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32 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2013
A few years after my wife and I had a very positive experience on a Uniworld River Cruise ' we did Amsterdam to Budapest on the Rhine and the Danube on the River Princess in 2008 ' we decided to try it again, this time on ... Read More
A few years after my wife and I had a very positive experience on a Uniworld River Cruise ' we did Amsterdam to Budapest on the Rhine and the Danube on the River Princess in 2008 ' we decided to try it again, this time on Russia's waterways linking Moscow to St. Petersburg. Uniworld has only one ship running this schedule ' the River Victoria ' and you can either choose to go from Moscow to St. Pete's or the reverse. In its brochure, Uniworld warns would be customers that since they don't own the ship and are not in total control of how some of the activities are conducted, travelers may find that the amenities 'may differ from those of a Uniworld company-owned ship'. Our experience from this cruise, however, is that in terms of comfort and services, the River Victoria meets and even surpasses the levels of comfort and quality of services on other cruise ships. For one, the River Victoria is considerably larger than most cruise ships on the Rhine and Danube ' there are no low bridges to deal with on the Russian waterways ' which provides more comfort and room to move around (for example, the tables in the dining room are not so tightly packed on the River Victoria); the ratio of staff to guests is almost double on the River Victoria compared to the other Uniworld cruise ships (110 staff to 202 guests on the River Victoria vs. 41 staff to 130 guests on the other ships). This, of course, reflects on the level of service provided. The staterooms are not larger on the River Victoria than on the other ships, but where there is a difference is that on the two upper decks, the Volga and the Neva, the staterooms come with oversized (about 12 x 8 ft) private balconies. These balconies were originally part of the public decks and were divided up into private balconies when the ship was remodeled in 2011. It is hard to imagine a cruise that would offer better food in terms of variety and taste than what was provided for us on the River Victoria ' we were even served caviar and Champagne for breakfast! It is true that many of the menu items are prepared with plenty of cream, which is great for the palate, but perhaps not so great for the rest of the body ' but it's only for two weeks! The quality of the service in the dining room is also worth noting. The staff is made up of young Russian college students who are mostly studying languages; they are well trained, always very polite and extremely keen to provide the best service possible. They seemed to work 24 hours a day but they were always smiling and very cordial. As for the cruise itself, spending three days visiting the two mega cities at each end, Moscow and St. Petersburg, certainly makes the entire trip worthwhile. However, guests should not expect the same spectacular scenery along the Imperial Waterways of Russia that one finds along the Rhine or the Danube. Northern Russia is flat and mostly undeveloped with a relatively low population density. The waterways run mostly through pristine forest with little sign of human activity. There are a few villages along the way but most are uninteresting and appear rather run down. There are a few exceptions, including the city of Yaroslavl on the Volga and Kizhi Island on Lake Onega. These are real gems; both places are important historical centers with spectacular architecture, including colourful onion-domed churches, and represent the two most interesting shore excursions along the waterways. The other three stops, Uglich, Kirillov and Mandrogi, are interesting but not nearly as attractive as the two mentioned above. Some visitors regard Mandrogi as a tourist trap due to the large number of souvenir shops, while others complain about the rainy weather that often prevails here as well as the abundance of mosquitoes. We were blessed with perfect weather on the day we went and not a single mosquito (this was in late August which may be the best time to go to avoid the bugs). I should add that the tour guides, all Russians, were very knowledgeable about the history and other facets of what they were guiding us through. All spoke English well and with the Quietvox Transmitter System provided, it was very easy to follow what was going on even at a distance. In addition to the numerous cruise ships that sail these waterways ' cruise ships that all look alike, at least on the outside ' you will see many other types of ships including tankers and bulk carriers. These waterways constitute a major commercial artery linking the Baltic and St. Petersburg with Moscow and all the cities and towns along the Volga as far south as the Caspian sea. So, if you enjoy watching large ocean-going ships up close, it may compensate for the lack of great scenery.   Read Less
Sail Date: June 2011
We just returned (a few pounds heavier, and heads still spinning) from a fabulous experience on Uniworld's SS Antoinette from Amsterdam to Basel. Each and every crew member was pleasant, gracious, and on a mission to show the ... Read More
