SS Maria Theresa naming and ship tour
Unique is often an overused word, however when you're on a river ship that is truly one-of-a-kind, then I feel it's appropriate. Last week I was on-board Uniworld's latest ultra-luxury river boat, the S.S Maria Theresa, spending a few days on-board to enjoy the hospitality and luxurious surroundings. Other river cruise lines produce 50 or so cookie-cutter vessels, all the exactly the same, carbon copies in every way, however this ship was as far from that as is possible! The S.S stands for Super Ship and it was soon apparent why.
I was one of a few UK Travel Agents invited to witness the naming ceremony performed by Princess Anita Von Hohenberg, a direct descendant of the of the great Maria Theresa, and great-granddaughter of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Maria Theresa hailed from a long line of Habsburgs, one of Europe's oldest sovereign families, and reigned from 1740 to 1780 as the only female ruler of the Habsburg Empire. Artstetten Castle, situated in Austria, was the summer residence for members of the Habsburg dynasty, and Princess Anita is now the owner of this impressive property which is now open to the public.
S.S Maria Theresa Naming Ceremony
The day of the naming ceremony was rather wet, luckily the rain held off for the celebrations. We walked along a red carpet to a small pavilion where a brass-band was playing. The ships butlers lined up along the quayside whilst waiters handed out champagne.
Guy Young, President and CEO of Uniworld, began the proceedings by introducing Beatrice Tollman, President and Founder of Uniworld’s sister company The Red Carnation Hotel Collection. Beatrice Tollman also leads Uniworld’s design team, and provides valuable input to the cruise line’s superb food and service standards across all its boutique ships. A number of her recipes feature on board and she even has her own cook book.
“Launching this ship has been one of the delights of my life,” said Tollman. “I hope everyone here today, and each and every guest to come, will be touched by the incredible beauty, attention to detail and personal service they will experience on board. Creating wonderful memories for our guests is absolutely at the heart of everything we do.”
Young also introduced the ship’s Godmother to the crowd. “It is my great pleasure to welcome Princess Anita von Hohenberg as Godmother of the S.S. Maria Theresa,” said Young. “As a direct descendant of the ship’s namesake, and as Managing Director and owner of Artstetten Castle, where she has been welcoming Uniworld guests for many years, she is the perfect fit to christen our new masterpiece.”
“I’d like to thank the Tollman family for your generosity in extending this honour and responsibility to me,” said Princess Anita, “and for your ideas and entrepreneurship in creating this beautiful tribute to Maria Theresa, who left such a strong legacy across Europe. This new magnificent vessel, with her Captain, staff and family, is in the very best hands. It is truly a floating castle.”
Princess Anita cut the red ribbon and sent the bottle of Dom Perignon smashing against the white hull of the ship.
The ships two Captains, Mrs Tollman and Princess Antia
View the highlights of the naming ceremony
S.S Maria Theresa Ship Tour
After the mornings naming ceremony we boarded the ship for a tour. The S.S. Maria Theresa’s décor is inspired by the Baroque period over which the Archduchess of Austria presided, and guests can expect an on-board atmosphere reflecting the history and architecture of the places they will visit onshore.
As we embarked the S.S Maria Theresa, we were greeted by a stunning chandelier hanging in front of a 10 foot high original oil painting of Maria Theresa. This was surrounded by two sweeping, elegant staircases, featuring wrought iron balustrades topped with gleaming brass handrails that descended down to the reception area. It really was a WOW moment and set the scene for the rest of the beautifully decorated ship. The two-deck high lobby atrium was surrounded by carved mirrors, with a marble floor and hand-painted exquisite trompe l'oeil ceiling finishing off this focal area of the vessel.
Moving forward we entered the Habsburg Salon, the main lounge area on board. As we entered there was a beautifully crafted bar area, with gilt ceilings and hand crafted chairs. The lounge also features five murals depicting18th-century Austrian countryside, all hand-painted by specialist painter Croxford and Saunders. A picture is worth a thousand words so see for yourself how sumptuous this lounge is!
Towards the very front of the lounge is a small area with tables and chairs, the Bohemian Terrace – perfect for a cocktail or glass of champagne as you watch the scenery pass by – not so good on a wet day in Amsterdam!
Bar du Leopard
Heading back inside we made our way to the aft of Deck 4 to the Bar Du Leopard. This was decorated in muted leopard print; think more snow leopard than their African cousins, and was very tasteful.
