At the Pope’s Palace in Avignon

 

River cruising…images of lounge chairs and silver hairs sipping wine, right? Wrong…totally wrong!! My first experience aboard Uniworld’s SS Catherine has completely reversed my idea of what a river cruise would be. For starters, the guests were younger than anticipated. Yes, the average age is 60-65, but there was a sprinkling of thirtysomethings and plenty of 40’s and 50’s folks enjoying all kinds of fun activities throughout the week.

My itinerary, Burgundy and Provence, had two to three tour/activity choices everyday as we docked in small wine towns along the Rhone River. Hiking the vineyards, biking, city walking tours and yes, even tours geared for “gentle walkers” and those that just needed a slower pace (aka over-served the night before) gave us plenty of active choices all day. Wine tastings and exclusive cooking schools could also be booked for an extra special treat.

Uniworld River Cruise 2016 Rhone March26, 5 25 50 AM

Yummy street food in Arles

Speaking of cooking, the food was fantastic…buffet breakfast and lunch with myriad choices along with a full dinner menu of beautiful regional dishes kept us so happy! How wonderful that the waiter, Ivan knew my coffee order by the second day and every night at cocktail hour, Christian, the bartender, arrived with my preferred glass of bubbly? That’s the great advantage to cruising on a boat that holds 150 instead of a mega ship that holds 4000. Our cruise director gave a “tomorrow’s tours briefing” and the sommelier gave a quick rundown of the evenings wine and dinner pairings every night before dinner. I loved dining with different people each evening as the tables held anywhere from 4 to 10 guests. As a solo traveler (there were probably 10 of us onboard), I was warmly welcomed each night and made many friends along the way.

Uniworld River Cruise 2016 Rhone March20, 7 32 22 AM

My beautiful stateroom

While the food and tours are excellent aboard any Uniworld river cruise, I must tell you the ship is stunning…SS Catherine was inaugurated in 2014. Her godmother is Catherine Deneuve and both are classy ladies! Admittedly, brochure photos seem a bit flashy but once onboard, I completely understood the luxurious fabrics and colors that characterize all Uniworld ships. Why would you want a beige carpet and walls in the lounge and dining room when you could have fresh flowers, colorful striped velvet chairs and blue silk curtains, not to mention the green murano chandelier that graces the lobby? My stateroom, a category three (middle of the road) was sheer perfection. I’m not kidding. From the heated green marble floors in the bathroom to the fabric covered walls to the copious amount of storage, what more could you ask for ?

Gorgeous and spacious bathrooms were delightful

Gorgeous and spacious bathrooms were delightful

Well, you could also ask for a floor to ceiling glass window that opened at the touch of a button (there was a screen too, if necessary), and a luxurious cashmere throw if the air got chilly, how about glass bottled water and L’Occitane bath products and a supremely comfortable king size bed ? It’s all there…Not one detail has been forgotten. I sent out a few items for laundering (cause I was curious)…they smelled so good when they were returned to me 8 hours later, even though I put the wrong stateroom number on the bag…they knew. Ok, now I’m gushing, but really, these staterooms are outstanding.

Beautiful views like this right outside your window

Beautiful views like this right outside your window

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises is in no way the least expensive product in the river cruise market but it is a super value for anyone that appreciates traveling in luxury and experiencing top notch service along the way. All of your gratuities, daily excursions, and alcohol is included. You can honestly travel for a week on the ship and not pull out your wallet once. The only extras would be souvenirs, laundry, a special cooking class or exclusive wine tasting (think Chateauneuf-du-Pape quality). There is also great value in traveling stress free. Tour guides lead the way, chefs provide the tasty meals, and Uniworld supplies the 5 star ship where you only unpack once to see many towns in one country (or countries) depending on your itinerary. Lots of rivers to choose from in Europe, so plenty of itineraries from Christmas Markets to Castles on the Rhine to Tulips and Windmills in Amsterdam…you’re bound to find a favorite.

Comfy lounges for meeting new friends

Comfy lounges to watch the world go by

 

Yes, there are some silver hairs on a river cruise, yes, you can sit and sip wine all day if you like…but, there’s so much more. This was not as relaxing as I thought it would be…my fault, I guess. I stayed up too late with my new friends from Canada and Australia dancing to live entertainment ( and maybe singing with them once ), I took advantage of every tour and excursion, and lecture and wine tasting…I didn’t want to miss a thing! I was exhausted ! I really loved it ! I’m river cruising again, as soon as possible !!!

 

Sarah Richardson joined Travel with Martha in 2012, having previously worked in the travel industry.  Her travel specialties include cruises and Europe.   Her next trip is to visit Caneel Bay Resort on St. John, USVI in July, 2016.