There are many ways to travel thorugh Europe, but none compares to the luxury, comfort, and convenience of a river cruise. Cruise at leisure along waterways used since ancient times.
River cruising appeals strongly to baby boomers and matures. That said, a wide range of people river cruise. Some river cruise companies have family-friendly sailings for people traveling with children. The introduction of bikes on board is also enticing younger cruisers. There is a wide range of nationalities on board, generally from English-speaking countries, including from the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
Uniworld was founded in 1976 by entrepreneur Serba Illich. Currently California-based, the company began offering European river cruises in 1994. Acquired by The Travel Corporation in 2006, the line has made major investments in its fleet and onboard amenities offerings in recent years, and has rebranded to better reflect this focus on service (the line was previously known as Uniworld Grand River Cruises.)
Operating ten ships in Europe, Uniworld offers itineraries from 7 to 30 days on the Rhône, Mosel, Danube, Seine, and Saône rivers, as well as in the Netherlands and Belgium. It is one of the few river-cruise companies to offer cruises in Portugal and Spain on the Douro River, from Lisbon to Porto. Uniworld charters the newly constructed Douro Spirit for these itineraries.
The Uniworld Fleet and Destinations
The company launched its first ship (as opposed to chartering ships during the company’s inception), the 128-passenger River Ambassador, in 1993, followed by a sister ship, River Baroness, in 1994. Both ships underwent major remodeling in 2011. The 132-passenger River Queen came in 1999 and was refurbished first in 2006 and then for the 2010 season.
In 2001, Uniworld introduced a new series of ships—each carrying 132 to 134 passengers in 151-square-foot standard cabins (as well as four 214-square-foot suites)—River Princess (2001), River Empress (2001), and River Countess and River Duchess (2003). All four ships have been completely renovated 2009 - 2010.
Uniworld built the 132-passenger River Royale in 2006 primarily for cruises in France (River Baroness and River Royale also operate in France). The 160-passenger River Beatrice came on stream in 2009, operating on the Danube.
All staterooms feature flat-screen TV, bottled water, l’Occitane bath and body products, and more. New for 2011 is the River Antoinette, built specifically to cruise the magnificent Rhine river.
In 2009, the line also introduced the all-suite River Tosca on Egypt’s Nile River.
In China, the company cooperates with Victoria Cruises for journeys along the Yangtze River on board the Victoria Anna, Victoria Jenna and Victoria Prince.
Uniworld’s newest ship features heated pool, enclosed balconies
The newbuild River Antoinette, sister ship to the River Beatrice, is the largest ship in Uniworld’s fleet at 443 feet in length and 37.5 feet wide. Most of the 73 staterooms will be 196 square feet, and 20 staterooms are 163 square feet. There are eight junior suites measuring 294 square feet each and one owner’s suite at 391 square feet.
The ship has a 20-by-13-foot heated swimming pool, not a very common feature on river cruise ships in Europe, on the top deck at the aft of the ship as well as a sky lounge. All the upper deck staterooms, including eight junior suites and the owner’s suite, have sliding glass doors and balconies. Another glass window on the balcony that can be electronically moved up and down give passengers the option to either have an open-air balcony or an enclosed balcony in cooler weather.
The River Antoinette sails Uniworld’s Castles Along the Rhine itinerary.
Beatrice Tollman, founder and president of Uniworld’s sister company, the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, lead the design project together with her daughter, Antoinette Tollman, godmother and namesake of the River Antoinette.
They incorporated cream and blue toile fabrics in the junior suites and top deck staterooms; and crewel fabric in cream with a floral design in soft green, powder blue, baby pink, and dark green colors in mid-deck staterooms. All suites and staterooms have custom English Savoir beds, and marble bathrooms with L’Occitane bath products and Christies of Manchester towels.
Uniworld swaps in new Portugal river ship
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises has introduced a new ship in Portugal, the 128-passenger Duoro Spirit, which replaced the 126-passenger Duoro Queen on Uniworld’s Portugal, Spain and Duoro River Valley itinerary.
All the staterooms and suites onboard the Duoro Spirit have French balconies, hotel beds with fine linens, built-in closets, flat-screen satellite televisions, and complimentary bottled water; each bathroom is stocked with L’Occitane body products and waffle bathrobes.
The Douro Spirit’s common areas include a main lounge with full-service bar and dance floor, sun deck with Jacuzzi and a small swimming pool, a restaurant with open seating, fitness room, massage room, beauty salon, and a boutique.
The itinerary includes three nights in Lisbon in a deluxe hotel, and a seven-night cruise from Porto, Portugal to Salamanca, Spain.
Uniworld river cruises include all meals with complimentary wine, beer, and soft drinks served with dinner onboard; shore excursions by English-speaking local guides; and transfers on arrival and departure days.
River Victoria Cruises Russia
by Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.
Uniworld River Cruises cruises in Russia with a newly refurbished ship on the Volga River, chartering the River Victoria from a Russian company. The design team from Red Carnation Hotels, Uniworld’s sister company, have worked together with its Russian partners on the refurbishment plans, according to Guy Young, president of Uniworld.
