When you hear the word “cruise” majority of people picture a giant ship, waiting in line for the buffet or sitting on the top deck near the pool with an umbrella drink in their hand. While yes those stereotypes are true, cruising has expanded to so much more over the years. If you are thinking that ocean cruising might not be for you, you shouldn’t rule out cruising all together. European river cruising has had a boom over the last decade and more and more people are trying it out. No long lines or crowds or an endless view of the ocean starting back at you. I had the opportunity to sail along the Danube with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and my what a week I had! I’ve tried to break down our week and what it’s like to sail with Uniworld. I know these trips aren’t cheap, but (spoiler alert) they’re worth it!
Uniworld operates a fleet of 21 river cruising cruise ships of Europe, Russia, Egypt, and China. We cruised on the S.S. Maria Theresa, named after one of Europe’s most beloved and longest reigning monarchs, the great Habsburg ruler Maria Theresa. With 75 rooms on board, the Maria Theresa is far from small, but thanks to well-planned design, the ship still feels pretty cozy and is easy to navigate.
The level of the ship you’ll enter on is known as the Schonbrunn Deck. This is where you will find the reception area, where you will check in on your first day and where you should go if you have any questions or concerns during your sailing. Also on this level are 36 staterooms, as well as the Baroque Restaurant (main restaurant).
Getting on and off the ship is a breeze. While on ocean cruising you have to stand in long lines waiting for the hundreds of other passengers to get on and off the ship, river cruising is as easy as the swipe of your card. You just swipe your stateroom card when you leave and when you return to the ship and that’s it. No waiting in long lines and the staff is normally waiting for you with cocktails, snacks and a warm towel for when you return. I mean, you won’t get much better than that!
The upper deck known as the Holfburg Deck is where we spent majority of our time when we were on the ship. It features a bar and lounge with floor to ceiling windows for a perfect view of the passing scenery while cruising. The lounge, besides being the perfect spot to gather with friends, is also where you’ll meet for daily briefings, ship presentations, and a nightly cocktail hour before dinner. We made our home at the bar and got to know our lovely bar tender Sylvia. While we mostly ordered the same drinks every night, she took it upon herself to make something new for us to try and it did not disappoint! As the beloved TV show Cheers states, you do really want to go where everybody knows your name! Having a smaller number of guests sailing leaves room for you and the staff to get to know each other and befriending the bartender is never a bad idea.
The top level of the ship is the Durer Sun Deck. This deck features a covered area with deck chairs for relaxing outdoors. They do offer blankets to curl up with for the more windy cold days when sailing. Curling up with a cup of hot chocolate while watching the beautiful European country side go by is a perfect way to spend an afternoon if I do say so myself. They also have waitstaff walking around the deck if you would like something a little stronger than hot chocolate.
We stayed in one of the French Balcony staterooms on the Schonbrunn Deck. Besides the super comfortable beds, the room had large enough storage for our suitcases and plenty of closet space and drawers for our clothing. A decent sized-space with a mirror doubled as our desk and dressing area. The French Balcony rooms include a table and chair near the window which is perfect spot to watch the sunrise while drinking coffee with the window down and letting the cool morning air flow through the room. The TV was actually hidden inside the mirror. It was loaded with lots of regular channels and movie options. We took a break from the lounge one evening and had a pamper night. That included us taking full advantage of the fluffy robes and slippers that were in our room.
The bathroom was spacious as well and has heated floors and a heated towel rack. That is something I didn’t know I needed in my life until this trip. It also offers huge drawers as bathroom storage space and also includes a hair dryer, which is one less thing you have to pack!
One of the best things about Uniworld Boutique River Cruising packages is that they are all-inclusive. Once you’ve paid for your trip, that’s it. All food, alcohol (expect premium stuff) and most excursions are all included in your price.
Just how good is the food on Uniworld? I hesitate to use such an overused word, but it’s amazing. Every meal tasted so fresh and full of flavor. A wide variety of food choices are offered including local cuisine specific to that port or for the less adventurous more traditional foods that we are used to. They offer pre-breakfast pastries in the coffee bar and offer 24 hour room service. We did not go hungry on this trip, believe me.
There is a 24 hour coffee and tea bar located on the ship. Any time of day, morning or night, you were able to grab a cup of your favorite beverage. Our favorite thing to do was to grab a cup of coffee to have while we were getting ready for the day and then head down to breakfast for more coffee. That extra cup is needed on some days when the jet lag gets to be a little to much to handle.
