This is the second part of the blog series about river cruising. This post will take you in-depth into the day-by-day breakdown of Uniworld's Bordeaux, Vineyards & Chateaux itinerary. If you missed the first blog in this series about river cruising, you will want to check it out here: why-take-a-river-cruise.html
Uniworld is an all-inclusive river cruise company. Some river cruise companies do not include excursions and tours as part of the price but Uniworld does include most of them in the price you pay. They also include gratuities for all staff onboard and tour guides so that you do not have to worry about paying those either. One item that I do want to mention is that on this itinerary Uniworld did offer three optional excursions that you could pay for in addition to the complimentary excursions. However, these three options excursions are limited in size (very small) so I can understand why they do have to charge extra since not everyone on the ship can participate in the special tours.
Day 1: Arrival Into Bordeaux, France
Arrival into Bordeaux is fairly easy. Depending on where you are coming from, you can take an airplane or train to get to Bordeaux. Our flight from the United Sates took us into Paris with a short layover and then to Bordeaux. If you fly into Bordeaux then you can take advantage of Uniworld's complimentary transportation from the airport to the ship which is what we did. There are also many train routes that go to Bordeaux from other locations in Europe. You can definitely take one of these train options, however, Uniworld will not pick you up from the train station. For roughly 20-30 euros you can get a taxi to take you to the ship from the Bordeaux train station. Depending on what time you arrive onboard, you can grab a light lunch or snack. Your stateroom might not be ready yet but you can enjoy the ships common spaces or go out and enjoy the wonderful city of Bordeaux.
Day 2: Cadillac
The ship departed Bordeaux this morning in route to Cadillac so we were able to enjoy a leisurely morning onboard which is perfect for getting over jetlag.
If you are familiar with sweet dessert wines then you probably are aware of Cadillac. This area is known for their sweet dessert wines called Sauternes. This wine is my least favorite that we tried during the trip. I do not prefer sweet wines but with the correct food pairing I could see their appeal.
Uniworld allows its guests to select which bus they would like to ride on to take the excursion. This is wonderul if you are traveling with a group or friends so that you can pick the same bus/group so that you can tour together. This also helps keep the size of each tour down. This tour split us into two groups, however, some tours were split into even smaller groups consisting of only a handful of us in each group. This is definitely a huge plus for Uniworld and keeping the group excursion size down.
Our first excursion was visiting a Sauterne Estate with a wine tasting. Our bus group was taken to Chateau Filhot for our tour.
After the Estate, we were taken to Chateau Royal de Cazeneuve for a wine tasting lunch and exploring of the Chateau. Both the lunch and Chateau were both really nice and we really enjoyed this day, even though the wine was not exactly what we like.
Day 3: Pauillac
Uniworld had two different tour options to choose from in Pauillac. The first is the one that we selected was a Medoc panoramic tour with exclusive wine tasting. The other option was a vineyard bicycle ride with wine tasting. We thought it was going to rain this day so we selected the first option which was the bus tour.
The Medoc region has a number of Grand Cru status wines so this was an area that we definitely wanted to explore. Once again the bus groups were split up onto two buses (4 groups) which made for very intimate groups. The panoramic bus tour was very nice and we did drive past a number of beautiful vineyards and chateaus before reaching the one that we were going to visit called Chateau Du Tertre. This was an absolutely beautiful Chateau, personally my favorite.
Day 4: Blaye and Bourge
Blaye is a small little village that we spent the morning in on day 4. The ship docks right next to the Blaye Fortress which you can walk to from the ship or go through the guided tour that Uniworld provides. We did the walking tour through the Blaye Fortress which was built in the 17th century by military engineer Vauban. Right outside the Fortress on the main street in Blaye is a street market where residents purchase meat, produce and seafood. This area is known for their white asparagus which we were able to try someonboard the ship one evening for dinner.
