Uniworld River Countess Venice Review
My wife and I were lucky enough to be invited on board the beautiful Uniworld River Countess for a 4 night ‘taster’ sailing of Northern Italy & Venice.
Arriving at Marco Polo airport after a short 2-hour flight from Manchester we were greeted by our Uniworld representative and taken to our chauffeur-driven Mercedes for a 20-minute transfer to the ship.
Our bags were taken from us at the quayside as we boarded the ship to check-in. A quick swipe of the passport and introduction to the facilities, and our steward escorted us to our room which was a Category 2 Deluxe stateroom on Casanova deck. We were given a brief introduction to all the facilities in the cabin then he left us to un-pack.The stateroom was beautifully presented with a large window looking out onto the Venetian Lagoon – a wonderful sight to wake up to.
The stateroom came with everything you’d expect from a luxury cruise line... built-in closets with lighting and plenty of coat hangers for storage; a safe; audio headsets for the tours; complimentary water bottles; umbrellas (which hopefully we wouldn’t need); air-con (which was a godsend as it was so hot outside!); and a flat-screen TV with plenty of entertainment, movie & music channels. The bathrooms are wonderful, they included heated mirrors (so they don’t steam up when you take a shower), lovely soft robes and L’Occitane shower and body products (my favourite!).
First impressions were that we were in for a very pleasant trip!
We headed up to the Savoy Restaurant for a bite to eat. A buffet lunch with plenty of choice – hot & cold! We opted for pasta & meatballs – we were in Italy after all! So fresh and tasty and complemented by some delectable white wine!
After lunch we had a walk around the ship to check out the rest of the facilities, including. The Captains Lounge & Library, Castillo Lounge, Fitness Centre, and the 24-hour coffee & tea station. Our personal favourite part of the ship is on top deck at the very front – there is a small seating area that features wrought iron tables and chairs, canvas umbrellas, olive trees and fresh rosemary growing in small pots on the table - it was like sitting in an Italian garden surrounded by the magnificent scenery of Venice! We stayed up there for a couple of drinks before deciding to head into town.
We were docked about 2km from Piazza San Marco – it’s about a 25-minute walk. As we had tours planned for here the next day we decided, as it was our first time in Venice, we’d just have a walk around the small streets and canals and see what this wonderful city had to offer! We had to try the local pizza, gelato and of course a beer or two. It was amazing sitting beside the canal watching the water taxis go about their daily business and the huge cruise ships sail by, that dwarf the surrounding buildings!
Back on the ship and it was time for our evening meal. It’s so relaxed and informal, all Uniworld ask is that you don’t wear sports clothing or shorts in the dining room. Smart jeans and polo shirts are more than acceptable, most gentleman wore a pair of trousers and a shirt. Most ladies wore summer dresses.
Uniworld’s farm-to-table dining really is something you must try. There were options on the menu for every palate! A standard menu which stayed the same for the duration of the cruise, this included things like steaks. And the à la carte menu which changed each evening.
We were treated to meals like carpaccio beef; buffalo mozzarella & fresh tomato; truffle & mushroom risotto; ravioli; sea bass… I could go on for hours! Needless to say, we didn’t go hungry. If there was a dish we wanted to try the waiter had no problem in bringing over an extra tasting plate for the table. Service was second to none. The waiter had noticed a member of our party was left handed, and for the rest of the cruise his cutlery was positioned correctly for him! You just can’t put a price on service like that.
There was a different choice of red or white wine each night, paired for the menu for that evening. In addition to that there was a ‘premium’ wine menu with some outstanding wines that came with a supplement. Of course, non-wine drinkersare welcome to any drink you wish - my wife prefers a rum & coke, which the waiter was ready to bring her without having to ask!
The evenings were spent in the Castillo Lounge with a musician on the keyboard and the cocktails flowing. Lazlo, the bartender, offers Espresso Martinis as his signature cocktail, not usually my cup of tea but these were amazing!! As the weather was so warm we headed up on top deck to our favourite spot for a night cap, the waiters show no hesitation carrying your drinks up for you, or topping your glass up when it was empty! They even prepared us some sandwiches and crisps as a midnight snack to enjoy on deck! That signalled the end of our evening, so back to our stateroom, which had been turned down and a small Hermes gift welcomed us on the bed with a copy of the next day’s tours and activities newsletter.
The following morning, we headed to the restaurant for another amazing buffet breakfast. There was also a special option like a cooked breakfast or eggs benedict (which I opted for). Freshly ground speciality coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and champagne was always available with breakfast.
One morning we got up early to enjoy a short sailing along the canal to a docking point closer to Piazza San Marco! We enjoyed the sunrise on deck with a coffee. A wonderful experience which I highly recommend you do.
The tours included whilst we were on board were effortlessly run by a team of local guides. We weren’t in huge groups either, we split up in to small groups of no more than 15-20 passengers. With our headsets from the cabin, and our water-bottles filled we headed off on our first tour - a morning walk through the streets of Venice, learning all about the gondoliers and the history of the city. Our tour ended at the amazing Doge's Palace! I won’t spoil it too much for you, but this was an incredible building linked to the local prison by the Bridge of Sighs. Our guide really brought the stories and history of Venice to life.
The tour ended in St Mark’s Square, which as you can see at this point was very busy! Thousands of tourists were there to visit St Mark’s Basilica, so you can imagine the queue. But we were there with Uniworld, they don’t do queues! We would be returning later that evening – via water taxi - when the palace is closed to the public, for our own private tour.
At this point we were all dressed for summer and typically a rain storm descended on Venice! Let me tell you, it really added to the drama of the tour! We were all sat learning about the history of this huge building, complete with light show inside to highlight the gold-leaf ceiling and you could hear the wind and rain battering down outside. In true Uniworld style, as we toured the Basilica, they headed back to the ship to bring us all umbrellas! Even off the ship the service we got was incredible! A real nice touch.
A quick stop off at Harry’s Bar, the birthplace of the Bellini, and we headed back to the ship. I say a quick stop off at Harry’s as one small Bellini was €21! Not a place to get a round in!
The following day we were informed that water levels on the River Po were too low, so we wouldn’t be able to sail down to Bologna, but Uniworld handled this so well, I don’t recall hearing one complaint. We sailed to a small town called Chioggia, and from here we took a 2-hour coach to Bologna.
A brief walking tour of the city was preceded by an exclusive pasta cooking masterclass in a local restaurant! What a great treat as we then got to enjoy a true Italian bolognese! We then headed back to the ship for an afternoon sailing of the Venetian Lagoon! On deck the ship’s butler treated us to a Sabering Ceremony, perfectly executed!
This evening, after dinner, we were treated to a performance from a local band, the singer and music was fantastic and had everyone up dancing and having an all-round great time!
Our final morning saw us depart Chioggia in another chauffeur-driven Mercedes back to Marco Polo airport for our return flight home with some incredible memories.
To summarise this trip and Uniworld in general, I would say this is a river cruise like no other, at times you get the feeling of being out at sea as the lagoon is so vast, but you’re on a river ship, so there is hardly any movement and you’re always close to the shore. The design of the ship is like a boutique Italian hotel. All that combined with the outstanding service and you’ve got a very impressive holiday indeed!
If you’d like more information on any Uniworld Boutique River Cruise, please give our river cruise specialists a call on 0800 810 8229.