March 16, 2018
(5:45 p.m. EDT) -- When Uniworld made a bold statement by originally designating its new river cruise line U by Uniworld for millennials, we weren't sure exactly what to expect. Would the sailings -- on two refurbished (and sleekly all-black) ships -- be filled with stereotypical flannel shirts, overly hoppy craft beer and too many selfies?
Fresh off of an overnight in Amsterdam on U by Uniworld's The A -- which begins its regular sailings, now open to adults of all ages, on the Rhine next month -- we're able to report that our qualms were baseless (and this millennial reviewer loved it).
From what we experienced, sailing on The A -- or its sister ship, The B, which will sail on France's Seine River out of Paris -- will be synonymous with late nights, sleeping in, first-in-industry onboard experiences and active, immersive port activities, all wrapped up in a trendy, casual-yet-sophisticated package of neon lights and Andy Warhol prints.
The cruises build in just enough room for flexibility, serving only brunch and dinner, which allows passengers to go ashore for local lunch experiences on their own. Complimentary organized tours are offered, but more unique options are available (for a fee), as are free bicycles for use by those who want to plan their own days ashore.
But perhaps what sets U by Uniworld the most firmly apart from other lines in river cruise industry is its affinity for the latest technology. Cruisers will find cabins and lounges outfitted with more USB ports and charging outlets (American, UK and European) than they can possibly use. The onboard Wi-Fi is fast and free, but personal pocket routers can be rented for €8 a day, allowing access to unlimited Wi-Fi in port. The line is paperless; all menus and daily programs are shown on TV screens throughout the ship, as well as on in-cabin TVs, which also offer music, Bluetooth connectivity (so you can listen to your own playlists) and for-fee movies.
Here are some more details of what you can expect from a U by Uniworld river cruise:
Technology, technology, techology
Beyond Wi-Fi and USB ports, U by Uniworld builds technology into its onboard DNA, including activities. One of these is the silent disco, where passengers head to the Ice Bar -- the top-deck nightclub -- to put on wireless headphones, tune to music of their choice and dance the night away. (Yes, it looks a bit odd to someone not wearing headphones, as it appears everyone else is dancing in complete silence.)
Additionally, passengers provide their mobile numbers at the start of each sailing and are added to a group on Whatsapp, which allows them to receive the daily schedule and shore excursion booking confirmations, virtually introduce themselves, plan activities and even solve problems. (One cruiser on our sailing had an issue with her hair straightener. She messaged the group to see if she could borrow one and was quickly provided with a replacement.)
Cruisers also have daily complimentary access to newspapers and other reading materials via a press reader app, and they're encouraged to post photos on social media during their sailings. By using the hashtag #TravelForU, they can see their posts show up in real time on TVs throughout the ship.
In addition to housing the ship's nightclub and for-fee mixology, paint and wine classes, the top deck on The A is used for a silent cinema, with passengers voting on Whatsapp to choose what will be shown. Other alfresco activities include yoga classes, drumming lessons, moonlight massages (for a fee) and even camping. (Two tents are available for an extra charge, allowing up to four people to sleep on deck, with mattresses and bedding provided.)
Unusual shore excursions
During a typical night in Amsterdam, passengers can opt for a late-night tour of the infamous red light district, complete with a boat ride offering drinks, a visit to a local prostitution museum and some time at a "coffee shop." We also tried Blokarting. (No, it's not red light district-related.) It involves a small non-motorized go kart, which is powered by a sail and driven on the beach. During this added-fee activity, passengers are driven about 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam, given brief instruction, fitted with helmets and set loose on the sand, where they learn to steer, tighten and loosen the sails to pick up speed and drive figure eights around one another.
To foster a social atmosphere, tables in Dine, The A's main dining room, are large, urging passengers to sit together and mingle.
True to millennial form, brunch is offered for breakfast daily. (But honestly, who doesn't like brunch?) Spoiler: We didn't see avocado toast on the menu, which includes buffet items like eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, parfaits and smoothies, as well as a made-to-order-omelet station. Bar bites are available for a fee for between-meal snacking; the beef sliders are delicious.
Dinner is served by waiters, but dessert is served buffet-style, with waiters preparing it right on the counter while lights flash and loud music plays. Everything comes family-style, with passengers sharing appetizers and things like "chicken [meat] balls."
Although small, the cabins boast soft mattresses, fluffy duvets and plenty of storage space, as well as bedside charging stations for all types of devices. Bathrooms are original from the ship's days as River Ambassador, featuring marble, lots of mirrors and Bee Kind organic soap and lotion products.
Cruise Critic will be onboard the first regular sailing of The A in mid-April. Stay tuned for more coverage of this new river cruise line that is unabashedly targeting a younger demographic.
--By Ashley Kosciolek, Editor