We just returned (a few pounds heavier, and heads still spinning) from a fabulous experience on Uniworld's SS Antoinette from Amsterdam to Basel. Each and every crew member was pleasant, gracious, and on a mission to show the guests a great time. The food was fabulous! There were sumptuous breakfast and lunch buffets and multi-course plated dinners with freely flowing wine. The ship is beautifully decorated and immaculately clean. There were a couple first-season technical glitches (TV system took a couple days to settle down), but one could tell that these issues were being actively addressed and didn't detract from the experience in any way. After all, who wants to watch television when around every bend in the river is another photo-op of a story-book castle? There is wifi available, but don't plan on heavy-duty internet access through the satelite system - particularly during heavy use periods. The only other thing of note is that the Rhine river level is lower due to lack of rain and we had to be bussed into two cities (approx 20 minutes) because the Antoinette wasn't able to go as fast in the low waters. No real issues or inconvenience at all. The cruise offered four optional tours (35-59 Euros PP each). Heidleberg and Marksburg were great and worth the price. Those who attended the optional Rudesheim Dinner reported that they really had a fun time. The tours guides were universally knowledgeable, kept a good pace, and were pleasant throughout. There are accommodations for those who had trouble keeping up the pace, while allowing them to have an enjoyable experience. Bring good walking shoes, a high-capacity memory card for pictures/videos, a small notebook to jot down interesting facts (and to correlate pictures with names of castles & churches), and I'd recommend buying the fold-out "Long Rhine Tour" (available at the front desk) to help identify the various locations as you cruise the castle stretch of the Rhine. There's just way too much to remember. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2011
We can't gush enough about the Antoinette and the service we received there. The staff was so helpful and friendly, including accommodating my husband's serious food allergy (the chef even baked my husband a cake for his ... Read More
We can't gush enough about the Antoinette and the service we received there. The staff was so helpful and friendly, including accommodating my husband's serious food allergy (the chef even baked my husband a cake for his birthday! first time he's ever been brought a cake and had waiters sing to him in a restaurant -- usually if he's going to have a cake, I have to bake it!). We were very comfortable in our cabin, and also really enjoyed playing board games in the pretty lounge, basking on the sun deck (the "Romantic Rhine" stretch of cruising with all the castles was really incredible), and swimming in the tiny pool (be warned that it is usually quite cold). We thought we'd be really excited about the movie theater, but we didn't want to see any of the movies being shown there. The food was great, especially the "epicurean dinner" night. We wished there were tables for 2, but had nice conversations with the other passengers who sat with us (at breakfast and lunch we were usually able to have a table to ourselves). The itinerary itself was not the big draw for us, the boat was. We did a lot of wandering on our own, and found Koblenz and Strasbourg to be the most interesting towns to see by walking around. Rudesheim was the least interesting of the places we stopped. The fitness center is small but nicely equipped, with an elliptical machine, a treadmill, a rowing machine, yoga mats, some free weights, a mysterious vibrating platform that confused me, and three stationary bikes, one recumbent. The ceiling is low and the treadmill is a bit tall, so people taller than me (I'm 5'9") would not be able to use it without bumping their heads! I don't see a place to add pictures to this review, but will post on the forum and link to pictures. We recommend taking a few days beforehand in Amsterdam and we found it easy to get to the boat on our own; however, arriving in Basel was a little difficult as we were taking the tram to the train station and the tram ticket dispenser wouldn't take paper bills, and it was hard to find a place to get change because everything is closed on Sundays. All in all, highly, highly recommended. We had an amazing time. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2011
Antoinette was on return leg of her maiden voyage from Basle to Amsterdam, weather was great & although we are seasoned cruisers we had never before considered a short river cruise. Our fellow passengers were mainly from USA & ... Read More
Antoinette was on return leg of her maiden voyage from Basle to Amsterdam, weather was great & although we are seasoned cruisers we had never before considered a short river cruise. Our fellow passengers were mainly from USA & Canada with a few from Ausralia & Sth Africa. We were as far as we know the only Europeans on board. We could hardly have chosen better. Compared to big ships our cabin was much smaller than expected but really lovely. As we had expected the Antoinette had a few minor "settling in" problems e.g. two of our three TV's didn't work, light fittings were not all working, a cupboard door came off. All except TV's were fixed within an hour. The bedding & furnishings were really nice & were complimented by a crysal chandelier hanging over our bed. Staff were without exception efficient, attentive & all round service was A1. Menus were restricted for choice compared to the big liners but quality was beyond compare. Excursions were excellent as were the tour guides. One thing we would like to see on other cruises was the Uniworld gratuities policy of recommending a gratuity to the cruise director & another for all other staff. This is done anonymously & discreetly but the recommended tips were perhaps inadequate & we were more than happy to give a few special people a little individual contribution. All in all it was a great intro. to the Rhine & we cannot wait to go again asap Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2010
We arrived on December 21st at about 8pm, having been delayed by weather. We were dropped at the curb by our cab, and left to pull our luggage down to the ship, up the gangway, and after finding the entry button, into the lobby. We were ... Read More
