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boblerm

Trip Report- Uniworld's Grand France

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34 minutes ago, need2travel1 said:

What a fantastic experience in Viviers!  It sounds like you were truly lucky to have Frances as a guide.  Thanks for sharing the story about her great aunt.  Cheers to her!

Cheers to her indeed!  Such heroism!

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Posted (edited)

Day 15     May 31   Avignon

 

Sur le Pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse, l'on y danse
Sur le Pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse tous en rond.

 

On the bridge of Avignon
We're all dancing, we're all dancing
On the bridge of Avignon
We're all dancing round and round.

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This "most famous bridge in France" was originally built in the 12th century, and was promptly destroyed in a siege.  It was rebuilt, fell into disrepair, rebuilt, etc, etc.  Finally, in 1668, they decided to leave it as is.  There were 22 arches, 4 remain.

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Crossing over to the city from the pier appears rather daunting.  But surprisingly, the drivers here respect the pedestrian crossways, they actually stop when people are waiting to cross.  A far cry from Paris!

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The 14th century town walls are very well preserved, 39 towers, 8 gates.

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Town Hall

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14th Century Clock Tower, very difficult to spot through the trees.  It's supposed to strike on the hour with life size figures walking around, but we did not see it.

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The city's main claim to fame is the Papal Palace, which was the seat of papal power in the 14th century.

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Adjacent to the palace is a church.  I was happy to learn that unlike Viviers, Avignon seems to be aware of what I've gotta believe must be a French statutory requirement in regard to the naming of churches.🙂

This one is called " Notre-Dame des Doms d'Avignon".  I do not know what the "Doms" signifies.  We did not visit the inside.

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The bulk of our visit was touring the Papal Palace.

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  It is a very impressive structure with much of the architecture intact.  But there is very little left in terms of furnished or decorated rooms, mostly vast halls of empty space.  Very impressive nonetheless.

 

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The most impressive rooms are the Papal Chambers, which have been very well preserved with fabulous frescoes.  No photography allowed here, these are pictures of pictures.

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Next we visited Saint Pierre (St Peter's) Basilica.

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The inside is reminiscent of another St. Peters.

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Marketplace at Les Halles

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Another amazing French city.

 

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Dinner menu

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salmon ceviche, , and monkfish

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The entertainment was "Paulo Nassi takes you on a musical journey"

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Edited by boblerm

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Posted (edited)

Day 16   June 1     Arles

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Arles is noted mainly for its Roman ruins, and for Vincent Van Gogh, who lived here only 1 year, but painted over 200 works.  As far as I know, none of them remain in the city.

 

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The Roman Arena here is the second largest in the world.

 

 

 

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I  loved the architecture on the streets surrounding the Arena.

 

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Other Roman ruins

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Cafe de Nuit, subject of Vincent's "Café Terrace at Night"

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But now they call it Van Gogh cafe

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Town Hall in the  Place de la République, with it's 4th century obelisk

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Inside the Town Hall

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St. Trophime Church

 

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Open Air Marketplace 

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Back on board, there was a chocolate extravaganza at the lunch buffet20190601_130653_edited-1.thumb.jpg.517a20651bbe1ee79460c50dfcaefc16.jpg

 

Afternoon of relaxing and packing ☹️

 

Tonight was Captain's Farewell reception

 

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Our wonderful Cruise Manager AJ

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Dinner menu

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"Fish Soup" , Roman Ravioli, and Beef Tenderloin

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Very good, despite the lack of any apparent fish in the soup.

 

We set sail to Avignon where we disembark tomorrow.

 

No evening  entertainment, just as well, as we need to get up mega early tomorrow.

 

 

Edited by boblerm

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Bob - I just read your entire review to date.  We did Paris to Normandy last year on the SS Joie De Vivre and loved it.   Reading your review took me right back to our wonderful adventure.   Your description of Normandy and the feelings it evoked are exactly what we felt.   We just completed Castles on the Rhine in May.   Scenery was beautiful but the weather was uncooperative for the most scenic portion of the trip.   Getting ready to book Burgundy and Provence on the SS Catherine for 2020. After spending three days in Avignon last year we would like to see more of the region.   Anxious to hear your concluding thoughts so I will tune back in for the next (and perhaps final) installment.  Thank you for such an animated review and amazing photos.  Exactly what I was hoping to find to solidify our 2020 choice.  Renita

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10 hours ago, renken1 said:

Bob - I just read your entire review to date.  We did Paris to Normandy last year on the SS Joie De Vivre and loved it.   Reading your review took me right back to our wonderful adventure.   Your description of Normandy and the feelings it evoked are exactly what we felt.   We just completed Castles on the Rhine in May.   Scenery was beautiful but the weather was uncooperative for the most scenic portion of the trip.   Getting ready to book Burgundy and Provence on the SS Catherine for 2020. After spending three days in Avignon last year we would like to see more of the region.   Anxious to hear your concluding thoughts so I will tune back in for the next (and perhaps final) installment.  Thank you for such an animated review and amazing photos.  Exactly what I was hoping to find to solidify our 2020 choice.  Renita

Renita, thank you for your comments.  Too bad about the weather on your Rhine cruise, I hope it did not dampen your enjoyment too much.  You will love the cruise on the Catherine, each of the  ports were a delight to visit!

