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S.S. Maria Theresa


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Maria Theresa is a floating masterpiece that combines historic artwork and antiques with contemporary, high-tech creature comforts.

Maria Theresa is Uniworld's third "super ship," sibling to Catherine and Antoinette. The company promotes itself as a "six-star" line, and although there is no standard industry rating system that covers river vessels, we have no doubt that Uniworld lives up to its self-styled status.

Part of the family-owned group that runs Red Carnation Hotels, Uniworld offers a refined and boutique cruising experience set against the backdrop of dramatic signature décor that is quite unlike that of any other river cruise line. It certainly won't appeal to minimalists looking for clean, unfussy lines, but passengers who enjoy grand, sumptuous surroundings are in for a treat.

Maria Theresa's real-life namesake, the Archduchess of Austria and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, inspired the ship's design. She reigned from 1740 to 1780 as the only female ruler of the Habsburg dynasty (managing to birth 16 children while she was at it!). She also reigns over the ship's two-tiered reception area, in an original 10-foot-high painting hung beneath a glittering Venetian Murano glass chandelier.

Her Highness would no-doubt approve of this floating palace, decorated in a blend of Baroque and Rococo styles. An army of artisan craftsmen was responsible for creating design features in keeping with the empress' era, such as decorative coronets hand-painted with 22-carat gold leaf, silk-clad walls, lavish window treatments, custom furniture and five large murals in the main lounge depicting the 18th-century Austrian countryside. Smaller but equally impressive details include coronets etched into the marble shower floors and tiles in the lobby.

Thoroughly modern touches include TVs concealed behind mirrors, heated bathroom floors and climate-controls you can set to the exact degree. There are also keyboards in every cabin to access the Internet via the interactive televisions.

Maria Theresa has just 75 cabins and carries about 40 fewer passengers than river vessels of a similar size, so you can expect a very personal onboard experience. Luxury touches include 11 butler-served suites -- plus attentive service, fine dining and wines that rival top restaurants ashore. The all-inclusive pricing policy covers meals and beverages onboard (a few top-shelf liquor brands excepted), as well as airport transfers, Wi-Fi, gratuities and most excursions.

The only potential downside to all this marble-clad luxury is that the ship has a deeper draft than some river cruisers. In a low-water situation, a cruise could be cancelled or diverted sooner than might be the case on another ship. However, we think Maria Theresa is so special, it's worth that slight risk.

If you're looking for a river cruise experience that's akin to being in a floating palace -- complete with Downton Abbey-style butler service -- Maria Theresa fits the bill.

Despite the opulent surroundings, the onboard atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. By day, passengers dress in casual attire, including jeans and shorts. Flat, comfortable shoes and layers are always a good idea for shore excursions -- and consider that many destinations are paved in cobblestones when choosing your footgear. Although there is no formal dress code, passengers tend to dress up more in the evening on these ships than they do on other river cruises -- possibly to reflect the elegance of the surroundings. This is particularly true for the captain's welcome and farewell dinners, with women in cocktail dresses and men in jackets and ties. That said, if you like to push the sartorial boat out and don your formal clothes every evening, you are never going to feel uncomfortable or overdressed on this vessel. Robes, slippers and umbrellas are provided onboard, as are cosy blankets for those who want to be on deck in cooler weather.

In common with all river vessels, entertainment is fairly low-key. The heart of the vessel is the plush Habsburg Salon on the Hofburg Deck, where passengers can relax throughout the day. Décor is in blue tones, with a collection of small tables and chairs in the centre and more substantial armchairs and sofas with coffee tables on the perimeter. It features a full-service bar, and waiters also serve a variety of teas and coffee drinks that include Americanos, lattes and cappuccinos.

Each night before dinner, the cruise director holds a short briefing here. Depending on the day's program of excursions, talks are also held related to the itinerary. There might be an expert on the local art, a lecturer discussing Germany in the 20th century or one exploring the region of Bavaria. The ship's pastry chef also presented a session on making apple strudel -- and served up the result. A resident onboard pianist and singer perform before and after dinner, and also at teatime. There's a small dance floor, which didn't see much use on our cruise. Throughout the voyage, entertainers come onboard to showcase local music, song and dance. On one cruise, this included a talented classical trio of violinists and a pair of dancers who performed the Viennese waltz.

On a much smaller scale, the Leopard Bar is a bright spot to read during the day and enjoy a cocktail in the evening. Located aft on the Hofburg Deck, it takes its name from the animal-print carpets, upholstery and imposing leopard sculptures. There's a small bar, with four seats, but the majority of the space is filled with banquets and armchairs with glass-topped tables. Shelves are stacked with a good choice of books -- novels and guidebooks on the countries visited during the cruise -- plus playing cards and board games, including Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit. Four wrought-iron tables with chairs can be found just outside the bar, for relaxing on deck on nice days. Expert bartenders are on hand to mix classic cocktails that have been given a Uniworld twist, such as the Flat White Martini made with Baileys, espresso coffee, milk and a dash of sugar, and the River Cosmo, which includes vodka, triple sec, pineapple and cranberry. If your favourite tipple isn't on the list, the talented bar team will mix it in an instant.

If you don't want to watch films in your cabin, the 10-seat Lippizan Cinema on the Bavarian Deck is a cosy venue with deep-blue velvet banquette seating and walls adorned with old film posters. Passengers can settle down to enjoy classic films, complete with a bowl of popcorn. There are generally screenings every morning, afternoon and evening.

Most shore excursions are included. Led by local guides, they make use of Quietvox portable audio headsets (stored and recharged in cabin closets) so passengers don't have to cluster around the guide in order to hear. There's almost always a choice of at least two excursions at each destination, and walking tours always have a "gentle walkers" group, to accommodate slow-movers. Groups are always small, so you don't feel like you're in a herd -- especially nice at museums. In general, there is one general excursion offering targeted to folks who haven't visited the destination before and one for returnees. The latter are often "Do as the Locals Do" experiences, which might include a walking tour to visit local markets or a "village day," where you meet local craftspeople. The ship carries a dozen bicycles, and other more active shore excursions use them or include hikes. In some instances, there will be a "Choice Is Yours" option, where groups are split up even further into different interests to try watercolour painting, visit a brewery or go on a vineyard walk and tasting.

S.S. Maria Theresa Services

The cruise director and concierge desks are located opposite the reception desk on the middle Schönbrunn Deck.

Unusual for a river vessel, there is a passenger laundry on the lower deck, equipped with three Miele washers and dryers -- particularly useful for people on a two-week itinerary. There is also laundry service, including pressing and ironing, with clothing returned within 24 hours. This is free for passengers in suites, with a charge for those in other staterooms. No dry-cleaning is available.

There's no computer room, but complimentary Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship. The signal is generally very good in port, but it can be patchy or non-existent in certain areas, such as locks. It's also possible to access the Internet via the in-room keyboard and TV.

There's no onboard boutique, but display cases on several decks offer jewellery, upmarket items like fine watches, Mont Blanc pens, Lacoste bags and Polo shirts for sale. To make a purchase, check with reception.

A lift serves the Bavarian, Schönbrunn and Hofburg Decks, with an additional individual seated lift that glides up the portside stairway to the Durer Sun Deck.

S.S. Maria Theresa Outside Recreation

Sun Deck

On fine days the Durer Sun Deck is a lovely area to relax, read, enjoy a cup of coffee and simply watch the world float past. You'll find 70 loungers with individual sun shades, 15 tables for four and a smoking area aft with three tables. This is the only spot where smoking is allowed onboard. The deck, which runs the length of the ship, is clad in brown carpet designed to mimic wooden planks, and in one area there's a giant checkers board. Many of the loungers are shaded by the two large canopies, but could be shifted to be in full sun. There are also six large umbrellas, which can be raised to shade the tables. Cozy blankets are provided for cool weather.

The Bohemian Terrace is a small outside area on the upper Hofburg Deck, just fore of the lounge, with five white wrought iron tables and chairs that seat four and two tables that seat two.


