Uniworld vs AdventureSmith - Tour Companies Compared
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Overall — 5
Value — 4.9
Guide — 4.8
Activities — 4.8
Lodging — 5.0
Transportation — 4.9
Meals — 4.9
Overall — 5
Value — 4.8
Guide — 4.9
Activities — 5.0
Lodging — 4.9
Transportation — 4.9
Meals — 4.9
Pros, cons and tips4.0 July 2019
Does Not Recommend
This is a review of the Uniworld China + Tibet + Yangtze tour in June, 2019, taken by my wife (80) and me (77). Since knowledge of a reviewer helps readers to judge the applicability to themselves: we are both former academics, normally spry and immersed in cultural, political, and healthful life activities, but we sometimes found the trip daunting, as discussed below. We resist aging, but not always with full success.Read more
The tour had pluses and minuses.
The biggest minuses:
• My wife’s breathing difficulty in our 3-night stay in Lhasa, Tibet (she spent the whole time breathing oxygen and couldn't go on any outings)
• The (inevitable) problem of touring a totalitarian country where citizens are intimidated from talking honestly about the full scope of their lives
The biggest pluses:
• Our guide, Kevin, who was outstandingly attentive, helpful, supportive and patient. He went out of his way to help in difficult situations (like my wife’s breathing problems in Lhasa).
• We were also quite appreciative of Tiger’s brief stint with us.
• With a few exceptions, our baggage was always handled by others. And the exceptions weren’t overwhelming. Apparently for a group, the weight of any individual bag just gets averaged in with all the other group bags being checked. (Some travelers handled their own carry-ons.)
Most of the other people on the tour were quite amiable and unassuming—not always the case when you travel with people whose financial position has to be pretty good to afford this kind of trip (that financial position too often drives unwarranted expectations of privilege and reverence [if that’s not redundant…]).
The accommodations and included breakfasts (and many other meals) were luxurious, though we ourselves didn’t need them to be THAT nice (in this we’re probably exceptions from other travelers—and in this case, a number of our co-tourists had taken multiple Uniworld tours, so they knew and liked what they'd be getting); indeed, we had to learn to stop tanking up at breakfast just because so many goodies were offered, buffet-style. Had we realized those luxuries were part of what we were paying for (and in retrospect we SHOULD have realized), we might have taken a different, cheaper tour. Ironically, what most drew us to the Uniworld trip were the chance to visit Tibet and the expectation that at such a high cost we’d always be getting outstanding, highly informed guides (which wasn’t always the case; as retired academics, we’re unusually demanding in the critical analysis of what we want to hear).
We spent several days on our own before the tour (in Beijing) and at its end (in Shanghai). These were quite valuable to us. Perhaps because of time, the Uniworld tour took us to few museums. We are museum junkies, and visited several during our non-tour times. Among other things, Beijing has a terrific national museum, an interesting (partly because of its political subtext) museum about women and children, and an extensive arts district. Shanghai has its own major museum and a tour of the city’s past relationship with Judaism that gives you a more general sense of the troubling antithesis of glitzy life highlighted elsewhere.
I’ve traveled to many parts of the world, and I’ve always been able to learn at least local alphabets and some minimal language skills. China is the first place I’ve gone where I could do none of the first and only a few words (probably wrongly intoned) of the latter. This was extremely frustrating, especially when we toured on our own. Few people outside the major international emporia (I never quite got used to how many upscale stores were in all places we visited) speak English (why should they?). The one ameliorating factor was that many people (especially store employees) had phone apps that did good to excellent translations between spoken English and spoken Chinese. You should have one for your own use.
In major cities, signs quite often include English, so that you can at least know where to shop and what you're looking at. Prices (which you can often negotiate) are typically typed into a calculator.
Perhaps even more than in the West, people are glued to smart phones. Pretty much everyone, it seems, uses an app that includes texts, phone use, and a payment facility, so that people seem to may carry little or no cash or credit cards. No one seems to care—or maybe everyone is just resigned to—that the government can monitor this app and know a ton of stuff about you. As a foreigner, however, you are unlikely to be able to use this app because you need to have a compatible bank account (probably meaning from a Chinese bank).
No matter how you travel in China, you'll see the amazing efforts to accommodate the expansion cities, so that a “town” of which you've never heard might have a million or more people. On the tour, you'll see almost only architectural and shop glitz that the government and cities bask in. You might get very brief glimpses of poverty.