We arrived on December 21st at about 8pm, having been delayed by weather. We were dropped at the curb by our cab, and left to pull our luggage down to the ship, up the gangway, and after finding the entry button, into the lobby. We were surprised to find no sense of security and were unchallenged. Once we made it into the lobby, however, the service was quick and efficient and we were soon in our cabin. The cabin space was small but adequate. Decor was as pictured in the brochures and online, but somehow not as over the top as it appears and on the whole quite pleasant. The bed was very comfortable. There was limited storage space for clothing, and no place to hang a long garment; I'd have sacrificed the desk for more closet space. Our one complaint about the cabin was water temperature. On 3 separate days we had cold showers; albeit in each case maybe a little late (8am). We suspect that there is a limited hot water capacity. The most offensive part of this, however, was that when we reported it first they questioned if we knew how to operate a shower (we're quite familiar with these controls, and the sink was also cold), and then told by the engineer that it couldn't possibly happen. The public rooms were nice. I liked the scale of the ship, having just previously sailed on the Oasis of the Seas, and enjoyed being able to walk anywhere in a few seconds. We liked the on-board entertainment, especially the guest performers. We felt that they were not given a very professional introduction by the cruise director. The dining room food was generally good; sometimes excellent, sometimes not great. The service was also mixed. Many of the service staff seemed to resent being in a service position - often surly. The bar waiter, Gabor, was a pleasant exception - he seemed to truly enjoy his job - always greeting us by name, remembering our beverage choices and offering exceptional service. The excursions were generally good. Can't beat ancient castles and cathedrals for North Americans where "old" is 100 years. On the whole, I think Uniworld made a good effort to arrange activities given the timing (Christmas eve, Christmas day). We didn't like being dropped in Heidelberg to shop when the shops were closing at 2pm and having to wait around for the bus. We were most disappointed by the tour director. We thought he was generally disorganized and claimed to be busy trying to manage lost luggage - not sure why that was his job. On one occasion, the "VOX" box wasn't working and his answer was "stand close to the guide. I guess we were the slow group that he didn't tolerate since in Rudesheim he walked on ahead leaving a few slower walkers on their own to try and find the museum. My overall reaction: Europe was magnificent, river cruising is an individual taste (I liked the scale, my wife preferred the large ocean cruise ships), but we were disappointed enough in the service on this particular ship that we would likely not choose Uniworld again. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: October 2010
This is first river cruise, and probably the last! Get to fly home tomorrow! The brochure was very misleading and this has been very frustrating for all aboard. The internet has been "not working" for 95% of the cruise. I've ... Read More
This is first river cruise, and probably the last! Get to fly home tomorrow! The brochure was very misleading and this has been very frustrating for all aboard. The internet has been "not working" for 95% of the cruise. I've only been able to log on between 3 and 5 A.M each morning. The cruise line has done nothing to help and just given flimsy excuses. It could've offered a 10-15 minute ship to shore phone credit so travellers could contact loved ones, etc. I believe river cruises are meant for those folks that are older, need nothing but a lounge and a bar while being herded around. Here are the main differences I noted. 1. No evening entertainment or shows, AT ALL. 2. Excursions are nearly non-existent with only choice in most ports is to take the ship offered excursion, or stay on the ship! 3. Eat only at the 3 scheduled meal times. No pizza spot, dessert spot or other offerings. The staff was great and the ship was clean and organized. After 33 cruises, I'll stick to ocean cruises which have more activities, excursion options etc. Maybe when I'm 90, I'll try this style. I'm no rookie at cruising. I'm 62, have visited 92 countries and taken 33 cruises. Viper Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2010
July 11-18, 2010, Arles to Chalon sur Saone After 56 ocean cruises, my wife and I decided to try a river cruise. We chose Burgundy and Provence because we especially like red wine, and the only white wine my wife likes has bubbles in it! ... Read More
July 11-18, 2010, Arles to Chalon sur Saone After 56 ocean cruises, my wife and I decided to try a river cruise. We chose Burgundy and Provence because we especially like red wine, and the only white wine my wife likes has bubbles in it! We are wine fans, but were not as familiar with the regions of France, so this itinerary was just right....through the heart of some of the best red wine regions in France. We flew to Marsailles and were met outside customs by the Uniworld representative a little after 10am, and advised that the bus transfer to the ship would be at 11am. We relaxed in the terminal enjoying coffee and french bread and at 11 went looking for the Uniworld bus. Unable to find it, we checked with the Information booth and she advised they left at 10:40. They called Uniworld and the representative arrived and told us they were waiting for a flight due about noon. We finally boarded the bus about 12:40 and arrived at the ship in Arles a bit after 2pm. The embarkation processing was very prompt and we were in a cabin quickly. The luggage arrived a few minutes later. The ship, new in 2006, has a crew of 34, and a capacity of 134. On this sailing there were 125 passengers. The crew are multi-tasked on embarkation and debarkation day, loading and delivering. The