When it comes to the all-inclusive segment of the river cruise market, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and Scenic are two of the top contenders. Both companies strive to be as luxurious and as all-inclusive as possible. I recently cruised on both Uniworld’s new Maria Theresa and the new Scenic Jasper. The way that these vessels differ provides insights into how the their companies differ both philosophically and operationally.
Staterooms: Both ships feature staterooms that are fairly equivalent in size and with fairly comparable amenities, although Scenic Jasper’s staterooms do come with complimentary mini-bars with wine, soft drinks, chips and chocolate.
Uniworld’s Maria Theresa, on the other hand, features no mini-bar but an attractive jar of gourmet chocolates along with bottled water. As a River Heritage Club Member, meaning that I have cruised before with Uniworld, I also received a complimentary fruit platter in my stateroom.
Both ships feature staterooms with bathrobes, comfy beds and sitting space. Plus, both ships feature balconies that can be enclosed to create a solarium of sorts in cool weather and an open-air room in warm weather. Scenic’s approach and Uniworld’s approach to their balconies are somewhat different, however.
Uniworld’s Maria Theresa featured mosquito netting on its balcony; Scenic Jasper did not. However, Scenic’s open-air balcony featured folding glass doors that exposed the balcony. Uniworld’s fixed glass doors were a tad more obstructive than Scenic’s when passing from the bedroom to the balcony – a minor quibble to be sure.
The best way to judge those is to see for yourself in the videos below.
Dining Venues: Scenic Jasper has multiple dining venues (the main dining room, a speciality dining “experience” within the main dining room, an alternative dining venue, and for snacks, the River Cafe).
Maria Theresa features a single dining room, although Uniworld does offer a private dinner for up to 20 people in the Leopard Bar, situated aft on Maria Theresa. There doesn’t seem to be a specific company policy regarding dinner here, but I experienced it on my cruise as did others.
Dinner in the Leopard Bar was exceptionally well done as it was in Scenic Jasper’s Table La Rive, which offered a six-course set menu paired with wines, but available only to guests on deck three and those in Junior Suites on deck two.
Room Service: Scenic Jasper offers room service to all guests in all categories of staterooms. Uniworld’s Maria Theresa offers room service only to guests in suites.
Tours: On Scenic Jasper, all tours were included, even the evening concert in Vienna. Uniworld included all tours also but charged 75 euros per person for the evening concert in Vienna.
Bikes: Scenic Jasper featured electric-assist bicycles. Uniworld’s were not electric-assist. In all other respects, however, the bikes were equal. The electric-assist bikes did provide a slight advantage on long rides, such as one we did between Durnstein and Melk on Scenic Jasper.
Self-service launderettes: Uniworld has self-service launderettes for complimentary use; Scenic does not have them at all. However, Scenic’s Glen Moroney told me his company will include laundry service at no charge.
Service: Both companies excel at service. I talked with travel sellers on Scenic who likened it to Crystal. Travelers on Uniworld likened Uniworld’s service to Seabourn.
Coffee machines: Uniworld had the Viennese Cafe where there is one coffee machine that dispenses all sorts of speciality coffees. Scenic has two coffee machines in the lounge, and also, something I did not see on Uniworld, loose-leaf tea on Scenic Jasper.
Fitness: Both ships feature, small but well-equipped gyms.
Suites: Scenic’s suites, situated aft, are some of the largest on the rivers; Uniworld’s, situated midships, are some of the most elegant.
WiFi: Worked well on each ship.
Bottom Line: With the exception of the mini-bar and some differences with the balconies, staterooms on both ships were fairly equivalent. Yes, Scenic Jasper boasts butlers for all staterooms, but the room attendants on Maria Theresa do a fine job. A feature that may appeal to some: Scenic Jasper features multiple dining venues, while Uniworld’s Maria Theresa has the popular Leopard Bar, also a favorite watering hole for many during my cruise. Bikes and fitness are fairly equivalent, though some may prefer the electric-assist bikes on Scenic Jasper. One thing to note when is that Scenic has a strong following in Australia, meaning that cruises may be more “international” than on Maria Theresa.
