This was my first "river" cruise (in quotes because we did not actually sail on a river, but instead around the Venice lagoon) and probably also the most "luxury" cruise I've taken. Next would probably have been ... Read More
This was my first "river" cruise (in quotes because we did not actually sail on a river, but instead around the Venice lagoon) and probably also the most "luxury" cruise I've taken. Next would probably have been my transatlantic cruise on Azamara a few years ago. I've done lots of ocean cruising, mostly on Celebrity but have also done Norwegian (next most frequent), Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Holland America in addition to Azamara. This was by far the smallest ship I've been on.
The cruise was a one-week Venice-based itinerary. It coincided with the highest "aqua alta" Venice has experienced in 10 years, which threw some curves at the cruise staff as they tried to adjust our itinerary around the high water. Luckily we had several days during the week where it didn't rain...much!
I mostly sail solo, and this trip there were a large number of solos on board (so far as I know, all women) due to a no-single-supplement deal Uniworld offered. I thought Uniworld worked very well for solo travel. They did offer a singles meet-and-greet one day midweek, but I didn't attend so can't report on that. Because of the small number of passengers and the open seating at meals it was easy to meet others and find a congenial table for each meal. I felt like the price I paid was an excellent deal for the cruise, though my budget and skinflint tendencies mean I will need to really keep an eye out for bargains if I want to do another cruise like this!
I purchased my air travel independently but because I was arriving/departing the day the cruise started and ended, during the hours Uniworld specified, my transfers from Venice airport were included. That turned out to be a very good thing on arrival day--many folks who were arriving at the ship independently had all sorts of problems. Apparently the ship was not where Uniworld said it would be (due to the high water) and passengers were not notified of the change. Plus, when folks called the number for the ship that we were given for situations like this, nobody answered the phone for several hours. Passengers told about taking expensive water taxis while they motored around Venice searching for the ship, being dropped off in the wrong place, having to walk through hip-deep water balancing suitcases on their heads, etc. Luckily these tales were told by the younger passengers--I can't imagine how some of the older folks on board would have coped with that! I will definitely plan to use the cruise line transfers again for any future Uniworld cruises--although I hate arriving the day of the cruise due to possible travel glitches, it seems like the advantages of having Uniworld handle the transfers outweighs that concern.
For me, though, the trip was smooth through a rainy, windy Mestre and Venice, past the poor soaked Venice Marathon runners, to the riverboat. It amazed me how small it looked--but I found that it had everything I needed for a great cruise and I loved the small ship! Short walk to anywhere, the cabin was very well-designed, there was a dining room and a lounge and an outside deck (I was on that exactly once due to the rainy weather we had that week.)
There was entertainment in the lounge each evening--sometimes just the onboard keyboardist/vocalist (who was just fine for a low-key evening of drinks and conversation) and sometimes special entertainers like a trio who sang opera accompanied by their keyboardist. The entertainment was much briefer and less flashy and less varied than on an ocean cruise, but I thought it fit well with the tour-focused and very small River Countess cruise.
My cabin was 323, one short flight of steps down from the main lobby and at the far end of the hall. The shower was wonderful, the service was wonderful, I was not bothered by any noise or odd smells, the TV had lots of options and many excellent movies available (though I only used it to watch CNN.) The decor was interesting (onboard as a whole, not just the cabin) and though I wouldn't decorate that way at home I really enjoyed experiencing it for a week.
I thought the food was just great. I can't remember a meal or, for that matter, a dish I had that I did not enjoy. I'm still detoxing myself from all the eating and drinking I did on vacation and trying to get back to a healthy diet! Many of the menu options focused on Venetian/Italian dishes, and included a lot of local seafood though they always had several non-seafood choices. The menus for dinner varied each day but there were some "always available" options--I didn't try those but heard from others that the salmon was good but the steak not so much. The breakfast and lunch buffets were excellent--at lunch they had many new options daily, but at breakfast it was mainly the same items each day. They were all excellent,though, so I thought it worked quite well giving one a chance to try everything on one day or another.