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June 2    Going Home

Our flight was from Marseilles to JFK, connecting in Amsterdam on KLM.

Our flight out of Marseilles was at 6:30AM.😴

The time from our dock in Avignon to the airport is 1 hour.  The airline wanted us to check-in 2 hours ahead.  By the process of higher mathematics, that means that we needed to be on the pier for our transfer at 3:30.😴😴

Luggage to be left outside our door at 2:30😴😴😴

 

There was coffee and croissants in the lobby at that early hour for the early birds.  We were on the pier at 3:30, there were 12 of us, they took us in 2 vans.

 

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We arrived at the airport exactly 1 hour after leaving the pier.  There were Uniworld reps waiting for us, who took our luggage, and escorted us to our respective check in counters.  Easy-peasy.

 

Our flights home went very smoothly, we arrived on time albeit tired.  

 

We had a fantastic time on our voyages.  In the next day or 2, I will post some final thoughts detailing what I loved, and what I think could have been better.

 

Bob

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Thanks so much for the well written review and great photos! I enjoyed reliving our trip, and deciding what I would have ordered from the dinner menus -- chicken soup only once. 😄   I look forward to your final thoughts.

 

PS Pronouncing Rouen eludes me. Sounds like someone clearing their throat! 

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14 minutes ago, jklc123 said:

Thanks so much for the well written review and great photos! I enjoyed reliving our trip, and deciding what I would have ordered from the dinner menus -- chicken soup only once. 😄   I look forward to your final thoughts.

 

PS Pronouncing Rouen eludes me. Sounds like someone clearing their throat! 

 

The 'en' is a nasal vowel, one of the most difficult things for English speakers to master.

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2 hours ago, jklc123 said:

PS Pronouncing Rouen eludes me. Sounds like someone clearing their throat! 

No worries, just make sure you maintain your French attitude, and you will be just fine!😉

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23 minutes ago, boblerm said:

No worries, just make sure you maintain your French attitude, and you will be just fine!😉

 

LOL.  I also have a little trouble with the "r" and all the darn silent letters. I've been working on teaching myself French online (Duolingo) for a while. Also picked up some German and a little Welsh, preceding trips to where those languages are spoken, but have returned to the French. Learning languages is supposed to be good for the brain!

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14 hours ago, jklc123 said:

 

LOL.  I also have a little trouble with the "r" and all the darn silent letters. I've been working on teaching myself French online (Duolingo) for a while. Also picked up some German and a little Welsh, preceding trips to where those languages are spoken, but have returned to the French. Learning languages is supposed to be good for the brain!

I think people appreciate it if you at least make an attempt to speak to them in the language of the country you are in.  I must say, however, that pretty much every time I ask someone a question in French, they tend to answer me back in English!  I wonder what gives me away?😀

In this day and age, you can always "cheat" with Google Translate, but that takes a lot of the fun out of it.

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5 minutes ago, boblerm said:

I think people appreciate it if you at least make an attempt to speak to them in the language of the country you are in.

True. However, some languages are much more difficult than others. I have done will with Italian, and I can sort of manage French and Spanish. I managed to learn a few phrases in Vietnamese and Dutch (I have the pronunciation bang on for Dutch, but most vocabulary is very difficult.) However, I have completely given up on Croatian, Catalan, Cambodian and Burmese. I may take a look at Danish for my upcoming trip, although I know that everyone will be able to communicate with me much better in English. I am, however, somewhat worried about my time in Scotland; that might be the toughest to deal with. 😀

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2 hours ago, gnome12 said:

True. However, some languages are much more difficult than others. I have done will with Italian, and I can sort of manage French and Spanish. I managed to learn a few phrases in Vietnamese and Dutch (I have the pronunciation bang on for Dutch, but most vocabulary is very difficult.) However, I have completely given up on Croatian, Catalan, Cambodian and Burmese. I may take a look at Danish for my upcoming trip, although I know that everyone will be able to communicate with me much better in English. I am, however, somewhat worried about my time in Scotland; that might be the toughest to deal with. 😀

Just point to the Guinness or the bottle of whiskey and you will be fine:classic_biggrin::classic_smile:

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I have really enjoyed reading about your trip.  Have a little laugh about the Churches,  as within 2 hour drive from where I live, there are a good 6 towns called Notre Dame de (or du) whatever.  I never checked for Churches.   We had fun in France with our French,  as it's very different from theirs, we could get along, but I'm sure they wondered where we learned our French.

