Uniworld has grabbed a hold of the highest end of the river cruise market and has firmly planted itself there. When it comes to opulent interiors, paired with fine dining and wine, Uniworld is in a class of its own.
Uniworld is also ahead of the pack when it comes to offering diverse river cruise itineraries. In addition to the popular Danube and Rhine routes, Uniworld is sailing routes that aren't even on the radar of other river cruise lines, like Italy's Po River and India's famed Ganges. The line also has a comprehensive presence in China and Southeast Asia, and is one of the few to continue to operate in both Russia and Egypt.
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The line's ships are decidedly unique, with decor designed in partnership with Red Carnation Hotels. Best described as Louis XIV on acid, the decor may be polarizing, but it is undeniably Uniworld. Nothing is ordered out of a catalogue here; even the chairs in the lounge have been custom-designed.
Uniworld went all-inclusive in 2014, and each voyage now includes all beverages on board, gratuities, shore excursions, airport transfers, and even personalized butler service.
High Design: You cannot talk about Uniworld without talking about the interior design of this company's river cruise ships. We have three words for you: Over. The. Top. Think extensive marble details, lush upholstery, and tons of commissioned artwork, which have made the vessels something of a destination unto themselves.
Gourmand's Delight: Uniworld's vessels are not just a feast for the eyes, they are a feast for the taste buds too. The company does not hold back when it comes to bringing impressive delicacies and wine on board.
Unique Itineraries: Uniworld is the only major North American river cruise line to offer sailings that explore Italy's Po River and India's Ganges, among others.
Cons Price: Uni world's fancy schmancy six-star, all-inclusive offering comes at a price. These river cruises are not cheap.
Impractical Inventory: These decked-out riverboats are often weighed down by all the divine details inside and that means that Uniworld vessels can sometimes be at a disadvantage when river water levels are low, a situation that favors lighter boats with lower drafts. Form-over-function can be a problem on board, too: We actually had to ring the reception desk aboard S.S. Maria Theresa in order to ask how to open our stateroom door when the elaborate Victorian knob wouldn't turn.
Love-It-Or-Hate-It Decor: You're either going to be turned on or turned off by the line's Versailles-esque decor.
Its name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has been in the river cruise business far longer than most of the lines in this chapter. Founded in 1976, the company was acquired in 2004 by The Travel Corporation (owner of several major tour operators and a hotel chain), which injected a healthy amount of cash into Uniworld and allowed it to expand even further.
How much cash? The company invested more than $1 million in the purchasing and commissioning of the extensive collection of art pieces on board just one of its ships the 159-passenger S.S. Catherine, which sails on the Rhone and Saone rivers in France's Burgundy and Provence regions. Other extravagant details include the intricate mosaic-tiled indoor swimming on Uniworld's newer Super Ship class of vessels, the safari-themed Leopard Lounge at the aft of several of its ships and the 10-foot blue Strauss Baccarat chandelier with sapphires, which once hung in the former Tavern on the Green in New York's Central Park and now hangs in the lobby of the S.S. Antoinette. Uniworld set its collective sights on becoming the first five-star boutique river cruise line and it has largely succeeded.
Few lines have the kind of loyal passenger base that Uniworld does. They're drawn back to the line time after time by its experience, its doting staff, and ships that are as unique as the itineraries they sail. The rivergoing equivalent of Seabourn or Regent, Uniworld attracts a guest that is looking for the best of the best in every aspect, and isn't afraid to pay accordingly for it.
Beyond its ritzy river cruise ships, Uniworld has a secret weapon similar to Avalon Waterways' it too is owned by a major travel conglomerate, The Travel Corporation, a company that owns well-established tour brands such as Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Brendan Vacations, and the hotel company the Red Carnation Hotel Collection (the Red Carnation team helps Uniworld design those posh interiors). What that means is that Uniworld isn't just a fleet of fancy ships. It is backed by some serious tour operating experience and decades of travel expertise.
That kind of tour operating pedigree means that Uniworld has the ability to create land programs in line with the level of expectation set by the onboard experience, whether that means finding exclusive chateaux for wine tastings in Bordeaux or taking its passengers truffle hunting in the south of France. Back on board, you will find that, despite a certain old-world elegance that the ships evoke, Uniworld in fact has some very modern ideas about the kinds of offerings today's contemporary cruiser might want. That means top-of-the-line mattresses (from luxe Savoir® of England) and an emphasis on health and wellness. So it offers yoga and exercise classes and TRX training equipment in the fitness room Bikes are also available to cruisers.
