Uniworld's elegant 130-passenger River Empress is the riverboat version of a luxury cruise ship. Impressionist-style paintings and damask upholstery pretty up the main lounge while the restaurant is retro chic, thanks to eye-catching red leather chairs, green water glasses, and sketches of jazz-age scenes. There is an impressive scope of diversions onboard, especially for a river ship, including a gym, spa, and library, plus an expansive sundeck for gazing at the scenery as the vessel glides along the Rhine, Danube, and Main rivers.
What We Love
Dining: Multicourse meals and the accompanying wines incorporate a sampling of local favorites. On Rhine itineraries, that means German sausages, potato salad, and pretzels, plus regional wines like riesling, as well as German beers.
Cabins: From the Savoir beds handcrafted in England with buttery Egyptian cotton sheets and European duvets to the huge windows (or French balconies) and marble-clad bathrooms stocked with L’Occitane products, you’ll want to spend as much time in your stateroom as you can.
Bicycles: A fleet of more than a dozen Swiss-made bicycles is on board, and just about every port has a bike path or lane along the river for easy rides and great views. Really want to get out on two wheels? In some cases, you can cycle from one port to the next to meet the ship.
Few Announcements: This is a quiet ride — there are no PA announcements at all, or events designed around forced socializing.
Best Known For
Truly All-Inclusive: It’s nice to never have to sign for a glass of wine or a cocktail, or to use bicycles, or to go on shore excursions (several are complimentary in each port). Gratuities are also included in the fare.
Boutique Hotel Elegance: From the cabins’ fabric wall treatments and marble bathrooms to the striking central lobby with its mirrors and cool artwork, River Empress is a stylish way to see the best rivers of Europe.
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Who It's Best For
Devotees of Luxury Oceangoing Cruises: For fans of all-inclusive luxe lines — like Silversea Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, SeaDream Yacht Club, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises — who want to sample a river cruise, River Empress makes for an easy transition.
Families (Sometimes): On select ships, the line hosts special sailings designed for families with small children (River Empress offered two in 2016). The library is converted into a kids lounge with a PlayStation, the ship is stocked with child-size bicycles for riding in port, and there is a supervised kids table at dinner.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
The Rhine Has Ups and Downs: Although the zigzagging middle Rhine is a sightseeing feast of castles and medieval towns, parts of the river are lined by industrial complexes with belching smokestacks, while sections are just boring canals with little to see but rows of trees.
Heidi Sarna is a Singapore-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Condé Nast Traveler and USA Today.
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River Empress at a Glance
- Line: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
- Number of Passengers: 130
- Ship Size: Small
- Launch Date: 2002
- Refurbish Date: 2010