Cruise Control

Right now is il momento perfetto for a river cruise in Italy

With Venice’s recent ban on large cruise ships and the strict limits set on day-trippers, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises’ “Gems of Northern Italy” could not present a better, or easier, option to savor the city and its surrounds. The host ship, Uniworld’s S.S. La Venezia, embarks in Venice, then sails the islands of the Venetian Lagoon and part of the Po River before returning to Venice. And this is the easy part: From the moment you’ve cleared customs at Marco Polo airport, the Uniworld team is right there to spoil you until it’s time to catch your flight home. 

The ship’s renovation in 2020 turned out a rich interpretation of Venetian heritage. The welcoming lobby shows off rich marble floors and a double circular staircase for a bit of early 20th-century drama. The trifecta of Fortuny fabrics, Murano glass and plush velvet upholstery lends a classical glamour to the decor, yet it feels very modern and fresh. Staterooms feature handcrafted Savoir beds of England along with Asprey London bath amenities, and more storage space than most river ships offer. 

Food is always central to a cruise, and Uniworld’s river ships are known for it. In Venice, guests have a chance to accompany the ship’s chef team to the Rialto Market to watch their careful selection of the freshest produce and seafood. Back on board, farm-to-ship cuisine—breakfast, lunch and dinner—is served in the Rialto. La Cantinetta, the “hidden gem” private dining area, can be reserved for private dinners of up to eight people, and there is a pizza café, Cielo’s, on the upper deck, available by reservation. 

Although the interiors are unparalleled in their aesthetic appeal and the cuisine is world-class, it’s the bottomless passion of the staff that is truly on another level. This is a floating boutique hotel for fewer than 130 guests with one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios on the rivers. That’s as intimate and indulgent as you can get.

The proverbial red carpet rolls out for each of S.S. La Venezia’s bespoke excursions, starting in Venice for a private guided tour of Palazzo Ducale (Doge Palace) and an exclusive twilight tour of St. Mark’s Basilica. On a visit to the fishing village of Chioggia at the south end of the Lagoon, indulge in local culture with a Bragozzo boat ride or a bike tour. A mile-long market is set up in the city’s main street, Corso del Popolo, where pop-up stalls sell everything from clothing to kitchen gadgets. At one end of the street is the giant fish market, and at the other is Piazzetta Vigo where you’ll find bars, souvenir shops and sometimes live entertainment. 

Enjoy a wine and beer tasting at the circa 1710 country estate Ca’ Zen alongside the Po River and learn to make pasta from scratch in Bologna. In Murano, watch the glassmaking artisans and splurge on a piece or two of the world-famous glass. Farther north on the Lagoon is the island of Burano with its bright crayon-colored houses and renowned lace shops lining the streets. 

There is enough free time built into the schedule for independent exploration—go shopping or pop into a bar (what Italians call a café) for a leisurely espresso or Prosecco. Or, opt to stay on board and relax on the sundeck with an Aperol Spritz, the official cocktail of Venice. 

Venice turned 1,600 this year and is still going strong but is moving at a much slower pace. Italians are ready for company, and Uniworld is calling.