The newly launched SS Maria Theresa is a ship unlike any other on any other river.
Of course, it exudes the luxury and beauty synonymous with the Uniworld name, the company regarded as the gold standard in river cruising. But as is the way with the entire Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, the SS Maria Theresa is unique. The 150-passenger ship is a floating castle, specifically a castle from the Baroque period, an epoch in history revered for its grandeur and sumptuousness.
According to Uniworld’s interior designer Toni Tollman, the ship’s itineraries determined both the look and feel of the interiors, and her name. The ship’s voyages take her through the vast empire of the Archduchess, Maria Theresa, the only female to rule over the Habsburg Empire. The Archduchess ruled with great distinction for 40 years from 1740 to 1780 at the end of the Baroque period.
“We designed the SS Maria Theresa to take our guests on a journey back in time with an onboard atmosphere and style seamlessly integrated with the history and architecture of the very places they will visit onshore,” says Toni Tollman.
“We want our guests to wake up every morning and feel like a princess or a prince, albeit royalty surrounded by the latest, seamless technology.”
To this end, Toni, who works in collaboration with her mother Mrs Beatrice Tollman, the founder and president of the luxury boutique Red Carnation Hotels, painstakingly researched the period, then employed artisans, artists and craftsmen from across Europe to give form to their floating castle. They also sourced valuable antiques, authentic objects d’art, and paintings, all in the name of the ultimate, authentic guest experience.
The extraordinary three-storey lobby is a case in point. A 3-metre, 18th century oil painting of the Archduchess, purchased at Christie’s, presides over a hand-gilded balustrade. A Venetian Murano chandelier throws light onto walls lined with hand-cut antique mirrors and floors of shimmering marble inlaid with the Habsburg crown – there are 1600 of these throughout the three passenger floors. Hand-painted murals on the ceiling complete the spectacular scene.
Murals are a feature throughout the SS Maria Theresa, as they were of castles in the Baroque time. There are five extraordinary examples of rural Austria painted by specialist English painters Croxford and Saunders in the Habsburg Salon, the ship’s commodious lounge and bar.
“They are exactly what you would have found in a Baroque castle,” says Toni.
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The colours used throughout the ships reflect the royal blues, soft greys and burnished golds evocative of the period too. Each category of stateroom takes on a different palette and all staterooms have a canopied made-to-order Savoir bed, (acknowledged as the world’s best), the finest monogrammed linen, marble bathrooms, flat screen television and generic power points (so no need to bring a bag of adaptors).
Walls are swathed in silk or fabric and carpets are individually designed and made for the 10 suites and the Royal suite. French balconies and open-air windows mean guests are continually surrounded by the scenery.
“Everything we do with our company is about the guest experience,” says Toni Tollman. Uniworld has the highest staff-to-guest ratio across the European river industry. The SS Maria Theresa's 150 guests have 60 staff to serve them. All are trained to the exacting standards of the Tollman family’s Red Carnation Hotels, which, like Uniworld, is a perennial on the world-best lists.
On board, the service is exemplary but never stuffy. Needs are anticipated before guests articulate them, a hallmark of deep knowledge and intensive training in great service and pride in delivering it.
The immersive experience also extends to food and drink with the chefs drawing inspiration from the cuisines of the countries the ship passes through. Produce is sourced from local suppliers along the way. Breakfast and dinner is served in the expansive Baroque Dining Room and you can opt for a full-service but lighter lunch in the glamorous Bar de Leopard at the stern of the ship.
The bar is a feature of Uniworld’s three super ships, the SS Antoinette, Catherine and now the Maria Theresa. Like her sister super ships, the SS Maria Theresa also has a pool, gym, guest laundry and a spa, plus the plush Lipizzan Theatre where guests sink into deep velvet banquets for screenings of new releases.
A new addition to the Uniworld fleet is the gold-leafed Viennese Café, a 24-hour cafe that takes its inspiration both in design and menu from the best cafes in Vienna, the capital of the Habsburg Empire.
Fittingly, the SS Maria Theresa’s godmother is Princess Anita von Hohenberg, a descendant of the original Maria Theresa. The Princess, who knows a thing or two about castles -- she owns one of the most beautiful in Austria – gave the ship her imprimatur at the ship’s launch: “The Maria Theresa is indeed a floating castle.”