blocks from the cathedral, and had time on our own afterwards before meeting the guide to return to the ship.View All 184 Cologne Cathedral Reviews
Our visit to Marksburg Castle started at 10:30, so we were able to have a leisurely breakfast, then board the coach. The castle tour was very interesting, our guide using the VOX boxes. Note: This is one castle that has not been modernized. This tour could be dangerous for anyone with mobility issues - there are many irregular steps, steep inclines, holes and loose cobblestones.View All undefined undefined Reviews
We arrived at Rudesheim about 1 pm, sunburned and happy after the 31-mile stretch of castles, and departed to Castle Vollrads at 3:00 for a very informational and fun wine tasting.View All undefined undefined Reviews
We took the "Do as the Locals do" walking tour through Strasbourg, through the maze of bustling pedestrian streets, ending up at the historic cathedral, where we had free time to visit inside, then treat ourselves to a gelato before meeting the guide back on the cathedral steps to return to the ship. Others took the optional Black Forest tour, and they said it was long, but marvelous.View All undefined undefined Reviews
On the recommendation of my heros here on Cruise Critic, we signed up for the vinegar tasting at Doktorenhof, and we were so glad we did. The fruity, pungent, flavorful vinegars were nothing like we had ever tasted, and we got to meet "Mother", the hundreds-of-years-old vinegar mother, that is. We bit the bullet (80 euros), and brought back a 5-bottle sampler pack of this elixir, as they do not ship overseas. We will be dolling this out frugally!
Saturday, we met for our coach trip to the Rijksmuseum. We split into small groups of about 10, and spent 3 hours at the museum, marveling at the Dutch Masters Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Vermeer. Again, we used the VOX systems, so we could all hear our guide. Afterwards, Muriel led us to the trolley stop and showed how to get ourselves back to the hotel. Ken and I had lunch on our own, then wandered the flower market, toured the Red Light District, and scrounged through the local grocery store reading labels, our favorite "to-do" in a foreign place. We managed to get back to the hotel without incident, and met some fellow travelers for a casual dinner and a beer.View All 77 Rijksmuseum Reviews
Amsterdam: We chose the 2-day pre-cruise extension in Amsterdam through Uniworld, and we were very glad we did. Sure, we could have done it cheaper on our own. But, since we had never been to Europe, or on a river cruise, we decided up front to have peace of mind by allowing Uniworld to handle all transfers, and some excursions in Amsterdam. Sunday morning, after another delicious breakfast at the Renaissance , we, along with a dozen or 15 others, opted for an optional (79 euros each) countryside coach tour called "Polders & Windmills", led by Muriel. We went to a wonderfully friendly cheese factory and toured its completely automated dairy, then to Zaanse Schans outdoor museum. We had a guided tour of several windmills and the village, and had an opportunity to see how wooden shoes were made. Muriel bought some Dutch chocolates for us to taste, and she was so informative and fun, it was a delight! We arrived back at the hotel about 1 pm, where our bags were waiting to be loaded, and off to the ship we went!View All 61 Zaanse Schans Windmills Reviews