We were first time river cruisers (2 Caribbean cruises), and we read Cruise Critic website for help. So, we wanted to put down any notes or tips for the next reader. As we did not know the river cruise market at all, we went to through our trusted, neighborhood Costco with its guaranteed service. We picked this cruise mainly because it grabbed two USA holidays (New Years and Christmas), and covered some ground (three countries, Germany, Austria, and Hungary).
Booking with Costco was fairly easy and required several phone calls, a few e-mails and two FAXs, but that was about it. There was no mystery to the process. The pre-cruise package did not arrive within the 21 to 30 days before the cruise, so we had to call and have it FedExed to us. However, this was not a big deal - there is no work involved with the pre-cruise package – it is just your cruise ticket, luggage tags, your cruise ID Scantron cards, and itinerary book. We read the Cruise Companion PDF on the Uniworld website, and it covered almost everything.
We also did our flights through Uniworld, paid the small fee booking fee to do it through Costco (25$ x 2), and had them book the flights on the days we picked. Uniworld’s airfares could not be beat. Overall, Costco was a very good way to book; they did everything they said they would.
It should be noted that the free transfers Uniworld offers are only to and from the airport, only, on the cruise embarkation and disembarkation days, only. So, if you come in early, or by train, or not coming or going to the airport, then the free transfer does not apply, so budget for a taxi ride. We came in early because we were flying to Europe through the NE USA in the winter, and our taxi ride from the Grand Hotel in Nuremberg to boat was about 20 Euro. Some people did make the boat, but some of their luggage did not arrive for several days. This did not happen to us, but we prepared for losing a checked bag by “co-packing” (put one half of each other’s clothing and toiletries into each checked bag, that way, if you lose one bag, you still each have 50% of your clothes).
Internet access onboard was great, as we were all given Vodaphones with a 300 mg limit, which we carried with us in our pocket at all times. So, we simply logged onto the Vodaphone via WIFI on our Smart phone, and we were our own Internet “hotspot” wherever we went, onboard, or off on excursions. Now, we did not stream movies, but with the 300 MG limit we had free real time map and search capabilities, which was useful. Do not forget to get the international dialing plan for your smart phone (10$ a day for us). We just had to remember to keep the Vodaphone unit charged.
Before we left we also downloaded WHATS APP on our Smartphone which allowed us to text and send images, in real time, for free, to family in the USA. Everyone on the boat had WHATS APP. The Internet on the two computers in the ship’s lobby also worked fine when in port. The only time the boat did not have cell phone coverage was when we cruising through a few rural areas in Hungary.
The purser onboard can change dollars to Euros, and provide Euros in small change. The purser does not provide Hungarian Florints. You can change dollars or Euros to Hungarian Florints easily around Budapest. Many places will accept Euros in Budapest/Hungary, but the exchange rate they give you will not be good and can add 10% or more to the price. It is better to get Hungarian Florints, or use your credit card, IF you do not have foreign transaction fee on the credit card, in Hungary. And, remember, many restaurants in Germany, Austria, and Hungary added a 12% gratuity at the bottom of the bill, so ask /check your bill; 10 to 12% is the max tip we found in the countries we visited.
There were 2 washers and 2 dryers onboard which were free. You just ask the front desk concierge for detergent pods. This was useful, as the cruise was a longer one. Just do not wait to the last day onboard to do all your laundry.
If you sometimes take non-prescription, cold medicine or decongestants or antacids or Tylenol, bring some along with you. They have a very different concept of “over the counter” in Germany.
We thought the Uniworld cruise was impressive. While the ship was not one of Uniworlds newer “super-ships,” the ship and our room were kept spot-less, and bottled water and chocolate supplies were kept filled. The room was cleaned and the bed made every day and freshened throughout the day. Every night while we are at dinner, they placed a print-out of the next day’s itinerary on your bed with a little present of some sort. The itinerary was also available on the in room TV, which also showed your shipboard account balance, a variety of channels, and had some free movies. If you want ice in your room, ask the steward for an ice bucket, and they will keep one full of ice in your cabin.
They tended to keep the general areas of the ship quite warm, so bring a short sleeve shirt, even if it is winter. Our stateroom had individual AC which worked very well and allowed us to cool the room off. The room also had an alarm clock with and Ipod player dock, so we could play our Ipod at all times. As far as adapters, there was one US plug in the bathroom and one US plug in bedroom which accepted US plugs for phone charging / laptops. They also provided a hair dryer in the stateroom. The bathroom was only big enough for one person, but we knew that going in.
