If you’re following me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and/or Periscope, then you know I’m still in Europe with my dad! I was originally supposed to fly back to North America after my AmaWaterways Lower Danube cruise with my wife but since I needed to be in Lisbon just nine days later, I decided to stay. Natalie, sadly, had to head back home and back to work.
I was originally going to take my dad to the island of Ischia in Italy to see relatives after a couple of days in Budapest (where my first cruise ended) but it’s not that easy as you need to take planes, trains and automobiles…and a ferry to get there. And then, once you’re there, you need to go into town a few times a day to eat and that’s not easy either, if you don’t have a car.
After getting shingles in February, I decided not to run myself ragged and came up with alternate plan that was a win-win.
So instead, my dad joined me in Europe for a river cruise. He flew from Los Angeles to Budapest via London on one of British Airways’ new A380s. Can you believe the A380, the world’s largest passenger plane, just turned 10 years old? When I asked my dad how his flight was, he told me it was like a dream (he was in British Airways’ Club World) and that the plane was so smooth and quiet that he couldn’t believe he was flying. I understood, as I was onboard BA’s inaugural A380 Los Angeles-to-London flight (here’s my post about that experience).
Since I needed to do some work and my dad is on perpetual vacation (he retired from law several years ago), I needed to find an environment where he could go on tours without me, meet people and have easy access to food.
The perfect choice was to go on another river cruise. He’d never been on one so I arranged for an upper Danube river cruise on Uniworld (they hosted us), which was a cruise line I’ve heard a lot about but had never had the pleasure of experiencing…until now.
I’ve been fortunate enough now to have gone on four river cruises (links to all my river cruise stories are at the bottom of this post) and all have been unique and special—but Uniworld so far is tops. Here’s why:
Without a doubt, the best part about Uniworld is their service. It’s really quite impressive and you will notice it the moment you step onboard. Their service is so amazing that every single person I met on the cruise, which was over 50% of the passengers, raved about it. Including one big-time Australian business traveler who’s used to flying on some of the best airlines and staying at the world’s top hotels. He said he’s now been on Uniworld four times and that he will never try another ship because of their superior service.
After doing some research I realized I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Uniworld has earned many accolades including Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best Service” award and jas made Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List for providing the best service and highest staff-to-guest ratio in the industry.
2. Staff-to-guest ratio
One reason Uniworld’s service is so outstanding is that they have the highest staff-to-guest ratio in the river cruise industry. We sailed on River Beatrice, which has 79 cabins, 158 guests and 53 staff members.
3. Friendly staff
Obviously they can’t have great service without friendly staff but I would be remiss if I didn’t list this as one of the 20 reasons. The staff is amazing and they learn everyone’s names right away. It must be mandated for the crew to study the passengers’ security photos and learn their names. One reason why their service might be so good is because Uniworld doesn’t outsource their operations; they oversee all their own onboard operations (nautical, culinary, hospitality) plus all onshore activities. And all of the staff speak English, which is key since most of the passengers are coming from North America, the UK and Australia.
4. No public announcements
Uniworld is run like a boutique hotel and they’ve had a lot of experience in this field as their sister company is Red Carnation Hotels. These ships are like a floating boutique hotel so passengers won’t get woken up in the early morning or during an afternoon nap to be told the tours are leaving or that there’s a presentation in the lounge. I loved it but it does put the onus on the passengers to be on time so they either need to set an alarm or ask for a wakeup call.
My wife is the digital editor of Style at Home, a big design magazine in Canada, and she lives and breathes interior design and style. When she saw my cabin briefly before going to the airport, she seriously considered staying even though that meant risking her job!
The cabins are like a French boutique hotel and have handcrafted Savoir of England beds, 100% Egyptian cotton linens and European duvets, and a menu of pillow choices. There is also ample space with built-in closets. Note: I don’t like heavy duvets so asked the cabin attendant if I could get a lighter comforter and within minutes I had a light blanket with a top sheet so I slept like a baby.
The only negative about the bed is that most of the cabins have twins beds that are pushed together. That way if someone is traveling with a friend and not a lover, they can easily make twin beds. Although, I didn’t hear any couples complain, I personally prefer one solid bed.
Good to know: Cabins are 150 square feet.
Another feature that made my wife’s jaw drop were the marble bathrooms that come fully stocked with L’Occitane en Provence bath and body products. The bathrooms also have plush towels, a backlit magnifying mirror, bathrobes and slippers.
All cabins come with a flat-screen TV with complimentary movie and entertainment options. I only turned it on a few times to watch the news (BBC America or CNN), to see what the scenery looked like with the bow cam or watch the lounge cam to hear the cruise manager’s nightly talk when I didn’t feel like going into the lounge. It was cool but I would love for them to add another webcam so you can see the screen of any presentations. But my favorite feature was the GPS maps so I could see exactly where we were and zoom in or out to get to know the geography of the land better.
Good to know: The volume controls on the TV are limited so it won’t disturb your neighbors.
8. No plastic bottles
I love that the rooms all have glass reusable bottles that the cabin attendant replaces daily instead of using plastic bottles, which we all know are polluting the environment. They also give each guest personal water bottles to take on shore and then home (pictured above).
Out of the 79 cabins on River Beatrice, there are 15 suites. They are 225 square feet in size and they all come with additional amenities and services, including a special butler service! The butlers offer packing and unpacking assistance, free laundry (score!), a daily fruit and cookie plate, Nespresso coffee machine and fine teas, fully stocked mini bar, full breakfast menu, shoe shine service, bottle of wine upon arrival, Hermés bath products, and a special dinner in the Captain’s Lounge.
