The Art of River Cruising

Welcome to The Art of River Cruising, my blog highlighting all the exciting things happening at Uniworld. I hope you enjoy reading!

Ellen Bettridge

Uniworld President & CEO

August 8, 2019


Suite (River Countess)

It has been awhile since I have written a post and I want to take this opportunity to update you on the River Countess.

On June 2nd the River Countess had just completed a very successful week in the beautiful region of Venice. It was early in the morning and most guests had disembarked to travel home and a few others were enjoying their last breakfast on board or completing the last bit of packing. All of this was abruptly interrupted when the MSC Opera lost control and hit our docked ship.

We are incredibly fortunate that our Captain quickly reacted and instructed the sailors to cut the ship’s lines, avoiding the full impact of the collision. I am convinced that this quick reaction from our experienced Captain saved lives. The crew and remaining guests on board were certainly in a state of shock but again we are fortunate nothing too serious happened. Since then, the River Countess has been at a ship yard where a team is quickly working to get her repaired. The damage was extensive; however, we are confident that she will be sailing again on September 8th.

Lobby and reception (River Countess)

I am incredibly proud of the Uniworld team and how well they managed through this situation. The management team followed the emergency procedures while our crew did exactly what they were supposed to do, which is to ensure our guests are cared for. Our land operations team immediately secured two 5-star hotels for the guests that were due to arrive for the next cruise and developed a plan for their experience since we no longer had a ship that would sail. My team in Los Angeles quickly put together a communication plan and reached out to our customers and partners to ensure they were informed of the situation. It was a very stressful couple of weeks, and we could not have managed so efficiently without the support of every member of our team.

The team deserves all the praise we have received from our customers and I wanted to share with you a few quotes from passengers that were onboard the morning on June 2, 2019:

“My husband and I were lucky to have no injuries as a result of this frightening incident. We appreciate very much the caring and quick action of the crew, the follow-up call I received upon our return home, and the continued concern expressed in this email. Our trip with Uniworld was wonderful and left nothing to be desired, and our complete satisfaction with your company is unaffected by the harrowing experience as we disembarked. Uniworld has nothing for which to apologize as the accident was not your fault, and your people have made every effort to help those who were negatively impacted by it. We have no hesitation about cruising with Uniworld again and continue to recommend you to our friends.”
– Lynn Fraser
“Once again, I would like to express my appreciation to the crew who were so effective and solicitous after the accident, to your CEO Ellen Bettridge for her concerned and immediate response, to you for your ongoing support and to Calvin, our long-time agent who introduced us to Uniworld many years ago. We have always enjoyed our cruises with you.”
– Patricia MacRae and Hugh Macdonald
“I would like to take this opportunity to compliment the River Countess crew, especially the Ship’s Captain, for the amazing work during this emergency. Their response was remarkable under terrible conditions...Uniworld should be very proud of them. Please pass these compliments along to the appropriate Company parties/officials.”
– Robert Irving

On June 2nd we also had customers who were scheduled to board the River Countess and were very disappointed when they heard the news. We provided them with the option to go home with a full refund or stay and enjoy the land experience our team organized. As you will see from the comments the Uniworld team did an excellent job:

“We have heard nothing but good things about this line, and now I can add my voice to the praise. The few days we did experience were very well done. The tour guides were quite good and things were organized well.

I must also comment on the way Martin handled everything after the crash. He was extremely helpful and professional, even though I'm sure he was stressed to the max. He handled changing our flight home, among other things, and found us a direct flight. That made the trip home so much easier.

We will probably wait a bit before booking a river cruise (this was to have been our first!), but when we are ready I will definitely book through Uniworld.”
– Chris Zyburt

“Special thanks to Martin Kummer and Louisa for taking care of us and working to make our trip a success.

Also thanks to Uniworld for providing us with the gems of northern Italy even though it was by land. It was sad when some of our cruise mates left as we had started making friends but we also found new friends with those who stayed for the unique adventure.

Jenny and I have been on four ocean cruises and three river cruises. This would have been our first Uniworld cruise. We hope we get a chance to cruise with you in the future.”
– Edmond and Jenny Lee (they just booked a cruise on the S.S. Catherine for 2020)

“A few lines to thank you for the responsible efficient manner in which your organization handled this difficult situation for all the passengers.

