Update: Problems With New Nile Riverboat Sends Ship Back to Yard

December 14, 2009
Update, 7:45 a.m. EST: Uniworld's President and CEO, Guy Young, has posted a statement on the Cruise Critic message boards confirming that River Tosca will be taken out of service from February 1 to March 19. During this time Uniworld will use the Miriam on the Nile, the ship it used prior to the launch of River Tosca.

Young said in his post: "Uniworld has successfully used the Miriam prior to introducing the River Tosca and the ship is a good substitute. The crew from the River Tosca -- including the Hotel Manager, Executive Chef, and Executive Housekeeper, all Uniworld employees from our European operation, will be onboard the Miriam. We will also bring onto the Miriam some of the special amenities currently available on the River Tosca, such as bed linens, robes, slippers, and bath products. We will be offering a compensation package to those clients sailing on the Miriam as we understand that some of our guests will be disappointed with the ship change; however, we will work very hard to ensure they still have a wonderful vacation in Egypt."

(December 11, 2009) -- Uniworld, the river cruise company that specializes primarily in Europe river voyages, is to pull its brand new Nile cruiser, River Tosca, from service after a string of passenger complaints about the ship's poor finish.

Scratched parquet floors, splattered paint, stained bathtubs and loose tiles have all been cited by passengers, some of them on the Cruise Critic message boards.

The 84-passenger vessel, which was launched in October this year, will go into dry dock in February 2010 for two months, where the problems will be corrected.

Uniworld president Guy Young admitted to Cruise Critic that the Egyptian shipbuilder was responsible for the poor finish. "These problems are primarily the damage done to the beautiful wood and mosaic floors (in the staterooms, corridors and restaurant) during the final construction period, because the builder did not properly cover and protect these floors before the ship was turned over to Uniworld," he said.

This is not to say Egyptian yards struggle generally with the concept of ultra-luxury; Oberoi Hotels successfully set a new standard of opulence with its 25-cabin Oberoi Zahra, launched in 2007, while Egypt specialist Discover Egypt says that the all-suites Alexander the Great vessel gets rave reviews from guests.

River Tosca is Uniworld's first purpose-built ship on the Nile. Although it has chartered the five-star MS Miriam in the past, the company uses the fact that it owns and operates nine of the ten ships it has in Europe – and can therefore control their quality -- as a selling point. The thinking was that River Tosca would deliver the same high standards as the European ships.

But the project has not been plain sailing. Although Young said the company has "an excellent and long-standing relationship" with its Egyptian partner (a compulsory set-up for any foreign company operating in Egypt) Uniworld has struggled to find the quality of workmanship it is used to in Europe. Problems with the décor notwithstanding, the ship wasn't even ready for its first four cruises, which had to be offered on a different vessel.

When cruise lines experience this kind of disruption to new builds, they're typically at liberty to refuse to accept delivery (and, in the process, hold up payment). In June, Seabourn's Seabourn Odyssey, its first new ship design in decades, was delivered from its yard in an unfinished shape but workers were able to make finishing touches reasonably quickly. No voyages were disrupted.

Regarding the change in the programme for February and March, Young continued: "We expect to make a more formal announcement to all of our currently booked and prospective guests in the next couple of days."

Although the Uniworld website is still showing River Tosca four and seven-night sailings between Aswan and Luxor throughout the dry dock period, we understand that passengers booked on these will be offered Nile cruises on a different ship.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor