One thing we have learned about river cruising is that it is very tour-intensive. On our trip we had tours every day but one and most of them departed by 9 a.m. So I have been writing a lot about what we saw and did but not so much about the ship experience itself.
So, let’s backtrack a bit and talk about the lovely River Duchess. This river ship is one of 12 in the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection (they charter ships in Russia, China and Southeast Asia). She has the capacity to carry 134 guests, but we had a very comfortable 85 on board during this sailing. She was built in 2003 and renovated first in 2009 and again last winter. Over several months, the ship was gutted and entirely re-done on the inside: New walls, lights, carpeting, furniture and soft goods all in bright, off-white tones. Mirrors are used throughout to create a sense of much larger space. The remodel was coordinated by the design team of Red Carnation Hotels, Uniworld’s sister company.
Except for four “suites,” the 63 staterooms are the same size, 151 square feet…the only difference is that on one deck they have French balconies with doors that open and on the other decks there are wide windows. As with most river cruise ships, the cabins are snug…there is scarcely room for two people to pass in the narrow aisle around the bed. There is a small table and two chairs and a vanity, but, in truth, these are rarely used. Storage space is quite good. The bed is large…king-size, or two doubles…and the bedding is luxurious. The bathroom is also tight, but adequate.
Cabin amenities include large, flat-screen televisions and free internet access on them via an in-room keyboard. (Wi-Fi is free on the ship.)
These are the type of cabins you really do not spend much time in – you are either touring, in the lounge or up on the sundeck (except for the occasional nap, of course.) So while the French balconies do let in a lot of light, they aren’t used that often because you are either off the ship touring or another ship is docked alongside so the only view is of the side of another ship. Also, the weather was so hot during this cruise (in the 90s every day), that you couldn’t open the doors for very long without spoiling the air-conditioning.
There is a large lounge in the front of the ship with a bar and the dining room is to the rear. Both offer very nice river views. The lounge has a small dance floor which is also used by guest performers and lecturers. A piano player performs during tea, cocktails and after dinner for dancing. The only problem in this room is there are no spotlights or stage lighting for the performers. Hopefully, this will be remedied.
There is also a small card room/library, fitness center with a sauna, a laundry with two machines (free), and a coffee station, tiny shop and a few tables on the lower level. We spent most of our time between the lounge and sundeck.
The sundeck runs the entire length of the ship and has many chairs and lounges. There is also a single shuffleboard court and an outdoor chess set. There is a Sky Lounge with a sliding glass roof. This area is typically used for al fresco dinners which can accommodate 20 passengers at a time. This is the only place where smoking is permitted.
All and all, the River Duchess is a lovely ship. Uniworld’s newest ship, the S.S. Antoinette ( S.S. stands “Super Ship”) does offer larger cabins, some at 196 square feet and others at 163 square feet, and some have real balconies. It also has a small swimming pool, a cinema and a two-story atrium. River cruising is booming and it is obvious that larger cabins and new amenities will become the norm. However, overall ship size is constrained by the height of river bridges and the width of locks…which is why all river ships look much the same from the exterior, squat and long.