River Itinerary Spotlight: Uniworld Returns to Italy's Po River in 2013


Uniworld's new Italian cruises spend multiple days in Venice. Photo by Susan J. Young

For 2013, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection (www.uniworld.com) is returning to Italy's Po River. This week's River Itinerary Spotlight looks at the line's new seven-night "Venice and Po River" cruises, as well as a longer cruisetour option.

The new 12-night "Splendors of Italy" cruisetour includes not only the cruise, but also a more robust "La Dolce Vita" experience with two nights in Florence and three nights in Rome.
For many years, river cruise companies operated Po River cruises. Most stopped as low water levels on the river often prevented river boats from successfully completing the itineraries.
Many lines pulled out including Uniworld. But as cruisers, particularly past guests, began to ask Uniworld for new itineraries to new destinations, the line decided to return to the Po in 2013 but with two factors that distinguish its upcoming voyages from those in the past.

"We used to have an itinerary on the Po and we pulled out for two reasons,” says Guy Young, Uniworld’s president and CEOYoung. First he says the ship used previously was not quite up to the level of the line's newest, amenity-laden vessels. Second, Young acknowledges challenges with the water levels in the past.

To solve the first issue, Uniworld opted to move its 134-passenger River Countess from central Europe to the Po to operate the Italy cruises. Built in 2002,  River Countess was totally remodeled prior to this year's European season by the design team of Red Carnation Hotels, Uniworld’s sister company.

To avoid the low water challenges? Guests will spend several nights onboard the ship in Venice for an in-depth destination experience and all the perks of a pampering cruise.

Once the actual cruise itself begins, for four nights along the Po, "we’re not sailing as far down the Po as we used to, so we avoid the most challenging area of the river,” says Young.


Guests will sail on the newly refurbished River Countess; its atrium is pictured. Photo by Uniworld.

As a result, Young believes the itinerary is now "no more challenging that in any other part of Europe," when low water levels will occur from time to time. If that occurs, the line will use motorcoaches to take guests to any missed destinations. But the chances of low water problems are far less than in the past, given the route shift. 

“Early interest for these cruises has been fantastic,” Young  told TravelAgentCentral.com, noting that Uniworld already has booked three charters and many groups are interested or already booked.  “We have [more group interest] for this itinerary than any other itinerary offered with Uniworld, for 2013” he stressed. “There are lots of early requests and demand.”

One reason? Past guests want the line to take them to new destinations. According to Young, Uniworld hasn’t heavily marketed the itinerary to FIT markets as yet. Promotion has mainly focused on past clients, groups and charters.
Verona has superb Roman ruins. Photo by Susan J. Young
Here's a snapshot look at the new itinerary. 
Day 1 – Arrival Venice: Guests board River Countess in Venice with a day on their own to rest up or explore the city. Among the onboard perks are complimentary wine, beer, and soft drinks during lunch and dinner onboard; bottled water replenished daily in the stateroom; and use of a 24-hour specialty coffee and tea station.
Day 2 – Venice: Guests take the line's walking tour of Venice and a Grand Canal cruise. They also make an evening visit to San Marco Basilica. Onboard the river boat, guests will celebrate their voyage at the Captain's Welcome Gala.  
Day 3:  -- Venice (for Padua): Guests might explore Venice on their own for another day, or take Uniworld’s full-day excursion to Padua with a walking tour and visit to the Scrovegni Chapel with its 1300-era frescoes by Giotto.
Day 4 – Serravalle (for Ravenna): In Serravelle, guests head out for the full day on Uniworld's tour to Ravenna and Brisighella. Ravenna was formerly the Italian capital during the Byzantine Empire, and it’s known for its fifth- and sixth-century mosaics that adorn its churches.
River cruisers will  view the UNESCO-designated Basilica di Sant’Appolinare and the mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Lunch is planned at an olive oil mill in the Medieval village of Brisighella.
Day 5 – Polesella (for Verona): Guests tour Vernona, best known from Shakespeake’s "Romeo and Juliet." River cruisers will view some sites associated with that tale including the Juliet balcony. Other tour highlights include views of a well-preserved Roman amphitheater, medieval palaces and the Piazza d’Erbe, with its 14th-century fountain.
Day 6 -- Polesella (for Bologna):  As a culinary center in northern Italy, Bologna is known for its Bolognese sauce, Parma ham, Parmegiano cheese and tortellini. The included shore excursion showcases the best of the city and its culinary heritage. Cruisers participate in a pasta workshop and learn how to make pizza.
Day 7:  Venice: Back in Venice, clients have yet another day to explore the city of canals on their own, perhaps taking a vaporetto to Murano or, alternatively, a gondola ride. Art enthusiasts might stroll through Gallerie dell’Accademia to view Italian masterpieces by Titian, Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Veronese, Canaletto and Guardi.
Tonight, Uniworld invites guests to the Captain’s Farewell Dinner.
Day 8 -- Disembarkation: Cruisers transfer to Venice’s Marco Polo International Airport, while cruisetour guests board a Uniworld motorcoach as they begin a five-night land extension to Florence and Rome.  
Cruisetour clients will spend two nights in Florence at the Grand Hotel Baglioni or a similar property, as well as three nights in Rome at the Parco dei Principi or a similar hotel.
Among the inclusions for cruisetour guests are breakfasts in Florence and Rome, transfers and multiple excursions to six UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The new Italy cruises also include a culinary focus as part of the line's Epicurean Adventure Program.Cruise only fares start at $2,899 per person double, while the cruisetour starts at $5,499 per person double.
For more information, visit www.uniworld.com/Italy.
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