ship has one elevator, so it could accommodate a wheelchair, but it would not be able to go up to the sun deck. The sun deck has hot tub aft, and many chairs, tables, and chaise lounges. There are two large awnings, but they must be lowered to pass under some bridges. There are 3 passenger decks, the bottom with portholes, the middle deck with windows, and the top deck has French balconies for each cabin, with a glass door that opens and you can actually step out about 2 feet to a railing. That is what we had booked. Considering they urged us to travel with one piece of luggage and a carryon, the storage was adequate. The bathroom was adequate with a glass enclosed shower. There was a 110 volt razor outlet in the bathroom, and a 110 volt outlet on the dressing table in the cabin. A hair dryer was provided. Bottled water was complimentary. The middle deck is where the dining room is located. Dining is buffet style for breakfast and lunch, and open seating for diner, with tables for 2, 4, 6, and 8. Breakfast included French pastry, omelets to order, a rotating daily choice of fruit filled crepes, or pancakes or French toast. Dairy products and fresh fruit were available. Lunch had salads, hot entrees, small pre-made sandwiches, pasta, and a carving station. Soup was available to order from the waiters. If you sit in the same area each time, you will have the same wait staff. At dinner they offered a 5 course menu with a choice of 2 entrees. My wife, who prefers fish, was happy to be offered halibut, grouper, John Dory, dorado, pike, salmon, and trout. Meat entrees included pork loin, strip steak, lamb shank, veal filet mignon, chicken, beef tournedos, and rabbit. Steak, chicken and salmon were always available as options. This was an Epicurean Adventurer theme, and local recipes, food and wine were featured. Wine at dinner is complimentary, and ranged from Cote du Rhone (Syrah), to merlot, pinot noir from Burgundy, as well as several white wines from the regions. There is also a wine list available with wines for purchase. Dinner was generally at 7pm. I was impressed that at dinner the servings were not oversized. Sometimes on ocean cruises, if I eat the full 5 course meal, I'm stuffed! The portions served in the river cruise were modest and I didn't feel I had overeaten at any time. They also could accommodate special requests at dinner. Entertainment was limited to a pianist and small dance floor in the lounge on the top deck, where a bar is open all day, and continental breakfast and light lunch and tea are available during the day. On two evenings after dinner, a local pianist and vocalist played, and one afternoon a demonstration of silk painting was available. But with a city every day, walking excursions, and fine dining, not much more was needed. There was a flat screen television in the cabin with CNN, BBC, Sky News, and some movies. There is also a fitness room with 2 machines, a massage area, and a sauna, located aft on the top deck, just below the hot tub. Just outside the dining room on the middle deck is a boutique open a few hours a day, and a lounge with 2 computer stations, but no printer. Internet was available for 15 Euros for unlimited time during the week, and the satellite was generally available. In the lounge is a machine that makes instant beverages, including expresso, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. It is available 24 hours a day. There are also 6 bicycles available at no charge that can be used or reserved. They are beach cruiser style but have hand brakes and gears. We did use them in Lyon, the largest city visited during the cruise, to get around in the afternoon. Because the ship docks right in the towns, my wife was able to get up early and walk 5 miles each morning feeling safe and getting an early look at the new towns. Each evening before dinner they have a short presentation about the next day's agenda, including what time the morning excursions would depart. Each day there was a free excursion, all but two walking through the town with a local English speaking guide and a AudioVox set with earphones so we could hear the guide without being right next to them. We would walk through the area, narrated by the guide, and generally there was some time to walk independently before returning with the group, or we could remain on our own. One of the free excursions was by bus where we rode through the Burgundy vineyard areas and visited Beaune, followed by time on our own in the Saturday market, and a ride back. There are four optional afternoon tours available, at reasonable cost, that included a visit to an olive farm, a visit to lavender fields, a visit to a Roman aqueduct and wine tasting in Chateauneuf de Pape, a visit to a working 17th century chateau followed by Burgundy wine tasting, The vessel accounts for passenger leaving and returning to the ship by issuing cards for each person in the cabin. You collect your cards at the purser's desk when you leave, and return them when you return. The mix of passengers ranged from a credentialed chef from a community college in Illinois with a group of students, a group of 20-30 year olds, a good number of 60 somethings from England and Australia, and the rest North Americans, and one German couple. On Monday in Arles we had an informative lecture about Van Gogh, who lived there for 2 years and painted "Starry Night" and others there, before the morning excursion visited a Roman amphitheater, where they still hold bull fights, and other local sites. In the afternoon we walked around the town again, and stopped at a supermarket to purchase wine to take back aboard. We had a day and a half in Arles. On Tuesday we were in Avignon, a walled city to where the popes in the 1300's had fled from Italy and built a place for the popes. It is open for touring and our morning walking tour went into the walled city and to the palace. There was a room where the