If you have been reading this report, you know that Jeannie and I had a fabulous time on our cruises, and were very pleased with the Uniworld experience. My modus operandi when doing trip reports is to pretty much concentrate of the positives, and not spend a lot of time and energy on negatives. However, I also like to conclude with a more comprehensive, honest assessment of the entire experience. And while honestly, there were not a whole lot of negatives on our cruises, there are some areas that I think can use some improvement.
It says a lot about Uniworld that the vast number of passengers that we came into contact with were repeat Uniworld passengers, some of them having sailed with them quite a few times. We always like to ask people we meet how they are enjoying their cruise, and the responses was nearly universally enthusiastic. We did encounter one disgruntled person, who told us that she will not likely sail with Uniworld again. Why? She was quite put off about the fact that she had to pay 6 Euros for a shot of Hendricks. OK. I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't use that as a primary criteria for choosing a cruise line, but to each their own.
First and foremost, the primary reason that I think people like to take river cruises is to see the locations and get great tours, and here Uniworld did come through. We absolutely loved the itineraries, there was not one stop that we failed to appreciate. We were very satisfied with tours themselves. They were all informative, interesting, and well organized. Our local guides ranged from very good to superb. There were a few whose accents were a little difficult for me to understand, but no biggie.
We did not take any Masterpiece Collection tours, so I cannot comment on them, but the people we spoke to who did seemed to be well satisfied with them. One person told me that he did not think that the one he took was worth the additional cost.
One area that I think Uniworld can improve on is in information given prior to the tours. Here, there was a considerable difference between the 2 ships. On the Joie de Vivre, our Cruise Manager, Florence , was very personable and entertaining, but the information that she provided at the daily briefings left much to be desired. OTOH, A.J. on the Catherine, gave very nice descriptions, making very sure that there was no confusion as to what time we needed to be and where. (We were told that all tours leave ON TIME, which I think is a good thing). I also think that Uniworld could do a better job in providing written material as to what to expect on the tours; there was one in which a few passengers were having a difficult time given the length of the walk and the very uneven surfaces. They did not know ahead of time about this.
I was a bit disappointed that there was little in the way of enrichment lectures or programs, only one crepe suzette demonstration, and one silk making demonstration. There were several afternoons of not-so-scenic cruising, I thought this time could have been better spent.
The food I would rate as good. Some dinners were outstanding, some just OK. But if you do a lot of cruising, this is not unusual, even on luxury ocean lines. I was happy with the menu selections (the ubiquitous chicken soup notwithstanding). There were always enough tempting choices available. I thought that the breakfast and lunch buffets were outstanding.
I would say that Uniworld's strongest suit is service. On both ships, every crew member that we encountered was pleasant, efficient, and seemed eager to please. They seemed like a happy team that worked well together. On a number of occasions, I overheard the dining room manager giving instructions to wait staff, and he did so in a kind, respectful manner, not a bit of "bossiness" or condescension. To me, this speaks volumes.
I have indicated what a great job the staff did, and how well taken care of we were when it came to Jeannie's illness in post number 89. A few more examples-
On the 3rd day of each cruise, we are given a preliminary questionnaire about likes and dislikes so far. One of our fellow passengers who did both cruises with us told us that on the Joie de Vivre, she indicated that she thought that the quilt on the bed was far too heavy for her. Note that she did not ask anyone either verbally or in writing for a change, only suggesting that there be a choice. That night, a lighter quilt was left on her bed. Nice to know that these questionnaires are read, even nicer that someone actually cares enough to take action. But wait, it gets better. When she boarded the Catherine, the lighter quilt was there waiting for her, the information was conveyed from one ship to the other. Very nice.
Another- we dined one night with a woman who was gluten free. The dining room manager sat down next to her and went through the entire menu, telling her "this you can have, this you cannot have, this you can have provided that you ask to leave out...." He did this for her every evening.
Again, a bit of a difference between the 2 ships. I thought the service on the JdV in the restaurant and lounge was a little better . I attribute this to the Catherine having more passengers, and it seemed to me (although I am not certain of this) that they had a comparable number of servers. So we had to wait a bit longer for wine service and for our water glasses to be refilled. Oh, the agony!😉
In the category of service, I would also mention that the transfers between airport and ships, hotel to ship, and ship to ship were seamless and efficient. We felt very well cared for every step along the way. I would note, however, that airport transfers are only included if you arrive the day of embarkation and fly out the day of disembarkation , unless you take Uniworld's pre/post cruise package. If you make any hotel arrangements on your own, you are also on your own for transfers.
I think that Uniworld's weakest area is in evening entertainment. OK, let's stipulate that this is not what most people are taking river cruises for. But still, it's nice to have something to do in the evenings. In 14 nights on the 2 ships, there were 7 when there was a singer in the lounge, 2 movie nights, and 5 with nothing, zippo, not even a piano player. The singers, while they were talented, and French, performed mostly American pop music. I would have liked to have had a bit of French culture, how about a concert of Edith Piaf music, or local French dancers? Come on, we're in France!
Finally, as much as enjoyed this trip and was impressed with the Uniworld product, I feel I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I think I would have been a lot more blown away had I never cruised on Tauck. I say this not to demean Uniworld, but it is difficult for me to not compare. There are quite a few things that Tauck does, that Uniworld does not , here are some of the most notable:
· Uniworld had one person who is Cruise Manager, responsible for the organization of onboard activities and tours. Tauck has a Cruise Director for onboard activities and three(!) Tour Directors. As good as A.J. was, there is no way that one person can do the job compared to 4. The Tour Directors are all very knowledgeable, but each have their own areas of special expertise. This is very helpful in daily briefings, and in having lectures and presentations during the cruise.
· Gala evenings, such as a dinner in a castle with opera singers and classical music
· Special tours such as a tour of an opera house when it is closed to the public. Including a surprise performance by opera singers.
· Evening onboard cultural events, such as a string quartet in Prague, local dancers in Strasbourg, Alpine Horn player in Basel. They have other evening events such as Name That Tune and trivia. On one of our cruises, the crew put on a show. At the very least, there is a piano player in the evening.
Having said that, given the fact that Uniworld's portfolio of itineraries is far more extensive than that of Tauck, there is little doubt in my mind that we will cruise with Uniworld again. And when we do, we will do so with eager anticipation and high expectations.
Thanks to all that have been following this report, and to those who have posted along the way, I wish everyone many happy cruises in the future!