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Cruise Ship Information
River Beatrice was named Cruise Critic's Editor's Pick for "Best New River Ship" in 2013. Click here for more details. To access other Cruise Critic comments and reviews about River Beatrice, please click here.
Click here to watch a YouTube video about River Beatrice posted by Top Billing, a popular TV show in South Africa.
Atmosphere on board
When I took my first Europe river cruise on a perfectly pleasant if unexceptional vessel a dozen years ago, it was clear that this travel experience was more about the dramatic terrain that surrounds the river than the boat that cruises on it. That ships traversing European waterways have long been bland, though comfortable, is due in large part to restrictions in width and length (they must pass through narrow canals and under ancient bridges). There simply isn't room for sprawling spas, lap-length swimming pools and soaring atriums. 
Indeed, on most every riverboat, public rooms are limited to a main restaurant, small fitness center, a library, and a vast roof-top sun deck that's dressed with tables, chairs, chaise lounges and perhaps a human-sized chessboard. Stateroom furnishings are comfortable, if basic, and all but the very newest riverboats feature cabins with immutable twin-sized beds that are made into ad-hoc sofas during the day, and private bathrooms that are typically somewhat claustrophobic. 
Despite my generally low expectations of riverboats, I had higher-than-usual hopes prior to my cruise on Uniworld's new River Beatrice -- and not just because the company had been trumpeting this as a genuine luxury riverboat. In 2003, Uniworld was purchased by a company that owns, among other travel operations, tour operators like Contiki and Trafalgar and, to my mind, the equally important Red Carnation group of hotels. This handful of luxury properties includes London's Chesterfield Mayfair, Dorset's Summer Lodge, Geneva's Hotel D'Angleterre and West Palm Beach's Chesterfield, all of which I've loved. These hotels excel in large part because rooms are plush and theatrically decorated, service is superb, and food served at in-house restaurants is sophisticated without being pretentious. A company with a track record of creating wonderfully upscale vacation offerings should be able to translate the same experience into a river cruise, thereby taking the riverboat experience up a notch. 
River Beatrice delivered on Uniworld's promise. Staffers and crew were marvelously attentive. The ship itself is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen with hallways lined in silk and a collection of original artwork that was so compelling I found myself going out of my way each day to visit various favorite pieces. Eighty percent of cabins have French balconies, and the 15 suites are impressive for the riverboat industry where spacious accommodations are an anomaly. 
Meals, which beautifully incorporated tastes and foodstuffs from the places we visited along the Danube, were consistently delicious. The boat's lone shore tour staffer deftly balanced standard, intro-to excursions with a smattering of more adventurous -- and more locally oriented -- outings. 
It's clear that European riverboats are now, even with spatial limitations, beginning to catch up on trends that have been changing ocean-going ships for the past decade. As we passed by numerous riverboats operated by other cruise lines -- or tied up with them, literally side by side, at various docks -- it was clear to me that the newer ships all were more beautiful, offered more flexible onboard options, and featured more of the key amenities, from high-tech toys to French balconies, than ever before. I'd happily cruise on any of them. But there wasn't a ship I saw out there this summer that compared with River Beatrice.
Fitness And Spa
As on most Europe riverboats, River Ambassador's gym facilities are token and compact, featuring a couple of machines and a fitball. Yoga was offered each morning on the sun deck.
The ship has a tiny spa, in a converted cabin, offering surprisingly adventurous treatments; a display in the reception promised massages using chocolate or honey products, for example. A 50-minute massage costs €60. 
The ship carries a fleet of bicycles which are lined up in port for individual use; on one occasion, a guided bike tour was offered and was quickly over-subscribed, so more bikes were quickly hauled in from a local rental shop. There are Nordic poles, too, for keen walkers.
Food & Dining
All meals take place in the Restaurant, forward on Moselle deck. It's an elegant room, all done in white and flooded with light. All meals are open seating, although people tended to head for the same places every evening. Breakfast and lunch are buffet-style. 
Breakfast, served from 7 to 9 a.m., is an impressive spread, with eggs cooked to order, as well as egg and bacon on the buffet, fresh fruit, cheeses, cereals, pancakes, waffles and juices. Coffee comes from espresso machines; there's one in the lounge, too, with a regular supply of mini-muffins and doughnuts.
Lunch was always a reflection on the region in which we were sailing, in my case, the Rhine, with assorted sausages, German-influenced salads featuring potato and cabbage, schnitzels, black breads and hearty soups. This was presented alongside lighter dishes of salads, pasta, cheeses and cold cuts, as well as a hot dish of the day with vegetables. There's a choice of desserts, as well as fruit and a cheeseboard.