In good weather, a variety of gentle early morning classes, such as stretching and yoga, are held daily on the Sun Deck (or in the Habsburg Salon on colder days). Water aerobics are also offered in the pool, and the Wellness Trainer also leads hikes and bike rides. The ship carries Nordic walking poles and a dozen bicycles.

The Serenity River Spa, open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., is on the lower Bavarian Deck. In reality, as is the case on many other ships, this is a cabin that was converted into a massage room. It offers 11 treatments -- facials, hand and foot treatments, and massages -- using Rituals products. These range from a 20-minute Thai massage in a chair (which is also available in your cabin to 90-minute treatments that combine multiple therapies and sometimes even include a tea ceremony.

Similarly, the gym on the same deck is also compact, about seven by 15 feet. It's equipped with two LifeFitness Life Cycle stationary bikes, two LifeFitness treadmills (all with TV screens, apps and device connections), free hand weights ranging from one to eight kilograms, an exercise ball and medicine balls and a digital scale (although with all the fantastic food onboard, we can't imagine many passengers would want to try it out!).


There is a small and very beautiful indoor pool, with a stunning white-on-white mosaic wall mural of flowers, birds and animals, at the back of the ship, just inside the entrance to the Leopard Bar. With floor-to-ceiling glass walls, it's an especially public location -- clearly visible from anywhere inside the bar -- which might make some passengers feel uncomfortable about stripping down to their swimsuits and taking the plunge. To overcome this, the walls incorporate clever "modesty" glass, so the second someone walks through the door the clear glass frosts over and becomes opaque.

The Baroque Restaurant is the main dining venue onboard. Unless times are altered to accommodate shore excursions, breakfast is served from 7 a.m. until 9 a.m., lunch from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. The restaurant is open seating, with tables for two to eight. Uniworld does not operate the strict mealtime schedule found on some other vessels, which creates a relaxed atmosphere and helps avoid everyone clamouring into the restaurant at the same time for lunch and dinner.

In keeping with its name, the Baroque Restaurant on the Schönbrunn Deck is another flamboyant room, with a rich grey-blue and gold colour scheme, comfortable herringbone-striped dining chairs with padded arms, barley-twist hand-gilded pillars and large mirrors. At breakfast and lunch, tables are set with Chilewich placemats; at dinnertime, they are topped with crisp white tablecloths. Tables can be a bit close together and that, coupled with a low ceiling, can make for a loud environment at peak dinnertime.

The central buffet is the focus at breakfast and lunch, offering two identical lines with an extraordinarily wide selection of hot and cold self-serve dishes, plus additional buffet areas with salads and desserts.

At breakfast, you can get the day off to a sparkling start with a glass of Champagne or a mimosa before moving on through the expansive choice of fresh and dried fruit, yogurt, smoothies and Swiss-style homemade muesli to tempting freshly baked items, including assorted breads and baguettes, muffins, bagels, donuts and croissants that rival the best in France. Cold choices include smoked salmon and mackerel, daily marinated fish, sliced ham and prosciutto, cheeses and salad items.

The hot line features a variety of sausages, with some from the local region represented, bacon (in a choice of crispy or soft), grilled tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, paprika potatoes, baked beans, sautéed bell peppers and a choice of plain scrambled eggs or a scramble with additional ingredients that vary from day to day. There's also a chef-manned station for omelettes and fried eggs. You also have the option to order from a menu, which covers all types of cooked eggs and egg dishes made to order, including eggs Benedict, as well as pancakes, Belgian waffles, French toast and hot cereals. If you like espresso drinks, those are also available from the attentive waiters, including cappuccinos and lattes. Loose-leaf teas are served by the pot.

At lunch, the hot buffet features regional specialties inspired by the voyage, like Hungarian goulash, roasted Prague ham or Bavarian sausages, a pasta of the day, at least two healthy vegetable dishes, rice and potatoes. International dishes make an appearance, too, so you might find fish and chips, grilled free-range chicken breast or a stir-fry. There is always a carving station with a freshly roasted meat that changes daily. Soups range from light vegetable choices to interesting local offerings, like a delicious Slovakian sauerkraut soup with bacon and smoked sausage.

Still hungry? Head for the wide selection of salad items, including lettuces, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and five prepared salads. You can choose prepared dressings (including one that's a recipe from Beatrice Tollman) or olive oils and balsamic vinegars. There's also a crudités bar, with celery sticks, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes and carrots sticks, along with assorted dips. If you just want to grab a sandwich, there are also several creative selections daily, like an open-faced version with arugula, red beets and Bavarian blue cheese or chicken with Brie. Desserts are laid out, primarily in individual portions (small enough to invite you to try several different items), and often include local specialties, too. So in addition to cheesecakes, mousses and fresh fruit, you might discover Franconia apple cobbler, Black Forest cake, Sacher torte, chocolate Danube cake or Austrian buchteln (pull-apart rolls) served warm with poppy sauce. There is always an ice cream bar with three choices and an excellent selection of cheese.

At dinner, dishes are a delight to the eye, as well as the palate. The menu always includes a suggested four-course meal, which often features local specialties (Hungarian chicken paprikash or a perfectly crisp and greaseless Wiener schnitzel); a vegetarian offering (usually three savoury courses, like salad with local goat cheese, light cream soup of "roasted root vegetables with rice and fresh herbs" and Hungarian tomato-pepper stew); and a "Traveling Lite" option (three courses, often with fish, and including a light dessert, like mango sorbet with a fresh fruit skewer).

The right side of the menu presents items à la carte, usually offering three starters, two soups and three main courses, plus an "alternative choice" section with comfort items like Caesar salad, strip sirloin, salmon, chicken breast and baked potatoes.

A typical menu might include vegetable or chicken and noodle soup (again made to Mrs. Tollman's recipe), seared scallops served with sesame spinach and glazed cherry tomatoes, slow-roasted Angus beef and a dessert of warm hazelnut-chocolate pudding with whipped cream and vanilla-orange compote. If you still have room, there's a selection of international cheeses.

We spoke with a vegetarian passenger who said the restaurant staff took particular care to make sure she was happy. When she commented that she wished there were more lentils on the menu, the chef presented a lentil soup the following day. This is just one example of how we noticed staff catering to individual tastes and needs to create a very personal dining experience.

Wine-lovers will appreciate the fine complimentary red and white wines served with each meal. These are usually matched to the sailing region and introduced by the sommelier at the end of the pre-dinner cruise briefing. We found the wines to be uniformly excellent -- far better than the included wines we've be served on other cruise lines.

An atmospheric area for coffee, cakes and more is the cosy Viennese Café, on the lower Bavarian Deck. An early-bird breakfast is available in the Viennese Café and lounge from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., as well as a late breakfast that begins at the end of the normal breakfast time and runs for one hour, usually ending at 10 a.m., depending on the daily schedule. With its small tables, chairs and banquette seating, it really does feel as if you're sitting in an onshore café. Coffee, tea, lemonade and espresso drinks are available on a self-serve basis at any time, and sweet treats can be plucked from a rotating display cabinet.

Those in search of lighter bites can head to the Leopard Bar, situated aft on the Hofburg Deck, where a snack menu is available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Items include goulash soup, a club sandwich, sliders, hot dogs and chicken wings, as well as brownies, ice cream, cheeses and fresh fruit. In good weather, food and drink can also be enjoyed on the alfresco terrace area at the aft of the ship, directly outside the bar.

Several times during the voyage, special dinners are also held in the intimate Leopard Bar, for just 20 diners. The first of these events is for suite passengers only, but later ones are available on a sign-up basis, with notice provided in the daily program. The tasting-style menu begins with a glass of Champagne or kir royale, then moves on to a five-course meal. On our cruise, it featured a starter sampler with bites that included a tiger shrimp, Black Forest ham, vegetable quenelle and German onion pie; then moved onto zucchini soup, spinach ricotta tortellini with forest mushroom foam and roasted beef sirloin in a pinot noir reduction. Dessert was another sampler of little treats, followed by coffee and digestifs.

Finger sandwiches, fruit and pastries can be found in the Habsburg Salon on the upper Hofburg Deck during afternoon tea, served from 4 p.m. until 5 p.m. Throughout the day, passengers can also help themselves to sweet treats from large jars in the lounge.