I wish to commend the Tour Director (Louisa). She was terrific. The updated information presented at meetings was clear; she answered questions with available facts, carefully explaining details. Her approach set this tone for the right group of dynamics. No frustrations, no complaints from anyone.

Good wishes to UNIWORLD for a long corporate life!”
– Lupe Suarez

I appreciate these letters and will ensure all the crew members and employees have the opportunity to read them. I am looking forward to early September, when the River Countess will sail out the rest of the fall and then in 2020 after her transformation to the S.S. La Venezia. Please come join us!

I will end by once again praising the Uniworld team on board, on shore and in our corporate offices – I have an amazing team! I also need to thank my parent company The Travel Corporation. During and after the incident they have been incredibly compassionate and supportive. This fourth-generation, family-owned and passionately run travel company will celebrate 100 years of hospitality in 2020. This is an incredible milestone and we are honored to be part of this family and their commitment to be the very best across the travel industry. Their investment in our success can certainly be measured financially and just as importantly, it’s the investment of their time, their energy and their heart in our fleet of ships and in our team that will always ensure that we maintain our position as the World’s Best River Cruise Line.

Exterior (River Countess)

March 28, 2019


I just returned from our Uniworld 2019 Kick-Off meeting in Düsseldorf, Germany—our annual event that jumpstarts the sailing season. Our staff and crew joined together onboard the River Duchess, River Princess, River Queen, S.S. Antoinette and U River Cruises’ The A for teambuilding activities, training, a refresh on safety procedures and to help familiarize each other with what’s new across the different departments. The latter is a particularly fun day which has been dubbed “FAM Rotation Day,” which is designed to showcase each department and learn what they have in store for the upcoming cruise season. We all make rounds, touring each ship present at kick-off, sampling the kitchen’s newest dishes, hearing from the housekeeping team, learning about the new onboarding programme for our crew from human resources and much more.

This year, we also placed a special focus on our Travel Advisors, taking time to work on how we can best communicate with the people that work to continually deliver their clients the most impressive experience on the rivers. We were fortunate to have Arnie Weissmann, Editor in Chief of Travel Weekly with us to get a behind the scenes experience—check out his story here.

Seventies Themed Party
70s-themed party onboard the S.S. Antoinette

Aside from informative trainings and meetings, we managed to have a great deal of fun as well. On one night, the Sales Team hosted a “Get Your Groove On” 70s-themed party onboard the S.S. Antoinette.

Beetroot and Apple Crumble
Beetroot and Apple Crumble

A few nights later, we enjoyed a Chef’s Party in the Leopard Lounge and a special dinner to sample all the latest creations from our team of Uniworld chefs. I am not a vegetarian but always love our vegetarian dishes on board and now I have a new favorite, beetroot and apple crumble–it’s delicious. Our culinary team is stronger than ever and ready to deliver fantastic local dishes sourced from the regions we sail in along with the best selection of recipes from our founder Bea Tollman.

The week culminated with a wonderful Blue & White Ball in a beautiful botanical garden nearby. It was a spectacular evening that celebrated the hard work and dedication of our staff and crew. You have never felt so much love and excitement in a room as when the winners were announced. Our Uniworld family knows how to celebrate the successes of their fellow teammates and they are all so proud. Throughout the evening we cheered and celebrated 41 individuals; and there might even be a few names you recognize from our frontline crew:

Global Kick-Off Award Ceremony 2019
Global Kick-Off Award Ceremony
  • Bartender of the Year: Violets Sarbu
  • Butler of the Year: Marko Medic
  • Waiter of the Year: Vladimir Radenkovic
  • Sommelier of the Year: Nedko Nikolaev Nikolov
  • Concierge of the Year: Martin Jancovic
  • Well Being Coach of the Year: Dusko Vujasin
  • Purser of the Year: Marija Traikovska
  • Hotel Manager of the Year: Romica Ruse
  • Cruise Manager of the Year: Adrian Leggatt
  • Captain of the Year: Janos Varga

This was my third kick off meeting since joining Uniworld and I am already looking forward to next year since it is the one time of the year that I get the opportunity to see the majority of our crew all together. I only wish there was a way to bottle up all the energy, passion and enthusiasm our crew has; that would be worth a fortune!

I am looking forward to the 2019 sailing season knowing I have the best team on and off the ships, the most stunning fleet of ships and the full support from our owners to deliver the very best to you. We look forward to welcoming you onboard.

