Uniworld Grand River Cruises

Company Overview Uniworld is part of a larger travel consortium that has been in business for over 30 years. Focusing on European tours for English-speaking travelers, mostly Americans, their riverboats might look most of the other riverboats plying the European arteries on the outside, but the subtle differences on the inside are what make Uniworld distinct.

The boats and the name are marketed through the Encino, California-based Uniworld River Cruises, but the staff on board is comprised of river boating and tourism specialists from a Swiss company that specializes all aspects of water-based tourism, from the navigation to the cuisine. They are all European and exceedingly professional.

The food on Uniworld, especially in Europe, is exceptionally good. A mostly fixed menu, with the only choice being between a meat, fish and vegetarian entree, is served for dinner. The appetizers, soups and desserts (once again, your choice) are delightful. Breakfast and lunch are buffets with a very wide selection plus custom omelets for breakfast and a variety of meats (varied daily) carved on the spot for lunch.

The European river boats include pleasant public rooms, including a main bar, a tiny library where one can get hot coffee, espresso or hot water for tea or chocolate at any time, a single-seating restaurant, a small gift shop, and a small workout room with massage services available. The upper deck cabins feature outside views through large picture windows, though the windows on some of the boats do not open in any cabins. In Western Europe, staterooms include televisions with CNN International and local stations, but not so in Russia. Telephone service is possible via your personal cell-phones, so the phones in the rooms are primarily there to for wake-up calls. All cabins have a private bathroom, hotel-style beds and individually controlled air conditioning/heating.

As is typical for River boat cruising, most of the tours and excursions are planned around the meals, so you might leave in the morning for a tour and come back for lunch, and then leave again in the afternoon for something else. Uniworld does exceptionally well in their tours, using very informative guides, comfortable busses (usually with toilets) and sparing little expense in making sure the passengers get a great vacation experience, even when it has to make up for little things going wrong.

In Europe from Portugal to St Ptersburg, Russia, Uniworld now also offers cruises in Viet Nam, Egypt, China, Russia and Cambodia. The line now has a total of 18 boats combined, which vary from new and state-of-the-art to older but utile; updated for the current preferences of world travelers.

The Russian River boats are a different breed, older and built in Russia in Soviet times, they have been mostly modernized, but still have a rustic Russian flavor. The most popular itinerary is Moscow to St Petersburg (or reversed) which they do in 14 days. It only takes a week to travel between the two cities, so the rest of the days are spent exploring the two major cities at each end. This is a good thing, since although the interior is fascinating, the cities are breathtaking. Meanwhile, you also learn as much about Russian history and politics as most people would ever want to know.

Uniworld also offers an alternative Russia itinerary called, "Land of the Cossacks & Tartars" that sails from Rostov-on-Don to Moscow in 17 Days. This route begins in Moscow and meanders south through Novgorad, Volvograd and ends in Rostov.

In China, cruisetours, which combine land and river components, feature visits to places such as Beijing, the Terra Cotta Warriors, and Shanghai plus the Yangtze River sailing, in which the ships travel to the Three Gorges, Lesser Gorges, and Three Gorges Dam. All cruisetours are fully escorted from airport arrival to departure by English-speaking guides. The company's Western management oversees all aspects of the trip, and local offices in Beijing and Chongqing ensure in-country management as well. There are some eight different China itineraries, 10 to 20 days, all of them including Beijing, Shanghai and a Yangtze River cruise. The 20-day tour adds Hong Kong at the end. For these tours you fly to Beijing and stay a few days, fly to Shanghai and sail up the Yangtze, disembarking upstream (usually in Chongqing) and fly to Hong Kong.

You get a tour of the Three Gorges Dam, the largest dam in the world now, with the largest ship locks anywhere, more than twice the depth and length of those in Panama. Your tour may also include air junkets to the terracotta warriors, and a visit to the Great Wall of China while in Beijing.

In China, as with Russia, all tours and transportation is included from the time you touch down at the airport.

The Egypt cruises come in two different flavors; the 12-day plan flies you from Cairo (Giza) to Lake Nassar for a three day cruise on one boat, and the day cruise through Luxor on a different boat, and four nights in a hotel. The 13-day option gives a 7-day Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan, with Air to Cairo and four days in a hotel.

Fellow Passengers Passengers are mostly well traveled and English speaking, often comprised of groups from different nationalities; U.S., British, Canadian and/or Australian.

Shore Excursions: Shore excursions, mostly included in the fare, are planned almost every day, sometimes morning and afternoon. Evening programs are also offered as optional at additional charges. In Russia, the Moscow Circus or Kirov Ballet are such options.

Special Programs: Special "Dutch Tulip" cruises in April, and Christmas and New Years Holiday cruises are also offered.

Tipping: Gratuity guidelines come to about $10 per person per day, and about $3 per person per day for your onboard "cruise manager" who is with you at all times to lead you, though professional guides are provided at each stop (tipped separately).

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