The elegant staterooms are divided between the Hofburg, Schönbrunn and Bavarian Decks. In total, there are 64 standard cabins, 10 suites and one Royal Suite.

Standard stateroom colour schemes vary by deck, while each suite is decorated individually in a different colour palette. All staterooms feature lavish padded fabric wall coverings, period-style furnishings, original artwork and custom made-to-order English Savoir beds draped in dreamy monogrammed Egyptian cotton bed linens. There's a pillow menu with choices that include feather, synthetic fibre and neck support pillows, and if passengers prefer, they can swap the down duvets for sheets and blankets.

Other amenities in each stateroom include a lighted safe with an interior electrical outlet, telephone, bedside alarm clock, mineral water replenished daily, jar of chocolates, ice bucket, tissues and reusable metal water bottles to take on shore excursions (plastic bottles aren't used on the ship). Closets are stocked with clothes brushes, shoehorns, shoe polish sponges and an umbrella. In the main part of the cabin, you'll find both 115v and 230v sockets, configured to accept multiple types of plugs as well as handy USB sockets.

A real "wow" factor is the TV and "infotainment" centre that is completely concealed behind a wall mirror. The press of a button turns the centre of the mirror into the TV screen, with a choice of 19 U.S., U.K. and European channels, as well as two live views of the ship; movies on demand, some of which relate to cruise destinations; and eight different genres of music. You can also access weather, headlines, maps, messages and cruise information through the TV, which comes with a wireless keyboard. Other high-tech features include touch-controlled lighting, where a panel on the wall illuminates and is activated by a wave of the hand, and climate controls where you set the desired temperature (in centigrade) by running your finger around a circle of light. Stateroom electricity is activated when you insert your room key card into a slot, which also lets staff know that you're either in or out of your room. A do-not disturb button is also located on the control panel.

As standard, all staterooms have luxe marble-clad bathrooms with heated floors and towel racks. The glass-enclosed shower cubicles are equipped with both a powerful hand-held showerhead and an overhead rainfall showerhead. Toiletries are by Asprey, and include fixed dispensers of shampoo and shower gel in the showers and dispensers of hand wash and body lotion by the basin. Conditioner, shower caps and vanity sets are also supplied; bar soap is available on request. Bathrooms have an abundance of wall mirrors with a nifty anti-fog feature, an illuminated magnifying makeup/shaving mirror, a powerful plug-in hair dryer, ample storage space in deep vanity drawers beneath the sink, super-fluffy monogrammed towels and washcloths, high-quality robes and slippers. You'll find 115v and 230v electrical sockets by the vanity that can handle a variety of plug configurations, including the U.S. standard.

Beatrice Tollman, president and founder of Red Carnation Hotels, and her daughter, Toni Tollman, played key roles in the interior design of Maria Theresa, and this very personal touch is evident throughout the cabins. It will be particularly appreciated by female passengers who have been to hotels or other vessels and bemoaned the lack of mirrors, bathroom storage space, shelves in showers, flimsy hair dryers on short, fixed cords and inconveniently placed power sockets.

River view: The 10 staterooms on the lower Bavarian Deck measure 162 square feet, and have narrow fixed windows but the décor is far from bare bones. Plush slate-blue fabric covers the walls and elegant custom headboards, and the rich curtains are lavished with expensive braided trim. There is a small, hand-painted vanity table with a drawer and stool; a chair; and two bedside consoles, each with three shelves. Closet space in these cabins is also considerably smaller than other classes, with just two sections, each about 18" wide. One section is for full-length clothing and the other is double-hung, but also has a shelf holding the safe. Next to the closet are two wall hooks. To provide added storage, the line has replaced a table with an additional small chest containing four drawers since the ship was launched. There are bedside wall lights, as well as pinpoint reading lights.

