I spent 8 glorious days cruising down the Danube with Uniworld and it blew me away. Now I’ll be honest, I didn’t know if I was a ‘cruiser’ when I decided to take this trip. I wasn’t sure what to expect and being in the travel industry I tend to scrutinise everything on holiday – I compare pitch the of aircraft seats, I weigh up the comfort on coaches, and I analyse how friendly and knowledgeable travel staff are. Try as I might, I found no flaws with this trip.
The cruise started in Budapest and I arrived a couple of days early to soak up the city. This is always worthwhile to bounce back from any jetlag, see a bit more of the start city (if your cruise sets off right away), and allow for any delays that may crop up on your way to join your cruise. If you are coming from the airport straight to your cruise then you can arrange a transfer with Uniworld, however, if you do spend some time in the city first then you can arrange for a taxi to take you to the right dock (have a print out of your documents on hand).
Against my better judgement I thought I would stretch my legs and enjoy the sunshine on the way to the cruise. I spent longer than I would like to admit rattling my suitcase over the cobblestones of the Budapest esplanade. I arrived slightly dishevelled but luckily that is the last time anything went awry on this holiday. Once I was on board and in the hands of the Uniworld crew everything was, well, smooth sailing! There are so many reasons to cruise with Uniworld, here are some of mine.
The thing that stood out the most to me was the service on board. Check in was smooth, my bag materialised in my cabin without any effort on my part, and the staff were on hand for anything I needed. The in-room TV was lit up with a welcome message and the on-screen options surprised me. Now, I have a complicated Portuguese last name. It has led to many emails getting lost in cyberspace and people telling me I should get married to fix that scenario. ‘Goncalves’ just doesn’t roll off the tongue in English. I was travelling on an Australian passport, didn’t note anything different on any booking forms, and yet when I checked in I had the option to set the language on my TV to English or Portuguese. It is that extra effort that set the tone for the rest of the trip.
Everything ran like clockwork. When I was taking in the scenery on the top deck and admittedly shivering a little in the crisp April air, a crew member would appear with a blanket and a hot chocolate. When I walked into the bar area a glass of bubbly promptly appeared on my table. When I turned up to breakfast the chef would offer me an omelette with my choice of ingredients that he whipped up in front of me. When I ordered the fish dish at dinner the Sommelier would even subtly pour me a glass of both red and white, knowing my preference was red but not wanting to make me look like I had no taste in pairing my cuisine (no judgement please!). The reception desk would cater to any request and give tips on what to see if I ventured ashore myself, and always checked in to make sure I had everything I needed. Plus, every chocolate that disappeared from the in-room stash (guilty!) was replaced, the bed made, and my towel often folded into crafty designs to welcome me back to my cabin.
I cruised on the Enchanting Danube itinerary from Budapest to Passau. Once aboard I was given a list of options to experience in each destination the cruise was due to visit and could register for them in advance at reception (or add them along the way if there was availability). Each evening before dinner there was a presentation in the lounge that gave an overview of the options for the following day, including the highlights to choose from and the level of fitness required for each. There was everything from ‘Go Active’ options to ‘Gentle Walking Programs’. There were also bicycles on board that you could use ashore on your own adventure should you choose.
Some of my highlights along the way included; a tour of Budapest taking in the cobbled streets, the markets and the famous Heroes’ Square, a sampling of pastries in Vienna, a hike to the castle overlooking Dürnstein, a visit to the impressive baroque-style library of Melk Abbey, and exploring the artistic streets of Linz. There were plenty of standouts, but I was equally impressed by the experiences on board as I was off the ship. I absolutely loved sitting on the Sun Deck as we cruised through the stunning Wachau Valley with its castles hugging the banks and the countryside sprawling in every direction. There was live commentary that you could listen to through a portable headset if you chose, or you could find the perfect viewing place either outside or next to one of the expansive windows to relax and take in scenery. The ship is perfectly designed with plenty of spots to enjoy the vista in luxurious comfort.
I cruised on the S.S. Maria Theresa, a lavish ship with all the trimmings. An ornate staircase winds its way down to the lobby, the lounge is beautifully appointed, the dining room is carefully set out to enjoy the view while you also enjoy the delicious food, and the staterooms are intricately decorated. The 100% Egyptian cotton sheets and extensive pillow menu makes it feel like you are sleeping on clouds, and I confess that I spent a substantial amount of time in the 24-hour coffee and tea bar helping myself to snacks and hot chocolate. With only 75 cabins on board it never felt busy or crowded and I never had to forgo my favourite places on the ship.
If you haven’t guessed, I’m a bit of a foodie. I really enjoy eating traditional cuisine when I travel and will usually go for the ‘local specialty’ even if I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting. With all meals included onboard with Uniworld, it did cross my mind that I may not get the true local foodie experience. I was wrong. The menu was carefully curated to include cuisine from the regions we cruised through with the freshest ingredients. The welcome and farewell dinners were out of this world, and everything in between was just delicious. Breakfasts consisted of a buffet to choose from or you could order something to your liking. For lunch you could have a full buffet again in the main dining room, or lighter refreshments were available in the lounge. Dinner was a full affair, with an extensive menu and wines carefully paired to suit. It was the icing on the cake.
I was thoroughly impressed by my time cruising the Danube with Uniworld. The itinerary was well thought out, the places we visited were incredible, and the way we did it was truly amazing. I may not have been a cruiser when I set foot on the S.S Maria Theresa but was certainly a convert by the time disembarkation rolled around. If you haven’t tried river cruising yet, I would definitely recommend it – and this was the perfect introduction. If you have, then you’ll already know what I’m talking about. Time to give this itinerary a go!