Here there was a full service bar, manned by the charming and talented Jordan, along with comfy sofas, chairs and a variety of books and games for the guests use. This was one of my favourite places on the ship – cosy and perfect to relax and make use of the ships free Wi-Fi. Two large bronze leopard sculptures complete the look of this charming lounge.
You can see the glass enclosed pool area on the right
This area also houses the pool area, ensconced into a corner of the room and enclosed in auto-frosting glass. The glass is clear when there is no one in the pool, but when you open the door it frosts over providing privacy for those taking a dip – very neat! The walls in the pool area are decorated by detailed mosaics; hand applied by South African mosaic tile artist, Jane du Rand.
The dining room features a very well designed buffet station, featuring marble tops and hand painted cupboards. The colour palate is warm browns offset with cool greys, featuring plush chairs with crisp white linens on the tables.
Suites and accommodation
My Suite was 406, featuring an open air balcony with a nifty window that dropped down at the flick of a switch. My butler showed me around the suite, and pointed out the well stocked mini bar, decanters of brandy, whiskey and vodka and other important areas! Plenty of storage in wardrobes and drawers. No expense had been spared on the furnishing, amenities and finish – absolutely 5-star, if not better!
Food on board S.S Maria Theresa was delicious, as you would expect from such a well appointed ship. During our stay we dined on Caviar, Mrs Tollmans Chicken Noodle Soup, Bay Scallops in Panko Crust, Tournedos of Galloway Angus Beef, Foie Gras de canard and so many other amazing treats. The food at breakfast and lunch was just as delicious – however during those times it is a buffet selection, rather than served from the menu. Food was off the highest quality and right up there with the six-star luxury cruise lines. What I felt was important was that Uniworld tries to source all the food from local villages and towns along the course of the cruise, this way supporting the communities where they visit.
Viennese Cafe & Lipizzan Cinema
On the lower deck there is the gym, plus the Viennese café –perfect for a quick coffee or a light bite to eat from the fine selection of treats on hand. Also on this deck is a cinema – complete with complimentary snacks.
List of public areas & amenities
- Habsburg Salon with full-service bar
- Bar du Leopard with full-service bar
- Baroque Restaurant
- Bohemian Terrace
- Lipizzan Cinema
- Dürer Sun Deck with life-size chessboard
- Heated swimming pool
- Fitness centre
- Serenity River Spa
- Viennese Café
- Guest laundry
- 24-hour specialty coffee and tea bar
- Free Internet and Wi-Fi access
S.S. Maria Theresa will cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers through the heart of Maria Theresa’s vast empire. Her inaugural voyage departed March 28 2015, with guests experiencing the best of Belgium and the Netherlands on an exclusive nine-day “Tulips & Windmills” itinerary.
In addition to “Tulips & Windmills,” the S.S. Maria Theresa will also sail on varied itineraries - see here S.S Maria Theresa itineraries
I would recommend this river ship for sophisticated people looking for a unique vessel to cruise the waterways of Europe, who appreciate fine dining, quality wines and exceptional service, travelling in spacious accommodation.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection features luxurious ships with an average capacity of 130 guests, exclusive excursions, gourmet cuisine, and the highest staff-to-guest ratio in the river cruise industry.
Based in Los Angeles, California, Uniworld offers truly all-inclusive itineraries in Europe, as well as voyages in Russia, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, India, and Egypt—a total of 22 rivers in 29 countries worldwide. Uniworld is a member of CLIA and is highly regarded by discerning travellers, media, and cruise industry experts:
• Listed among the "World's Best River Cruises" by Travel + Leisure, and recognized for "World’s Best Service" in the River Cruise category
• Seven ships listed among Travel + Leisure’s "Top 20 River Ships," with River Countess rated highest of all cruise ships (river & ocean)
• Included on Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List for seven years (2008 – 2014)
• Top 3 ranking on Condé Nast Traveler's "Top Ten Cruise Lines" (river & ocean)
• Top 4 ranking on Condé Nast Traveler's Readers’ Choice Awards for "Top Cruise Lines" (2014) • Named "Best Luxury River Cruise Line" by Cruise International (2012 – 2014)
• Named "Best Culinary Cruise Line" by readers of SAVEUR (2014)