Traveling With Bob and Sandy A Cruise Line Or Hotel?

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One of the fastest growing means of leisure travel in recent years has been the river cruise. Amongst the most popular are the long ships plying the rivers of Europe. But which one to choose?

The itineraries are similar for most of the major lines; the ships are similar. Think “stretch limo.” Most river ships, called, “Long Ships,” are reminiscent of the stretch limo used in proms and weddings.

Accommodations are universally comfortable, food is generally excellent and the tours and attractions along the rivers…well, they’ve all been there for hundreds, if not thousands of years. So what’s the difference?

Arguably one of the most well-known of the river cruise lines is Viking River Cruises. You’ll often see their ads on television. But where do they truly rank among say, 10 river cruise lines?

According to Travel & Leisure Magazine, one of the most renowned publications focusing on travel, Viking ranks a respectable fourth place. Really? Yes, really?

Viking falls in behind Tauck (#2) and Crystal (#3). The surprise in the T&L survey is Uniworld Boutique Cruises. The poll taken by the magazine was conducted amongst people who’ve cruised the various world rivers and placed Uniworld in a solid #1 position.

One reason for the success of Uniworld is the fact that it is family run. Today, four generations of the Tollman family oversee not only the cruise line, but its Red Carnation luxury hotels that can be found in Florida and Europe. There’s a Tollman hand in every aspect of the business. Beatrice Tollman, company president, has a fine and delicate hand in the overall operation ensuring that every sector of the company lives up to the high standards she’s set.

While Uniworld came in at #1, Red Carnation placed in the 100 best hotels in the world. Its parent company, Travel Corporation, operates in 70 countries and has such well-known entities as Trafalgar Tours and Contac Tours under its umbrella.

Uniworld operates in Europe on the Danube, the Ganges, Mekong, Nile, Po, Rhone, Volga, Yangtze and more. The Danube cruise, one of two Uniworld cruises we sampled from Vienna to Bucharest brought passengers into close touch not only with locals by having lunch in a villager’s home, but visiting sites such as ancient Roman archeological digs.

A second Uniworld cruise we purchased along with another couple, whom, we interestingly met on the Danube cruise, brought passengers to China. On tap was Tiananmen Square where some years back the government killed an undetermined number of young people demonstrating for democracy.

The highlight of this trip, without exception was seeing the terra cotta army in Xi’an. That discussion will have to wait for another time.

While China is billed as a land/cruise trip, the only time on the Yangtze was a four-day cruise. But to watch the beauty of China pass the balcony of your cabin was worth the time.

Unfortunately, there is no nexus between the cruises and Red Carnation. The hotels have earned as much kudos as the cruise line. The T&L list named Red Carnation as the #6 spot for the best hotels and it also placed them in the top 10 in other categories.

Red Carnation Hotel “41” faces The Mews and overlooks Buckingham Palace. There’s no guarantee, however, that you’ll see Queen Elizabeth or Harry and Meghan. But keep looking out of your window. One never knows.

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