Earlier this year, I reviewed a number of river cruise ships which would be launching in 2011, including Uniworld’s S.S. Antoinette. As I reviewed these new river cruise ships, I compared a number of features including stateroom size, stateroom amenities, guest-to-crew ratio, and ship amenities. Although these comparisons are helpful to people considering a river cruise, they can’t possibly capture the spirit of the ship and its crew. For that, you need to get aboard and cruise. During the week of May 1-8, I was having a wonderful time cruising on the S.S. Antoinette with fellow Cruise Holidays franchisees who are members of the Cruise Holidays President’s Circle.
S.S. Antoinette Review
Our cruise, which was to begin in Basel, Switzerland on May 1, didn’t go as planned. Due to the threat of a strike by French transportation workers over privatization issues, Captain Peter Koopmans made a decision to move the S.S. Antoinette to Gambsheim, a town 100 miles north of Basel on the border of France and Germany, in order to get through the locks controlled by the French while he still could. Therefore, when my husband, Steve and I arrived at the dock in Basel, we were faced with a 90-minute ride in a motor coach up to Gambsheim where we were docked for three days. (During this time, we were driven by motor coach to Colmar and Strasbourg instead of docking there as originally planned).
Although we were tired when we finally arrived at the ship, we were warmly greeted by the staff and escorted to our luxuriously-appointed 196 square foot balcony stateroom. Overall, I loved the stateroom – especially the elegant décor reminiscent of a French boutique hotel; the coziness of the bed with one comfortable mattress on which neither one of us had to worry about falling through the crack in the middle (during our four-day stay in Switzerland before the cruise, we slept on two beds pushed together); the balcony that was usable in both warm and chilly weather because you could open and close the window with a touch of a switch; the thick bath towels from Christies of Manchester; the windows in the bathroom that didn’t fog up; and the blue lights that turned on at night in the bathroom so you could find your way there in the middle of the night.
Regarding the negatives about the stateroom: there wasn’t enough drawer space because a nightstand was inconveniently placed in front of one set of drawers; the flat-screen television was placed in the middle of the mirror; there was no garbage can in the bathroom; and the lighting system wasn’t easy to figure out.
S.S. Antoinette Staff
All of the staff was friendly and helpful, especially the wait staff in the dining room. One morning I complained the coffee was too weak and the waiter immediately brought me an espresso. During dinner, we were served by waiters who spoke English well enough that we could have an entertaining conversation and always kept our wine glasses full. The cuisine was excellent and served in “manageable” portions (translation: more isn’t necessarily better). I particularly enjoyed the essence of forest mushrooms with baby chicken quenelles; vineyard escargots “a L’alsacienne” baked in a rich Café de Paris herb butter and tender roast farm duck leg in Grand Marnier sauce served with braised cranberry red cabbage and pear croquette.
At 443 feet long and 37.5 feet wide, the S.S. Antoinette is as long and wide as a ship can be that’s cruising on the Rhine River in order to get through the locks. She is 33 feet longer than Uniworld’s River Beatrice, which launched in 2009. Uniworld utilized the extra length to build larger stater
ooms and more public areas including the L’Orangerie Lounge (which accommodated up to 40 people for dinner on two of the seven nights of our cruise), Bar du Leopard, swimming pool and Le Cinema Pigalle.
S.S. Antoinette Entertainment
Entertainment on board the S.S. Antoinette obviously didn’t include Broadway-like productions but I was happy with Muriel and Armand, a French singer and accordion player who entertained us with French tunes on one evening and a Russian trio consisting of two violinists and a guitarist on another evening. Other events onboard included a black forest cake demonstration; a lecture on the “European City from the Middle Ages to the Present”; Früschoppen (brunch) in the L’Orangerie consisting of Weisswurst, sweet mustard, pretzels and Weissbier during our cruise among the castles on the Rhine; and an Epicurean wine tasting and food pairing dinner. The Epicurean wine tasting and food pairing dinner wasn’t anything special as it was nothing more than a dinner in the Restaurant de Versailles with the sommelier giving all 160 of us a lesson on wine. Given the number of people in the dining room and the noise level, I could hardly hear him. I believe this type of event would be more effective with fewer people.
Since the weather was gorgeous during most of our time on the ship, I gravitated towards the Sun Deck where I could soak up the rays in the comfort of a plush deck chair. I saw more sun during our seven day cruise than I had seen in Seattle since the beginning of the year!
A word about the wireless Internet connection on board the S.S. Antoinette – it stinks. I was very lucky to be able to connect from my stateroom but the service was very slow and intermittent. Many of my fellow franchisees didn’t get service at all or were forced to go to the Salon du Grand Trianon.
As far as river cruising goes, you can’t get much better than the S.S. Antoinette (despite the abysmal Internet connection) with an elegant and well-appointed stateroom, comfortable bed, outstanding cuisine, stunning scenery and gracious service with a smile – even when all doesn’t go according to plan.
To see more photos, click on the Cruise Holidays Photo Album of the S.S. Antoinette.[box type=”info”]Click Here to Subscribe to CruiseSource [/box]