Afterwards, we were driven on a scenic drive along the Route de la Corniche Fleurie. This is a road that runs between Blaye and Bourg. The road is narrow, and a little intense at times if the bus had to pass other large vehicles on the road. But it was very pretty and scenic. The ship later moved to Bourg where we were able to explore the little village on our own. It is a very steep village with amazing views. Definitely a cute place to spend an hour or two but not much to do but walk around and enjoy the scenery. Very relaxing village. They are also known for their chocolate figs which we tried and enjoyed.
Day 5: Saint-Emilion
Day 5 was absolutely my favorite day of the trip. The ship was docked in Libourne and we traveled by bus a short distance to Saint-Emilion. The vineyards in this area were the first to be protected by UNESCO because of the history of the area. The vineyards and wine are fantastic in this area, however, the cobblestone streets and exceptional architecture is what makes this area amazing. One of the most amazing sites in the city is a 12-th century church carved into a cliff. Only the tower is above ground and the rest of the church is underground. I would have loved to take pictures but they do not allow any of the church. But as you will see in the pictures below you can see for yourself the amazing architecture of this area. This area also has a number of cute restaurants with courtyards which are amazing and where we were able to eat lunch after our tour of the city.
Later that day we also visited a Premier Grand Cru in Saint-Emilion called Chateau Franc Mayne. This chateau is different than the others that we had already visited on this river cruise because they have an underground cave system and store their wine barrels in the caves. We were taken on a tour through the cave system and also were able to try some of their wine. Once again, this was my favorite day of the trip!
Day 6: Libourne
Two days a week Libourne has a huge Farmer's market. We happened to be there during the market and it was amazing to see all of the produce and good displayed outside and how many people were in attendance. After the market we decided to go on an active tour which was a guided bike tour along the Dordogne River and through the countryside. The total bike ride was 6 miles. We also stopped in a small church that had been completely renovated and the walls hand painted just like they had been back many centuries ago.
Later that afternoon the ship left Libourne and traveled back to Bordeaux. After dinner onboard, Uniworld had open air buses for us to ride on and tour beautiful Bordeaux at night.
Day 7: Bordeaux
The last day of our river cruise was spent in Bordeaux. We did the "do as the locals do" tour of Bordeaux. This was small group tour which included stopping to enjoy many treats at local sweet shops and seeing the main sights in the center or Bordeaux. After the tour we went back to the ship for lunch onboard then went for a run along the Bordeaux riverwalk which is where the ship is docked. This is a wonderful area with a lot of people walking and enjoying the beautiful city of Bordeaux and the waterfront.
Day 8: Disembarkation in Bordeaux
Unfortunately, after 7 nights we had to leave Uniworld's River Royale, the wonderful staff onboard, the amazing tour guides and fantastic food onboard. We truly had a great time and are looking forward to our next river cruise.
As a travel agent, I get asked a lot about river cruises, what makes them special, are they boring, are there enough things to do onboard the ship, have you been on one, etc. Finally I can tell my clients that YES I have been on a river cruise and I loved it! Some of you may be thinking that of course I have to say I loved it because I'm a travel agent and I sell them. However, I can honestly say that I really enjoyed the trip and I absolutely would go on another river cruise.
My husband and I had the opportunity to go on a Uniworld Boutique River Cruise a few weeks ago. I have to say that I was a bit hesitant at first since the typical age demographic is older than we are but after the first day onboard I was a believer that river cruises are absolutely for our age demographic as well. With many different river cruise operators available, Uniworld was the one that I have been drawn to for many reasons which I will discuss in this blog series.
Since this is a two part blog series, I'll start with the basics of river cruising and why Uniworld was a great option for our cruise. There are numerous river cruise companies and itineraries to choose from. Most focus on Europe and this is where you will find most of the itineraries. However, some operators also have itineraries for China, Vietnam and Cambodia, Russia, Egypt and India. Then you have the option of specialized itineraries for families, holidays and themes. Since there are so many options, finding a good travel agent will help you select the perfect River Cruise company and itinerary to fit your personal preference and what is important for you while on your trip. Once you select the company and itinerary, you are on your way to a great trip.