 

Thanks for sharing your trip.

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12 hours ago, boblerm said:

I think people appreciate it if you at least make an attempt to speak to them in the language of the country you are in.  I must say, however, that pretty much every time I ask someone a question in French, they tend to answer me back in English!  I wonder what gives me away?😀

In this day and age, you can always "cheat" with Google Translate, but that takes a lot of the fun out of it.

 

Actually the worst thing is if your accent gets a little better, then they start to reply in French!  Luckily DW and I each have half a brain, so she asks the questions and I interpret the answers...

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1 hour ago, Daisi said:

I have really enjoyed reading about your trip.  Have a little laugh about the Churches,  as within 2 hour drive from where I live, there are a good 6 towns called Notre Dame de (or du) whatever.  I never checked for Churches.   We had fun in France with our French,  as it's very different from theirs, we could get along, but I'm sure they wondered where we learned our French.

 

Thanks for sharing your trip.

Daisi, are you Québécois? 

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Posted (edited)
40 minutes ago, Host Jazzbeau said:

Actually the worst thing is if your accent gets a little better, then they start to reply in French!

If you ever heard my French, you would know that there is not much chance of that for me. 😊

I find it kind of fun if I am asking someone for directions (I know how to say excusez-moi, où est ....). If they know English, they answer me in English. If they don't speak English and answer me in French, I do not understand a word they say. But they pretty much always point the direction. So I offer a "merci beaucoup", and walk in the pointed out direction and repeat. Eventually, I follow enough fingers to find my destination! 

Edited by boblerm

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23 minutes ago, boblerm said:

Daisi, are you Québécois? 

 

Not me, my Father is, so we spoke a mix of French & English at home.  It's almost a requirement here, to gave some understanding and speech.  My DH uses me for interpretation,  but he can pick up a bit.

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Toward the end of my six months' student stay in France [not immersion, we had our own campus and some of us -- cough, cough – stayed on campus pretty much and spoke English pretty much outside class] I was accorded the ultimate honor while hitchhiking of being asked if I was Québécois.  Evidently my French was fluent enough to pass as a native speaker, but my accent was unclassifiable – eh voila! mais non...

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I spent a semester studying in Madrid, immersion except my American roommate and I spoke English in our room. I was once asked for directions on the street, which I was able to give in Spanish. The person I spoke to asked if I was French as of course my accent wasn't quite right.

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7 hours ago, jklc123 said:

I spent a semester studying in Madrid, immersion except my American roommate and I spoke English in our room. I was once asked for directions on the street, which I was able to give in Spanish. The person I spoke to asked if I was French as of course my accent wasn't quite right.

A definite step in the right direction. At least you were able to disguise your American accent! 😄

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Final Thoughts

 

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!

 

Bob

 

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42 minutes ago, boblerm said:

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!

 

 

·   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.

 

 

 

Bob,

 

Thanks for taking us along, and sharing your cruise with us. It was great for me to re-live the Paris-Normandy cruise. And, since my ultimate goal is to retire to France:classic_biggrin:, I need to cruise the Rhone to check out that part of the country.

 

I agree that the entertainment on Uniworld, at least in France, is lacking. On the JDV, we had 2 nights of entertainment, both singers (of American songs) The other 5 nights, the bartenders would play their iPhone playlist through the sound system in the lounge. It wasn't good. On our Rhine cruise, we had lovely young, just-married couple who sang/played piano in the main lounge, and on 3 of the nights, we had a guitarist in the second lounge. In addition we had local singers two or three nights. In Italy, we also had a regular singer/keyboard player, as well as local talent.

 

As far as special tours, this again must be itinerary (or country?) dependent. In Venice, we had St. Mark's Cathedral to ourselves at night. In Vienna, they now offer an after hours tour of Schonbrunn Palace.  There are a few opportunities, but having followed along some Tauck trip reports, Uniworld certainly seems to be behind, as you mention.

 

Thanks again for a great trip report!

 

Robin

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Thank you both Bob and Robin for your trip reports of the Seine.  We are looking forward to our cruise on the Joie de Vivre in late August!

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Hi Bob😁thanks for the detailed review and final thoughts. I sail on Uniworld in Oct (first time with them )and I appreciate all of your input with pros and cons. I am looking forward to my cruise very much😁 and hi to Robin as well!

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