Review: Uniworld’s Venice River Cruise

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Large ocean-going cruise ships are prohibited in the historic city center, but smaller, more eco-friendly ships can still navigate the Venetian Lagoon.

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When I arrived in Venice to embark on the first European river cruise to welcome Americans since the start of the pandemic, I got this coveted and rare look at what this popular destination looks like with no ocean liner in the port and less the thousands of day trippers once, they have stayed here regularly.

Before the end of the week, a few large ships had passed through the heart of the Venetian Lagoon, although these crossings would be short. Since August 1, large liners have been banned from the historic city center.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t and shouldn’t continue to navigate the Venetian Lagoon.

My week of navigation at the end of June on Uniworld Boutique River Cruisesnew 126 passengers SS Venice offered a glimpse into what it’s like to be able to explore Venice and beyond from the luxurious, slow-moving vantage point of one of the few, most eco-friendly small ships (Uniworld is committed to providing at least 50 percent of its electricity be renewable by 2025 and ban single-use plastics by 2022, among others sustainability measures) which will be able to continue sailing past the monuments of the city and moor a few steps from Saint Mark’s Square.

Imagine having your own floating boutique hotel in the heart of Venice.

It wasn’t just the ease of having a floating luxury boutique hotel within walking distance of major attractions that made cruising so enjoyable, it’s also the relaxed nature of Uniworld’s Venice itinerary, which allows for a much deeper dive into the destination than the typical, blitz day trips offered by conventional cruise ships and group tour operators.

Unlike most European river cruises that depart from one port and end in another, the Uniworld Venice Lagoon Cruises and another line, the cheapest CroisiEurope, makes the return trip from Venice. While we took a two-day Po River getaway, most of our cruise was in the lagoon, leaving us plenty of time to explore Venice and the neighboring islands during off-peak hours. be back in droves as the major liners implement plans to return to nearby ports.

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I arrived from Rome by train late on a Sunday afternoon, in time to have dinner and watch the sunset over the waterways and skyline of Venice from the top deck.

Your G&T is served against the backdrop of views of Venice and the Italian countryside at the SS

Pandemic protocols

At that time, Italian regulations required a COVID test on boarding or within 24 hours of boarding, as well as a second test mid-week and one before disembarkation. However, regulations can change on the fly during the pandemic, so travelers should check what the latest rules are for U.S. cruise passengers in Italy at the time of travel.

Otherwise, the protocols were no more intrusive than most of us expected in the COVID era. On board, masks were mandatory for walking in the hallways, but could be removed outside or seated in the dining rooms and lounges.

Off the ship, Italy still required masks both inside and out, although the requirement for an outside mask has since been dropped. And as of August 6, tourists and locals must have the so-called green pass from Italy, showing proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test result in the past 48 hours to visit restaurants and many interior places.

The tests are readily available for free at train stations and pop-up clinics across the country and for around $ 25 at most drugstores. This makes testing in Italy easier, including for Americans who need the test required by the US government for all international travelers entering the United States (including Americans returning from overseas).

With large cruise ships banned and fewer tourists due to the pandemic, you can currently visit Venice with fewer people.

Venice minus the masses

While the rules and restrictions related to the pandemic can and often have changed in Italy and across Europe, I have found their navigation to be well worth the opportunity to explore Venice without the typical tourist crowds.

During Uniworld’s inaugural sailing, there were less than 50 people on board, making it a private yacht-like experience with butlers, farm-to-table meals, and small-group excursions to some of the most popular sites. famous in the region.

On our first full day in Venice, excursion options included a morning walk in Venice with a visit to the Doge’s Palace, as well as a private evening tour of St. Mark’s Basilica. I spent much of the day wandering the streets of Venice, which were delightfully empty of the crowds of cruise passengers I encountered on my last trip here in 2019.

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The city’s famous canals and once clogged with tourists were virtually empty, although the gondola captains stood by. Street vendors, restaurants and shops were mostly open, and there were enough tourists and locals on the streets and by the waterfront to create the lively vibe one would expect. find in any world famous city such as Venice.

The next afternoon we headed for the Po River, sailing just inside the lagoon, passing many colorful fishing villages on the barrier islands that separate the lagoon from the Adriatic Sea.

Uniworld's Venice crossings also take passengers to more distant stretches along the Po River in Italy.

Stops included Chioggia, known as Little Venice, where I joined a bike tour that took us on a relaxing 90-minute ride through two islands and down to the channel that connects the lagoon to the Adriatic Sea. .

The included excursion the next day was a day trip to Bologna, with a pasta making class.

The next day we were back in Chioggia, where we spent the morning strolling through the village’s weekly street market before sailing into the lagoon for a night at Uniworld’s new private dock on Burano, which offers easy access. walk to the island best known for its colorful houses and lace makers.

The last two days allowed for leisurely sailing and exploring solo or in a group around Venice and the lagoon. Tour options included a trip to one of Murano’s famous glass-blowing centers.

The whole experience reminded me of what is so wonderful about small ship cruises (the excellent service, the carefree nature of not having to pack and unpack more than once, the slower pace ) and what I don’t miss about large ships, especially in a place as magical and threatened as Venice.

Perhaps a little ironically, the SS Venice is the fundamental overhaul of Uniworld Countess of the river, which made headlines when it was hit by a cruise ship in 2019 while docked in the heat of Venice. This accident has for years renewed calls for the recently enacted ban on large ships.

Many guests on my cruise were initially scheduled to sail right after this collision, which put the ship out of service for a few months before her already scheduled upgrade. Instead, they were able to sail the newly refurbished vessel with perhaps a unique opportunity to see the region at its best.

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