Uniworld’s SS Beatrice explores the river less travelled, from Budapest to Bucharest
For more than half a century, the Royal Compound of Serbia was known as the ‘forbidden city’. It wasn’t until 2002, when Crown Prince Alexander opened the doors to visitors for the first time, that its beauty could truly be appreciated.
One of the most spectacular sections, incongruously, is the basement, divided into individual spaces including the first private cinema (a piano behind the screen used to accompany silent films), a billiards room and the ‘whispering room’, where a water fountain would be turned on to mask confidential conversations. With its fairytale motifs, architectural flourishes and dimmed red and green lighting, it’s unlike any ‘basement’ I’ve seen.
The Crown Prince was born in exile in London’s Claridge’s Hotel, but has done so much for his homeland since he was allowed to return to Belgrade in 2001, our guide explains while leading us through the Royal Palace. As we are sipping wine at the end of the tour, we’re invited out onto the palace steps, where Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine join us to share stories about their country and their lives.
It’s not your average river cruise excursion, but nothing about this trip has been average.
The river less travelled
While most Danube River cruises take place on the other side of Budapest, travelling from the Hungarian capital to Passau, Germany or all the way up to Amsterdam, our Uniworld Boutique River Cruises itinerary takes us the other way, towards the Black Sea.
From Budapest, we cruise through Hungary, spend a day in Croatia and then continue to Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania, visiting half of the 10 countries the Danube flows through.
Along the way we cruise through the Iron Gates, the deepest and narrowest section of the Danube. Here, the river becomes a narrow channel between
the Balkan and Carpathian Mountains, and we gaze up at almost-vertical cliffs belonging to Serbia on one side and Romania on the other, before doing a double-take at a huge face in the rocks.
The tallest rock sculpture in Europe, the Head of Decebal is 40 metres high and shows the bearded face of the last king of the ancient kingdom of Dacia. It looks almost mythical, as if it has been there since those ancient times, but in reality it was carved at the turn of this century, from 1994 to 2004.
There are more highlights to come. In the Bulgarian village of Arbanassi, I am overwhelmed by the beauty of a quartet as their voices fill a frescoed chapel with the haunting tones of Slavonic chants. On an after-dinner cruise in Budapest, we soak up the illuminated neo-Gothic majesty of the Houses of Parliament, the lights on buildings and bridges twinkling. During our two-day land extension in Bucharest, we tour both the vast, imposing Palace of the Parliament, or ‘People’s House’, and Ceauşescu’s Former Residence, better known as the Dictator’s House.
And then there is the ship herself.
Beatrice revitalised After undergoing a complete overhaul, the ship formerly known as River Beatrice was relaunched in April as Uniworld’s latest Super Ship, SS Beatrice.
While she may have only grown a metre or two on the outside thanks to a sleeker hull, on the inside SS Beatrice is almost unrecognisable. The beautiful white Murano chandelier may remain – albeit with blue shades rather than white – but almost everything else has changed on the first of Uniworld’s fleet to be upgraded.
Designers from sister brand, Red Carnation Hotels, have captured a light, bright feeling on board, with yacht-style light wood, and blue and white decor throughout the ship.
There are now four dining options to choose from with Schubert’s, an 18-seat cafe at the bow of the ship, and Max’s at the stern, where guests can take part in cooking classes, plus the main restaurant, Mozart’s, and Wolfgang’s bar and lounge. Original artworks by Picasso and Alexander Calder hang in the public
spaces and hallways, alongside pieces by Murano glass legend, Pino Signoretto.
Connectivity has also been a priority. In the lounge, USB ports can be found alongside the new hand-upholstered sofas and chairs so guests can recharge their devices, and these handy ports also appear in the cabins. Having fallen in love with Uniworld’s beds on previous river cruises I am in a little piece of heaven as I sink back into a handmade Savoir of England bed.
In the redesign, two 29-square-metre Grand Suites and a second 36-squaremetre Owner’s/Royal Suite were added, reducing the capacity from 156 to 152 passengers. Connecting rooms have also been introduced for friends and family travelling together.
Add another level of indulgence to your trip at Serenity River Spa, where I discovered the joys of a Japanese heated bamboo massage. Bamboo sticks, hot basalt stones and Himalayan salt rocks are all optional in your massage if you prefer something more traditional.
While the ship herself is stylish and sleek, she is elevated to something more than just a beautiful vessel by the people on board. Warm, friendly and anticipating our every need, the crew are the final touch. Meanwhile, local guides along the way deepen our experience by sharing personal stories from turbulent times. It’s both eyeopening and inspiring to hear what they have lived through and their hopes for the future, and I hope I get a chance to see how that unfolds on another trip down this river someday.
SS Beatrice cruises the Danube and the Main, including the 10-day Highlights of Eastern Europe itinerary between April and September 2019. uniworld.com
“It’s not your average river cruise excursion, but nothing about this trip has been average.”
01 Budapest offers a historic backdrop for the start of a Uniworld voyage 02 Cruising past Golubac Fortress, Serbia © Amanda Woods 03 The new staircase aboard 04 The suites feature handmade Savoir of England beds. Images 01, 03 & 04 © Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection 04