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jklc123

Uniworld 2018 Enchanting Christmas & New Years

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This review is long, I know, but here it is!
 
Our first river cruise was on the Danube in 2010. When we saw the itinerary for this cruise, we couldn't resist! We had never been away from home on Christmas but met several people on the cruise who regularly travel at this time.
 
We spent two days pre-cruise in Munich, giving us time to explore central Munich, where we visited historical sites as well as five Christmas markets, including the one at the airport. Very festive. The transfer provided by Uniworld from the airport to the ship was very fast; let's just say our mini-van driver knew how to take advantage of little traffic on the Autobahn, it being Sunday.
 
There were a few family groups on board, none with very young children, including a family from Colombia. Tables were reserved in the dining room for the families, as well as a group of three friends who have taken many Uniworld cruises. There were a few tables for two, several for four, and mostly tables for five and six. Service was attentive and the food always very good to excellent. As expected, there were many Americans and Brits, as well as Australians, Canadians and a couple from South Africa, a congenial group.
 
We were lucky with the weather. It was cold, as expected, mostly in the mid-30's to low 40's during the day. We only had two rainy days, and saw a few snowflakes in Salzburg. There were even a few sunny afternoons , including during the sail through the Wachau Valley, and one magnificent sunny day in Budapest, followed by a gray, cold, misty day.
 
All excursions we took were well done, with knowledgeable and sometimes humorous local guides. In Passau we took what was originally billed as a "Romantic Bavarian Winterwalk." Most of us had pictured walking through a forest, but it ended up an uphill hike above the River Ilz, which was beginning to overflow its banks, through the rural outskirts of Passau to a spot where we were met with a four-piece brass band and a gracious lady dressed in white representing the angel who helps the Christ Child distribute gifts. She offered us gluhwein, cookies, ornaments and sparklers, all Christmas traditions. This was one of the excursions that incurred an extra charge, 49 Euros; we had OBC so were covered.
 
Because we had traveled this itinerary before, we opted to strike out on our own several times, especially instead of the city tours, which was great. In Salzburg, we had the option of staying there in the afternoon or traveling the short distance to Orbendorf, where "Silent Night" was first performed 200 years ago. We were among the one coach load who opted to do that. (There were 3 coaches in all). This was on Christmas Day, so it was quite meaningful. The one disappointment that day was what was supposed to be a special Christmas lunch at the restaurant at the ancient St. Peter Cathedral. It's a venue with an impressive history, but the food was mediocre - salty consume, nothing special pork wiener schnitzel and a small piece of apple strudel. The only disappointing meal of the trip.
 
Another unique experience was meeting Princess Anita von Hohenberg at her Artstetten Castle. She was gracious, humorous and knowledgeable, fielding the many questions from our group while we enjoyed champagne and chocolate offered by her butler. Afterwards we had time to explore the areas of the castle devoted to the history of her family, especially her great grandfather Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination precipitated WW I.
 
In Vienna we took the "Taste of Christmas" walking tour, our guide stopping along the way to offer us roasted chestnuts (must be an acquired taste), New Years lucky charms (small plastic or glass representatives of pigs, lady bugs, leprechauns and other figures that Austrians give each other at New Years), cookies, chutneys, cheeses and gluhwein. She also took us on a quick introduction to the magnificent Fine Arts Museum, and we ended up at the New Years market in the museum square. The next day we began the city tour by taking the coach to the Musikverein, which we were excited to see as we watch the Vienna Philharmonic New Years concert from there every year. We then excused ourselves, explored areas of Vienna we hadn't seen before and took one of the afternoon shuttles back to the ship.
 
Another highlight was the city tour of Budapest, which began with a tour of the opulent parliament building. We then excused ourselves and walked leisurely back to the ship (about 3 kilometers -- it was docked near the Liberty Bridge), again exploring areas we hadn't seen on our first trip along the Danube, including a New Years market in front of St. Stephen's Cathedral.
 
