Drifting down the rivers of Europe is one of the fast growing travel experiences. Growing numbers of travellers are attracted to this “pack and unpack once with your hotel as transportation” way of seeing and immersing into European culture. Uniworld is one of the leading, and most luxurious, options available. In this article I share my nine tips for anyone considering river cruising and Uniworld.
Tip 1: Make sure river cruising is right for you
River cruising is not for everyone. Although the passenger mix is changing, it best suits people who enjoy going on travels that are tightly organised, where every detail of their trip is planned and arranged.
It is also perfect for people who like to know the exact cost of their vacation, and have it all paid for up front. Unlike most ocean cruises, they are usually fully inclusive and include food, drink, gratuities and excursions. Wi-Fi is usually included too. There are no-added-cost facilities and activities, like gambling or speciality dining, and so the fare will be the cost of your trip (other than any souvenirs or gifts you buy). They also are likely to include transfers to and from the ship. If you are travelling from the UK and book via Titan Travel, they even provide transport to and from your home to the airport.
River cruising helps people explore Europe without having to deal with language, hotels, finding the right tours, places to eat or navigate commuting by trains or planes between destinations.
The itineraries serve travellers passionate about arts, culture and history and are fairly active and able, as the tours are mostly walks lasting up to two or more hours. Unlike ocean cruising, there is no risk of seasickness as the boats run on gentle rivers and cruising time is much less.
Watch the following videos I made of Uniworld River Beatrice crew talking about the advantages of river cruising, and who it is best suited for.
The Advantages of River Cruising
Who river cruising is suited for
Tip 2: Make sure Uniworld is the right line for you
Uniworld is one of the premium river cruising companies and aim to offer a prestige, personalised and pampering experience to match. They offer what they call a “six-star service” where they try to offer as personal service as is possible. Every ship in the fleet is different inside, with distinctive decor and feels.
They tend to attract couples and solo travellers aged 50 and above who come from English-speaking countries, as everything on the ship is conducted in English.
Watch a video I made interviewing Uniworld crew about their “Six-Star Service”
Tip 3: Make sure you choosing the right cruise
The amount of cruising versus time in towns or docked can vary a greatly between cruises. When looking at the itinerary look carefully at how much the ship cruises during the day and night, and where the overnight stays will be. For example, a Venice and Northern Italy trip may involve most nights in Venice and very limited cruising, while a Danube one will travel longer distance with nights spent in different destinations. Look at where the overnights will be as this may be a chance to go to shows, local theatres or explore the nightlife.
River cruising can be quite hectic and regimented to make the most out of every stop, There will be at least two excursions every day and so spend time looking at the schedule to make sure it meets your activity versus relaxation level need.
Tip 4: Choose the right cabin type
Your budget will influence the grade of cabin you select. All grades are compact on river cruise ships, and bathrooms will likely only have a shower.
If you can afford it, I recommend selecting one that has a Juliet-style balcony on the upper level, as you have floor-to-ceiling windows to appreciate the scenery and open the doors to enjoy the fresh air. The middle-deck cabins have windows and those on the lower deck have smaller windows that are higher up on the wall, and just above water level. These cabins are largely below water level and so there can be some water noise.
If on the upper level, which is where the restaurant and lobby entrances are, I recommend taking one towards the middle to minimise any noise from either.
Take a look at two video tours two Uniworld ships:
Tip 5: Book through an expert cruise agent, especially one focused on river cruising
As these tips have shown there are many factors to consider, so I recommend you get the help of a cruise agent with river expertise to help in finding the right line, itinerary and cabin. They will also be able to get you the best price.
As already mentioned, if travelling from the UK consider Titan, as they have lots of experience of river cruising and Uniworld in particular. They also have the door-to-door service included in their packages.
Tip 6: Understand what is included, especially if comparing with other river cruise lines
Uniworld fares are all-inclusive. Once on the trip you should have no other key expenditure, other than items you buy on shore. It covers food, drinks, excursions, gratuities, talks and Wi-Fi. There are some premium drinks you can purchase and a small shop. When comparing their fare to other lines carefully look at what the others offer to ensure you are making a fair fare comparison.
Tip 7: Make sure you pack and bring the right things
Do not bring too much luggage, as there is fairly limited storage. There is also an on-board laundry if you need to wash clothes.
The dress code is casual during the day. Smart shirts and trousers for men and equivalent for women are suitable for most dinners. Guests are encouraged to wear a jacket and similar for the gala dinner. You should bring comfortable walking shoes and layers, including something waterproof, for use on excursions. If you forget anything you are usually in close reach of shops to stock up. There is a small fitness centre and bicycles available and so work out gear is a good idea.
Other key items:
- Electrical adaptors and chargers. The ships have 4 types of sockets and can cater for both USA and European plugs.
- As there is no medical centre, bring a simple first aid kit and plenty of medication you need.
- Earplugs and eyeshades can be helpful.
- Tablet computer or Kindle. There are films and TV channels shown on the in-room TV.
Tip 8: Get to know the crew and explain likes and preferences
There are only around 150 guests on many ships and so the crew have time to get to know guests, and want to. They try to create a personal service and are able to meet your preferences and needs. They urge you to discuss with them what you like (or do not!) and try and cater for it. As a premium line they expect to offer something above the norm of other lines.
Tip 9: Make the most of your time on board with these other first-hand pieces of advice
- Attend, or watch the daily briefings on the in-room television. These give history, overview and information on what the ship and excursions will be doing the next day, and give alternatives if any are being offered.
- Check and use the daily program each evening before bed. It explains the exact plans for the next day with times. It also provides more insights and information about the crew, route and ship. They only do emergency announcements, so you need to make sure you know the timing of activities and meals.
- Assume you will have decent but not amazing Wi-Fi. It varies based on the itinerary and environment sailing through. It is good enough for checking emails, social media and some browsing but not for Skype or FaceTime.
- Get the right pillow. There is a wide choice including down feather, fibre comfort, neck support, neck soft and lumbar supporting cushion.
- Find out where the 24-hour coffee and tea station with cookies are.
- Dining is open seated and so move about and meet people. There are very limited tables for two.
- On excursions, read the booklet sent with tickets as it lays them all out in detail. There are some options that you will need to sign up for, so make sure you know what they are and do so before the deadline. You don’t need to let them know if not going on main ones listed in the program. You will chose which group you join on the quayside when setting off each day. They use a Vox system where you wear and earpiece and the guide has a microphone, make sure you recharge it overnight.
- Pace yourself as lots going on with little down time!
I hope these tips have helped you decide if Uniworld is the right line for you – once you have decided river cruising is for you. If you have any more tips please leave a comment on the post.