Cruise Review: My Recent Uniworld Experience
I could talk for days about how fantastic this cruise was! The ship, the itinerary, the food, and the crew; there is just so much that Uniworld offer that would appeal to all demographics. Part of my bucket list since I started in travel has always included a Uniworld River Cruise and doing the Christmas Markets, but not necessarily together. To have been able to do both is something I am always going to cherish and remember.
I have always loved the presentation of the Uniworld brochures, and spent probably too much time flicking through them in store and imagining what the ship would look like in person. So naturally getting to experience the product in real life was truly an amazing opportunity. When you first board and are standing in the atrium your eye is immediately drawn to the beautiful blue and white Strauss Baccarat chandelier that hangs between the double winding staircase. The 'wow factor' doesn't stop there as you are escorted down the hallway to your own stateroom. I enjoyed my stay on the S.S Antoinette in an open-air balcony cabin; a definite treat! The cabin size was more than comfortable for one, and certainly sharing with another occupant would still allow plenty of room to move around and not feel like you are living on top of each other. My favourite part of the cabin was being able to have the balcony doors open, with the window retracted down so that you could enjoy the fresh European air. I thought the fact that the balcony opened from the top down quite ingenious, as it allowed you the option of leaving it open a crack without everyone being able to see in.
The rest of the ship met all expectations as well; from the dining room, Salon, and Skylounge to the top deck outside that was set up with plenty of recliners so that the guests could sit in style and watch the shoreline float past. Being a Christmas cruise the crew had set up a gorgeous white Christmas tree in the Salon beside the piano, and wreaths of holly and ornaments were carefully placed around the ship in all the frequented areas. The combination of the Christmas tree, softly playing carols, and warm Glühwein made for the perfect meeting spot for the group on the first day.
The Rhine Christmas Markets itinerary gave the perfect taste of what a European Christmas is like. From Cologne, to Strasbourg and finishing in Basel (plus all the other quaint towns in between), each town and country offered their own style of Christmas Markets and history. A big draw card for any traveller should be the featured excursions in each port. Each day Uniworld offered one, if not more, free and optional excursions for guests to experience and really see the port of the day. On top of that they then offered additional tours, at a small cost, to see something a little more unique or a more in-depth look at what that city had to offer. For example, day five offered a trip out to Heidelberg as their optional excursion or a unique vinegar tasting at the famed Doktorenhof Estate - this tour at a small Euro cost. The price point for their additional tours averaged around 50EUR, a price I found quite reasonable considering the individual opportunity offered and all transportation and guide costs being included as well.
In each town and for each tour you were led by either a local guide, or Chad whom was our Cruise Director on board the ship. Both local guides and Chad offered a wealth of knowledge and passion for each location, and helped to really maximise your time in each city with the way they were able to speak about the local areas. There is a fine line between too much information and not enough, but I found the guides Uniworld specifically selected to run their tours on land had perfected the balance of when to stop at an area and discuss it in further detail, or just move on.
Not only were the tours comprehensive and offered at every port, but there was also plenty of free time as well. Even if you embarked on the morning or afternoon excursion there was still ample opportunity to revisit the town at your own pace or spend time on board in a manner of your own choosing. This certainly contributed to the trip having a very relaxing feel, something I have found doesn't often come in a European itinerary when there is so much to see and do. It is a selling point for any demographic.
While most travelling between ports was done at night there was still a couple of days of scenic day time cruising, my favourite easily being the cruise along the Upper Rhine Valley which offers 40 miles of breathtaking scenery through the combination of cute German towns and magnificent castles that perch along the hillside. During the scenic cruise Chad, the cruise director, would speak over the microphone to discuss the castle we would be currently passing by and offer a bit of history on the building itself. You could hear him in every common area onboard, so it gave guests the option to stay within the warmth of the Salon, or to brave the brisk air on the top deck in the deck chairs.
