For a company based in Los Angeles, it’s extraordinary that Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection chose Sydney as the destination to launch its 2019 Boutique River Cruise collection. If that isn’t a mark of confidence in the Australian river cruising market, we don’t know what is.
Indeed, as Ellen Bettridge, President & CEO of Uniworld, mentioned, Australia is the company’s second-largest market after the US and ahead of the UK and Asia. Australians also want longer trips (the 16-day European Jewels itinerary from Amsterdam to Budapest is an extremely popular choice for first-time guests), and will sometimes opt for back-to-back journeys, or two different itineraries with self-exploration time in between.
Bettridge and Fiona Dalton, Uniworld Managing Director, Australia, hosted an intimate breakfast reception with Sydney media on Tuesday 13 February, creating a taste of Uniworld within the Observatory Suite of The Langham, Sydney. Like Uniworld, The Langham embodies the feeling of boutique luxury with attention to detail, quality food, discreet service and masses of fresh flowers. As Dalton said, all you need is to have Cologne sailing past rather than Kent Street below to get the true Uniworld river cruise feeling.
The all-inclusive river cruise line unveiled its 2019 product line-up at an event on Monday 12 February at Dunbar House, including three new European cruises, enhancements to popular itineraries, a new ship on China’s Yangtze river and the debut of a fully renovated River Royale in Bordeaux. According to Uniworld President & CEO Ellen Bettridge, plans for the coming year are aimed at continuing to differentiate the product, delivering to customers the world’s foremost river cruise experience and helping agents make the sale.
It all starts with the ship
When LATTE last spoke with Ms Bettridge in March 2017, she was about to launch the latest Super Ship, SS Joie de Vivre, on the Seine. Now she is looking ahead to the unveiling of the transformed SS Beatrice on 4 April and the much-anticipated launch of The A, the first river ship from new brand, U by Uniworld, on 14 April.
2019 will build on these developments, continuing to evolve and elevate the Uniworld river cruise experience with the interior renovation of River Royale and the introduction of a new ship on China’s Yangtze River, Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer. She is the newest ship on the river, boasting a two-floor theatre (where Bettridge hopes to extend her burgeoning dine-in movies program) and Uniworld’s signature sophistication and attention to detail. To complement the 11-day Highlights of China & The Yangtze itinerary, guests will also be able to choose a six-day pre-trip extension to Mongolia’s Gobi Desert and capital, Ulaanbaatar. As Bettridge said, it’s about anticipating where guests would like to visit next, even if they don’t yet know it themselves.
New and enhanced itineraries
The Danube proves its eternal appeal with two new itineraries on the river in 2019, and a third that takes in the German wine-making valley of the Moselle River. Other journeys have been enhanced, including a return of the 7-night Holland & Belgium at Tulip Time and the introduction of a comprehensive wellness program to India’s Golden Triangle & Sacred Ganges itinerary. Bettridge commented that wellness isn’t a trend; it is here to stay. This new complimentary program centres on traditional yoga, led by a certified yogi, and will include daily classes, lectures and individual meetings, accompanied by a dedicated organic menu developed for the experience.
This Indian itinerary also offers a ME to WE pre-cruise option, immersing guests in a transformative community development project in Poja.
Egypt is also “coming back in a big way”, and Uniworld is seeing growing demand for its River Tosca Nile itineraries. New pre- and post-trip extensions to Jordan (Petra and Amman) and Israel (Jerusalem) allow guests to explore this region in greater depth.
Bettridge also spoke about some of the more unique (usually gourmet-focused) initiatives that have been implemented in the last year. Among these was the testing stage of progressive dining through the ship. For this behind-the-scenes experience, the captain or hotel manager accompanies guests through the ship, taking their first course in somewhere such as the engine room, the second in the wheelhouse and the third in the laundry room. After successful tests (guests apparently love the ‘bragging rights’), this program is being rolled out on Uniworld’s Super Ships. Another initiative is the partnership with EatWith, a European food experience that connects travellers with locals for a home-cooked meal at their place.
Keep an eye on U by Uniworld
Ms Bettridge finished by discussing her “new favourite topic”, U by Uniworld. The new river cruise brand for 21- to 45-year-olds will make its debut on 14 April with the first public sailing of The A, soon to be followed by sister ship The B. As the first to court this younger crowd, Uniworld’s move into this market has been hailed as brave. With their distinctive black exteriors, these river ships are unlike others in Europe, featuring sleek, cool, tech-driven design while still maintaining Uniworld sophistication with the same cloud-like Savoir beds, marble bathrooms and flatscreen TVs. Dining has been transformed to focus on sharing plates and two meals a day: brunch and dinner. The entire schedule has been pushed back to accommodate later starts, including arriving at ports later (and staying later) and starting excursions later. The Australian market is just starting to gravitate towards U by Uniworld, and to ensure agents of all ages get to experience this new product, there will be eight open-ages voyages taking place in 2018.
Did you know?
As well a gorgeous Dior gift, attendees of the breakfast left with a Did You Know? sheet detailing some of Uniworld’s more unique offerings:
- Uniworld’s included fine alcohols encompass 19 premium whiskeys, 12 vodkas, 11 rums and five gins on board all European ships.
- On average, over 93% of Uniworld’s onboard crew return from one season to the next, ensuring consistency in service and hospitality. This is in part due to the fact that Uniworld provides health benefits and pensions for all onboard crew members. It is also why Uniworld’s unedited FEEFO rating is almost always 4.9 out of 5.0 for onboard service, the highest in the industry.
- Some ships have original artwork valued at over US$1,000,000 per ship, including artists such as Picasso, Leger, Chagall and Matisse.
- River Queen is the only ship on the rivers with a real, wood-burning fireplace.
- The grand lobby chandelier aboard SS Antoinette comes from famous NYC restaurant, Tavern on the Green. Mrs Tollman, who used to take her children there, bought it at auction, and the ship was designed around its significant weight.
- SS Antoinette and SS Maria Theresa have dedicated movie theatres on board (perfect for the dine-in movies experience).
- All staterooms and suites have handmade Savoir of England beds, designed originally for the Savoy and Claridge’s hotels in London.
- SS Maria Theresa is the only ship on the rivers with hand-painted frescoes on the ceilings.
- SS Joie de Vivre and SS Beatrice are the first river ships with luxury yacht-style wood panelling and features.
- And, as both Bettridge and Dalton explained, Uniworld is sensitive to its environmental impact and operates the most sustainable ships on European rivers. This includes not using plastic water bottles. By giving guests metal drink bottles they can refill with the ship’s filtered water, Uniworld saves half a million water bottles from being wasted.