Balcony: The middle Schönbrunn Deck is home to 35 staterooms, each measuring 194 square feet. These cabins have French balconies. At the touch of a button, the top half of the floor-to-ceiling window lowers, while another button deploys a screen to keep insect stowaways at bay. Cabin walls are clad in gold and grey brocade fabric, while the accent fabrics are in a light grey-blue velvet. The regal bed is topped by a bed-crown with swags of fabric draping the sides of the headboard. On both sides of the bed, there are consoles with two drawers and wall-mounted reading lights. A small table and chairs are positioned next to the window. Opposite the bed, you'll find a vanity and a built-in cabinet with three shelves and a cupboard. The closet has three sections -- a 15"-wide full-length hanging section; a 15"-wide double-hung section; and a section about 30" wide with three shelves and three drawers.

The 18 regular staterooms on the upper Hofburg Deck also measure 194 square feet, but have internal conservatory-style balconies as integral parts of each cabin. Termed "open air balconies" by the cruise line, these have windows that lower automatically, just like those on the Schönbrunn Deck's French balconies. However, in this case, the area around the windows is enclosed by sliding glass doors and curtains. This means you can be in the window area with the window down, but block any outside air from the rest of the cabin. It also lets an early-riser sit in the area (which has a table and two chairs) and soak up some sun without disturbing a sleeping mate. If that appeals to you, we'd recommend this cabin configuration -- but if you want maximum flexibility in your space, we'd recommend a regular French balcony cabin. Décor in these staterooms features vanilla-coloured brocaded fabric wall coverings with royal blue accent fabrics and an elegant bed-crown above the headboard with cascades of draping. Furniture, closet configuration and amenities are similar to the Schönbrunn Deck staterooms.

Suites: On the upper Hofburg Deck, there are also 10 suites measuring 305 square feet. Five can accommodate a third person on a sofa bed. The large single-room suites feature the same inside balcony setup as the Hofburg staterooms, plus there is another panoramic window opposite the river-facing bed that also lowers halfway. Each suite is individually decorated, with padded brocade fabric wall coverings and matching bedspreads. Box canopies and generous draperies frame the headboards, while mirrors and art were chosen to complement each suite's unique décor. All are lavish, but some have a more feminine feel than others.

Furnishings include a dressing table to one side of the bed and a console with two drawers on the other side; a table and two chairs in the balcony area; either a small sofa and a coffee table or a table and two chairs in the living room area; a suit stand; and the same closet configuration as the regular Hofburg cabins. A cabinet holds the fully stocked minibar with bottled wine, spirits and soft drinks, plus elegant decanters of different spirits tailored to passenger preferences. There is a refrigerator, a Nespresso coffee maker, electric teakettle and fine Newby teas. Suite passengers benefit from a bottle of wine on arrival, plus daily fruit plates and cookies.

Another standout feature in the suites is an additional TV set in the ceiling above the bed, which drops down via controls on the bedside control panel. There's a third TV concealed behind a bathroom mirror, as well.

The spacious suite bathrooms feature a vanity with two sinks and a large shower with a footprint the size of a bathtub. In addition to the Asprey toiletries, Hermes "Eau d'Orange Verte" bath products are also provided, including shampoo, conditioner, cleansing gel, body lotion and bar soap.

But perhaps the most luxurious perk for passengers in suites is butler service, generally available from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. daily. Impeccably dressed in traditional butler attire, complete with white gloves, the two charming butlers are the real deal -- not cabin stewards instructed to go the extra mile. In fact, a consultant who also works with Buckingham Palace staff trains Uniworld butlers. After the first introduction, the butlers remembered my name, personally greeting me whenever they saw me in different parts of the ship and opening my stateroom door if they spotted me on the way back to the cabin. Typical butler duties include unpacking, bringing early morning drinks and breakfast, providing cocktails and evening snacks, pressing clothes, expediting laundry and shining shoes.

Other benefits include an in-suite dining menu, free laundry, a 30-minute in-suite wellbeing treatment (one per person) and a special dinner in the Leopard Bar.

Finally, there's one Royal Suite, located on the Hofburg Deck. At 410 square feet, it's by far the largest stateroom on the vessel. Decorated in shades of blue and cream, with gilded mouldings, it has a separate living room and bedroom, each with a French balcony. The extra-large bathroom is finished in onyx, with a stand-alone shower, separate bathtub and a secluded toilet area with a bidet. There's also a walk-in closet.

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