Live from Uniworld’s River Countess around Venice.

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Christchurch, New Zealand
247 Posts
Joined Jan 2013
I am not sure how much time I am going to have to do this, but we will give it a go. I have in the past found lots of useful tips on Cruise Critic, and hope something of what I can say about this trip we are currently doing will be of interest/use to other cruisers.

Background - We are 2 New Zealanders, aged 56 and 63. We have travelled the world extensively over many years – river cruises, ocean cruises and land tours, as well as much DIY. This is our third river cruise with Uniworld; we have also river cruised with APT. We had been to Venice before, in 2005, but it was a fleeting one nighter as part of a coach tour and we had always wanted to return and see a bit more of it.

We arrived in Venice on Friday, having flown from our home in Christchurch to Sydney, Dubai and on to Venice. We stayed two nights at a hotel near Piazzale Roma, which was a good base while we explored Venice on our own. We mainly spent our time just wandering, a lot of the time through some lesser traversed parts of Venice were the tourists were fewer. You never know what you are going to see around the next corner in Venice. We did go up the Campanile on Saturday morning – were there when it opened, to avoid the queue. A good way of seeing the layout of the city.

On Sunday, we joined our cruise after lunch. The River Countess was moored at Santa Marta, and we walked there from our hotel, where we had left our baggage in the morning. It took us half an hour – the biggest pain being getting the suitcases over all the canal bridges! We are in cabin (they call them staterooms) 309. As past Uniworld passengers they gave us a complimentary 1 category upgrade from what we booked. It is light and bright and very comfortable. Lots of storage space. The bathroom is a decent size for a ship – in fact bigger than some bathrooms we have had in hotels!
The River Countess takes a maximum of 132 passengers, but there are only 89 on this sailing – 40 Australians, 28 Americans, 12 British, 2 Germans, 2 Dutch, 2 Canadians, 1 Chinese and us two Kiwis.

Sunday evening the ship moved from Santa Marta to Riva Sette Martiri, a short walk from St Mark’s Square. After dinner we walked into the square, which was very pleasant.

Today, Monday, we have again done lots more walking. This morning we started at 9am in 4 groups with local guides, for an included excursion. Our guide was truly excellent in every respect. We walked through the Castello district, eventually finding our way to St Marks’s Square where we did a tour of the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). Then more walking to a point on the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge, where we were picked up by water taxis, for a cruise down the Grand Canal and return to the ship for lunch. After lunch there were some optional excursions available but we did our own thing, going to the Teatro La Fenice (the Opera House). There we did an audio tour. (Note that if you do this they ask you for your ID which they hold as security until you return the audioguides. We did not have any ID with us, but they agreed to take one of our cruise keycards. They do not tell you that ID is required when you purchase your tickets.) The opera house is magnificent inside and worth a visit. After that we went to the Museo Correr. We are not big museum fans (having become rather museumed out over the years of travel!) but it was included in our ticket which we were given to enter the Palazzo Ducale, so thought we may as well us it. There were some parts of interest.

After an early dinner this evening we had an after hours visit to St Mark’s Basilica. This was rather special, being able to visit without the droves of tourists. We were also allowed into the crypt, which is usually off limits. It is an amazing building.

That is it for now. I will try to get back to this as the week progresses. If anyone has any questions, please ask.
Raleigh NC
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Joined Oct 2007
Thanks for the report!
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Toronto, Ontario
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Joined Oct 2007
Safe travels and thanks for the report! Love Venice!!!
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Sounds wonderful. We, too, love Venice and would return at any opportunity. Will be following your trip report with interest.
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Thank you for your live report. We will be taking our first Uniworld river cruise next year and love reading about others adventures and picking up traveling hints.
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Bella Vista, Ar, USA
5,530 Posts
Joined Jul 2001
Sounds like a great start to your cruise. Venice is a wonderful place to visit. Check out Donna Leon's novels about Venice when you get home. She does a great job of making you feel you are there.

Have a great cruise.

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Christchurch, New Zealand
247 Posts
Joined Jan 2013
I have been unable to get back to this thread earlier, mainly because the internet access on the River Countess was largely unusable from Tuesday evening. It was apparently a problem with the satellite. But it still hadn't been fixed when we left the ship this morning (Sunday). We occasionally managed to get in for a few minutes, but that was all. Needless to say everyone was complaining! Back to the cruise......

Tuesday morning it was raining as we sailed from Riva Sette Martiri. There is quite a narrow channel across the lagoon for nautical traffic. The rest of the lagoon is mostly only about 1 metre deep. We moored at Chioggia before lunch, and the sun returned. After lunch we departed by bus for Padua (Padova). This drive took about an hour. We had a guided walking tour of the town, then an hour to ourselves. We did not find this town particularly interesting. The rain held off until just before we reboarded the buses for the return to the ship.