There was also the excitement of travelling through various locks while on the cruise as well. Most were traversed at night, but the few done throughout the late afternoon provided a more technical view of what travelling along the river is like.
There is definitely something magical about Christmas in Europe. The cold weather combined with the festive cheer in the markets and towns, the smell of food as you casually stroll and browse through the local wares, not to mention all the brilliantly lit Christmas trees and cobblestone streets; it is truly an itinerary that everyone should do once in their lifetime.
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The Dining Experience
The culinary experience both onboard and offered in ports was nothing short of amazing. Your day started with a large and varied breakfast buffet in the main dining room, with all manner of options available. For lunch another selected variety, with changes every day to encompass local favourites was on offer during the midday hours. For clients who missed the main lunching time there were more options offered in the cafe on top deck, letting you decide if you preferred to spend the middle of the day in port and not worry about missing a bite to eat.
Dinner though was what certainly took the cake. With a different menu each night and a sumptuous minimum of four courses it's a wonder how we were all able to wear the same clothes by the time the ship docked into Basel. Prior to dinner, the onboard sommelier would discuss the preferred wines for the night, and then while everyone was ordering would come to the table to answer any questions you may have had about the wines previously spoken about. For beverages you weren't limited to the wines of the night and could still order your preferred cocktail or liquor offered at the bar, and the ever friendly staff would bring to your table.
One of the consultants onboard the famil required meal preferences which weren't always guaranteed to be on the menu that night, so Stefan the Maître D' would go over the menu with her prior to dinner to ensure when it came to being served she was well looked after. Various clients on board the ship with diet requests received this service as well, and I found it a very unique touch that Stefan took the time to personally visit each guest who required his help and take down their preference prior to dinner that night.
My own dining experience was really enhanced when I asked for pâté one day during lunch. The ship didn't have any onboard at the time so my server Ana, offered to go into town that afternoon and pick up the ingredients required so that they could prepare fresh that night for me to eat at lunch the next day. For a moment I was truly lost for words that they would offer to go so above and beyond my request, I felt so bad that the chef or Ana would have to waste time to run into town just for me so I had to politely decline. Though I do wonder what it would have tasted like...
Enough cannot be said at how amazing the service on Uniworld is. Within an hour all the staff were familiar with your name and during the course of the cruise they would remember your coffee choice, your preferred drink to have before dinner, and the wine you really enjoyed a few nights before. It was easy to build relationships with everyone you came into contact with, and I found the way they treated one guest was the same as any other. There were so many unique little touches, from how you could both greet each other by name in the morning, or if you ran into the crew while on land and could chat about what you both had been up to, they made you feel like you were home and I truly feel that this just capped off the whole experience to make it all that more special.
Someone commented that the grand surroundings were made just that little bit more warming by the way the crew made you feel like family. All were happy to have a joke and chat throughout the day, and at night from the Captain down, the crew were happy to engage with you and make each night that little bit more fun. On saying that their behaviour never felt forced or fake, you truly felt like they were just part of the group and having a fantastic time. One of the serving crew had told us they were offered to have Christmas off, or could continue to work till the New Year with the same crew. Everyone onboard decided to continue to work alongside each other through the Christmas holidays until the New Year. I feel so strongly about this and I think it speaks volumes in itself that Uniworld set up such a welcoming, rewarding and happy work environment. There have been too many times where you feel like staff isn’t treated equally, but I not once found this to be the case with Uniworld. Their happiness contributed to our own group’s happiness as so many of our favourite moments onboard were made as such by the crew we were engaged with.
The Uniworld Christmas Market cruise along the Rhine was the perfect combination of delight and wonder. From day one where we stepped onboard the S.S Antoinette, to the very last port of Basel where we disembarked and met our complimentary transfer, each moment of the trip was personalised, enchanting, and like their own 'hashtag' suggested; just so uniquely Uniworld.
Words: Candace Drabol, Cruiseabout Product Manager
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