Moored just outside central Amsterdam's spider's web of canals, the two ships didn't look all that different from the other vessels parked up nearby at first glance. It was only when I stepped on board that I really started to appreciate the Uniworld difference.
The Uniworld concept is all about recreating the feel of a small boutique hotel on board an all-inclusive river vessel, and every ship is different. If you've seen pictures of Uniworld's ships then you'll probably have been struck by the slightly garish interiors depicted in the official photography; but in reality, the decor is a lot more subtle than it appears in the oversaturated promo shots. Quirky, yes, but elegant and tasteful with it.
The first ship I visited was the smaller of the two, the River Ambassador, which carries just 118 passengers. I loved the muted colour scheme of charcoal and grey, and the unusual artwork on display in the corridors. The marble bathrooms were impressively plush considering the space restrictions, and I could just imagine myself soaking up the sun on the open-air top deck, enjoying a good book and watching the scenery go by.
Given the choice, however, I'd probably plump for the slightly larger S.S. Antoinette. There is a real 'wow' factor to the ship's lobby, with a sparkling sapphire chandelier as its centrepiece. The larger size means that the staterooms are more spacious, and there are more amenities on the ship, including a cinema, a pool and the gloriously camp Bar du Leopard. Unlike the River Ambassador, the Antoinette offers staterooms with an open air balcony rather than a French balcony, and the luxurious suites even come with butler service.
After an excellent lunch on the Antoinette's sun deck I had the opportunity to sample one of the tours included on Uniworld's springtime cruises in Holland and Belgium, visiting the famous Keukenhof Gardens. Over 7 million bulbs are planted here annually, a kaleidoscopic array of tulips, crocuses and daffodils, but the gardens are only open for a couple of months each year; the tulip season is short but sweet, much like my first taste of the Uniworld boutique river cruise experience.
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· Request a Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection brochure