Sailing up France’s Rhone and Saone rivers aboard Uniworld’s River Royale from Arles to Chalon-sur-Saone is called a “river cruise.” Perhaps that’s a misnomer. The experience is different in many respects from cruising on the large mega-ships that transverse the oceans and the seas. One of the travel agents who traveled with Recommend recently on the aforementioned itinerary called it a “river tour.” Another said it was “an intimate journey.” To call it simply a cruise, in fact, does not do this product justice. It goes beyond the cruising aspect to delve deep into the ports-of-call, along the way allowing time for passengers to get acquainted and in some cases make lasting friendships. Perhaps a more fitting description for this Uniworld journey is an “intimate river tour.”
Don’t take the aforementioned, however, as an indictment against traditional ocean cruising, because many river cruise passengers are, in fact, veteran large ship cruisers and still enjoy those types of cruise experiences thoroughly. So scroll through your database and don’t be afraid to introduce river cruising to those who enjoy cruising with Holland America, Silversea and Regent Seven Seas, among other lines. They’ll be in for a treat, especially when they partake in a Uniworld experience.
That opinion is echoed by Suzanne Smith, owner of Champagne Vacations in Charlotte, North Carolina. Having traveled on a number of river cruises, she is a confirmed advocate of recommending it to her clients. She also touts the intimacy of the river boats. “No lines, no crowds, and personalized service whereby the second day the crew knows your name.”
And in terms of the Uniworld product in particular, Smith says that, “I love Uniworld and sell it almost exclusively and never have to worry about a complaint from a client upon their return. I am almost always guaranteed repeat customers. The staff really makes the cruise.”
And indeed the staff aboard the River Royale—consisting of French staff officers and an Eastern European wait and bar staff—truly works together as a team. This might be due to the formidable training, or the way the gratuity is distributed, because guests aboard the River Royale are asked to give one total gratuity for the entire cruise, instead of individual ones. The monies are then divided among the staff (it’s not that individual tips, if warranted, are prohibited, but the general pooling of these dollars does ensure that everybody works together for the common good). There is one exception, though—the tour director, where a separate gratuity is suggested.
life aboard The River Royale, inaugurated in 2006, has three decks plus a sun deck, a library, outstanding main lounge, restaurant, boutique, Internet corner, massage room, fitness room and 24-hour self-service availability for coffee, tea, cappuccino and espresso.
Staterooms are comfortable with built-in closets, hair dryer, safe, individual air conditioning and heat, flat-screen satellite TV and amenities, including bathrobes. The staterooms also have significant closet and drawer space in relation to its square footage.
Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style with a nice selection of foods to please everyone’s taste buds. Breakfast always includes an egg/omelette station, French toast, cereals, juices and the basic American fare. However, there is always an assortment of cheeses, cold meats, herrings and other staples of the typical English or European-style breakfast. Dinner is sit-down service with a menu that is creative and includes such items as tarragon-flavored chicken with asparagus and chervil; le steak de porc gratine; gazpacho of green peas and fresh mint; les escargots a la Bourguignonne; and traditional French onion soup. For those who do not find anything on the menu, there’s steak, lean chicken breast and salmon, or a vegetarian plate available every evening. In fact, service on board is exemplary. Every extra item requested by a diner is secured graciously and effectively.
dock to dock Contributing to the river “tour” experience is the fact that the ship docks at central locations and guests are within walking distance of the heart of the communities along the itinerary. The tour guides at each of the stops are extremely knowledgeable about the historical and cultural aspects of the walking tour, which contributes immensely to the intimacy of the tour.