While on the one hand the Chinese government talks a good game and takes some important steps vis-à-vis the climate crisis, on the other hand they still use an enormous amount of fossil fuel for electricity generation. I was also struck—dismayed—by the fact that from all appearances, people only drink bottled water (Westerners are warned against tap water, but I don’t know if local people build up an immuinity to its problems). Especially in warm weather, I can only guess at the billions of single-use plastic bottles that are used every day by the population of 1.4 billion (plus large numbers of visitors). On rare occasions, like at an airport, you might see a place to refill a water bottle (I assume that water is safe).
Please note that in criticisms like the previous paragraph, I do not intend a holier-than-thou American attitude. I am even more critical of what our government does—or more importantly, doesn’t—do vis-à-vis the climate crisis.
Almost everyone was pleasant and upbeat. We mostly moved among middle- (and presumably upper-)class people; we encountered many others, but they were kind of in the background (just as in capitalist countries), and while we made it a point to notice their existence, we had no meaningful interactions with them.
The westernization of outward behavior was almost palpable. My wife had visited 10 years ago and regularly commented on the difference. My impression is that the young (teen-agers, young adults) are especially into western fashion and culture—and to what to me was a surprising extent, seemed to be able to afford indulging that taste.
For what it’s worth, my observation was that people are quite materialistic, focus their lives on that, and increasingly able to afford to indulge themselves. Outwardly, at least, they have little concern with the strictures of their government. Tiananmen Square seems to be in the distant past. Treatment of Moslems and Uighurs (not unlike our current treatment of immigrants and Moslems or our like history of racial and ethnic conflicts) was far away. So far as I could tell, people like Americans (though we’re also bizarre outsiders—there are occasional instances of Chinese people, especially ones who live far from the cities we visited, walking up to a foreigner and asking to take a photo together (this happened to me on the Great Wall, with some pretty young guys).
This abounds. You need to carry your passport everywhere. You'll encounter frequent security checks where you have to put whatever you're carrying through a scanner and show official IDs. In Lhasa, these checks were even present as you wove your way through street markets.
At every airport check-in, you not only go through a security scanner, but you then step up on s short stool so that someone with a hand scanner can go over every inch of your body. (I have sometimes wondered whether proliferation of security folk, including regular police, in nations like this is a clever device for combining meaningful security with full employment.)
The government must have an incredible volume of disk space and incredibly fast computer programs to be able quickly to access information about any given citizen or visitor. Check-in at airports always includes a live photo of you. I’m sure if anyone in the security services had wanted to track me down at any time, it wouldn't have taken more than a few seconds. (For each accommodation where you stay, you have to register with the police. Hotels typically do that for you.)
We had 4 in-country flights (part of the reason for what Uniworld charges), and much as we wanted to visit the places to which we flew, the time and effort involved in getting from to shuttle bus (then sometimes a long walk) to hotel to airport to check-in to security to boarding to flying to disembarking to shuttle bus to the next hotel became overwhelming.
The tour included 3 nights in a luxury boat on the Yangtze River. This was quite pleasant and included a night’s visit to a show (I don’t remember exactly which one, but when on our own my wife and I went to a couple of shows in Beijing—well worth it even if they're not something to your normal taste). Here, we had some down time. At our ages, we needed more of that. I got sick while on the boat and got what seemed like pretty good medical care.
(By American standards, medicals for my wife in Lhasa and for me on the Yangtze boat were low but not miniscule.)
By American standards, taxis are cheap. They were pretty easy to find in Beijing. (The “universal” app includes signups with services like Uber.) But in Shanghai, they were extremely rare, and we had to get help from strangers to order one. As you would expect, this is especially hard when it’s raining and you're a very long walk from your hotel. Among maybe a dozen or two cab rides during our entire stay, we had two bad experiences with cabbies; I advise photographing the driver’s information and the meter area. I found that this significantly mitigated the problems.
We took the metro in Beijing. After brief adjustment, it was very easy to use. The main difficulty is that stations are far apart, so on (say) a rainy night, you will still need an umbrella and endurance. Shanghai seems to have an equivalent subway system, but we never used it there.
Part of the altitude problem my wife (and a few of our fellow travellers) had appears to be the flight’s forcing a lack of transition from sea level to an altitude over 2 miles. (On the other hand, a slower, staged transfer probably would have added cost to an already expensive trip—and maybe loss of a day’s touring.) Especially for older folk, however, I think this is a relevant concern.