ENCHANTING DANUBE TRIP ITINERARY
Our journey with Uniworld took us down the Danube River from Budapest, Hungry to Passau, Germany passing through Austria in between. Over the course of eight days and seven nights, we explored many different cities full of so much history and beauty. All of the tour guides that Uniworld provided were so knowledgeable and personable. They made walking around for hours seem like 2 minutes. I would suggest making a note of the places during your tour that you would like to go back and visit during any free time you have. Majority of the cities were on the smaller side that allowed you to roam around and not get to lost. The ship also had shuttle services in some cities if you wanted to go back to the ship after the tour was over. This post would be 10 times longer if I went into detail about every port but enjoy some highlights from my pictures below.
Majority of Uniworld’s excursion options are already included in your package price. The days in each port normally started off with a city tour by bus or a “do as the locals do” walking tour. The city tour by bus is for those who would like to see the highlights of the city but don’t necessarily want to walk around. You do really have a good amount of time in each port to really get a feel for the city. In the afternoon you had plenty of free time to roam around and explore or take part in one of the afternoon excursions that the ship offered for an extra cost. Afternoon tours consisted of a Ruin Pub Crawl in Budapest and a Food and Wine Tour in Vienna. We loved participating in the walking tours in the morning and spending our afternoon wandering around the city. The public transportation system in each city was super easy to navigate so getting back to the ship in time for us to sail that evening was not a problem. Uniworld also offers you to take out bikes for the day, which is another great way to see the city.
A highlight on this tour for myself was Salzburg, Austria. My favorite movie has always been the Sound of Music and getting to visit some of the filming locations was high on my bucket list. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint! Walking through the gardens and singing along with our tour guide to the soundtrack was defiantly a moment in my life I won’t soon forget. Austria is truly a magical country and a place I would visit over and over again if given the chance.
River cruising is more intimate that ocean cruising. Smaller ships means less people on board and no crowds to worry about. The Maria Theresa holds up to 150 people and getting to know your fellow traveler is easier. We made so many new friends on board and on our excursions. These friends we would have breakfast or lunch with and meet up for drinks before dinner. Another cool aspect of river cruising, you get to see what it is like to cruise through a lock. Any time the ship would approach a stretch of water that was a different level, we had to pass through a lock, which raised our boat so we could get through. A perk of having a French Balcony or regular balcony is reaching out of the window and touching the wall while going through.
By now I know what you are thinking, I though river cruising was just for older people? I am going to be totally honest here. If you are over 55, you are going to be in good company.
That being said, Uniworld cruises are not just for card-carrying AARP members. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises are designed for active adults, no matter what age. We are in our late 20s and had a blast getting to know the other passengers. One of my favorite aspects of traveling is that when you share a common interest, like exploring the world, things like age gaps mean very little. It was easy to make conversation with many of our fellow, even much older, guests. Granted these ships do not offer any sort of night life and most guests are in their staterooms for 11:00 PM. So if a wild and crazy party is what you are looking for this might not be for you but I still wouldn’t knock it till I tried it.
Uniworld now offers U River Cruises that caters more towards the younger generation looking into getting into river cruising. Offering itineraries in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, The Netherlands and Hungary that let you craft your adventure exactly the way you want to.
To get the most out of your river cruise I would suggest attending the on-ship daily briefings or at least read the daily itinerary that will be left in your room every day. This will give you important times of meals, tours and when you need to be back on the ship. It will even give you a run down of the port you are docked in and what are the best souvenirs you need to bring back home with you. Before dinner is also a great time to sign up for any tours you would like to do the following day or that week.
You can also skip an excursion or two and explore the city on your own if you fancy. The staff on board are knowledgeable and happy to offer suggestions on what to do and what to see. They can also provide maps and explain how the public transpiration system works. Wear comfortable walking shoes not just for the amount of walking you will be doing but a lot of European streets are cobble stone which are not the easiest to walk on to begin with.
If all of this seems a little overwhelming no need to worry! Our travel consultants are here to help you every step of the way from the beginning plans to when you step off of the plane back home. While Uniworld is definitely high on our list of recommendations, we can find the right river cruise for you!
I had a truly magical and amazing experience sailing for 8 days on the S.S. Maria Theresa with Uniworld. River cruising is a great way to see many cities without having to pack and unpack every day and have a bit more relaxation time. If bus tours are not your thing river cruising might be!
You can contact our office if you have any questions about river cruising or just vacations in general and we would be happy to help you book your next adventure! (337) 981-7870 – firstname.lastname@example.org