While we had been touring the ship moved from Chioggia to Porto Viro. This involves venturing out into the Adriatic Sea. As the ship is a river cruise boat and not designed for travel on the sea, for safety reasons no passengers are allowed to stay on board for this segment. It took us nearly an hour and a half to return by bus from Padua to the ship’s new berth in Porto Viro. Then at 7.00pm we set sail along the River Po, reaching Polesella about 11pm. The Po is Italy’s longest river, at 652km, but not much of it is navigable by river cruise boat, and the scenery alongside the section we sailed is not very scenic.

Wednesday there was a choice of trips to Bologna or Ferrara. We chose the later, which was 30 minutes drive away.

It was raining quite heavily in the morning, but stopped before we left the boat at 10am, and it turned out quite hot and humid. Ferrara is a walled town, and it also has a moated castle, Estence, built in 1385, in the centre of town. Unfortunately the castle was shrouded in scaffolding. There was also an impressive cathedral and some remains of city walls and fortifications. We walked a considerable distance around the town which is lined with extensive cobble-stoned streets. During our walk we also found a very large cemetery, Certosa, full of impressive mausoleums which reminded us of La Recoleta in Buenos Aires. Ferrara has an extensive pedestrianised area and has among the highest percentage of cyclists in the world. Uniworld provided a choice of return times from Ferrara, with 3 return options.

Thursday we had a trip to Ravenna, about 90 minutes away by bus. Ravenna has 8 structures which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Some of these buildings are particularly famous for their mosaics, dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries. The mosaics were truly magnificent! We visited two basilicas to see some of these. We also saw the tomb of Dante, an Italian poet – he died here of malaria in 1321.

When we returned from Ravenna, the ship had moved back to Chioggia, and at 5.30pm we sailed from there. Back across the lagoon, and then down the Giudecca Canal for those magnificent views of Venice. This time we berthed at the main Marittima Port, which is where all the large cruise ships berth.

Friday we went to Verona, about 110 minutes drive from Venice. Famous of course for Romeo and Juliet, though the Juliet balcony which has throngs of tourists around it is not genuine! Verona is another UNESCO World Heritage site. Much of its early medieval edifices were destroyed by an earthquake in 1117, after which there was extensive Romanesque rebuilding. Verona has a Roman Theatre, currently being restored. There is also an impressive amphitheatre, dating from the first century AD which is the third largest in Italy, after the Colosseum in Rome and the amphitheatre of Capua. We went inside the amphitheatre and were very impressed with the scale and condition given the passage of time. It is still used today, for concerts. Much of the central city has been pedestrianised and has therefore retained a lot of its ancient ambiance. There was an optional to go wine tasting in the afternoon, and also 2 different transfer times were provided back from Verona.

Saturday morning there were some optionals available, but we didn’t partake. Uniworld also provided shuttles to and from Piazzale Roma, as the mooring at Marittima was not nearly as convenient or scenic as at Riva Sette Martiri, but then Uniworld have no control over where they are allowed to moor. We walked into St Mark’s Square for one last look. There was some light rain, but fortunately the worst of the weather held off until we were eating our lunch on board the ship. The wind and rain came up and there were even suitcases blowing across the piers, where they were trying to load other cruise ships! After a particularly bad squall we sailed from the port after lunch, back down the Giudecca Canal, and into the northern part of the Venice lagoon to get some views of the other islands, including the colourful houses on Burano. Pity about the weather!

Sunday morning we had a Uniworld transfer to the airport, for a flight to London, where we are now. Most of the passengers continued on to Florence and Rome, a bus tour extension.

Our conclusions about this trip:
We enjoyed the week, it is a very relaxing way to travel, however the itinerary did not really come up to expectations. Maybe because we had been to some of these places before, so there wasn’t so much wow factor. The highlights undoubtedly were the after hours visit to St Mark’s Basilica and the sailing down the Giudecca Canal (several times). That view of Venice is certainly memorable, and one never really tires of it.

Our stateroom was excellent. Plenty of storage, very comfortable bed, well designed bathroom. We appreciated the complimentary upgrade from Uniworld.

The staff are attentive. They went out of their way to help the less mobile.

The excursions are very well organised. Cruise Director good value. This is all what we have experienced with Uniworld before. The captain was very visible.

We did not find the food up to the standard we have experienced on other Uniworld cruises, with very limited choices.

No, it is not really a river cruise, but a comfortable way to see something of Venice and the surrounding area. We have enjoyed returning to Venice and getting a thorough look at the area.

We will certainly travel with Uniworld again, there are several of their itineraries we still have on our to-do list.
Christchurch, New Zealand
247 Posts
Joined Jan 2013
wwinfl91 - yes, I forgot to say....the Donna Leon books are great. I read all but two of them before we did this trip to Venice. Now my husband has started reading them, and he does not usually read books I recommend!!