10. Guest laundry
If you aren’t in a suite but need to have your laundry done, you can either send it out to be washed like at a hotel (similar prices, too) or you can do your own laundry in the laundry room. There are two washing machines, dryers and ironing boards. They also provide free detergent so it’s easy and cheap.
Tip: Don’t wait until the last day to do your laundry since that’s when everyone else wants to do theirs, too.
In the cabin next to the laundry room is the Serenity River Spa. I wasn’t going to go until one of the passengers raved that the masseuse, Elena, had hands like God. I looked at the prices (20 minutes for 25E, 45 minutes for 55E. 60 minutes for 65E) and they were reasonable so I signed up for a 45-minute massage. I’m not sure if it’s because I showed up late (probably) but the back, neck (and butt!) massage was really only 30 minutes as she spent a good amount of time washing and scrubbing my feet (which felt damn good, by the way!) but I would rather have had more time spent on the persistent knot in my back.
12. Fitness center
Across the hall from the laundry room and spa is a small fitness center. I only peeked my head in once to take a photo but it’s nice to know you can work out while on vacation. And you will need it after eating so much good food.
The food on Uniworld was very good and the best part is that they served local and fresh ingredients. In every country we visited, they served a variety of dishes that you would find there so guests could experience traditional cuisines. For example, in Vienna the menu was Wiener Schnitzel, potato soup and dessert was either ice cafe mélange or Sacher cake.
At breakfast, guests can indulge in an elaborate buffet, plus there is a full menu that guests can order off of, for hot items like pancakes, waffles, eggs benedict, etc. FYI: The omelet chef was a tad slow but he cooked every omelet to perfection!
Note: Uniworld offers al fresco dining, a health-conscious “Traveling Lite” menu and vegetarian options. I also met a guest who raved about the staff and chef since he had severe food allergies and the chef made sure that every dish was cooked with the ingredients he could tolerate.
14. Unlimited drinks
Most river cruise lines only offer free beer and wine during lunch or dinner but not these guys. Uniworld has unlimited beverages onboard, including distinctive wines, craft beers, spirits, soft drinks, specialty teas and coffees 24/7.
15. The little things
What I really love about Uniworld is that they haven’t eliminated the little things to cut costs. For example, each room has a little glass jar filled with local candies and chocolates that gets refilled each day. They also provide Nordic walking sticks, which my dad tried out for the first time and loved. I appreciated that the electrical outlets in the cabins (one by the bed and by the desk) had U.S., European and UK style plugs built in so there was no fumbling for adaptors.
16. Candy table
If you have a sweet tooth like me, your eyes might light up when you walk onboard the ship and see that next to the front desk are huge glass jars (with tongs) that have Gummy Bears, Werther’s Butterscotch, marshmallows, Mentos and Jelly Belly Raspberries and Blackberries. I was just thankful they weren’t filled with M&Ms or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups since my pants would no longer fit.
17. Single supplement
I met numerous solo cruisers onboard who chose Uniworld because they offer X amount of single supplements cabins. It wasn’t clear if it was only during a certain time of year but it’s probably best to book these far in advance.
Uniworld takes safety seriously. First of all, there’s a muster drill, which I haven’t seen on many river cruises. I was told they implemented it after Costa Concordia. Guests must also watch a five-minute safety video in their cabin before being able to change the channels. My dad and I both missed the muster drill since we came in late but the crew pinned us down to a time so that the captain could give us a personalized briefing.
19. No tipping
There’s no tipping on Uniworld since it’s included in the price of the cruise. I hate when passengers get hit (sometimes even blindsided) by tips, which can add up to a few hundred dollars.
Uniworld has a variety of tours each day and most are included in the cruise price. What’s nice is that guests do not need to sign up in advance for the free tours so you can decide at the last minute if you want to go or not. They have a “gentle walkers” group, which my dad really loved since he doesn’t like to walk that much. For his group, they provided a van in Melk to take them right to the Abbey and taxis in Passau to go up to the church instead of walking.
I didn’t go on a lot of the tours because I was working but everyone I talked to including my dad loved them. They also would find unique tours like a winery in Durnstein where Uniworld had to talk the owners into opening their doors for their private tours and it’s exclusive to Uniworld.
And I can’t mention tours without saying how excellent their guides and the cruise manager were — at least on Beatrice. Mirella, who’s been with the company for over 10 years, was amazing and couldn’t have been nicer to my dad.
As you can tell, my dad and I really loved our experience on Uniworld but there were some things that could be improved upon. For example, I didn’t like there was a farewell letter from the Uniworld CEO that read: “Dear Valued Guest, I want to personally thank you …” instead of being made out in the guests’ name. The free internet was often slow but it’s been like that on every ship I’ve been on. And finally, they use old school keys for the cabin doors, maybe to be more like a French boutique hotel, but I prefer keycards.
Without a doubt, I highly recommend Uniworld and I would really love to check out one of their newer ships as River Beatrice was built in 2009, which in river cruise years, is shockingly ancient.
Uniworld has over 500 departures and 40 itineraries. The voyages can be found on more than a dozen of the world’s scenic rivers in over 20 countries in Europe, Russia, and Asia.
My European river cruise posts:
Want to cruise? If you’d like to speak to an agent, we’ve partnered with Cruise Planners—a top-rated travel agency—to help you plan your perfect trip. Contact Mike Gelman (1-800-724-5868) and tell him Johnny Jet sent you!