Onboard Uniworld's River Royale
We selected the Bordeaux, Vineyards and Chateaux itinerary because it really appealed to what we like. This itinerary focuses on French wine and beautiful chateaux's which is exactly what we wanted. I will discuss the itinerary in full detail in my second blog about river cruises.
Uniworld really made our trip special. Their tagline is "luxurious floating boutique hotels" and they really do live up to that statement. Our cruise took place on Uniword's River Royale which sets sail weekly from Bordeaux, France.. They are known for all-inclusive cruising and it really is true. Our cruise included 7 breakfasts, 6 lunches and 7 dinners plus mid-day snacks, welcome and farewell receptions, unlimited beverages onboard including local and international wine, beer and spirits. All taxes and gratuities are also included in the price for Uniworld so you will not be hit with additional charges for these items while onboard.
Six days of excursions are also included hosted by local English speaking experts. The excursions are designed to accommodate all ages and mobilities. For instance, there are gentle walking excursions for those who want a slower pace and go active excursions for those who want a faster pace or biking tour. Of course there are excursions for those who do no want active or gentle as well. They truly try to accommodate everyone onboard.
River Royale Accommodations
Uniworld River Royale has three main stateroom categories and one suite available. Category 2 and 3 are the same size (151 square feet) with the window size and deck location being the only difference. Category 1 includes a French balcony and located on the top passenger deck (141 square feet). The price range for Category 3 is the least expensive option and Category 1 is the most expensive with the exception of the one suite located onboard. This suite also has a French balcony and a much larger stateroom size of 217 square feet. You might not think that 217 square feet is very large for a suite but keep in mind that staterooms on river cruises are small in nature. We were in a Category 1 stateroom located on the La Gironde Deck stateroom 305. This was a perfect location for us and I really enjoy being able to get fresh air by opening up the French balcony.
Top Deck Cruising
One of my favorite parts of the River Royale is the top deck of the ship. This is designed to be an open space for guests to be able to go on top of the ship, have a beverage and watch the beautiful scenery pass by while the ship is moving or while it is docked in one of the quant villages or towns that it docks in. When the weather is good, this is the best place to be in my opinion. They also have a hot tub which is a wonderful place to enjoy a glass of local wine and look at the landscape surrounding the top deck of the ship.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon snacks are served onboard the River Royale and are all included in your cruise price. I have a few favorite dining moments from our trip onboard. The first is the local oyster tasting that they offer in the main lounge called Salon Gascogne. These local oysters are extremely sweet compared to the oysters we tend to get in the United States. They served them with the normal accompaniments but one unique addition was a red wine vinegar and shallot sauce which cut the sweetness of the oysters and was a perfect finishing touch. The head chef and food and beverage manager serve them during the tasting and answer any questions that you have about the oysters; and of course the bartenders serve the perfect wine to accompany the oysters.
A special dining opportunity takes place on the top deck of the River Royal at the Blue Fox Cafe. This is an all glass enclosure which offers perfect viewing of the surrounding scenery. They served my favorite meal in the Blue Fox Cafe which was consisted of an appetizer sampling which had the best tuna tar tar and then Beef Wellington for the main course. The meal was amazing and the views superb!
Here are a few other dining highlights from the trip.
Upon our return from our river cruise I have had many family, friends and clients ask if I will take another in the near future. The answer is hands down YES! We absolutely enjoyed Uniworld, the food and staff onboard River Royale and the beautiful towns and villages that we visited. Stay tuned to see what my next river cruise itinerary will be. I'm pretty sure that once the next opportunity arrises for me to take another river cruise, I do hope it is along the Rhine River with ports in Amsterdam and Basel.
I hope that you will also consider taking a river cruise for your next vacation. Happy travels!
Don't forget to check out the second blog in this river cruise series with an in-depth look at Uniworld's Bordeaux, Vineyards & Chateau itinerary and my review here: