So, we have discussed the ship and the service on Uniworld’s River Duchess, so let’s take a look at what passengers do while on board.
First, let me say that my perception of river cruising was sitting on the top deck for hours at a time watching the scenery and small towns go by. I was wrong. For a couple of reasons:
First, river cruises in Europe are port-intensive. This means they stop almost every day and passengers get off and go touring. Because the ship (and almost all other river ships) offer free basic tours, almost everyone goes on these unless they have either been in the port before and thus want to go exploring on their own, or they are taking a day off from touring and staying on board. Because this itinerary went through Eastern Europe, most of the passengers had not been to these ports before,
Second, the ship sails mostly at night or at least in the late evening. So for the bulk of the day, it is tied up at a pier, usually with several other river ships tied to it.
Third, the weather was so hot…in the high 90s almost every day…that it was uncomfortable to sit up on the sundeck unless the ship was moving. We were fortunate that the one day that we had “at sea”…sailing through the Iron Gates portion of the Danube…the temps and humidity were down a bit and there was a breeze so we could be out on deck for some of the day. The most spectacular scenery was in the morning so that is when most of us were out there. Some folks played shuffleboard. Otherwise, we were usually out on deck after dinner…it didn’t get dark until nearly 10 p.m.
One of the real pluses of river cruising is that all basic shore excursions are included. Uniworld offered a full range of tours and Chet and I participated in all of the included ones. However, I didn’t anticipate that there would be so many add-on tours, offered at an additional cost. Most passengers took a few of these, and some I knew took all of them. If they did, the bill for those would be well over a thousand dollars per person. (So be aware of that when planning your cruise budget.) In general, all tours were excellent and the guides were very good. The only problem was that the air-conditioning did not work very well in some of the buses but that made us all the more grateful when we returned to the ship and were greeted with cold towels and cold juice.
Several evenings, local entertainers came aboard and the groups were very good. The only flaw there is that the dance floor in the lounge, where they perform, is not properly lit for such presentations. Some sort of spotlights should be added.
We also had a few lectures during our ten days aboard and these were particularly helpful in understanding this region, most of which was behind the “Iron Curtain” for over 40 years. The captain also gave a talk about how the ship was built and what it looked like “below” decks and the chef gave a cooking demonstration.
There was a small spa onboard where Katya from Bulgaria gave massages and other treatments. She also led a stretching session every morning at 7 a.m. There was also a fitness center and sauna but with the hectic schedule I am not sure too many passengers took advantage of it.
So, there was enough to do and most people seemed to enjoy any downtime they could find.
Next: Our final ports in Eastern Europe
Photos by Chet Janssens