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A woman with a smug look on her face handed me an umbrella and shuffled me inside a large room with an open ceiling as dozens of onlookers peered downward from the mezzanine level. Gold-colored coins, raining down from a conveyor belt above, clanged as they made contact with the floor, and I hovered underneath the umbrella to keep the coins from coming into contact with my head.
I had no idea that I’d be taking part in a performance art piece at the Venice Biennale international art competition that day but, when overnighting in the heart of Venice, serendipity is a given. My floating hotel for the week was Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collections’ recently renovated River Countess. Her convenient docking location at Venice’s Riva Sette Martiri was walking distance to Saint Mark’s Square and just a stone’s throw away from the park and exhibition space that hosts the Venice Biennale every two years. Walking through the exhibits of the so-called Olympics of Art was a thrill and one of the most memorable moments of my seven-day voyage down the River Po — and it wasn’t even part of the itinerary.
“We have an incredible docking location in Venice, and overnighting onboard the Countess is better than staying at any five-star hotel,” said president and CEO Guy Young. “If you want to see Venice, it is so much better to be on the River Countess.”
On the Venice and the River Po itinerary, which Young describes as a hybrid between a river cruise and an escorted tour, I learned how to make fresh tortelloni pasta in Bologna, stood on Juliet’s balcony in Verona, toured a charming vineyard in the Valpolicella wine region and got an up-close look at Giotto’s masterful fresco paintings at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. There were plenty of enriching cultural experiences to be had on land, but I always enjoyed coming back to the sophistication of the River Countess.
My category two stateroom featured handcrafted Savoir of England beds with ornate, plush headboards that looked as if they were designed for the Royal Family. There was plenty of space underneath the bed, in the closet and in drawers to store my belongings and newly purchased souvenirs, which is quite helpful in staterooms that measure 151 square feet.
Uniworld has become increasingly concerned with environmental impact over the years, and I loved that my stateroom came with refillable metal water bottles to use during shore excursions and a glass bottle of filtered water, which was refilled daily. Guests will also find an infotainment center with a flat-screen television, U.S. electrical outlets for charging gadgets from home and a marble bathroom with L’Occitane body products and towel warmers.
When the sun sets, there’s no better place to be than on the sun deck with a glass of prosecco. It’s also fun to take a break from the main dining room at the Sienna Salon Sky Lounge for a more casual al fresco dinner of made-to-order pizzas, antipasti, salad and dessert.
Breakfast and lunch are buffet style and served in the main dining room. During lunch, expect to find pasta in just about every possible incarnation as well as a seductive gelati bar packed with toppings. Freshly made soups, including a cucumber and yogurt soup loaded with fresh dill, were fantastic as well.
I found the dining room staff to be attentive and accommodating. For instance, after inquiring about a cold peach soup that was served at lunch, I returned to my stateroom to discover the recipe on my pillow. Furthermore, the general manager of the dining room always greeted me warmly and assured me that there was a tasty vegetarian alternative on the menu. It’s the thoughtful, small touches like these that help distinguish Uniworld from other river cruise lines and create loyal passengers for years to come.