Cologne to Basel: Rhine Holiday Markets with Uniworld River Cruises
From the moment I stepped on board the S.S Antoinette I knew I was in for a spectacular week. Uniworld prides itself on creating individually styled masterpieces out of its river ships, each with its own theme and colour palate, and artwork chosen to enhance the designs. It is pure luxury in boutique fashion and it is wonderful.
We were travelling as a group of 10 travel agents; coming together to experience firsthand just what it was that has our customers raving about their Uniworld River Cruise holiday. From the first moment you step onboard we were wowed – from the stunning blue crystal chandelier in the entry, to the understated elegance of the staterooms and lounges, the welcome surprise of the cinema, the heated indoor pool, the spectacular dining choices, and the unrivalled service throughout.
I stayed in an open-air balcony stateroom – a fantastic feature of this room was the ability to raise or lower the balcony window, meaning that even in colder weather you could still enjoy sitting on the balcony and admiring the view as it passed you by. The beds were hand-crafted by Savoir, the bathrooms stocked with L’Occitane products, complimentary umbrellas and reusable eco friendly water bottles were also provided in the rooms – small touches that were well appreciated. The cabins were even equipped with Australian, US & European power plugs – eliminating the need for adaptors!
The food on board was divine. Buffet breakfast as far as the eye could see, plus the option to order off the menu. Lunches consisted of either the buffet and a menu, or a themed alternative up on the Sundeck (Tip: make sure you try the burgers). Dinner was anywhere from 4 to 6 courses, with usually 2 to 3 choices per course. If you couldn’t make up your mind, you could order 2 dishes! The quality of the food was fine dining at its best, rivalling any top restaurant on land.
The level of service from the staff was exception - by day two they knew the names of all 118 passengers and greeted us each morning personally. The restaurant staff knew how you liked your coffee or your eggs, which bread roll type you preferred and even your favourite wine to have with dinner. The bar staff knew your drink order without even having to ask. They were all professional, yet very warm and friendly, and exceptional at their jobs.
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Our itinerary was the Rhine Holiday Markets beginning in Cologne, Germany, passing through France, and finishing in Basel, Switzerland, passing through charming towns along the way. Although a lot of the markets showcased similar stalls, the cities and towns all added their unique touch and had something more to offer – climbing the tower of the Cologne Cathedral; the history behind the German corner in Koblenz; the wonder of the Museum of mechanical Musical Instruments in Rudesheim; the home of the invention of the moveable type printing press in Mainz; Heidelberg Castle overlooking the town in all its glory; gorgeous Strasbourg, home of the Christmas tree and hence known as the “Capital of Christmas”; and finally the stunning city of Basel, home to the largest Christmas markets in Switzerland.
Each day began with an orientation of the new port – generally a walking tour up to 90 minutes long. The local guides were excellent, providing well thought out information of the town, as well as taking us to all of the highlights. With each passenger given their own Quietvox portable audio-headset system to use for the duration of the cruise, it made listening to the commentary enjoyable. If we were docked slightly out of town, there were shuttles running at various times to get us to and from the boat, therefore creating no pressure about having to rush around. It also gave the option to come back to the boat for lunch or a rest, before heading back to town on a later shuttle.
In addition to the included sightseeing, there were optional excursions on offer to give even more variety – fancy a Vinegar tasting tour, or a day trip to Lucerne for the afternoon? Just book on to the tour with the front desk and every last detail was organised for you. It gave a really great balance between organised events and free time.
I loved having the option of the Nordic walking sticks, and the bicycles that were available to take out at any opportunity – we really enjoyed cycling along the river in Rudesheim, and would definitely recommend giving this a try. The wellness instructor ran a morning class of either yoga or water aerobics to start the day, which gave an option to work off some of those calories that you just knew were going to build up!
Uniworld River Cruises are all inclusive – from airport transfers, dining and beverages, gratuities, a wide choice of personalised excursions, a well equipped fitness centre and onboard wellness classes, ship wide internet and Wi-Fi access, and onboard entertainment. The only money I spent was on a massage I had onboard on the last day, and shopping at the markets – it really did have everything else covered, and what a nice feeling it was to not be dipping into your purse every day! On average the ships have around 130 passengers, and more onboard staff than any other river cruise line. The ship never felt busy or crowded, and even when we were all onboard for day time cruising, there were enough lounge areas to accommodate all guests and still feel like you had your own space.
After spending the week with Uniworld, I can really see how people fall in love with this style of luxury travel – it sets such a relaxing pace, you only have to unpack once and cruising along the river allows for spectacular sightseeing at all times. I didn’t know much about any of the towns we stopped at and passed by, yet I have not stopped talking about them since! One of the best days spent was “scenic cruising through castle country” in Germany – a 5 hour stretch of river dotted castles and villages. We watched from the sundeck at lunch, from the lounge during afternoon tea and even from the comfort of the cabin with the balcony window lowered!
I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy this type of experience – I certainly have it on my list to do again in the future, and cannot recommend Uniworld highly enough.
Words: Marcie Bolin, Cruise Specialist, Cruiseabout Burleigh, QLD
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