Guy Young, President and CEO, decides that a shelter must be raised to keep off the rain during the christening of Uniworld's newest masterpiece, the exquisite S.S. Maria Theresa. It does the trick - a weak ray of sunshine peeps through the clouds to light the huge vases of long-stemmed tulips which flank the red carpet, as the vessel's godmother, Princess Anita von Hohenberg - a direct descendent of the Habsburg empress Maria Theresa - steps forward to name the vessel, and we toast the new arrival with Dom Perignon.
On board I tour the ship with Toni Tollman, the daughter of Beatrice Tollman, president and founder of Uniworld's sister company, the Red Carnation Hotel Collection. Visibly elated by their achievements, Toni and her design partner Brian Brennan talk ten to the dozen about the design they have created. As the ship is scheduled to cruise the Rhine and the Danube, they wanted to recreate the romantic fairytale castles of their itineraries on board the ship. The 18th century baroque style has been planned "so the guest will feel as if she is a princess in her own castle".
In design terms, it is all about the detail - the hand crafted mirrors, lavish staircases, original collections of antique oil paintings, hand-painted trompe l'oeil ceilings, faux marble columns and ornate murals have been created by artisans drafted in from across Europe. Toni and Brian drop names left, right and centre, naming the huge range of tiny privately owned companies, each with a dying skill or technique, that have contributed to this amazing décor. "In the 18th century", says Toni, "it was all about craftsmanship, and that is what we have recreated here".
The muted blues and greys of the baroque period, tinted with gold, feature on elaborate mouldings and embossed paper to create an ambience unlike anything I have seen on any other river vessel. Here is a move away from the sometimes overwhelming colour palettes of the other Uniworld vessels, and as we visit the Viennese café, inspired by the Hotel Sacher, and the bijou cinema with its inviting love seats, we relax into another age, expecting to meet residents in powdered wigs and pompadour gowns at every corner.
Maria Theresa has 75 staterooms and suites, each individually designed, with fabric wall coverings, handmade carpets, antique furnishings, original art, canopy or four-poster made-to- order English Savoir beds, monogrammed bed linens, and open-air or French balconies. Staterooms also have the latest technology, such as keypad-controlled lighting, drop-down televisions in the suites and hidden-mirrored televisions in the staterooms.
The company's signature Leopard Bar, at the back of the vessel with great views, is less 'tropical' than on the other ships, and the heated pool in the corner has glass walls which turn opaque whenever someone enters, to give privacy to those who wish to bathe. As we set sail, reflections of the vessel moored opposite briefly surround us (I hesitate to name the company!) and Toni shudders. "Plastic ships!" she says, "mass produced. Something else entirely."
To match the décor, attention to detail is the watchword throughout the vessel: charming and attentive service by staff trained to Uniworld's exacting standards, gourmet dining, exclusive shore excursions included in the fare, all combine to make a Uniworld river cruise something quite different from the norm. If you want your river cruise experience to be something really special, Uniworld is the choice for you.
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