I don’t know why, but although I could feel very mild pressure in my breathing, I was fine for the entire Lhasa visit. I had a different disappointment (perhaps idiosyncratic to myself, an academic and non-religious person): if I remember correctly, our entire stay involved visiting Tibetan religious locations. I quite support SOME such visits—religious history is central to human existence—but I would have liked to see aspects of other Tibetan cultural history.
Because of Beijing political issues with Tibet, filing out your Chinese visa involves the charade of not mentioning you're going there (if you do mention it, your visa apparently will be denied).
And a warning re Lhasa (and at least the Great Wall): there can invite lots of climbing, and a number of us, especially some of the older people (even when altitude wasn’t an issue), chose to climb minimally (just enough to get a sense of where steps were going and what the resulting view would be). Kevin and other guides were totally understanding—indeed, we were offered climbing options.
Highly recommend5.0 November 2017
Me and Nena are in cruise business more than 38 years and booked so many river cruises in Europe and charter ships in Russia, India, Egypt and Ukraine. Uniworld offer excellent cruise and we highly recommend this great company.Read more
Tour Uniworld Company Reviews
Fantastic4.0 March 2017
Fantastic cruising the Nile on MS River Tosca, spacious rooms, super crew, delicious meals, fantastic service, awesome waiters, knowledgeable tour guide Marwa! Would love to go back!
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Adventure Smith was exceptional. Antarctica 21 corporate office was deplorable.3.0 August 2019
Adventure Smith was so helpful throughout-- from initial info to booking the trip to answering questions to helping us once Antarctica 21 cancelled our Mom's trip. But Antarctica 21 corporate office was deplorable. This review is in two parts: a) Antarctica 21 corporate office and b) Antarctica 21 on ship team. The overall headline: Think carefully before you share medical information with Antarctica 21--- as they can and will cancel your trip with no warning, no refund, and no recourse.Read more
My mom, brother, and I booked with Antarctica 21 (A21) in February 2018 with an initial deposit and paid for the remaining balance in Sept 2018 for a late Jan-early Feb 2019 Antarctic cruise. We booked through Adventure Smith Explorations (ASE)—who were amazingly helpful throughout. Mom completed the A21 travel and health information when we each paid the trip deposit in Feb 2018, and she disclosed that she was in her early 80s and on anti-coagulant medication. Mom’s doctor also certified in writing to A21 that she was fit and able to take this trip. Then, 20 days before the start of the cruise in late Jan 2019, A21 sent an email to cancel Mom’s trip and refused to refund her $11,995 cruise price—citing medical concerns. We were stunned. When we asked the A21 representative to clarify which medical concerns led them to cancel Mom’s trip, she cited Mom’s age and use of anti-coag--- but all of this had been disclosed a year prior when the trip deposit was first paid in Feb 2018. Our representatives from ASE tried to appeal with A21, but to no avail. A21 flatly refused our offer for both of Mom’s doctors, whom she had visited within 40 days prior to the cruise, to provide additional fitness certification. A21 stated that no further information would be accepted and that their decision to remove Mom from the cruise was final.
My brother and I left for the trip without Mom, although this was supposed to be a memorable family trip together. On board, as we shared our experience with other passengers, people readily described their own medical conditions and were appalled that our Mom was not allowed on the cruise. Many of the 50-80 year old passengers said they were also on anti-coag and had various medical issues. At least six people told us they had significant health issues-- one had extensive knee surgery 3 weeks prior to the cruise, another had a stint placed in her heart a week before the cruise, two people had fused spines and very limited mobility, two others walked with canes and needed assistance. Three of the A21 team on board the ship told us directly that Mom had been too honest in noting that she took anti-coag. Many other passengers, including the six with major health issues and those on anti-coag, said they had not shared any of their conditions with A21. The last day of the cruise, we spoke with the cruise manager, and at first she would not give us any information about the decision or contact information at their corporate office. Several hours later, she reconsidered and shared one contact information at their Santiago corporate office, but she discouraged us from meeting with their team in Punta Arenas in person.
Also: Be careful with travel insurance. Mom paid over $1,800 for travel insurance for the trip. However, the insurance company denied her claim for reimbursement when A21 canceled her trip. A21 refused to put any reason in writing for us to use with the travel insurance claim. Most thankfully, Adventure Smith Expeditions reimbursed Mom the price of the cruise of $11,995, although Mom still lost the airfare to and from USA to Punta Arenas, Chile. Adventure Smith Expeditions deserves my most stellar recommendations for their help and information throughout our initial booking, during the trip, and once we returned.
