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River Cruise Spotlight: Uniworld Cruises

uniworld cruises - Prince Abbas on the River Tosca.

With dozens of itineraries on world-famous rivers to choose from, Uniworld cruises are a one-stop shop for travelers who want to take their love for Europe’s finest boutique hotels – the kind awash in vintage silk and damask and staffed by savvy perfectionists who anticipate their guests’ every need – on a grand tour of the continent’s waterways.

It’s all about five-star service and old-world ambience on Uniworld’s fleet of “boutique” river ships, which carry an average of 130 guests and instantly feel like home (albeit a fancy one you’d find in the finest neighborhoods of Paris or Vienna). And who couldn’t get used to living like a coddled countess?

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Or if exploring the cultures of Russia, China, India, Southeast Asia or Egypt are on your travel to-do list, there are Uniworld cruises that can take you there in equally indulgent style, always with an emphasis on local culture, traditional cuisine and national heritage.

Each river ship is unique: There’s nothing cookie cutter about Uniworld’s fleet of river cruise ships. All 18 have been individually decorated in a lavish style that channels historic time periods and cities. You’ll be surrounded by early 20th-century Parisian design onboard Uniworld’s newest river vessel S.S. Joie de Vivre, which cruises the Seine on 8-day Paris & Normandy itineraries. Eighteenth-century opulence reigns on S.S. Marie Theresa, whose marble, crystal and silk interior honors the legacy of Austria’s longest ruling Habsburg empress (fitting for its 8-day Enchanting Danube and Danube Holiday Markets itineraries). The landscape, viniculture and history of Bordeaux inspired the elegant décor of River Royale, which has public spaces awash in pale yellows and deep reds that nod to some of France’s finest varietals as it sails on 8-day Bordeaux Vineyards & Chateaux.

The experience is all-inclusive: Unless you have a spa treatment, buy something in the onboard shop or splurge on a special bottle from the ship’s wine cellar, your Uniworld cruise is pretty much paid for before you leave home. All fares include transfers, a choice of shore excursions in each port, gratuities, Wi-Fi, and unlimited onboard beer, wine and spirits (although beverage policies vary in Russia, Asia, India and Egypt).

There’s a focus on service: With one of the highest onboard staff to guest ratios in river cruising – and a motto of “no request too large, no detail too small” – Uniworld strives to deliver service that feels effortless (your favorite wine poured as you approach the bar) but not stuffy (waiters are engaging, funny and full of local culinary knowledge).

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are a farm-to-table delight: If you’re a foodie, get ready to indulge. One of Uniworld’s calling cards is its focus on fresh regional cuisine, so as you’re cruising the Rhine and Danube in autumn expect to savor the flavors of apple strudel (in specialty cocktails, too) and while exploring the Rhone in Burgundy and Provence you’ll delight in truffle dishes that make your mouth water for more. All onboard meals celebrate farm-to-table (or sea-to-table) freshness and the delicious taste of authentic regional cuisine. Each ship also has a sommelier, who chooses local wines and beers to complement each lunch and dinner menu.

Cultural experiences come aboard: Want to learn about Belgian beer? Uniworld cruises will not only bring you directly to the source during a brewery excursion while in Antwerp, but they’ll also host a private onboard tasting with a local “beer sommelier.” Ever wondered what a local Dutch choir composed entirely of retired seamen sounds like? You’ll find out while cruising the land of windmills and dikes.

uniworld cruises
A stateroom on the S.S. Joie De Vivre. (Photo: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, Inc.)

You can cruise for up to 25 days: While most Uniworld cruises average 8-10 days, you can indulge your river fantasies for more than three weeks on the nine-country, Amsterdam-to-Bucharest Ultimate European Journey from the North Sea to the Black Sea. Or if you prefer to explore a single country in depth, Uniworld offers a 22-day Ultimate France itinerary that cruises the Seine, the Saone, the Garonne and the Rhone on three different ships in Normandy, Bordeaux and Burgundy/Provence. Is there anyone who thinks three weeks onboard a river cruise ship is too long? You might not after you try it.

There are new little treats to appreciate daily: Every day, you’ll experience the comfort of your ship’s hand-made Savoir of England bed and luxurious high-thread-count sheets, but you’ll also enjoy some unexpected delights. There are yummy cookies and candies available in the lounge whenever you need a quick sugar fix or the delicious local treats (oysters and cider in Normandy, a selection of creamy cheeses in Holland) that appear at the luncheon buffets.

Your fellow passengers will be well-traveled and culturally curious: The international (but mostly English-speaking) guests aged 55 and older that are drawn to Uniworld’s lavish interior design and focus on curated cultural experiences (such as tickets to limited-run museum exhibits or a wine-pairing luncheon in a 17th-century French chateau) make for engaging companions onboard.

You can appreciate art while strolling to your stateroom: Uniworld’s owners, the Toller family, have collected art for decades and much of it is on display along the two long corridors that lead to all guest staterooms, and each river vessel has a unique selection.

One caveat: “Boutique” can mean cozy: And by cozy we mean snug staterooms that don’t offer much space for maneuvering about. That’s the case on Uniworld’s oldest 116-passenger vessel, River Ambassador, where many staterooms are only 128 square feet (the two suites are just double that at 256 square feet) and the 130-passenger ships that are at the heart of the fleet – River Countess, River Duchess, River Empress, River Princess, River Queen and River Royal—all mostly have staterooms that are 151 square feet. That said, Uniworld’s accommodations are all well designed and unless you need the assistance of a walker they are perfectly manageable for the amount of time you’ll spend there. If you require more space, book a suite or consider cruises on Uniworld’s newest “Super Ships”—S.S. Antoinette, S.S. Catherine, S.S. Joie de Vivre, S.S. Maria Theresa and S.S. Beatrice—where most staterooms are 162-194 square feet and suites are as large as 410 square feet.

Have you ever been on an Uniworld Cruise? Tell us about your experience in the comments. 

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