wines of the area were available for tasting or purchase. The tour then visited an indoor market where every kind of local fruit, fish, meat and cheese was available. In the afternoon we went on the optional tour by bus to the Roman aqueduct and the wine tasting at a winery in Chateauneuf de Pape. Wednesday we were in Viviers and the morning walking tour into this medieval village ended with an organ recital in St Vincent Cathedral. Thursday the ship was berthed in Tain L'Hermitage. The morning tour walked to a local winery for a tour, explanation and wine tasting. We then continued across the river on a pedestrian bridge to Tournon for a guided walking tour. Some of the vineyards on the hillsides here, especially on the L'Hermitage side, were originally planted by the Romans. Friday we berthed in Lyon, the second largest city in France and a city known for its food. The morning tour was by bus to the basilica which is Lyon's hallmark church overlooking the city, and narrated drive through the city. After lunch we rode bicycles back into the town, where we spent several hours. The ship is required to pass through about 10 or more locks sailing up-river on the Rhone and Saone rivers, at least one of which raises the ship 75 feet. Saturday we arrived in Chalon sur Saone, and in the morning traveled by bus through the Burgundy countryside to Beaune. It is a historic, walled city that for centuries has been at the heart of France's wine trade. It was, and still is, an affluent city. The land the vineyards are on is very expensive, and the wines produced, some of the best in France, are auctioned here. We had a guided tour through th Hospices de Beaune, a hospital built to serve the indigent centuries ago, and was still operated until the 1970's. It is now set up as a museum. We were then free to spend an hour on our own in the Saturday market, where vendors offered samples of cheese, sausage, and other wares. We purchased wine for our coming visit to Paris there, including an outstanding local sparkling white wine, a cremant, and a pinot noir. In the afternoon we walked throughout Chalon sur Saone visiting shops, watching two wedding parties, and sampling some wine. There is no need to put luggage out the last night. On Sunday, breakfast was available early for those with early departures. They arranged taxi for us and two other couples that were taking a train, and moved our luggage to the pier for the taxi at 7:45am. The taxi was only 12 euros for 3 couples and all out luggage. I had purchased tickets online from Rail Europe in advance for a train from Chalon to Dijon, and a high speed train with reserved seats from Dijon to Paris Lyon station for $69 per person. There was a long queue for taxis at the Paris Lyon station, but we were at our hotel by 2 pm. I had selected a hotel on the Left Bank in the Latin Quarter, just blocks from Notre Dame Cathedral, a brand new Holiday Inn with ultra modern room and bathroom treatments, and a refrigerator in the room. It was a block from Rue St Michele and literally dozens of bistros and a french bakery was half a block away. Also nearby was a bank, the BNP Paribas, with ATM's that Bank of America had advised me in advance would charge no ATM fee for using BofA debit cards to get Euros. I used this bank any time in France I needed Euros, and there were branches all over. With just 2 days in Paris we elected to purchase a 2 day hop-on/hop-off bus ticket for 32 Euros per person. There are 4 routes, and we chose the Paris Grand Tour route on Sunday, which included Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Eiffel Tower, and much more. With the Louvre alone needing most of a day, we left entry for another trip. The other routes we rode on Monday included the Montemarte Grand Boulevards, with a view of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Moulon Rouge, and fashionable shopping districts. Next was the Blue route which included the site of the Bastille Monument, and Bercy, including the national library, the sports stadium, city hall, and the train station we had arrived at. Last was the Orange, Montparnasse - St-Germain route which included the Latin Quarter, Luxembourg Gardens, the Pantheon, and more. We ate the first evening in a bistro. Most offer a 3 course fixed price menu for about 14.50 euros per person. The second evening , we chose a small very nice restaurant overlooking the Seine and Notre Dame and paid a bit more, which with a bottle of Rhone wine ran about the same as a nice restaurant in the US. After dinner, we walked across the Seine, past Notre Dame to a bridge where we could see the Eiffel tower lit at night, and saw the hourly light show at midnight. We had arranged a private shuttle through the hotel from the hotel to the airport, about 20 miles away, about 40 minutes in traffic, and 60 euros. We look back on this trip as truly memorable. We loved the personal attention on the small ship, berthing in town, walking through the small towns sampling wines and visiting markets, and everything about Paris. And I learned much more about French wines and wine production requirements there. We'll do it again, perhaps Paris and Normandy next. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
The company we chose was Uniworld - based on recommendations from friends and some special 'last minute' discounts for cruises starting in September. The 17-day cruise we eventually signed up for was on the "River ... Read More