Part 2 of the review: Onboard with A21: If you are able to take the trip, the on-board experience with A21 is good quality. My brother and I enjoyed the trip, although it was deeply bittersweet without Mom. The landscape, wildlife, and pristine Antarctic views were truly amazing. Many other reviews describe the actual cruise experience well, so I will be brief on this. A21 used the Ocean Nova ship for our cruise. The ship is well laid out, the ship staff (including captain, dining, and cleaning teams) were very helpful, rooms are tiny and spartan but as advertised, all public areas were very clean, and food quality is reasonable. The A21 tour manager (admin and logistics), expedition manager (excursion leader) and guides on board are enthusiastic, and many of the guides have extensive experience in the Antarctic and are happy to talk with passengers. With ship activities, including two landings on average each day, we stayed busy with information briefings and excursions plus three meals. A21 has other ships, including a new one they will launch in 2020, so look at the options carefully. This cruise option on the Ocean Nova worked well for us, with just 70 passengers for a smaller group although more modest accommodations.
As noted above, definitely buy travel insurance, as our flight from the Chilean military base back to Punta Arenas was delayed two days given bad weather, and we stayed on the boat during this time. A21 has some of the same investors as DAP, the airline for these flights, so our ship had priority with DAP once flights resumed, while other ships (major tour companies, researchers, etc) had to wait further. Travel insurance covered my revised ticket home, hotel in Punta Arenas, and other minor expenses, which were all more than the cost of travel insurance.
Tour Antarctic Peninsula
a wonderful trip5.0 September 2018
Andrew put together a wonderful trip to Greenland for us. The communication was excellent and the advice provided was very helpful. The ship was very comfortable and the ports, expeditions, food, and staff were better than expectedRead more
Tour Adventure Smith Company Reviews
Excellent5.0 August 2018
The best in the business!
Tour Antarctic Peninsula
|Tours||84 Trips||27 Trips|
|Average Trip Price Per Day||$ 450||$ 457|
|Operator Type||River Cruise Line||Small Ship & Expedition Cruise Line|
|Headquarters||Los Angeles, California, United States||Truckee, California, USA|
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, part of the giant Travel Corporation umbrella of tour companies and cruise lines, is a luxury, all-inclusive line offering itineraries on a total of 22 rivers in 29 countries worldwide.
What Makes Uniworld Stand Out?
Uniworld provides the pinnacle of luxury river cruising. They are known for their attention to detail, and extremely warm and attentive customer service. Traveling with Uniworld is to enter another world and experience the joy and comfort that comes with unpacking once, and really catering the journey to your pace.
Many excursions are available during the cruise, as well as top line on-board activities and dining.
Like other Travel Corporation brands, Uniworld contributes to the not-for-profit TreadRight Foundation, which works to promote sustainable tourism projects worldwide.
Who Will Enjoy Traveling With Uniworld?
Uniworld is perfect for those travelers who are looking to relax, only upack once, and can somewhat cater their experience once aboard the river cruise - enjoying as many or as few port excursions (extra fee) or simply exploring on your own before it’s time to leave port.
River cruising with Uniworld is a luxurious experience. Staff are attentive, everything is crisp and clean, and much attention to detail is paid to make sure your experience on board is enjoyable and every possible need is met.
It’s a “dress for dinner” kind of experience aboard Uniworld. Where you can enjoy fine wine, food, and appreciate a bit of a throwback feel. During the days many active travel opportunities can be found such as cycling and walking tours, or if you prefer you can dial it down to enjoy at your own pace. Travelers are often older, in the 50 plus range, many couples, and some friend groups.
Destinations include a number of European rivers as well as those in Russia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt, and India (India cruises begin in 2016, aboard the new Ganges II Explorer).
Uniworld Travel Style
Uniworld ships average a maximum of 130 passengers, and the staff-to-guest ratio is very high. The line is noted for its service and cuisine and has won numerous industry awards. All-inclusive pricing includes unlimited beverages aboard, shore excursions and gratuities, with just a few exceptions.
Why Choose a Cruise with Uniworld?
If you’re looking for a top of the line luxury travel experience on some of the world’s most picturesque rivers, then Uniworld is a fantastic option.
These trips are best suited for active older travelers. There are many excursions available and the amenities on board, service, and culture all create an unforgettable luxury river cruise experience.