Phew! It’s almost over! The year 2020 certainly had some challenges for us all. Fortunately, it’s also had some silver linings. I had the opportunity to spend more time at home with my family, sharpen my cooking skills and became an expert at video calls with my teams.
While we missed all of you this season, we were able to put our extra downtime to good use. As part of a fully owned, family business, Uniworld spent the extra months without sailings improving on our already industry-leading services. We not only boosted health and safety standards in response to the COVID-19 crisis, we also added new ships, transformed others and dreamt up new touring options. This year we welcomed a new Super Ship, the Mekong Jewel, and finished getting 3 more new Super Ships ready to sail in 2021—the S.S. São Gabriel, the S.S. Sphinx and the S.S. La Venezia.
With all these exciting new developments, it’s not hard to guess what will be at the top of my bucket list of ships and places that are must-sees this year.
My husband, Jack, and I were in Venice only three years ago. We spent a week soaking up the many highlights of the city with his brother and sister-in-law and came back rejuvenated. But a destination as fascinating as Venice is worth revisiting every year, and this season brings two big new reasons to go.
The S.S. La Venezia features an elegant new décor with Fortuny fabric, Murano glass, gilded elements and etched glass inspired by the region’s penchant for artisanship. In keeping with its promotion to Super Ship status, we’ve added more suites and Italian inspired restaurants that will be run by local chefs to ensure the cuisine is delicious and authentic.
As if that weren’t enough, Uniworld has partnered with Golden Eagle Luxury Trains to take this experience to the next level. After enjoying Venice by ship (and most likely gondola as well) guests will have the chance to travel by rail to Zurich, stopping at Lake Bled, Slovenia and Innsbruck, Austria. My father worked on the railroad and I have fond memories traveling as a child on the train. It would be amazing to be able to share this experience with family. I will have to wait and see if I can secure a spot.
DOURO RIVER, PORTUGAL
I’ve been to Portugal before, but always on business. In fact, it was to make arrangements for our latest venture there: our luxe new Super Ship, the S.S. São Gabriel. This 100-passenger ship will boast 16 suites, a beautiful pool deck, additional dining venues and stunning local décor that brings the destination to life. Portugal is currently among the world’s most popular destinations—and the river is its scenic calling card. In 2021 we showcase the intriguing itinerary through wine, olive and almond country.
The vessel’s name remembers the flagship of Vasco da Gama, who, in 1497, was the first to sail from Europe to India on an ocean route. She also debuts a host of improvements on her predecessor, the Queen Isabel. The Gabriel is bigger, has more suites and now includes butler service. The addition of a top-deck, alfresco dining area sets a front-row table to the dramatic landscape’s terraced hillsides.
When you do leave the ship, it will be to make delightful inroads into the community, like visiting the famous estates that create the region’s world-renowned Port wine. I have recently become a fan of a spot of port wine after dinner and look forward to indulging on this local treat.
MEKONG RIVER, VIETNAM AND CAMBODIA
Before the pandemic shut down travel this year, I had planned to take my family to Vietnam for Christmas. The kids were over the moon. My husband, Jack harbored a little trepidation as he had spent his college years hoping not to be sent to Southeast Asia in khakis. For people of a certain generation, Vietnam and Cambodia has been hard to imagine as a vacation destination—until now, that is.
What was once a war-torn region of strife has rediscovered its rich and lengthy cultural heritage—and you see the full scope of it on this trip, from the temples of Angkor Wat to the Cú Chi tunnels leftover from the war. The Mekong, with its fertile delta, also offers some of the lushest scenery on earth. The brand-new Mekong Jewel sails through charming ancient villages (some of them floating) as well as bustling metropolises like Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and Phnom Penh.
Since the itinerary is all about supporting the local community, the vessel itself is part of the effort. Truly a Jewel, the Super Ship utilizes sustainable and eco-friendly materials and is decorated with artwork inspired by the landscape. All the while, the incredibly spacious ship never stints on luxury. There is a wellness center with a nail and hair bar, as well as a pool, two dining venues and both indoor and outdoor lounges. I can’t wait to go!
I have high hopes I’ll be able to realize at least a few of these dreams this year. All signs point to a swift conclusion of this health crisis. In fact, one of my manager’s sisters recently became one of the first Americans to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Widespread treatment—and a time when I can welcome all of you onboard a Uniworld cruise again—can’t come soon enough!
I wish you all a very happy holiday and a spectacular new year!