The company we chose was Uniworld - based on recommendations from friends and some special 'last minute' discounts for cruises starting in September. The 17-day cruise we eventually signed up for was on the "River Princess" from Paris to Vienna, including 2 nights in a hotel in Paris at the start, the coach transfer from Paris to Trier where the 'river' part began, and the 15 nights on the 'boat' (this is the term Uniworld uses for its vessels, and I will do likewise). This boat can accommodate a maximum of 136 passengers. The cruise passed through four rivers - the Mosel, Rhine, Main and Danube, and one canal - the Main-Danube canal built as recently as 1992. In summary, we couldn't have asked for more! Uniworld claims to be a "boutique" operation, and while there is no ready definition of what this means, they really lived up to our expectations of personal service and catering to individual needs - which the big ocean cruise lines cannot possibly match - or even come close to. If you want to find out the details which led us to this conclusion, please read on. Staterooms: Definitely smaller than on an ocean cruiser, but all the basics were there and the quality of the beds, sheets, duvets and towels couldn't have been better. The toiletries provided were from L'Óccitane and the shower mixer was thermostatically controlled (a step up from the common hot/cold mixers which never seem to be able to maintain a constant temperature). There were five categories of staterooms starting from Cat 1 to Cat 5 and included 4 suites. All staterooms were the same size (except for the suites) and the main difference was deck level and the size of the window - ranging from a shoulder high narrow window on Cat 4 and 5, to a floor to ceiling picture window in Cat 1. We had a Cat 4 stateroom on the lowest deck and did not hear any engine noise or vibration, and hardly felt any movement. The only 'disturbance' came from fellow passengers having noisy conversations in the passage way! Facilities: The boat had excellent facilities including a laundry (you pay only for the detergent), a fitness centre with a sauna and 3 exercise machines (didn't seem to be used much, especially considering the amount of pastries consumed!), free bicycles for riding at each port, a well-equipped and reasonably priced shop, and 24-hour coffee and tea. Internet: The most popular service on the boat seemed to be the on-board internet. The charge was very reasonable - €20 for unlimited use over 14 days. Having signed up, you could use either one of the boat's two terminals or log-in with your laptop using WiFi. The WiFi was only available at the front of the ship and not from staterooms. This is probably the only service that could be improved - the speed of the internet connection was consistently slow and often unreliable. While being able to provide any internet at all on a moving vessel is commendable - considering the difficult terrain, frequent entry into locks, passing under bridges, and passage through some almost uninhabited stretches of river - there were times when even in the middle of cities, the internet was down. The boat seemed to rely on satellite links for the data connection; perhaps, a combination of 3G and satellite may bring about an improvement, since our GSM mobile phones always had a good signal. Extending WiFi coverage to all the cabins and improving the speed and reliability of internet will be a worthwhile investment for the company. Entertainment: The on-board musician Fredy provided excellent music in the evenings and the small dancing area was frequently occupied. He had an excellent repertoire from waltz, to rumba, to fast and furious disco and rock. On some 4 occasions a local musician came on board for a short performance. They were all good and gave Fredy a well earned break - and the passengers some variety. On one evening, I hasten to add, when the ship was docked for the night, the Captain assisted Fredy with some good Satchmo imitations. Excursions: At every city or town visited (including Paris) there was some kind of included tour - making a total of 15. Often it was a walking tour, sometimes a bus tour, and once a wine-tasting expedition. Each tour was allocated a specialist local expert guide - and all tours included the use of a Quietvox receiver for each participant - which meant that every word was heard. The guides, without exception, were all very knowledgeable, and the majority spoke good English. These 'íncluded' tours sometimes involved a fee, which Uniworld always paid. In addition to the included tours, Uniworld offered some 'optional' tours which had to be paid for. There was no pressure at all to join these and some passengers only did 2 or 3. We joined two of these optionals - and they were really fantastic value for money. For instance, there was a concert at the Kusalon, Vienna, on the last night which cost €49 each and this amount included return transport by coach, entry ticket to the concert, and a glass of wine during the intermission. The return coach journey back to the boat was diverted to include a mini Vienna-by-night tour to re-visit some of the city's main sights at night. To top it off, on return to the boat there was a lovely cup of hot goulash soup and a bread roll waiting! It was touches like this that made us very appreciative of Uniworld's policy of never cutting corners, and instead of adding many extra small but generous touches throughout the journey. Cruise Manager: We all know what a difference the experience, knowledge, dedication, and passion of the CM contributes to the experience. The CM on our cruise was Piet who not only excelled in all these departments but also had a cheeky sense of humour! He took it upon himself to be ever present on all the tours and was never impatient with the many questions and difficult situations that arose. For example, when a passenger developed a severe eye infection, he not only arranged for the passenger to be seen by a doctor and an eye specialist at the next port - but also went along to act as interpreter during the consultations. Whenever the boat traversed an area with some historical or other significance, he was always in the wheel-house giving a commentary. Meals: In the restaurant, Uniworld again proved they had every right to call themselves 'boutique'. The breakfast buffet had a choice which was equivalent to a 5-star hotel. And every day there was a made-to-order specialty - on one day it was my all time breakfast favourite - Eggs Benedict (If this was a specially planned manoeuvre to hook this particular traveler - they certainly succeeded!). Wine was included with dinner - and it wasn't just basic wines - it was always high quality - according to some of the wine connoisseurs on board (I am sadly not a wine drinker). Seating was open plan - which meant you often shared a table with complete strangers. And by midway, you had established some good friends from the USA, Australia and Canada. Tipping: We have never been fans of the ocean cruise liners' policy of debiting your onboard account a set amount for gratuities (Carnival claimed the daily rate was set with the help of Amex??) and you were free either to lower or to increase by visiting the Purser's Desk at the end of the cruise. The Uniworld policy is to suggest some daily rates and then leave it to individual guests how much they contributed - in cash, and in two envelopes - one to be shared by the whole crew and the other for the CM. These envelopes were dropped into a box at reception on the last day; the whole process being quite anonymous. This is by far a fairer method but would probably favour those who wanted to sneakily opt out and not partake in this gesture of appreciation for a job well done. While I have no idea what the final outcome was on our cruise, there was much evidence of passengers passing folded notes to frontline staff in all departments in the last 2 days of the journey. Without exception, every staff member we came across showed genuine concern and went out of their way to meet our needs. For example, when it became known I only liked ice cream for dessert - it simply appeared in front of me at every meal - irrespective of what exotic dessert was on the menu. Timing: Deciding on how much time to spend at each port, whether to visit one or two places each day, whether to sail at night or by day, and at what time to leave a port, are some of the tricky decisions a river cruise operator has to make. Uniworld seems to have mastered this well. For instance, those parts of the river with scenic stretches - with important castles, or the vineyards of the Wachau valley - were traversed during the day, and at the ports that had some good nightlife (e.g. beer halls in Rudesheim) departure times allowed plenty of time for late night revelers to get back on board (e.g. at Rudesheim, the boat left at 1 a.m. and not at the usual time of 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.). This is another example of Uniworld putting the passengers' needs as the first priority. While it is hard to compare ocean and river cruises, there is definitely huge advantages in being on a small boat with a small number of fellow passengers - and having the thrill of being in a different place every day. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2009
We are home from a very enjoyable first river cruise. Thank you to all of the Cruise Critic Board members whose posts gave us the information we needed to plan our first river cruise. We have cruised ocean going vessels with passenger ... Read More
We are home from a very enjoyable first river cruise. Thank you to all of the Cruise Critic Board members whose posts gave us the information we needed to plan our first river cruise. We have cruised ocean going vessels with passenger sizes of 920 to several thousand. I was concerned that a very small ship with limited on board and evening activity options would not suit us. I was wrong. River cruising is an entirely different kind of cruising than ocean cruising. Obviously, there are no "sea days" (which we love), there are limited dining and entertainment options, but none of these things are disadvantages. To me, comparing the two types of cruising is truely an apples to oranges excercise. We now know that we love both. Ship: The River Princess was very nicely appointed. The cabins were well appointed. Comfortable bedding, wonderful linens, towels, bath amenities. The cabins were big enough to not feel crowded. One of the reasons I chose Uniworld was because of their advertised "hotel style" beds. In the past, we have resorted to bringing foam "egg crate" matress pads on a couple of ocean cruises (Celebrity and Princess) because of past experience with very uncomfortable bed. Comfortable beds have been a plus on Holland America and Crystal and I understand that more cruise lines are upgrading their matresses. As usual, a "queen" is actually the two twins arranged so they are together. Uniworld had an interesting European touch: Each "side" had its own wonderfully comfortable duvet covered comforter (no top sheet). No tugging of the blanket You can read many descriptions about the ship on Uniworld's site. Due to its size, everything was convenient. Stairs were mostly "half flights" arranged like a split level house. The cabin had a 110v outlet next to the bed - perfect for recharging the camera, cell phone, ipod, etc. The chocolates were WONDERFUL. The water carafe and water bottles (for use on shore) were very convenient. Water pressure was excellent. Our cabin had an easy to set alarm clock, but I was glad I had mine so I could set two alarms. Each cabin had a safe. We had two side chairs and a small table. There was good sound proofing between the cabins, something that has been a problem on some ocean cruises. The dining room was beautifully appointed with comfortable chairs (an important aspect of enjoying a leisurely meal). The lounge was a great place to relax, watch the scenery, listen to port talks, visit, etc. The upper deck was well enjoyed. It was a spectacular place to be. On our particular cruise, however, there were times that only a portion of it (in front of the wheelhouse) could be used because of low bridges. It is pretty cool to watch them lower the wheelhouse. The food: Very well done. We really enjoyed our leisurely dinners, which included unlimited wine (or beer). There was also a very nice, reasonably priced wine list, but the included wine was well selected and we never had the need to purchase a different bottle. Sometimes I would start with the white wine and switch to the red if that better suited my appetizer and entree choice. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style. As has been mentioned previously on this board, the dessert selections at lunch were fantastic. On several days, it made sense to eat lunch on shore (at our expense). I do wish we had chosen a to eat dinner on shore in Rudesheim, we found a lot of tempting menus when we disembarked, but we had just finished dinner on board. Instead, we had a wonderful Rudesheimer coffee at a beergarden and enjoyed ourselves greatly. The itinerary: WOW. I can't imagine a better itinerary, but I am looking forward to testing this in future years on future river cruises. We cruised the Mosel, Rhine, and Main rivers (and canal). Beautiful scenery, beautiful towns. We took all of the included walking and bus tours. I cannot give enough praise to Uniworld's organization, coordination and adaptablility. What a premium experience. The group sizes were small. We were usually divided into 5 groups, with one group specified for those who desired or needed a slower pace. One of our guides was average, all of the rest were fabulous; interesting, informative and engaging and exceeded our experience with non Uniworld guides. The Vox system for hearing our guides made the tours easier and more enjoyable (and allowed us to pay attention to what we wanted to linger over without missing any information from our guide or having the stress of "keeping up"). It was wonderful to just walk of the ship and get started. No lines, no waiting for tenders. Our cruise director, Wouter, was the best cruise director we have ever had. He looked after our very varied group with great skill, friendliness and even handedness. He made sure that everyone had and understood all of the information we needed to optimize our vacation experience. He treated us as a group of individuals, not as a "group". He is truly an accomplished travel professional. We enjoyed our two nights in Paris, explored a lot. We were not in the main hotel with most of the group (the Pullman). There were about 25-30 of us at Le Meridien Montparnasse. Both locations have their own advantages. The River Princess staff arranged for taxis (of course, at our expense, but what a convenience) on our disembarkation morning for those of us not taking the included transfer to the Nuremberg airport. We went to the train station and took the train to Munich and stayed there for 2 nights. That way we got to see another city and were able to get a direct flight to Atlanta, changing just once to get home. We had been completely spoiled by Uniworld though! We had a great time in Munich but we were "on our own" after having become quite accustomed to the Uniworld way We took the optional Bamberg Beer experience afternoon tour. Well worth it and what a fun time, particularly if you, like us, are beer and wurst lovers. Crew: One word: Wonderful! We enjoyed our first river cruise. Loved the casual atmosphere, the "port intensive" nature of the cruise. Sometimes, when we take an ocean cruise, we do it just to relax....the ship itself is our destination. Our river cruise on the River Princess was a great way to actually travel, to see and experience new things. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2009
My family and I have taken four ocean cruises. All have been on first rate huge cruise lines such as Princess and Disney. We enjoy them for the way we feel pampered and the quality of the staterooms and services. So it was with some ... Read More
My family and I have taken four ocean cruises. All have been on first rate huge cruise lines such as Princess and Disney. We enjoy them for the way we feel pampered and the quality of the staterooms and services. So it was with some trepidation that we decided to try a river cruise. Would we have the same comfort? Would the boats be too small? Would the rooms be too small and hence uncomfortable? Conclusion: Despite some drawbacks, we enjoyed the river cruise more than ocean cruises. The rooms on the River Royale were certainly large enough. The did an excellent job of designing the rooms so that one could easily put things away, stow luggage and live relatively comfortably for the cruise. So, if you're worried about feeling cooped up...don't worry. We enjoyed the frequency of the stops and the amount of time in port. On an ocean cruse you can have a whole day or more on the ship. That can be fine, we're not complaining about that. But, if you're going to travel, the time might be better spent actually seeing as many sites as possible. Also, the fact that the river cruises are smaller boats helps with the intimacy of the experience. When we did our ocean cruising, we never met anyone. On the river cruise we spent dinner times with a variety of people we met aboard. The same is true of the staff. Ocean cruises have friendly and attentive staff members. But on a river cruise, you actually get to chat with them and get to know them. While smaller and perhaps a lower guest to staff ration, our river cruise provided excellent service. Everything was taken care of promptly and with great friendliness. We dislike the embarkation craziness of ocean cruising. Waiting in long lines with unresponsive check in personnel at the start of an ocean cruise is awful. That doesn't happen on a small boat. Incomprehensively, our cruise line has a rigid and customer unfriendly airport to transfer policy. The straightened it out...but only after needlessly annoying their customers. But that was not enough to put us off river cruises. The overall experience was grand. Read Less
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