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Uniworld, River Countess, Venice. A clients review.

Our pre holiday drama was the power going off and water cascading from an electric socket after a central heating pipe chose to leak. Fortunately my son was able to fix it and we set off to Manchester airport for an overnight stay as planned before our 7.55 flight to Venice. We were flying with Jet2 who offer a twilight check-in for early morning fliers.  We dropped our baggage before dinner so at silly o’clock on Sunday all we had to do was get through security.  We are not airport lovers and seldom fly so we decided to use an executive lounge that provided seating and breakfast.  An excellent start to our first river cruise – Uniworld River Countess, cruising around Venice on both the Lagoon and the River Po.   

We were met at the airport by a Uniworld representative who took us to a slick black minibus and asked us to wait whilst another passenger from our flight was located.  We were then whisked to the Cruise ship port where we boarded the River Countess.  We like small ships with C&M Astoria probably being our favourite but this was small.  We were quickly checked in and then guided to the open plan restaurant for a very welcome buffet lunch.  We are both vegetarians and there was plenty for us to eat. After lunch we moved into the front facing lounge for a coffee before being taken to our cabin. We are on deck 2 which is just above the water line.  The cabin is compact but has 2 wardrobes with shelves and hanging area, a small table and 2 chairs, 2 bedside tables and a king sized bed.  The marble lined shower-room is small but has everything needed.  A quick glance at the itinerary made us realise we were in for a well planned and organised week and then we had a welcome siesta.

Our first evening on board started with a piano recital with welcoming sparking wine in the lounge followed by a welcome and safety briefing from the captain.  This was followed by what is scheduled as the “daily chat” from the cruise director who outlined all the arrangements for the pre-planned excursions and activities for the following day.  Dinner was open plan and we shared a table with an American couple who became good friends during the week. Whilst we were dining the ship relocated from the Cruise port to its normal docking place about half a mile from St Marks Square. Pleasant company, good food and enjoyable wine concludes our first day on the River Countess.

Day 2 started with an early but plenteous buffet breakfast and an 8:30 rendezvous for a walk across the 7 bridges to the Doge’s palace.  We joined the slow group for “gentle walkers”.  Each cabin is fitted out with rechargeable Vox intercom devices which are used by the guides on the various excursions.  We tuned into our guide who introduced us to Venice as we strolled along. We soon reached the Doge’s Palace and being “gentle walkers” arrangements had been made to get us to the rooms on the top floor by elevator.  Our guide escorted us slowly around the beautifully decorated state rooms and explained to us the history of the Doge.  After a couple of hours we left the Palace and encountered what appeared to be a very busy St Marks Square.  Our guide tells us that this is nothing like normal busy! Being “gentle walkers” we were taken back to the ship by vallporetto for a welcome coffee and chocolate biscuit in the small lounge on our deck.

After our buffet lunch the ship set sail around the lagoon and a very knowledgable historian delivered an excellent commentary over our Vox devices. We returned to our berth in Venice for an early dinner, after which we were all taken by private water taxis to St Mark’s Square where Uniworld had arranged a 2 hour private viewing of the Basilica.  The commentary was provided by the same historian lady who vividly described all the artworks and the history of the building.  We then had a guided tour of the crypt and High Alter, followed by a gentle walk back to the ship for a late supper.  A second excellent day.

Day three offered the option of a day-long excursion to Padua or a 3 hour cruise across the lagoon to Chioggia followed by a short trip on a mussel fishing boat and a lunch of mussels, clams and excellent vegetarian alternatives.  Whilst we were lunching our ship crossed the Adriatic Sea to the river Po and we rejoined the ship for a 3 hour cruise along the river. A very pleasant relaxing trip. The day finished with the captain’s gala and dinner.

The original plan for day 4 was either a day trip to Bologna or a shorter trip to Ferrara, again with guided commentaries and an evening sailing back along the river Po and a crossing of the Adriatic on day 5.  Expected bad weather resulted in an earlier sea crossing so after the excursions we returned to Chioggia by coach to rejoin the ship.  Ferrara is a very interesting town with a castle a cathedral and university.  Because our stay was extended by a hour or so and the planned on-board lunch was cancelled we were all given 15 euros each towards our lunch! We enjoyed another lagoon cruise during dinner and a local band provided our evening entertainment.

The morning of day 5 was scheduled to be a walking trip around Chioggia market but it is pouring with rain so I decided to get my log up to date whilst Gill writes another chapter of her latest novel.

 During our afternoon cruise back to Venice we learnt all about the experiences of flooding and sewerage with a very interesting illustrated lecture.

Day 6 was a day-long trip by motor boat to the islands of Torcello, Mazzorba and Burano.  Torcello was particularly exciting when we were taken into the oldest church of the Venice islands and our local historian fully described everything in the church and around it.  On Mazzorba we were privileged to share in a wine tasting of a very special local wine that sells at over 150 euros a bottle!  Nice but not that nice.

After returning to our ship the Captain led a very interesting talk about his experiences on this cruise ship over the last 7 or 8 years.  Dinner was followed by an opera presentation – pianist, soprano and tenor.  Some said the tenor was flat but he’s sounded good to us!

During the evening the ship relocated to the Cruise-port area so that we were ready to start disembarking in 2 days time.

Our last full day offered 3 arranged excursions – a local market visit, a tour of the local art gallery or a water taxi ride to the Rialto Bridge and leisurely walk back.  We chose the last but after 2 hours of walking ended up close to the Rialto Bridge and caught the Vallporetto back to what was now home.

Lunch in the special pizza bar was supposed to lead into a final visit to the glass demonstration and sale but sleep seemed a better option! Those that went along thoroughly enjoyed it.

Our final evening was our second gala meal which even offered baked Alaska. 

Disembarkation was well planned and straight forward.  We were taken to the airport at 9.30 ready for a 12.30 flight and we even had staff with us to make sure we checked in correctly.

Expensive? Yes.  The best holiday I have ever had.  Almost Yes but not as good as Svalbard 25 years ago!


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