Entertainment off the ship included a beautiful organ concert in the Augustine Church in Durnstein, a Mozart-Strauss concert just for us in Vienna, and a New Years dinner dance in a banquet hall at the elegant Gundel Restaurant. The latter was a long night -- we left the ship at 6:30 PM with a drive through the beautifully decorated avenues leading to Heroes Square and the restaurant and boarded the first coach back to the ship at 1 AM. The food was good (but so is SS Maria Theresa's), six courses paired with various wines, but it was a long wait until midnight. Entertainment included an enthusiastic pop singer, an amusing magician, a couple who danced two tangos for us, and a lively band that got a few of us up on the small dance floor. After dinner and some of the entertainment, some of our group started taking taxis back to the ship, but we stayed until midnight, did the champagne toast, grabbed our coats and hurried outside to see the huge fireworks display that was going off from Heroes Square, probably the best part of the evening! When we arrived back at the ship, there were fireworks going off from various neighborhoods, which we could see and hear from the top deck of the ship.
 
On board entertainment included a piano player every night in the lounge, secular Christmas songs sung by crew members on Christmas Eve, a lesson on making strudel -- plus groups who came on board -- a local rock band in Grein, a traditional Viennese Waltz lesson, a duo from Bratislava who played and sang light classical and Slovakian music,  and Hungarian Fire, a group who danced, played and sang Hungarian music (quite good).
 
Another highlight was a progressive dinner, described with photos recently by bubbulz. There was a cost for this, 40 Euros I think, but was really interesting to see behind the scenes of various parts of the ship where we ate at most of the places as we stopped to hear from the crew. I highly recommend this.
 
The second night of the cruise before dinner, an announcement came over the PA system -- something Uniworld does only in an emergency, for everyone to gather in the lounge. The 2nd Captain announced that there had been an outbreak of some kind of illness on the ship, and we were to be very conscientious about using the hand sanitizer machines, wash our hands when we got to our rooms, and that waiters would serve us in the buffet lines. While we were in Salzburg, the ship was completely sanitized.Two days later the buffet measures were lifted as no one else had become ill. Two crew members that I know of were ill, one being the 1st Captain and one a butler, and no passengers, so we think it might have been something that was onboard before we
embarked. We were impressed that we were immediately informed of the problem and that the crew got right on it and whatever it was was contained.
 
Halfway through the cruise, a group of about 15 photographers and support crew plus 4 actors came on board and worked on publicity videos and stills, so we are interested in seeing the ads that result from this.
 
All in all, we had a wonderful time. This was our seventh cruise with Uniworld, so we are satisfied customers. We have opted for suites for most of the trips for the additional space. Even on this cold weather cruise, I did sit in the balcony (windows closed of course!) to read and relax. One of the benefits of booking a suite is unlimited laundry service. Another is two butlers who bring afternoon snacks, little daily gifts, and in our case, keep us supplied with Baileys and ice wine. We have always been happy with the excursions, food and service, and the most wonderfully comfortable beds! We were also pleased that so many holiday markers were still open -- we wouldn't be interested in a Christmas market cruise, but this was just right for us.

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Thank you for the review.  We have taken the other Christmas  / New Year's cruise  a couple of times and wondered how this one compared.  Sounds like we will add it to our list.

RB

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Thanks so much for the review. We are considering Christmas Week river cruises  so this was so helpful!

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Thank you jklc for the review. Very informative - esp the tours and excursions.

What ship were you on?

Regarding evening dining - was there the usual line up - mad rush for the dining room at 7pm or was there a more relaxed - dine when you choose atmosphere throughout the week?

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Thanks for this great review. Sounds like a wonderful Christmas/New Years!

 

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2 hours ago, robertmartha said:

Thank you jklc for the review. Very informative - esp the tours and excursions.

What ship were you on?

Regarding evening dining - was there the usual line up - mad rush for the dining room at 7pm or was there a more relaxed - dine when you choose atmosphere throughout the week?

 

2 hours ago, robertmartha said:

 

People did usually go down to the dining room after the pre-dinner port talk in the lounge, but no line up, no mad rush. It was possible to find seats a bit later.  We were on the SS Maria Theresa. ((We usually watched the port talk on the tv in our room, by the way.)

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Thanks for this review. There might come a time I would rather be away at Christmas and this sounds perfect. 

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