I also found a book of Brunetti's walking routes in our local library. Not written by Donna Leon, though she did the introduction. I used many of the walks as the basis for some of our ramblings in Venice.

Venice is certainly a different place to visit.
979 Posts
Joined Aug 2010
Originally posted by roaming_kiwi58
wwinfl91 - yes, I forgot to say....the Donna Leon books are great. I read all but two of them before we did this trip to Venice. Now my husband has started reading them, and he does not usually read books I recommend!!

I also found a book of Brunetti's walking routes in our local library. Not written by Donna Leon, though she did the introduction. I used many of the walks as the basis for some of our ramblings in Venice.

Venice is certainly a different place to visit.
An additional tip for Donna Leon fans..on her website, there is a link for a woman who does tours of Brunetti's Venice. I bought the book about his walking routes but the guided tour sound really fun for Brunetti fans!
New York
8,313 Posts
Joined Aug 2011
Thanks for your detailed review! We saw a Uniworld boat when we were in Venice (parked across from the Hilton Molino Stucky) and wondered what the cruise would be like. Now we know!
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I am not an employee of Cruise Critic and I don't speak for Cruise Critic. All opinions are mine alone. Also, I'm only a Host on the various River forums -- everywhere else I'm "just plain Jazz."

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Thanks for the review..
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392 Posts
Joined May 2005
Thank you for the excellent review of your trip. IMHO, the most important part of your review is at the end where you state "No, it is not a river cruise..." As long as future cruisers understand that this is pretty much a bus tour of Northern Italy with the ship as your base instead of a hotel, they will not be disappointed.
When we were in Venice in July, a Croisi Europe boat was docked at the Zattere, on the Giudeca Canal for three nights. Saw passengers getting on and off but no idea where they went.

One question, please. On your trip to Padua, did Uniworld include a visit to the Scrovegni Chapel to see the incredible Giotto frescos? It doesn't sound like they did. We went to Padua from Venice (20 minutes by train) last month specifically to see the chapel and it was well worth it. Padua also has a nice market and some interesting architecture. We enjoyed our day there.
Christchurch, New Zealand
247 Posts
Joined Jan 2013
Riveroad - no, the Scrovegni Chapel was not included in the tour. It certainly looks pretty amazing in the photos I have seen. We had a tour of the Basilica di Sant'Antonio, then a guided walk around the centre of the town, then only an hour free time before the bus was due to return the ship. This day there were no extra transfer times, and an hour was not very long to do much in. It was only a half day trip - a full day would have been more useful.

We saw the CroisiEurope boat on one day. I investigated doing this trip with them, but I preferred what was included in the Uniworld itinerary.

Yes, people have to realise this is not a river cruise as such, but a very comfortable way of having a base to see some of the best sights in the Venice vicinity.
Sydney Australia
151 Posts
Joined Nov 2011
Thanks for your review, had thought there was a lot of bus travel on the trips from Venice. What was the name of the hotel you stayed in prior to joining the cruise. We will be in Venice next September for a Mediterranean cruise and would like to stay close to the cruise ports the night before.
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Christchurch, New Zealand
247 Posts
Joined Jan 2013
ikesyd - we stayed at the Hotel Arlecchino, on the edge of Piazzale Roma. Recommended by various Cruise Critic posters. Convenient for the bus from the airport and the port. Staff very friendly and helpful. We stayed there two nights before our cruise. Room was small, but I booked the cheapest category. it was perfectly adequate. We were in a corner and had a view down a canal one way, and across the Piazzale Roma the other. Wifi and breakfast included. Would use it again if ever back in Venice.
Sydney Australia
151 Posts
Joined Nov 2011
Thanks for the info on the hotel, will look it up, we will be arriving by train so looks like a good spot to stay.
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Orlando, FL
221 Posts
Joined Sep 2012
Dear Roaming Kiwis, I know you are probably off this thread by now, but we will be going on the Splendors of Venice and Northern Italy cruise this coming April and read your review with great interest. By the way, we have visited NZ including 2 glorious days in Christchurch! It must be difficult for you kiwis to travel anywhere since you have such spectacular scenery at home! And yes, I still wear my All Blacks shirt!
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Joined Oct 2013
Thank you for taking the time to write a review. As this is my first river cruise and with Uniworld....I am really interested to read anything and everything.

As a past Uniworld you think that by Uniworld going all inclusive recently that the food/excursions, for example, are not up to the standard they were pre A1.

Also....what is available as a late evening snack. I know Uniworld does not have 24 hour I want to be prepared because if it is just fruit, cookies and nuts that is not going to do it for me!

Thank you.