And passengers may find they could use that extra workout as Uniworld cuisine makes it hard to resist temptation (there are healthy options too, but who wants to eat healthy when there are mounds of pastries at breakfast, a heaping cheese station at lunch and multi-course professionally plated dinners?).
Like many river cruise lines, Uniworld's mainstay are baby boomers, but in recent years Uniworld has been attracting a wider variety of guests, including a greater number of younger passengers. Along those lines, Uniworld has been building up its wellness program, which includes higher paced Go Active excursions, complimentary yoga classes and TRX training, bicycles on board and Nordic walking sticks that guests can use. Uniworld also offers family-friendly departures, which helps bring down the age range.
Uniworld offers some of the most comprehensive river cruises around the globe. Currently, the line offers sailings in Europe, Russia, Egypt, India, China, and Vietnam and Cambodia.
When it comes to fine dining, Uniworld doesn't mess around. Passengers can expect meals that incorporate local delicacies like impressive selection of smoked salmon at the breakfast buffet, foie gras in France, hard-to-find regional cheeses throughout Europe (seriously, their cheese displays are massive) and very specialized wine pairings. This high quality, locally sourced gourmet dining experience alleviates some of the potential frustration that eating most of your meals on the ship during a river cruise can cause.
Uniworld hasn't embraced the multiple dining venue trend and appears to be more focused on simply wowing in the main restaurant.
It's also important to note that as part of Uniworld's all-inclusive pricing, unlimited beverages are available throughout the cruise including some premium spirits such as Grey Goose, Crown Royal, and Glenfiddich.
Uniworld's discerning clientele expects lofty and engaging lectures relevant to the history, culture or Current events of the region, and deeper insights into the local culinary traditions and wines of the regions through tastings and cooking demonstrations and thus that's what Uniworld strives to provide. All excursions are included in the cost of the cruise, and Uniworld offers more than one option in most ports of call. Uniworld's Choice Is Yours program offers excursions designed for new and repeat guests alike, while Do as the Locals Do options focus on authentic cultural experiences. Guests with mobility issues will find Uniworld's Gentle Walking tours to be an attractive option, while those seeking more active experiences ashore might want to participate in the line's Go Active hiking and biking excursions. Uniworld's European fleet also boasts a collection of onboard bicycles that guests can use, free of charge, for independent touring.
Uniworld does not encourage children on its regular sailings, but it doesn't prohibit them either (except for those under 4). Children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult 21 or older at all times, and there are no kid-friendly arrangements or activities for them.
All that said, for those who would like to bring the little ones on a river cruise, Uniworld has a longstanding family river cruise program on certain sailings in the summer months and during holiday season. To make these itineraries kid-friendly, Uniworld injects them with more active excursions such as biking and kayaking, more arts and crafts, opportunities to visit various amusement parks or a gladiator school (that's a thing? … apparently in Rome it is…), hands-on food activities, and anything spooky (ghost walks), creepy (such as the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum in Rothenburg. Germany) or just plain weird that kids will get a kick out of.
Onboard entertainment is subdued, with most guests retiring to the lounge for conversation and afterdinner nightcaps. A resident pianist entertains guests nightly, and local entertainment is often brought on board in select ports of call (a fado singer in Portugal, an opera singer in Austria, you know the drill). Though the entertainment isn't all that different from the offerings on board other lines, Uniworld's ships become exceedingly cozy at night, with lounges taking on a clubby, old-world feel that helps to set the Uniworld experience apart.
Uniworld makes every effort to ensure that extremely well-trained staff are on-hand to meet, and hopefully exceed, customers' expectation. It could be something small like crew remembering passengers' names and preferences, to something more involved like helping passengers make special onshore arrangements and celebrate special occasions Uniworld is tuned in to these details and appears to be aware that without them it really doesn't matter how glamorous the ships are. Furthermore, Uniworld stepped it up a notch in 2015 by offering in-suite butler service for guests staying in the suites on four of its vessels the River Beatrice, S.S. Antoinette, S.S. Catherine, and S.S. Maria Theresa. The service includes packing and unpacking assistance, in-room breakfast if desired, a daily fruit and cookie plate, and evening snack, a bottle of wine upon arrival, shoe shine and free laundry service. These guests are also invited to a special dinner in the Bar du Leopard. Uniworld includes gratuities in its pricing.