Uniworld President flags retiring older vessels

Are new builds on the horizon for luxury cruise operator?

Uniworld's River Queen on the Rhine

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises is making plans to scale down its current fleet, a move which is likely to pave the way for brand-new vessels.

Speaking exclusively with LATTE at Virtuoso Travel Week 2023 in Las Vegas, Ellen Bettridge, President and CEO of Uniworld said the current fleet number, at 17, is “enough”.

“What we’re focusing on now is not growing to a huge number of ships. Our idea is to elevate those that we have already,” Bettridge said, referring to the Super Ship (S.S.) upgrade and enhancement Uniworld has carried out on five of its existing fleet over the past 10 years.

“Super Ships” have more suites, more dining venues and more luxurious finishes.

River Princess on the Danube

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Of Uniworld’s 17 ships, a dozen are based in Europe, two in Egypt and one in Vietnam & Cambodia, one in India and a charter of Aqua Expeditions’ Aria Amazon in South America. Of the 12 river boats operating in Europe, all but four have not gone through the upgrade to Super Ship status, those being River Duchess, River Empress, River Princess and River Queen.

The older vessels that received the modernisation program were: River Beatrice, enhanced and renamed S.S. Beatrice; River Royale converted to S.S. Bon Voyage; River Antoinette to S.S. Antoinette; Maria Teresa to S.S. Maria Teresa; and River Countess to S.S. La Venezia.

Additionally, Uniworld launched new builds S.S. Catherine in 2014, S.S. Joie de Vivre in 2017 and, post-pandemic, S.S. Sao Gabriel in mid-2021.

In 2019, pre-COVID, Bettridge announced Empress, Duchess, Princess and Queen would also be upsized to Super Ship status. Those plans were however thwarted by the pandemic and have not been rebooted as yet.

River Queen is the oldest Uniworld ship, launched in 1999, while River Empress and River Princess debuted in 2001, and River Duchess in 2003.

“COVID stopped all of that for right now. And we’re going to pull the trigger on one thing or another,” she said. “I’m just working through some details.”

“I might retire some,” Bettridge told LATTE. Super Ships will remain, but some of the older ones, instead of making them Super Ships, bringing in new fleet.”

Ellen Bettridge, President and CEO, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

“It’s in the works,” she said, not wishing to divulge any further details.

Elsewhere for Uniworld, the Virtuoso Preferred cruise operator recently completed its inaugural Rivers of the World voyage. Of the total number of guests board that 46-night itinerary, 40% were from Australia.

S.S. Beatrice in Budapest

Uniworld is now concentrating its focus on next year’s Rivers of the World journey departing in October 2024. She admits that the 2024 departure may be a difficult option for guests in Australia, as the journey begins in Peru which isn’t the easiest destination to access from Australia.

“But I believe that having a pre-package option in Los Angeles will be of increased interest to Aussies,” Bettridge added.

From Peru the journey heads to Iguazu Falls, then flies to Europe where they’ll be based for 16 days on the European Jewels itinerary aboard SS Beatrice. From there the trip goes to France and sails the Rhone from Avignon to Lyon, then to the Mekong which is easily accessible for Australian travellers.

For more information on that 55-day itinerary, click here.

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