Exclusive events were very exclusive, and in all but one case, limited to the ship’s 108 passengers (the ship was not at its full capacity of 130). Some events required a sign up. Only two events required an additional fee, the Nuremberg historic tour (49 Euros each) and the New Years’ Day concert in Lichenstein Palace in Vienna (149 Euros each), and both were really amazing and well worth the fee. All of the tour guides spoke good English. It was also nice not to have to worry about tipping guides or crew, as it is all included with Uniworld, so no fumbling for money as you exit a bus.
If you want a massage onboard, sign up fast – people know when the boat is cruising, and they quickly book the masseuse up for the whole day. We did not do one. Every evening they placed two copies of the next day’s itinerary on the stateroom bed. You could also pullup the itinerary on the TV in the stateroom.
The food onboard was very good. The Uniworld cruise line hails from the luxury, Red Carnation Hotels, and many of their longstanding recipes are by its founder Bea Tollman and are quite good. You can find Bea Tollmans cookbook in the ships gift store. Breakfasts were buffet style with local sausage, bacon, eggs, French toast, omelet station, and baked beans (for the Brits and Australians). You could ask them to make a Spanish omelet or eggs Benedict, and they would whip one out.
Lunch was also buffet style, and not to be missed. Lunch always had a blend of familiar dishes for each group onboard, and also dishes very local to the area were you were cruising. We tried a nibble of each of the local dishes, and all were interesting. Food quality was quite good – the crispy skin suckling pig, the veal Wiener schnitzel, and several soups were very excellent at lunch. Lunch also had a full salad bar, and the dishes did not repeat. Twice, we did lunch ashore when touring (Stiftskeller St. Peter in Salzburg, the oldest restaurant in Europe; and Restaurant Anton in Passau) and both were excellent. We also snacked at the local holiday markets during day trips.
Dinner was sit down, with a set menu of two choices each of fresh bread, appetizer, entrée, and dessert, and very good full service from the wait-staff. The dinner menus were very good. There was always a stand-out dish. The wines which were poured each night at dinner were always from the region which the boat was traversing. Other options (steak and vegetarian and gluten free) were also always available at dinner. During the cocktail hour before dinner, the bartender in the lounge would provide a briefing on the wines to be served at dinner. As the place settings at dinner had white wine glasses, red wine glasses, and champagne glasses, we would have all three poured so we could experiment and try them all. You could also buy champagne or any wine while off the boat and they would pour it for you at dinner, free of charge. Dinner service by the wait staff was very good /crisp. In addition, the ship had room service, which we only used once.
The bar was at the front of the ship and provided excellent views while cruising. We also received a daily briefing on the events of the next day during the cocktail hour before dinner. Premium liquors such as Makers Mark, two types of Calvados, and very good whiskey were included and served at no extra cost. The bar does have one copy of a liquor menu – it sits on the corner of the bar. A full time piano player who knew 2,000 songs (American, British, Australian, German, etc.) sat at a full size piano in the bar. On several occasions local musicians came onboard to play folk music which was specific to the region in which we were cruising.
The guests onboard were primarily composed of Australians, Brits, Canadians, Americans (FL, SC, CA, PA, and TX), and New Zealanders. There was a wide range of ages, and it was certainly not, all retired, “older” people. We are in our 40s, and we were not the youngest passengers. There were full families onboard (but no little kids). They had tours for the super active (bike riding or a hike to the castle) to middle active (full morning walking tour) to less active (same sites were covered but the walking distances were more direct and short). Our boat had three Mercedes buses which followed along the river, and when we needed transport we would hop on a bus. Since it was your dedicated bus, you could leave things like jackets and umbrellas on the bus, which was quite convenient.
The ride onboard was so smooth we had to look out the window to see if we were moving. Our stateroom walls were plushly covered with fabric, which made the cabin very, very quiet. The river also cooperated, and we had excellent water levels and all locks, which we tended to go through at night, appeared to work fine.
The cruise had an excellent holiday feel. There were decorations and carols. The Captain even brought his family onboard for the holiday cruise. The Christmas markets were fun, and while we were worried we might miss them because we were there on holiday days, we did not need to worry. After Christmas, many of the Christmas markets then became New Years’ markets and were open for many days. Overall, retail remains very strong in all the cities we visited, so there were ample shopping opportunities. Overall, the cruise was a trip of a lifetime.
Stateroom 304, a category 2 room. Large window, not a French balcony, with ample closet space for all clothes for 12 days.