Pictured left to right outside the new store are: Paul Hardwick, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents Director of Retail; Emma Bailey, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents; Tutti Taylor, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents; Councillor Candy Vaughan, Mayor of Eastbourne; Trevor Ridler, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents Business Development Manager; and Shirley Waters, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents..
Mary Poole, Manager of our Ipswich travel agents, experienced her first river cruise recently. Having travelled through France on board Uniworld's River Royale, she has plenty of highlights to tell us all about.
Destination: France - Bordeaux
(Hotel names/Ship name): River Royale
Duration: 4 nights
The flights from both Stansted and Bordeaux were slightly delayed, but they were smooth and comfortable. I used fast pass check-in at Stansted and would highly recommend this service.
This was my first river cruise and Uniworld's River Royale did not disappoint. The ship is having a refit at the end of this season but, had this not been pointed out, I would not have noticed any reason for her to have one. Beautiful decoration, amazing staff and almost everything is included.
The ship currently offers 65 Cabins and one suite but there will be more suites after the refit. We had a category one cabin with a French balcony; it was a little cosy at times but we managed and it offered everything we required. There are two-pin European and three-pin UK power points in each cabin, which I found particularly helpful. The cabins do not have tea/coffee facilities but this isn't an issue as there is 24-hour room service available or you can pop along to one of the tea/coffee stations.
The restaurant was airy and offered various sized tables. The majority of guests preferred the larger tables, choosing to dine with different people at different meals. The food was AMAZING!
The bar/lounge was tastefully decorated with several artefacts on show too. Again, it offered different table sizes for guests to mingle. The bar had a good variety of drinks and the staff quickly learnt not just your name but also how you liked your beverage. The evening entertainment and daily meetings were held here but there was also a small private room you could use for meetings. This was used for an extra wine tasting available to purchase on board and a small seating area offering board games and a sweetie bar.
Out on the top deck, there were plenty of sunbeds and chairs to use, along with a hot tub - great for immediately after a cycling tour. There is also the self-service Blue Fox Cafe (bar). This has air-conditioning, so it's a great place to cool off. The ship has a small gym with a sauna and offers an ironing service for a fee.
Uniworld offers an ultra all-inclusive product. Therefore breakfast, lunch, dinner and all drinks, including premium brands and cocktails, are included. The only exceptions were wine by the bottle, champagne and some high-end premium spirits.
Uniworld also includes excursions throughout, with only the Masterpiece Excursions costing any extra. Some of the tours have a limited number of spaces and so do require booking in advance, even when included free of charge.
During my cruise I did the following excursions:
A full-day tour in the Cadillac wine area. This started with a 'Sauternes Discovery' wine tasting at the Château Guiraud, followed by a visit to the Château Royal de Cazeneuve where we had a delicious wine tasting lunch. Each course gave us a chance to sample a different wine. Here, we also got to meet the château owner who was a direct descendant of Henry IV. We also had a self-guided tour of the Château, which gave a great insight into its history.
''Let's Go'' Vineyard Bicycle Ride with Wine tasting. We collected the bikes and met our tour guide in Pauillac before heading off for a very enjoyable afternoon. We saw lots of Vineyards and a couple of Châteaux - Château Pichon Baron & Château Lagrange - both stunning properties. After some wine tasting at Château Lagrange, we made our way back to the ship in Pauilliac. The guide with us was very knowledgeable and entertaining.
A visit to the Citadel at Blaye followed by a scenic drive along the route de la Corniche Fleurie. The 17th-century fort at Blaye was really interesting. The citadel contains ruins of a medieval castle, houses, squares, streets and even a convent and offers some great views along the river. The coach drive along the road between Blaye & Bourge is so picturesque, providing us with views of fishing huts on stilts, limestone cliffs and a shipwreck thrown in for good measure.
The ship would later sail past these on its journey to Bourge. It was great to have a little knowledge about what we were passing.
Walking tour of Bourge. This gave us the opportunity to explore this little town. It was worth the steep climb to appreciate the view down on the confluence of the Gironde and Dordogne rivers.
Uniworld's tour guides were exceptional - so helpful friendly and full of knowledge.
Uniworld also offers 'Masterpiece' excursions for an additional cost. Some of the guests on board did the Masterpiece excursion to Remy Martin and all thoroughly enjoyed it. They said it was worth the additional cost.
On board the ship, I loved sitting in the hot tub watching the world go by. The scenery was stunning as we sailed along both the Gironde and the Dordogne.
I really enjoyed visiting Château Royal de Cazeneuve. Tthe history was so interesting and the meal along with the wine tasting was exquisite.
I also have to mention the cycle ride. We were very lucky with the weather as it was perfect and we somehow avoided the rain showers. This took us literally though vineyards and was a very enjoyable afternoon - even if a bit bumpy at times.
Nothing - I didn't want to come home!
I would definitely recommend this trip and not just to wine lovers! This area of France provides so much history and the scenery is very picturesque too, so there is really something for everyone.
The beauty of travelling with Uniworld is that everything is paid for in advance, which means no tipping required and no bar bill at the end of the cruise. The only exception is if you choose to do one of the Masterpiece excursions or want a drink that isn't included.
Being in Bordeaux when France won the world cup was quite an experience. I'm not a footy fan but seeing our French captain extremely pleased with the result and the fireworks that evening was a lovely start to our trip.
Must see? Châteaux by cycling through the vineyards
Must do? Buy wine when you see/try it as it may not available in local shops
Must try? Sauternes wine along with some French cheese