|Haarlem, The Netherlands, was one of the stops on our “Tulips & Windmills” cruise. The S.S. Maria Theresa will also sail on many of Uniworld’s Europe voyages, including its “Grand Christmas & New Year’s Cruise” itinerary.|
We sailed on Uniworld’s new S.S. Maria Theresa out of Amsterdam in March on its inaugural voyage from Amsterdam to Antwerp. The final verdict? Attentive service, unique décor and unusually comfortable beds and bathrooms were the defining elements for us. But before we get into that, let’s talk about another standout and that’s the Leopard Bar, which caught our eye the first day of the journey.
Set at the front of the Maria Theresa on the top deck, the Leopard Bar is helmed by the delightful British bartender, Jordan, who cheerfully welcomes each guest to the cozy establishment with a fresh enthusiasm and strong sense of pride. We admired those traits but also his gentle boast that he’s quite adept at crafting interesting cocktails, a request he strongly encourages. If you’re not in a creative state of mind, however, Jordan can whisk something together from his standing menu, such as “The River Cosmo,” with vodka, Triple sec, pineapple and cranberry juices and some lemon zest, natch. “La Paloma” has white tequila, lime juice with a pinch of salt and is topped by homemade grapefruit soda.
For those seeking more standard beverages, the Leopard Bar is a neat venue for a simple glass of white wine or even an Irish coffee. Just ask for it.
Back to the facts: With Uniworld, liquor, coffees, gratuities and airport transfers are all included in the price. Nice Touch: Wi-Fi is also free and we found the signal to be quite strong wherever we were, on the river or in port. The Maria Theresa holds just 130 passengers and has a high staff-to-guest ratio. We loved that the dress code is “casual elegant” on board, providing a glamorous vibe in a comfortable setting. Service is intuitive; essentially, pleasing the guest comes across as the ultimate goal for every crew member. If you’re a newbie to Uniworld, be prepared to meet many a repeat guest on board. We met one couple who had sailed the line 20 times. They said their faith in Uniworld was sealed back in 2010 when the Iceland ash cloud halted flights in and out of much of Europe. Those passengers set to depart their Uniworld cruise at that inopportune time were invited by management to stay on for the next sailing as Uniworld worked to ensure they had a way home.
But for us, the defining moment came from another repeat client, who, as a single traveler, said she felt perfectly comfortable sailing solo with the line. “I feel like I am never alone,” she said, noting that she felt she knew the crew quite well and they were like family to her.
Case in point: She said she had broken her glasses in two at the beginning of our cruise and so promptly went to the front desk to explain the problem. There was no immediate fix, since there was obviously no optician on board to mend them, but the ship’s engineer took a look at them and moments later handed them back to her in one piece. He had used his machinery to weld the nose bridge of the glasses back together and she’d been wearing them with no problem since then.
Dining: Meals are served in the Baroque restaurant. Breakfast is a generous buffet with an omelet station. We loved the fruit smoothies on hand (think, cucumber, raspberry or papaya). There’s also a menu offering Eggs Benedict, pancakes and the like.
|Suite Life: There are 10 one-bedroom suites on the ship, measuring 305 square feet apiece.|
Lunch is a similar setup with hot and cold buffet offerings that often reflect the local surroundings. Dinner is a full-service affair, comparable to that of any luxury ocean cruise line. One evening provided a tempting selection of Barley Risotto with primavera sauce, seared fillet of grouper or pork tenderloin with a mushroom ragout. We loved that every evening, sirloin, roast chicken and salmon offerings were on hand as standard fare, as were two different salads.
A fantastic addition to the food-and-beverage offerings is the Viennese Café, a cozy venue set up for guests to grab a cappuccino, latte or tea 24/7, with elegant pastries on tap at all times. We loved to run down to the café each morning for a caffeine boost pre-breakfast.
Much is made of the décor on most Uniworld ships; Beatrice Tollman, president of Uniworld’s sister company, The Red Carnation Hotel Collection, gets kudos for that. (She also heads up Uniworld’s service standards and food offerings; the Tollman family has owned and operated Uniworld for 10 years). The style is Classical Baroque, which lends itself throughout the ship to opulent stairways, chandeliers and furnishings; we found it all to be a lovely differentiating factor, particularly in the guest rooms, where sumptuous bedspreads and drapes in rich blues and white create an extremely upscale residential charm. Floor-to-ceiling windows and an intimate seating area all made for a chic setting to watch the world go by. Nice Touch: A menu serves up feather, foam and body pillows.
In-room entertainment is a wow showing off the latest technology; TV screens are embedded in a mirror over a vanity and plenty of on-demand options are available. Closet and bureau space is more than ample with his-and-hers areas provided in a tall armoire.
Bathrooms are another wow on the Maria Theresa; shower stalls are large; there are floor and towel warmers and L’Occitane soap, lotion and shampoo dispensers. We loved the bureau under the sink that provided plenty of room for our toiletries and allowed us to hide them away for the entire cruise, a luxury unto itself.
“I had the pleasure of sailing on the inaugural of the Maria Theresa this spring and I must say, Uniworld’s attention to detail blew me away,” says Libbie Rice, co-president of Ensemble Travel Group.
|Expert Observations: Libbie Rice from Ensemble Travel sailed on the S.S. Maria Theresa with a friend, after its christening.|
“I had expected the Baroque style to be felt throughout the ship, but the Maria Theresa took it to a whole new level. From the rich wallpaper in the staterooms to the gilded stairway and hall of mirrors on the lower level … what a masterful use of space and tasteful décor,” she adds.
Rice also enjoyed the accommodations.
“In my cabin, the Savoir Bed was beyond luxurious. I felt like I was sleeping on a cloud. Even the bathroom did not disappoint. Typically the top drawer in the vanity usually doesn’t open because of the plumbing, but not on the Maria Theresa; it was fully functional, providing lots of convenient storage and situated at the perfect height. The shower was well thought out, too, with the non-slip piece done in marble with the Uniworld logo brushed in,” says Rice.
And then there’s the service, a Uniworld staple.
“The attention to detail wasn’t missed by the ship staff or guides, either. From my cappuccino just magically appearing every morning at breakfast to our thoughtful guide, Roland, in Amsterdam, who created such an accurate and detailed portrayal of the Dutch culture and lifestyle, the personal touch was warm and genuine,” adds Rice.