This is the final post in our series on Uniworld’s Gems of Northern Italy river cruise. Click here to read the first post.
We had to be out of our rooms by 8:30. Luggage was placed outside at the same time. We have a 4 pm flight to Bordeaux France and we were quite happy the transfer was for 2 pm (and not sooner). So in the morning we made use of the included laundry and did a few loads so we’re ready for the next segment of our trip.
This is a very unique river cruise – and perhaps this is why Uniworld is the only one that offers this itinerary. Our cruise was entirely within the lagoon. The Po river was too low to navigate so they made some itinerary modifications. But most of the attractions are in or near the lagoon anyway. The cruise should have been called Venetian Lagoon explorations. It offers a deep dive into Venetian culture – past and present. The ship is not really a mode of transportation – it’s a conveniently located hotel that happens to float.
But no matter – you get great excursions, top rate service, luxury accommodations all while spending lots of time in Venice. Most every other river cruise spends a day or at most two in a city, before moving onto the next town, region or country. Pretty soon it’s blur of time and location. Here in Venice, the story of an ancient civilization is revealed in a logical order and you have front row seats to everything that happened.
When you visit Vienna you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the grandeur of the far reaching Habsburg republics. When you visit Paris, it’s immediately apparent this was the center of western civilization for centuries. And so it is in Venice – the wealth from the Silk Road and water superiority is palpable.
Looking back, I think the highlight was the after hours tour of St. Mark’s basilica. Just like on Torcello, it gave an impressive window into life “in the day” – the extreme extravagance of the church as well as the great messages it delivered to it’s followers. The crowds would have ruined it to be sure. We had the huge building to ourselves in our after hours tour.
Uniworld did a very nice job improvising once they learned the ship could not navigate the Po River. Overall the food was of good quality, though I really like that they offered pizza in an outdoor setting almost every night. Most of the tours were excellent – they went out of their way to hire experts in the fields of art history, wine making, Venetian culture, the Venetian lagoon as well as show us typical life today. While not a river cruise in the traditional sense, the Gems of Northern Italy offers an immersion into Venice that would be hard to beat in any other way. It’s great value of the money for those that really want to explore Venice – much better than a hotel based land tour in our opinion.
What we liked least and….
In retrospect, the thing we liked least on this cruise was the internet. Connectivity was terrible – much worse than other river cruises we’ve taken. We also didn’t care for the amount of times we felt the ship move – not good for those that are seasick prone. Whether on the River Countess tied up along the Giudecca Canal or in the various water taxis we took to destinations, this was equivalent to some of my ocean cruise experiences. We also thought the dinner choices were lacking; many nights we only had a choice of two entrees. And finally, the cabin size was very much on the small end of our river cruise experiences. It was adequate in terms of storage and functionality, but there were times we had to coordinate movements to cross the room. Since we weren’t really in the room that much, this is not a big deal. But for a brand that advertises 5 star luxury, a larger room would seem more appropriate.
…What we liked most
The things we liked best about this cruise is the immersive experience into the Venetian culture. The after hours tour of St Mark’s basilica especially stands out. But visiting both the north lagoon islands and the south lagoon cities along with several visits to Venice itself, affords a much deeper dive into the local culture. Virtually every tour guide was both engaging and expertise in their specialty. Other things to note was the high level of service on board. One example is how hard the crew tried to please with gluten free options. Yes, their was always a bread or cracker served to me every meal. But to make gluten free danish, calamari and pasta for me was terrific. The staff were both extremely attentive and highly personable. And finally, the on board laundry was a really nice feature.
Uniworld is now all inclusive. This means there’s no need to tip – which is very nice. If you don’t drink a lot, however, it also means you’re potentially funding other’s drinking habits. But it’s certainly nice not to have to think about the checkbook. And it’s very convienent to have the transfers to /from the airport handled directly by Uniworld. There were a few optional tours that cost money and one lunch where we were on our own (Burano) but our out of pocket costs was minimal. And our final bill at check out was a great $0!
On our last evening our cruise manager Gyngoyi (“John-G”) gave the usual fare well speech. We’ll end this series by paraphrasing something she said:
The world is a giant book. If you’re well traveled you have read many chapters, are familiar with many characters and know most of the plot lines. If you never travel you only know what happens in the first chapter. Keep traveling!