Young would not disclose how much is being invested in the refurbishment of the ship, which was stripped down to its hull.
Series of three cabins were combined into two, which created cabins ranging in size between 135 square feet and 210 square feet. The majority of cabins, category 1-3, are 210 square feet, with 70% of all cabins featuring balconies. Category 4-5 cabins are 135 square feet and category 6 cabins 161 square feet.
There are also be 10 suites: two junior suites at 334 square feet each; six deluxe suites at 269 square feet each; and two presidential suites at 409 square feet each. As part of the refurbishment an elevator was added and all public areas renovated.
The 423 foot-long, 55 foot-wide River Victoria is a 206-passenger vessel. It has four decks and features a restaurant, bar, library and fitness room.
Why River Cruising In Europe?
In 1992, Europe’s age-old maritime landscape changed dramatically. It was that year that the Main-Danube Canal opened, connecting the Continent’s main arteries — and along with them, all of Europe.
The completion of the canal spawned grand cruise itineraries from Amsterdam to Budapest — and beyond. An engineering marvel, the 106-mile Main-Danube Canal permits modern-day vessels to travel from the North Sea to the Black Sea, opening up more than 2,200 miles of river and exposing today’s travelers to life along the banks.
Tributaries and smaller rivers flow into the main arteries to provide additional opportunities not only to reach deep into the heart of the Continent but also to explore some of its more remote regions.
The opening of the canal also meant that no longer would travelers need to sit with their noses pressed against the windows of busses as they moved from one destination to the next. Instead, travelers admire the scenery from the ship’s sun deck as they are transported along with their accommodations.
Nor would travelers have to obligingly put out their luggage by 7 a.m. (or earlier) to be loaded onto the motorcoach before it set off to the next destination. River travelers unpack only once during the course of their cruise as they move from one city to the next.
River cruising emerged to introduce an entirely new concept to Europe: that of floating hotels that journey between destinations. In its simplest form, a river cruiser is nothing more than a barge with a hotel on top.
For many travelers, the slow chug along the river is just the right pace for getting the lay of the land. Sitting on the top deck of a ship under brilliant blue skies, you gaze on fabled landscapes dotted with castles, villages and vineyards. A flight of stairs down, and you have all the amenities of a modern hotel — restaurants, bars, lounges, fitness facilities, spas, internet access and comfortable staterooms.
River cruises offer opportunities to step ashore in fairy tale towns and fabled cities. Immerse yourself in contemporary culture, and learn something about the history of the towns along the Continent’s greatest rivers.
The season runs March through the end of December, beginning with Tulip Time Cruises in Benelux countries and ending with Christmas Market Cruises in Hungary, Austria, and Germany.
The majority of itineraries are seven nights, though longer cruises are available. Book one year in advance, if possible, and consider cruising March through May or September through December, when the crowds are thinner and airfares may be more reasonably priced than during peak periods.
River cruising is perfect for those who want a relaxed grand tour of Europe and for cruisers who want to explore Europe beyond the coastline. River cruising presents the grandeur and charm of Europe as well as the indelible landscapes that inspired Europe’s great artists. Few things in life can beat the views of Europe over the ripples of Continent’s rivers.
An Uplifting Experience
A series of 16 locks lifts river cruisers nearly 1,400 feet above sea level as they transit the Main-Danube Canal to cross the Swabian Alps, south of Nürnberg, and Europe’s Continental Divide.
Good To Know
Some river cruisers overnight in ports and cruise during the day; others cruise during the night and tie up in port during the day. Both approaches allow for dinners ashore and late-evening strolls into town.
Barging Is Not River Cruising! - How Barging and River Cruises Differ
Make no mistake. River cruises and barge cruises are completely different beasts.
Designed specifically to transit locks along the way, modern river cruisers are long and narrow, as are the locks themselves, which measure more than 600 feet long but are only about 40 feet wide.
Barges typically are smaller and with fewer frills and amenities than river cruisers. Whereas river cruisers may carry more than 100 passengers, barges range from a few passengers to few dozen.
What River Cruises Offer
The opening of the Main-Danube Canal in 1992 not only spawned the birth of river cruising as we know it today but also spawned the birth of the contemporary river cruise vessel. There are more than 100 river cruisers operating on Europe’s rivers. A “building boom” since 2000 has seen the introduction of more than 50 new ships.
Because of the canal and the locks, river cruisers are quite narrow, and this poses challenges for designers.
Though some river cruisers feature balcony staterooms, many retain the real estate that would be allocated for balconies to create more expansive interior space. Some river cruisers do feature balcony staterooms, where you can sit and watch the landscape pass, but take solace if your stateroom does not feature a balcony: Nearly all vessels feature a broad expanse of sun deck only a deck or two up.
The typical river cruiser design is four decks, including an upper sun deck, with two to three decks below it featuring a series of staterooms on each side of the ship. Staterooms typically feature a queen-sized bed that can be reconfigured to two single beds, television, storage space and a small, but often well-appointed, bathroom with shower and often no tub.
