Uniworld Boutique River Cruises are some of the best in the ever-more-crowded river cruising industry, so naturally FKGuy and I needed to experience it firsthand. I chose Uniworld’s Enchanting Danube. In our house vacation planning goes something like this:
Me: I’m going to book us on (insert great vacation). Is your calendar clear for these dates (insert dates)?
FKGuy: OK. Yes, blocking off the dates on my calendar.
Me: Do you have an opinion about what we do/where we go?
FKGuy: You are the expert. You do this, quite well, for a living. Handle it.
And so our river cruise experience began.
The River Cruising Population
If you picture a river cruise in your mind, you may imagine meandering slowly down a river, passing quaint little towns along the way. You would be right. You may also imagine that such a vacation is exclusively for older, less active people. You would be wrong. River cruising is not just for the over-65 set any more. We weren’t even the youngest onboard.
The Beautiful, Over-The-Top Ship
We embarked on the SS (which stands for super ship, and is quite accurate) Maria Theresa and were immediately greeted by the stunning yet gaudy French country decor. It is very floral, and looks exactly like what you would see in the brochure. After presenting our passports, our stewardess escorted us to our room and showed us how all the fun gadgets work.
Generally, unless you choose a large suite, rooms aboard the narrow river cruise ships are compact (read: tiny). The 160 square feet are well thought out, with wardrobes, a desk, a small table with chairs, and the most comfortable bed I have ever slept on away from home. Seriously, I could have stayed in that bed, snoozing happily, for many more weeks.
Marble bathrooms come complete with heated floors and towel bars, a very good ventilation system, and large, refilled bottles of shampoo and body wash. I love the environmentally friendly large bottles, as opposed to those tiny toiletries with a lot of waste. Despite the compact size of the room, the shower is large and comfortable. Each passenger is provided with a stainless steel water bottle for taking on excursions. Hydration is key, and although the water bottles could be larger and double-walled, so as not to sweat in my purse, it is a nice touch.
The sun deck is a wonderful place to relax on a lounge chair and watch the world, or at least a short stretch of the Danube, go by. A nice crowd gathered as we sailed from Melk to Durnstein one day, sipping sparkling wine, enjoying perfect weather, and seeing the intrepid few who rode bikes from one port to the next. Naturally, I have had many bad biking experiences, so biking from one port to another is not for me. Sipping wine as we glide gently from one port to another, well, that is much more my speed.
Service throughout the ship was excellent. The accommodating crew in the dining room, the bar staff and room stewardesses all took excellent care of us throughout the trip. Granted there were a few missteps, like having one server up on the sun deck for scenic cruising (I have never seen one person serve so many drinks!) Waiting a few minutes between drinks is hardly a tragedy.
Dining Aboard the SS Maria Theresa
Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style every day. From an extensive, yet seldom frequented by me, salad bar, to hot entrees of the day, a wonderful selection of cheeses that change daily, and even an ice cream bar, the choices were very good. While the option of an occasional table service lunch would have been nice, I have no complaints. One day, there were Ruben sandwiches hanging out in one of the chafing dishes. When I casually asked one of the servers if I can get one sans Russian dressing, it was no problem, and within minutes a piping hot sandwich was delivered to my table.
Dinner was a lovely affair with several good selections each night, along with attentive service. Table of four, six, or eight encourage guests to meet their fellow travelers and enjoy a conversation that may be slightly outside their norm.
There was one dining oddity. Although dinner was said to be served from 7:00 – 9:00 PM, the dining room was packed daily at exactly 7 PM. So, when we went to dine at 7:30 or 8, we often ended up sitting with people that had already started their meal. And if we were late, by 9:30 the crew was ready for us to leave. I understand that this was an anomaly and does not usually happen, but it was very strange.
Another interesting piece of the dining puzzle, it that there really is only one dining venue. I know there was a dinner for suite guests in the Leopard Lounge one night, but other than that, it is the dining room or nothing. The crew encouraged guests to take a plate up to the sun deck during breakfast or lunch, but at dinner time it was strictly in the dining room.
But Dining Outdoors Would Be Nice, Too.
I lamented, out loud, to the hotel director, that it would be so nice if we could enjoy dinner on the sun deck. After all, the weather was delightful and the scenery impossible to beat. He anxiously looked around, and after much prodding, agreed. We could have our dinner outside, if, and only if, we promised not tell anyone. (So, now that you know, you will need to keep my secret, too.)
As the look of sheer glee spread across my face, I went in search of our new friends. Sitting in the dining room, buttered bread in hand, I made them leave their table for our al fresco dinner. (He kept munching on the bread as we strolled through the ship). No sooner were we seated at a beautifully set table, enjoying appetizers, and wine from the winery we visited earlier that day, that we felt a drizzle.
Our perfect weather had taken a turn. Stubborn as I am, I insisted that we stay. The crew went through all sorts of trouble for us, and really, we would not melt. I loved the peacefulness of sitting outside (even in the rain), the quiet of the evening, and the joy of new friends. But we are not martyrs, and by dessert, we waved the white flag in defeat and enjoyed our last course in the dining room.
The overall feeling on Uniworld is that of comfort and indulgence. With included drinks, gratuities, and most tours, it is very easy to get off the ship having spent no additional money. It is a fantastic experience, and one that I will look to repeat soon. I will share more on the tours in the port-by-port posts coming soon.