They had a complimentary red and white wine at lunch and dinner, which they varied every day. I tried both wines every night and then drank the one I liked better. There were only a couple of them I did not care for, though I think that was more my preferences and not that the wines were poor quality, but I am far from a wine expert. They also varied the coffee and the menu had info on the coffee was being served each day, in addition to describing the wines.
All alcoholic beverages were included unless you wanted to purchase the higher-end wine offerings, which I did not do. I'm not a huge drinker but I did enjoy wine with dinner, a coffee-and-Bailey's every night, and an occasional draft beer (Italian of course!) prosecco or bellini. And lots of San Pellegrino! I also had lots of excellent coffee, lattes and cappuccinos. All were served quickly, graciously, and with a smile.
The croissants each morning except on disembarkation day were just fabulous--I was so disappointed the last morning when the croissants on offer at 6 AM In the lounge had obviously been baked the previous day--the single discordant note where food was concerned!
I tried the latte/coffee/tea etc. machine in the coffee bar the first day to make a latte, and I did not like it at all! But there was never a problem getting one made by the staff, so it was not an issue. I noticed they had lots of syrups on hand in the lounge if one wanted a flavored latte--did not look closely to see which types though.
Because of the high water, our Monday walking tour of Venice and visit to the Doge's Palace was cut short to just a shorter walking tour of the higher-ground areas of Venice. It was picturesque and interesting, and visiting the edge of St. Mark's Square to see the hordes of tourists wearing their see-through pastel plastic hip boots, the board walks being set up and the water start to cover the pavement was memorable. Normally there would have been a night-time visit to St. Mark's Basilica on Monday evening, but part of the basilica (and all of St. Mark's square outside) flooded so Uniworld scrambled to have it rescheduled for later in the week--absolutely the best part of the week tour-wise and I am SO thankful they were able to make it happen!
We spent part of a day in Padua and part of a day with a choice of Ferrarra or Bologna (I chose Ferrarra because I had no wish to experience the pasta making demo). They were interesting, but I know if I had not visited Venice before I would have been disappointed that the high water and the days in other cities limited my opportunity to see Venice itself. Normally the ship would sail about 20 miles up the Po River, but due to the high water we did not do so--can't say that bothered me since I'd read it was not very scenic and its only advantage was to make the bus trips to these other cities a bit shorter.
We spent another day visiting "the islands of the Venice lagoon"...and that was fantastic. We saw an ancient cathedral from almost 1000 years ago and other interesting stuff. I LOVE old buildings so this was probably my favorite tour after the St. Mark's Basilica visit. Another day we went to Chioggia, yet another island in the Venice lagoon where we visited a fish market and got to see the flood gates closing on their canals to protect the town from another round of aqua alta. We also had a couple of afternoons of "scenic sailing" around the lagoon with a guide to point out what we were seeing and give some of the history of the area.
I missed the second of those (and the glass-blowing demo on Saturday afternoon) because I had fallen into a habit of taking an afternoon nap. Not sure why I slept so much, except that the whole week was so relaxing--there was no late-night entertainment keeping me up late. Maybe I was just catching up from the sleep deficit I usually run during my working life. Maybe it was just the big meals, but every afternoon my eyes got very heavy and most days I slept for a couple of hours. The bed was VERY comfortable!
On Saturday we finally were back in Venice and the water was down to allow touring of the whole city, but that had to be done on one's own. The included tours were a choice of two, and I chose the tour of the Accademia with Susan, the art historian and guide who had taken us through the Basilica and the ancient cathedral (and who was also the guide of my group for the abbreviated Venice walking tour on Monday, because I recognized her name from reviews I'd read of the cruise and made sure I was in her group!) I know a couple of passengers who were art historians themselves found her to be a little over-dramatic, but honestly I think for the general public like me she was perfect and covered things at just the right level to keep us all fascinated. In the afternoon there was a glass-blowing demo and shopping for Murano glass, but I didn't attend that. I think a lot of passengers chose to use that time to walk around Venice on their own--I just slept!
The best part was at the end of the cruise, I had no bill to pay. Everything had been included. All in all, especially considering the luxury level of food/beverage/amenities offered, I think it was an excellent value. I had a great time and I think the staff did the best job possible coping with the weather conditions. Read Less