Uniworld was one of the early pioneers of the luxury river cruise sector, and in 2018 it’ll become the first to enter the millennial cruise market with the debut of its U by Uniworld brand.
Sailings begin in April 2018 on two 120-passenger ships -- The A (formerly Uniworld's River Ambassador) and The B (formerly Uniworld’s River Baroness), with Uniworld CEO, Ellen Bettridge, revealing during a preview sailing this week the line's plans to launch in Asia with a brand-new ship on the Mekong River.
We hopped onboard The B in Paris before it set off on its maiden sailing along the Seine with a passenger list that included some of the world’s top social media influencers. Luckily, we fell right into place with the group of millennials (aged 21 to 45) that the ship aims to attract with its farm-to-table cuisine, rooftop yoga sessions and excursions like treasure hunts through the Louvre museum.
Here are some of our first impressions of U by Uniworld’s The B.
Not Your Grandmother’s Ship
After Uniworld debuted the luxurious Joie de Vivre on the Seine earlier this year, the brand decided to go an entirely different route with one of its older ships on the river. The result: The birth of U by Uniworld, a brand geared entirely towards millennials.
"The inspiration [behind the line] is to be young and energetic. We wanted it to be cool and hip, something that would make people between the ages of 21 and 45 want to go river cruising, since that age demographic hasn’t necessarily reached out to say they want to river cruise," explained Bettridge.
On The B, this millennial-focused experience starts from the outside. It's the only ship sailing the Seine to rock an all-matte black exterior, and this understated chic style seeps throughout the interior.
"Imagine going to your favorite, trendiest hotel where you want to hang out on the river. That’s The B. It’s in a category of its own and once people see it, they’re going to fall in love like I did," said the ship’s "guardian angel" and supermodel Petra Nemcova, who was onboard for the ship's renaming ceremony, which took place during the sailing.
Soft shades of pink and light green have been replaced by black and white checkered floors, old Hollywood-inspired striped wallpaper and pops of London-esque punk in the form of red-and-black checkered chairs. The only hint of the former Baroness is the size of the rooms and a signature piece of art that remains from the original ship's decor -- a portrait of the Eiffel Tower in the U Lounge that looks right at home with the ship’s new style.
River Views for All
The B features 61 cabins divided into three categories: Suites, Balconies and Studios. The main difference between the two decks is that the 29 Studios on the lower deck don’t have balconies. This is one aspect we didn’t mind since there’s so much taking place on (and off) board, balconies aren’t essential to the experience. The only difference between the 256-square-foot Suites and 128-square-foot Studios is the size. All of the marble-lined bathrooms sport the same amenities, like Gilchrist & Soames’ sustainable, nature-inspired line, BeeKind.
Both Studios and Suites feature sumptuous Savoir beds with plush white bedding, and storage space is maximized with a number of cleverly disguised cabinets shielded by mirrors -- a plus point for the ship's style-conscious passengers. Even the two Triple Studios feel spacious, with a lofted bed on one side and bunk on the other, each featuring its own safe and flatscreen TV, plus adjustable mood lighting to really set the tone. For those who may not want to wake up to their neighbor venturing back from the clubs late at night, the noise-proof padding in the walls certainly helps. And while the design is pretty minimalist, one of the major draws is how tech-savvy the cabins are. Outfitted with built-in Bluetooth speakers and plenty of outlets by the bed and desk area (which can accommodate plugs from a variety of countries), cabins make staying connected to the outside world seem almost a priority, enhanced by the fact that Wi-Fi is free.
Another one of the major signs that this isn’t your typical river cruise is how relaxed communication is onboard. Don’t expect paper programs at turndown service (in fact, don't expect a turndown service at all.). Instead, the flatscreen TVs show off the daily program, which is also sent out via WhatsApp text or email.
The Well Factor
It’s hard to find a decent gym in a hotel -- let alone on a river cruise ship -- but this was one request from potential passengers that U by Uniworld took seriously. The gym has been expanded and outfitted with top-notch machines, TRX Strength Bands and free weights. For those who would rather take their fitness off board, the ship’s wellness coach can set up hikes and city-inspired experiences. Another facility that is sure to be used as much as the gym: Room 120. This former cabin has been transformed into a spa, offering 20- to 90-minute treatments that incorporate products from Amsterdam-based beauty favorite, Rituals. One specialty we hear is worth trying: foot reflexology.
Unconventional Excursions & Onboard Inclusions
The daily itinerary offers an included excursion, such as a guided bike ride along the Seine or a midnight stroll through Paris, as well as a few optional "U Time" choices that are an additional fee (from roughly $47 per person). These aren’t your traditional shore excursions, either. In Paris, street art walking tours weave their way through the artsy Belleville neighborhood, while the "Parisian Rooftops" tour shows off views of the city from another vantage point -- the top of 19th century Haussmanian apartment buildings and 17th century townhouses.
Onboard, the only thing you’ll have to pay extra for is alcohol and visits to the spa. Everything else, from Wi-Fi to meals, gratuities and entertainment (like silent discos and mixology classes), is covered. There’s even a complimentary laundry room and ironing board, so no need to worry about expensive laundry service (or hanging clothes in the shower to get rid of wrinkles).
Drinking & Dining
U uses the adjective "sexy" to describe its new ship. We think "trendy" is a better fit. The rooftop has a Miami Beach lounge feel to it, with plenty of stylish cabanas and places to perch up with a cocktail in hand -- and no shuffleboard in sight. The Ice Bar, meanwhile, definitely has a nightclub vibe. Think neon lights, sleek couches and international DJs.
U Lounge serves as a great meeting point with a well-stocked bar serving up options from craft cocktails to world-renowned wine from wineries like Australia’s Penfolds. While the design is definitely more inviting than some of the stuffier river ships out there, we weren’t entirely blown away by the decor. The restaurant on the lower deck, however, definitely made up for it.
The Travel Corporation team spent a year scouring the hottest restaurants and food trends in spots like London and Los Angeles to come up with the farm-to-table cuisine at the stylish bistro Dine -- and they succeeded. Instead of three traditional meals, brunch runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and includes buffet options like almond butter and jam tartine; carrot cream cheese muffins; multigrain yogurt pancakes; roasted Brussels sprouts; and smoothies dubbed “antioxidant blasts.”
Dinner is where the restaurant really shines, with sharing plates like Nicoise salad to start followed by contemporary mains to please a range of tastes, from quinoa burgers and miso-marinated wild salmon to Bea Tollman’s Spaghetti Pomodoro. Tables are communal and have an LA diner-meets-swanky-Parisian-bistro feel, with plush leather banquets, industrial lighting and retro, 70s-style stools.
U by Uniworld's The B officially debuts in April 2018, offering eight-day "Seine Experience" sailings in France -- featuring two nights in Paris -- with fares starting at $1,999 per person.
--By Lane Nieset, Cruise Critic contributor