The sedate world of river cruise is about to get an adrenaline rush. Cruising next April, U by Uniworld is a radical concept aimed at 21 to 45-year-olds who want to experience the pulse of Europe along the Rhine, Main, Danube and Seine rivers.
Uniworld was founded in 1976 and in 2004 the company was acquired by The Travel Corporation, a highly successful international travel group which now has more than 30 top brands in its portfolio, including Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Contiki and Red Carnation Hotels. With a fleet of 13 river vessels, Uniworld has created a new benchmark in luxury river cruise exploring the waterways of Europe, Russia, Egypt, India and Asia.
Earlier this year Ellen Bettridge, president and CEO of Uniworld announced details of U by Uniworld, the first cruise brand of its kind. Offering a fresh approach to experiential travel, this new concept will feature unique itineraries on two completely refurbished ships – the River Ambassador and the River Baroness – renamed The A and The B. These 120-passenger vessels will boast the sophistication of a boutique hotel with black exteriors and a cool interior design with open communal spaces and chill-out lounges – just what today’s style lodestars are after.
So how will this new concept in river cruise aboard two ships that wouldn’t look out of place in hip design magazines go down with young Brits? Cruise Adviser met up with Ellen Bettridge to find out.
Cruise Adviser: Tell us more about the thinking behind such a novel approach to what many perceive as a placid holiday choice for more mature cruisers.
Ellen Bettridge: Uniworld has always strived to lead innovation in the river cruise industry and we saw a great opportunity with U to reach an entirely new audience. River cruise is a seamless, affordable and comfortable way to experience all that Europe has to offer. We are incredibly proud to create a brand that will broaden the interest in this type of experiential travel to a younger audience.
Experiences range from visiting a U Host’s favourite nightclub in Amsterdam to exploring the banks of the Seine in Paris at midnight
Can you reveal more details about the novel design of the two ships, and what facilities and entertainment will be onboard?
With a maximum capacity of 120 adventurous travellers, the first two U ships – The A and The B – will boast sleek, black exteriors with fully-renovated and equally intriguing interiors. The main restaurant – Dine – will feature communal tables and local, farm-to-table cuisine. There will be top-deck lounges, where guests can sip craft cocktails and lap up the live entertainment and international DJs. The ships will serve as fully-equipped waterfront contemporary hotels, taxis, bars, restaurants, cafés, nightclubs and yoga studios – all in one. With a clean, modern finish, the bedrooms will come in three categories – all with river views. Suites will feature French balconies; there will also be Balcony bedrooms and Studio bedrooms. Solo travellers can take advantage of single rooms or special room share rates.
Cruise Adviser analysis: What’s different?
We look at how U by Uniworld differs from the company’s usual product, and the pricing structure and partnerships that really make it stand out from the river cruise crowd.
It’s great to see companies like Uniworld investing in new concepts and ideas such as U by Uniworld to try and change the idea that a river cruise is only for those pushing 60. These are luxurious city breaks that take passengers right into the heart of a destination while serving some incredible food along the way. Why wouldn’t that appeal to Millennials?
U by Uniworld’s Danube cruise, which runs from Regensburg to Budapest is priced from £1,799 per person (the company points out that’s £225 per day). A Uniworld Danube cruise that runs two days
longer (10-days) comes in at about £3,599 per person. So, it’s clear that Uniworld believes that its current prices are too high for its new target market.
It will be interesting to see if U takes off. However, with partnerships like VizEat – where passengers will be given tours of the local food scene and be invited to share a meal in the home of a “U Host” – it’s obvious that a lot of thought has gone into it. Add to that the bike rides, hiking, yoga and visits to local pubs and bars, and we can’t help but think that U by Uniworld could be on to a winner.
What else are you offering that will transform the image of river cruise, which is frequently perceived as a bit fuddy-duddy?
By establishing an age range of 21 to 45-years old for U, we’re sending a message to millennials and young gen X-ers that this product has been built specifically for them – with activities and experiences that they would want to have on a river cruise. The line-up of onboard programming includes Wine & Paint Classes, Mixology Classes and Chef’s Table Cooking Classes. Each day guests are given flexible options to explore in one of three ways – included excursions and activities, optional ‘U Time’ outings, or a self-guided tour of the cities. Adventurers can rock climb or white water raft; while explorers can kayak through Unesco World Heritage Sites.
What about at night when the entertainment norm for river cruise is a singer at the keyboard and an early night?
When night falls, ‘U Hosts’ will be on hand to take guests to local hotspots and hidden gems in each city. Experiences range from visiting a U Host’s favourite nightclub in Amsterdam to exploring the banks of the Seine in Paris at midnight.
And what differentiates the itineraries?
We’ve reinvented the river cruise notion to offer four seven-night itineraries from April to October including Rolling On The Rhine, Germany’s Finest, The Danube Flow and The Seine Experience. All of these offer overnight stops and longer stays in major cities like Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam and Budapest. We also have two festive holiday cruises: our four-night A Merry Little Christmas Cruise and seven-night Dashing Through The Danube, which include a trek through a Bavarian Forest to Passau’s Christmas Market; a Viennese Christmas excursion; and an exclusive Christmas concert in Klosterneuburg Abbey.
Lead-in price for a seven-night cruise is £1,499 for a Rolling On The Rhine or Germany’s Finest cruise. For more information visit ubyuniworld.com