Uniworld’s River Royale
Sailing In France In The Lap Of Luxury

by Vanessa Lee

Enjoying River Royale's Blue Fox Café in Bordeaux.

Uniworld's River Royale

Wine tasting in the Claret Room

Doru, River Royale's Maitre d' preparing our selection of luncheon beverages

I recently had the distinct pleasure of sailing on Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection's River Royale, a ship I knew, but on an itinerary that was a first for me. We cruised round-trip from Bordeaux through the area's wine region on 3 rivers, the Gironne, Dordogne and Garonde. This itinerary covers such storied regions and vineyards as Margaux, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau d'Yquem, Pauillac, Sauternes and more. It was a decadent week of many wine tastings, savouring fine vintages, eating far too much fois gras and other regional delicacies and being utterly spoiled by Uniworld.

I absolutely love this river line, rank it as one of the best in class and would compare it to Seabourn (another brand I adore) in the ocean cruising category. Their name is a bit of a mouthful but it sums up what Uniworld is bent on achieving as a company – that of a small, fabulous boutique offering their "Collection" of exquisite and stunning river ships - some new and some very beautifully refurbished.

This is a company at the top of their game offering an impeccable experience and here are just some of my perceived reasons why.

All of their staff are long-standing employees of the company who have received the finest training in hotel and shipboard services and management. Their collective desire is to offer superb and intuitive service – which is also anticipatory, kind and friendly. The attention to detail is impressive as are the furnishings, the decor, the well-chosen objets d'art, the lighting, flowers (everywhere and always white) art, use of mirrors and more.

However, as for any intimate ship or hotel experience it is the small, thoughtful touches that combine to make the difference and raise the bar - thus creating a great brand.

Uniworld is not an inexpensive proposition and is all-inclusive so the price of entry may seem high to some, but it is more than worth the price. I love the all-inclusive concept overall and find the onboard experience is seamless and just better. One added factor was that gratuities are not just included for onboard staff but also to the drivers and guides for the shore excursions – a nice touch.

The River Royale accommodates 130 very happy guests but with just one drawback - the staterooms although well-designed and comfy are small in size. They do have all the amenities and I particularly like the pull out drawers in the bathrooms but it's a bit of a squeeze.

The ship itself was totally refurbished before moving to Bordeaux and one of its best features is the unique Blue Fox Café for dinners and the occasional light lunch. This is a glass-enclosed spot on deck (also with daytime al fresco seating) and we enjoyed a casual buffet lunch where I picked my own basil for my freshly-made Margarita pizza. It was here, that Doru the impressive Maitre d' made us all tasty, summer cocktails after returning from a winery visit. It seemed incongruous at the time but it was lovely to have a blender drink and a pizza on deck in the spring sunshine.

On another day we had a really excellent dinner in the Blue Fox which holds about 30 people and which must be reserved ahead of time. A chef and several servers take care of all needs and dining on the top deck watching the sun set was delightful.

The food overall is delicious, beautifully presented and top-notch in quality (the executive chef on the ship is from Bordeaux) and the wide-ranging menu choices, along with the lunch buffets are outstanding. We had 3 dining choices – Le Bordelais main restaurant; the reservations only Claret Room (also used for wine-tastings) and the Blue Fox. One can also enjoy small lunchtime bites in the Gascogne Lounge.

Here are some small touches which resonated with me and which I note as “ the boutique difference". There were 3 electrical outlets in each stateroom – British, U.S. and European, water served in a carafe and changed twice daily and each guest was given a metal water bottle also to be refilled for daily outings (no plastic bottles to be recycled) and there was a delightful dish of tasty bonbons – again replenished and noted as to one's preferences.

A daily lemonade was always available in the lounge – with mint, strawberry, rosemary, ginger and cucumber flavours – all delicious - plus unsweetened ice tea, freshly squeezed OJ and small cloth napkins to accompany the drinks and sweet treats or cookies always available.

In the future I will write more about this Bordeaux itinerary and how to sell it along with more thoughts on this fabulous river brand. I am off on a Windstar cruise next week to visit Malta (my 90 th country – finally!) along with stops in Sicily and the Amalfi. I return to Rome - one of my favourite cities - and will dine at San'gallo – my restaurant of choice there. Stay tuned…

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