Public rooms typically include restaurant, lounge, spa and fitness center. While other features vary, some cruisers offer wireless internet access; bicycles for use on shore; whirlpool; sauna; and at least two river cruisers in operation today feature swimming pools.
River cruisers are essentially barges with an integrated hotel above and typically carry 100 or more passengers. Some river cruisers are (nearly) all-inclusive, meaning that wine and beer are served at lunch and dinner (one cruise line offers beer one morning of each cruise at breakfast), and some form of shore excursions, such as a guided city walk, are included.
Prices are competitively priced, and you should expect to pay from $200 per person per day to $400 per person per day depending on ship, itinerary and level of accommodations.
What Barge Cruises Offer
One of the big differences between river cruisers and barges is the amount of territory they cover. Barge cruises usually span six days and typically cover fewer than 50 miles of river a week, whereas river cruisers may cover few hundred. Transiting the locks can be time-consuming, and passengers often prefer to walk or bicycle along the canal’s banks (often outpacing the barge). Activities such as hot-air ballooning, horseback riding, guided tours, tennis and golf are offered, some for additional costs.
A barge usually cruises within one region of one country (usually France) whereas river cruisers can travel through several countries and on several rivers during the span of one sailing.
Barges typically have only one deck, smaller staterooms than riverboats and a combination dining room and lounge. Barge staterooms almost always feature private facilities.
Barges are usually all-inclusive, with drinks, fine wine and champagne, gourmet cuisine (using fresh, local ingredients and cooked to order), pick up and drop off from local airports, train stations and hotels, shore excursions and entrance fees included in the cruise fare. Bicycles are often available for use on shore. Some barges feature Jacuzzi, pool and exercise equipment.
Although barge cruises are offered in Belgium, Germany and Holland, France is the most popular destination.
Whereas you may think of river cruising as a floating hotel experience, barge cruising is more of a country manor house experience.
Though most barges are staffed, there are self-drive barges. Small groups, such as family or friends, may book the entire barge, or barges may be booked by individuals, preferably liked-minded people who don’t mind sharing space in a small setting.
Barge cruises can range from $350 per person per day to more than $1,000 per person per day. These are for six-day weeks, because one day is reserved to prepare the barge for the next group of people. Whole barges can be chartered from $15,000 to more than $50,000.
River Cruising Is Not For Everyone
River cruisers and barges are evolving in such ways that it’s hard to imagine that anyone could be ill-suited for them. And with more than a hundred vessels in operation, the on-board ambience spans such a range that there are ships to suit most travel preferences and lifestyles.
Some vessels emphasize elegance; others emphasize a relaxed on-board (read: casual) lifestyle. Travelers can find river cruisers that rival Europe’s finest boutique hotels at one end of the spectrum while at the other, it’s possible to cruise Europe’s rivers much like an independent traveler who opts for basic accommodations and dining.
Still, river cruising is not for everyone. Non-smokers, in particular, beware. On some vessels smoking is allowed in public areas. And while smoking may be restricted to a particular area, such as to one section of the lounge, sensitive travelers still may be offended. Be sure to ask whether smoking is permitted on the ship — and if so, where. If smoking is permitted in the lounge, the social hub on many ships, you may want to consider looking at other river cruise companies or consider other forms of vacation.
Families traveling with infants or with small children may find river cruising to be less than ideal when compared to other forms of cruise travel. While ocean-going ships often have baby-sitting services and children’s programs, river cruisers typically do not. That said, barges are popular options for families, as the smaller vessels typically carry family-sized loads — from six to 24 passengers.
The physically challenged will want to look for vessels with easy access from ship to shore and elevators; not all river vessels feature them.
If you’re the type who dreads the thought of dining with others each evening, then river cruising may not be for you. Few, if any, river vessels offer room service, and even fewer offer alternative dining venues as on the big ships.
That said, some ships now feature tables for two. Also, you can choose to use the vessel only as a floating hotel, skipping the dinners on board and dining ashore instead.
Those who want to thoroughly absorb the cultural milieu of European cities may find river vessels restricting. After all, the vessels do have schedules to keep. If you’re occasionally spontaneous and could envision yourself wanting to stay a few unplanned extra nights in a city, you may find your ship sailing without you.
If you’re accustomed to ocean cruising and require all of the big-ship trappings, then you may find river cruising a bit boring. River cruisers are smaller and feature fewer facilities. Entertainment is on a much smaller scale, if it exists at all, on river cruisers. Shows may consist of nothing more than crew talent performances.
Single travelers often will pay higher fares if they choose to occupy a double cabin alone, unlike at hotels.
For the majority of people, however, river cruising will provide an exceptionally satisfying experience.
While barging is aimed primarily at small groups of like-minded people (often friends or families), increasingly river cruisers are seeking to appeal a wide range of interests. Some river vessels offer theme cruises, such as gardening, golf and history. Other river cruisers carry bicycles on board so that active travelers may cycle once ashore.