Fill Wood says
Last month, I took a week’s cruise on the Uniworld SS Catherine with my wife, sister and mother (a (95tth birthday present for my mom). It was wonderful! This was the first rivership cruise for any of us although my wife and I have taken about 30 cruises on a number of ocean ships, concentrating recently on Silversea and Seabourn.
We chose the Catherine because of the itinerary – Provence was a new area for my sister and mother, and my wife and I have very fond recollections of the area from several bicycle trips thru it. It was as nice an area as we remembered. Having decent 8-speed bicycles onboard, which were never over-subscribed, allowed us to ride a few hours every day while we weren’t walking my mother around. And the free included ship’s tours always included interesting options suitable for a less than energetic older traveler as well as ones for more active people. The cruise staff were quick to recognize when they needed to adapt tours to make them accessible to the few people with limited mobility (although no one was in a wheelchair, for which the line was not able to provide). My wife and I, on the other hand,
enjoyed tours such as kayaking down the Rhone.
But what was the height of the trip was the ship itself. The service was exemplary. The cabins have ingenious switches to signal your stewardess when you are ready to have your cabin serviced and when not. The cabins are understandably cozy since the ship has to fit through narrow river locks, but are stylish and very well designed with lots of storage space. The food was extremely good and varied and able to satisfy a wide variety of tastes. My wife and I have somewhat sophisticated tastes and found the food almost up to the standards of Seabourn and Silversea – indeed just as good as the typical dishes on those ships, just not quite as wonderful as the occasional special dishes those ships can present. On the other hand, my mother would probably be intimidated by the dining on those ships but was very
comfortable with the choices, presentations and quantities on Uniworld. My sister has certain dietary issues and the maitre d’ spent 15 minutes the first dinner determining what these were and then passed these on to each of the servers so that she never was surprised
with something that she could not eat. After the first meals, all the waiters learned that my wife wanted extra amounts of certain lightly steamed vegetables on the side and I wanted extra amounts of meat and these were always provided to us. The white and red wines provided
for free at lunch and dinner were generally quite acceptable, and if some were not to our liking, substitutes were readily available.
In the bars, a very good selection of liquors was available for free. Indeed we laughed with the bartenders regarding which brands such as Grey Goose vodka, they had been instructed were considered complementary in unlimited quantities throughout the cruise. And every night,
there was some interesting low-key entertainment in the main bar for listening and dancing. Several of the acts were quite good. And there always were many people who did dance and many more who stayed up and listened to the music. Because the ship usually brought a different performer or duo on each night from the port in which we were anchored, the entertainment was usually new to us and we never got bored.
All of the staff, from the waiters, to the cabin personnel, to the cruise staff, to the bar staff, were uniformly friendly and efficient.
I am very sensitive to smoke, and this was never an issue anywhere on the ship (which is non-smoking everywhere on the inside). Smoking is allowed in limited areas outside, but I was never bothered.
The sun decks are quite pleasant and a good place from which to watch the world pass by while enjoying a good book and beverage.
My only complaints are very minor. The design of the two newest ships places the swimming pool inside one of the bars, rather than with access directly to an outside sun deck. This means that the pool air reeks of chemicals and in order to swim, you walk through the people who are sitting clothed in the bar, which feels a bit strange. And the Wi-Fi is slow and unreliable. This is unfortunately a common issue on ships.
Even the staff had problems doing such things as processing credit card bill reconciliations.
We will gladly sail on this line again.
Ralph Grizzle says
Thanks for your great comments Fill. I agree about the pools. They are quite something to look at but perhaps not in the best place (or with the best access). The Leopard Bar, however, where the pool resides, is one of my favorite public rooms on any ship than I have ever been on.
Just a note about the in cabin fridge on Scenic whatever type of cabin you choose you can also choose what you prefer in your fridge there is no difference if your in aquarium or the top end suite.
Ralph Grizzle says
Thanks for the additional info.