During the ten days we sailed on the River Duchess from Vienna to Romania, I don’t think I ever saw a staff member even frown. Now, I am not a Pollyanna and know that everything is now always perfect for the crew. But it is obvious that most of these people are well-trained and enjoy working for Uniworld.
Perhaps this is because Uniworld has a sister company, Red Carnation Hotels, that has over 50 years of experience in running five-star hotels. When you think about it, there is a natural fit between luxury cruise ships and luxury boutique hotels.
In any case, the service during our cruise was superb – from the ships leadership down to the sailors and dishwashers. No request was ever refused, as far as I could see. Everyone was committed to giving guests the best experience possible.
These were the leaders on board:
Capt. Menno van Meerveld, 32, of Holland was always pleasant and professional. He was in charge of running the ship, of course, and for safety on board and he supervised the navigation team and the sailors. He grew up in the town of Arnhem wanting to be a sailor. He trained at a maritime collage in Rotterdam and has been with Uniworld, working his way up from sailor, for his entire career.
Jaroslav (call me “Jerry”) Veselka, 50, of Slovakia was the hotel manager, overseeing the purser, restaurant and bar staff. He was always upbeat and seemed to be everywhere. Always impeccably groomed in sparkling white shirt, tie and suit, he didn’t hesitate to doff his coat and help the staff when needed.
He was so good that I suspected he just might be a bit more and I was correct. He is actually on the Uniworld corporate staff and supervises the hotel operations on a number of ships. On this cruise, he was filling in for the hotel manager who was on maternity leave. In August, he is heading off to Russia to train the staff on one of the ships that Uniworld charters there. He says that he goes where he is needed and loves the job. It sure seems like it.
Bart Roelofs, 48, of Holland was the cruise manager. Bart runs the scheduled shore excursions and oversees onboard entertainment. He also leads spontaneous excursions, like our trip into Vienna via subway that I wrote about earlier. He has the most contact with passengers and helps them solve all types of problems. And he does it all with such good humor…he is funny, and even when dealing with serious topics, can draw a laugh. He seemed to be indefatigable…like the Energizer Bunny. Pretty remarkable for a guy that has been doing this for so many years.
At one time, he was leading tours of Germans in America from New York to San Francisco. He also had a stint working in the head office of Grand Circle Travel. But he seems to like working the river cruises best. Oh yes, and he also presented a couple of very insightful lectures – he knows this region thoroughly.
I asked Bart what was the biggest change he had seen in river cruising over the past five years. He said it was the big increases in numbers of river ships…that there are some places, like the Danube Canal, where ships now have to wait to go through, sometimes for hours. Locks also get crowded, as do docks. Now it is common for three or more ships to be moored side-by-side. With so many companies introducing new river ships, I suspect more towns along the rivers will be installing piers so as to capitalize on this tourist business.
Photos by Chet Janssens