Uniworld Boutique River Cruises is a Californian company sailing a fleet of 21 river cruise ships along the rivers of Europe, Russia, Asia, Egypt, and China.
The European ships have an average capacity of 130 guests, one of the highest staff to guest ratios in the river cruise industry, world class cuisine (consistently maintaining a Zagat rating) and impeccable hospitality. Perhaps this should be taken for granted as Uniworld is part of The Travel Corporation (TTC), a group with more than 30 brands, including Trafalgar, Luxury Gold and Insight Vacations, as well as Red Carnation Hotels.
The Red Carnation Hotel chain founded in the early 1980s is a group of seven 4* and 5*boutique properties in five countries. They include Ashford Castle in Ireland, ‘The Milestone’ and ‘41’ Hotels in London, ‘The Acorn Inn’ in Dorset, ‘The Chesterfield Palm Beach’ in Florida and ‘The Oyster Box’ and ‘Twelve Apostles’ in South Africa. These hotels are famed for their destination specific interior design, gracious service, and thoughtfully selected amenities, all of which provide an intimate and elegant, yet relaxed experience.
These same characteristics have been applied to Uniworld’s river cruises allowing guests to travel from one destination to another aboard a stylish floating boutique hotel with welcoming lounges, inviting libraries, stupendous antiques, priceless original artwork, panoramic restaurants serving exquisite cuisine, and luxuriously restful staterooms and individualised suites. The latter include Butler service. Meticulous attention to detail is apparent on every ship and you can even choose your suite according to style and colour scheme.
Uniworld’s newest ships (dubbed SS), Super Ships—the SS Antoinette, SS Catherine, SS Maria Theresa, and SS Joie de Vivre, are all uniquely individual vessels (unlike many ships offered by other river cruise lines, which are essentially the same build, albeit perhaps with a different colour scheme). They have been carefully designed to reflect the rivers upon which they sail and it could be said that they are a destination in themselves:
The SS Antoinette, fashioned after Marie Antoinette’s 18th-century Chateau at Versailles sails on the Rhine. She is decked out in Brazilian marble, with South African mosaics by Jane de Rand, Venetian glass mirrors and a 10’ high Strauss Baccarat chandelier with huge blue sapphires, acquired from The Tavern on The Green, in New York.
The SS Catherine has a two storey lobby which features a life size Murano glass horse. Cruise the Rhone and Saone and view the rest of the original art works by Goursat, Kadinsky and Picasso.
The SS Marie Theresa, sailing along the Danube, has been described as a floating 18th century baroque Viennese Palace. A specially commissioned portrait of the Holy Roman Empress, German Queen and Archduchess of Austria (to name but a few of her titles) hangs resplendent in the lobby. Cruises on this ship include the opportunity to meet one of Marie Theresa’s descendants – Princess Anita von Hohenberg, at a private reception in her own castle.
The brand new SS Joie de Vivre (Joy of Life) is a tribute to present day Paris – post November 2015, and the Bataclan terror attacks. Determinedly, Uniworld have launched a ship inspired by 20th century Paris (primarily the 1920s – 1960s), to dock in 21st century Paris within sight of the Eiffel Tower. Le Bistrot (at the front of the ship) offers an authentic Parisian side walk café experience, complete with original advertising posters, whilst the lobby is decorated with Hermes scarves.
The SS Joie de Vivre may be a little shorter than its ‘SS’ sisters, but it is packed with 10 suites (all decorated differently) and 54 staterooms, carrying a maximum of 128 guests. Innovatively, the Club L’Esprit, housing a day spa, fitness centre and (resistance) pool, converts, by way of a hydraulic platform, in the evenings into Claude’s Supper Club – a venue suitable for dancing or whiling away the evening hours with a cocktail or two, whilst watching a classic French film (just hoping there are sub titles!).
The main restaurant Le Pigalle, features traditional French cuisine. Early guest feedback claims it should receive 3 Michelin stars. Its signature dessert is a white chocolate sphere, over which a hot dark chocolate sauce is poured, causing the sphere to open and reveal a raspberry macaron and orange cake inside. Meanwhile La Cave du Vin, on the Jules Verne deck, is an intimate 10 seater restaurant offering an exclusive 7 course tasting menu with paired wines at an additional charge. Only the SS ships have pools on board.
In partnership with its sister company, Red Carnation Hotels, Uniworld takes pride in its long and lasting relationships with its guests, for whom there is ‘No request too large, no detail too small.
If you want a copy of last nights soup recipe – just ask the Chef.
If you don’t like a particular picture in your stateroom - it can be changed!
There is always a transfer to and from your ship between 05.00 hrs and 17.00 hrs.
It doesn’t matter what time you arrive, check in time is very fluid – leaving you time to drop your bags and explore the vicinity of your docked home should you arrive early for your cruise.
Although the age demographic for Uniworld cruises is said to be 45 yrs+ (a bit younger than the industry average) ‘U BY UNIWORLD’, is a new venture, aimed at the 18 – 40 year old cruise market. The name – all spelled in capitals – comes with its own hashtag in an effort to better connect with younger Social Media conscious travelers. Guests will be encouraged to share their journeys on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the #AllAboutU handle.
Two of the older ships, River Baroness & River Ambassador are going to undergo a total renovation, including reputedly receiving black painted hulls (as compared to the other Uniworld ships that are painted white), all to provide a truly contemporary look and feel, for this venture. Communal dining will be offered on board, as well as a new culinary programme, mixologists, and international DJ’s. Itineraries for the cruises, starting in 2018, have not been announced as yet, but will feature immersive, experiential ports of call, with a focus on lengthier stays in destinations to experience more 24/7 living. Guests will have the opportunity to meet locals, discover restaurants and bars in each city, and enjoy both independent discovery and adventurous excursions.
Uniworld already offer an extensive range of included shore excursions (as well as ad hoc ones or more personalized ones which can be offered on board) described as ‘The Choice is Yours’. Excursions are grouped as ‘Go Active’ (includes hiking and biking tours (there are bikes and Nordic walking poles available on board), as well as the opportunity to play rounds of golf on European courses), ‘Do As The Locals Do’ (experiencing local hospitality) and ‘Village Days’ (exploring selected villages in the locale). Additionally, there are 6 ‘One of a Kind Exclusive Experiences’ in 2017. These include a private tour of the Vienna Art History Museum, an after hours visit to the lighting ceremony in St Marks Basilica, Venice, a visit and tasting experience at the monastic vinegar estate at Doktorenhof or a guided kayak trip up the Gardon River past the UNESCO listed Pont du Gard.
Cruise Collections (special themed cruises) are offered on certain dates and itineraries, to further enhance the experience. It is possible to choose from: The Monarch’s Collection – offering an opportunity to explore the royal heritage of Europe The Connoisseur Collection - culinary focused French cuisine cruises Generations Family Cruises – aimed at families with children aged 4-17 yrs, with child friendly menus and excursions as well as 2 dedicated Family Hosts (attached to different age groups: 4-12 yrs and 13 – 17 yrs).
Jewish Heritage cruises along the Rhine
There are also Christmas Market sailings to get you in the mood for Christmas (or why not sail over Christmas and/or New Year?).
A further bit of information for trivia buffs (like myself) is that the cruise lines official flower is the orchid – which represents beauty, refinement, charm & luxury - a good descriptor of what you will get on a Uniworld cruise.