Tea (and pastries) is served midafternoon (usually around 3:30 p.m., depending on the day's tour schedule) in the lounge. 
Dinner is usually at 7 p.m. and goes on till 9, although in reality, most people go to eat as soon as the cruise manager has finished their presentation of the following day's events. In Europe, the food has Mediterranean influences; chicken wrapped in prosciutto, or fish with a cheese risotto. There was a vegetarian dish every night, as well as some always-available items, chicken or steak, for those who prefer their food plainer. Because my cruise was a special family departure, the chef had drawn up a healthy children's menu, with some genuinely creative dishes on it; child-friendly crab cakes, and vegetable tempura, for example.
Waiters pour wine from the region with lunch and dinner and on one night, there was a superb wine-pairing dinner which really showcased the diversity of German wines, from delicate, spicy whites to punchy reds and a magnificent dessert wine. Uniworld's wine buyer was on board and delivered a short presentation about each wine before we tasted it.
Beer and sodas are also offered complimentary for those who don't drink the wine.
Room service is offered only as continental breakfast in the suites; the cabins don't have suitable space for dining.
Almost all shore excursions are included in the price and sometimes there's a choice, so the ship empties during the day. Uniworld uses the Quietvox portable lightweight audio headset system, through which the tour guide communicates via microphone to individual headphones, which means you can wander around and still hear. The excursions were of excellent quality and often included extra treats –- ice creams in Koblenz, a tasting in a local sausage shop, a wine tasting in a winery attached to a castle.
Every evening, the cruise manager gave a talk about the following day and took the time to make sure everybody was happy with their plans. One day, we had a trio come onboard to play light classical tunes after dinner, which was well attended – the only evening people really stayed up.
During the day as the ship was sailing, various events were laid on; informal German lessons one day, and a kaiserschmarrndemonstration on another, the chef assembling a vast pan of pancake pieces fried in butter, tossed in icing sugar and served with plum jam. It's a classic dessert in Germany and Austria. One cabin had been turned into a Wii room for the children on board, with a steady supply of chocolate bars and fruit. On the sundeck, people played giant chess and shuffleboard and on one cloudy afternoon, we lounged in our cabin watching movies from a vast selection.
Cabins come in three categories, and there are four suites. Categories 2 and 3 are on the lower deck (Moselle) and have a picture window, while category 1 cabins are on the upper deck (Rhine) and like the suites, have French balconies. Regardless of category, all accommodation has Savoir of England beds, Egyptian cotton sheets, pillow menu, built-in closets, hair dryer, individual climate-control thermostat, direct-dial telephone, ‘infotainment' centre with flat-screen TV and complimentary movies, bathrobes, bottled water, and safe. Marble-lined bathrooms have power showers with L'Occitane en Provence products.
Additional goodies in the suites include a daily fruit and cookie plate, evening canape; slippers; DVD; iPod docking station; Nespresso coffee machine; bathroom towel warmers; refrigerator; bottle of wine upon arrival; morning coffee and tea; continental breakfast; shoe shine; and free laundry service. 
Furnishings in all cabins are bold and lavishly luxurious, mixing textures and rich, jewel-like colours of scarlets and turquoises with more subtle bronze and grey. The result is stunning. But there were some elements of style over substance. In my suite, there was no wardrobe space to hang a dress (with an upper and lower rail, the lower one got in the way). So I hung my dress inside the bathroom door on a hook helpfully attached to the full-length mirror. There was no soap dish in the shower, either. 
There are no extra berths; although the staterooms are in no way lacking in facilities, there isn't room for a third bed in any. Bring luggage that fits under the bed, as there isn't much spare space unless you opt for a suite.
Tips and gratuities including the customary end of trip gratuities/tip for the cruise/tour manager, crew onboard and local guides for the included shore excurions are included in the price of your trip (excluding Optional Extensions)
Fellow Passenger
Passengers are mainly North American with a handful of Brits and Antipodeans. Most were well-travelled and many had never cruised but were regulars on the escorted tour circuit. Uniworld does a couple of family-friendly cruises every year and I was on one of these, so there were a lot of families on board.
Our recommendation
Cruised from Yichang to Chongqing so spent 4 nights on the ship. The ship was new (a year old) so expectedly - everything on board was clean and in good condition. The room was a good size with comfortable beds, a small couch and a balcony. The bathroom was large by cruise ship standard and even had a small tub. Good water pressure too. Room had all the usual amenities except no free wifi. Paid wifi is very slow so just plan on having no wifi and you will be fine.