Uniworld's Blue & White Ball
Uniworld's Blue & White Ball

February 11, 2019


It's hard to believe it's 2019 already. A new year always comes with high hopes, and here at Uniworld, we're already rolling out some of our resolutions. Thanks to my amazing Uniworld team, we're on track to deliver a menu of exciting advancements that will unfold over the next two years. Get ready for a steady stream of new ships, new routes and splendid refurbishments to debut through 2021.

Dynasty Dining Room on the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer
Dynasty Dining Room on the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer

We’re elevating the brand by offering onboard and onshore experiences that can’t be found anywhere else—and we’re doing it by constantly evolving. Because your tastes and preferences are always changing, we’re never stagnant. We’ve pledged to grow and change with you. It started in 2017 with the launch of the fantastically French ship S.S. Joie de Vivre. We followed up in 2018 on the Danube with the Austrian-themed S.S. Beatrice.

At the beginning of this year, we introduced our guests on China’s Yangtze River to the lavish and spacious Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer. The ship boasts the largest cabins and suites in the region as well as an unparalleled 1:1 crew-to-guest ratio. In April, we will unveil the transformation of the River Royale into the S.S. Bon Voyage. Her new design highlights the region’s world-renowned wine and gastronomy. I’m excited to taste for myself and look forward to meeting some of you when I host the 2019 River Heritage Club Reunion Cruise on the June 30, 2019 sailing of Brilliant Bordeaux.

Grande Suite on the Mekong Jewel
Grande Suite on the Mekong Jewel

Even more excitement is in store for 2020, when four new Super Ships will join our fleet on the heels of the S.S. Bon Voyage. Now more than ever, we’re emphasizing what’s onboard and designing the ships to reflect their destinations in a way you’ve never seen. By 2020, 60% of our ships will be Super Ships, redefining luxury along the world’s most legendary waterways with their enhanced dining venues, additional suites, grand staircases and average capacity of 130 guests.

In Vietnam and Cambodia, guests will sail onboard the newest ship on the Mekong, the Mekong Jewel. Launching January 3, 2020, this dazzling new all-suite vessel will allow you to experience Southeast Asia’s beauty in stunning fashion. In Egypt, we’ll be introducing guests to the newest ship on the Nile, S.S. Sphinx. She’ll launch in 2020 and will transport you in style to countless bucket-list destinations. Portugal’s Douro River will be the home of the new S.S. São Gabriel. Launching in April 2020, this new vessel will replace the Queen Isabel, with onboard butler service and a higher staff-to-guest ratio. Plus, all top-deck accommodations will be suites. Launching March 27, 2020, Italy’s River Countess will become S.S. La Venezia, boasting a transformation inspired by “The City of Water.”

Caracalla Spa in Baden-Baden
Caracalla Spa in Baden-Baden

Also for 2020, we’re adding a brand-new itinerary, Rhine, Moselle & Blissful Baden-Baden, where guests will enjoy a myriad of wellness opportunities along the Moselle. As I write this I’m nursing a sore back, and a trip to the world-famous spa town of Baden-Baden sure sounds inviting. Nestled in the beautiful Black Forest, Baden-Baden has long drawn tourists to its mineral-rich thermal waters. Established over 2,000 years ago as a destination for relaxation, the city’s thermal waters are known for their healing powers, which you can experience for yourself with a trip to the Caracalla Spa and Sea Salt Grotto. I wish I could sign up for a relaxing massage right now.

I invite you to see how we’re continuing to offer the most impressive experience on the rivers, this year and beyond.

September 6, 2018


Ellen with Crew

Summer went by with a flash and it’s back to school time for my youngest daughter Abigail. It’s her senior year of high school and I swear she was just starting kindergarten. Makes you feel old, but at the same time incredibly proud.

My two years at the helm of Uniworld have flown by as well, and recently we’ve also had a lot of reasons to be proud. Over the past few weeks the awards and recognition for Uniworld have been pouring in.

Here are just a few:

  • Travel & Leisure #1 River Cruise Line: View on Travel & Leisure
  • Top European River Cruise Line in Cruise Critic’s Cruisers’ Choice Destination Awards: View on Cruise Critic
  • The A from the U by Uniworld Fleet named one of TIME Magazine’s World’s Greatest Places in 2018: View on TIME

I am so thrilled for the entire team to receive this well-deserved praise. It’s amazing to think that we would have such thrilling news so soon after the debut of our newest Super Ship, S.S. Beatrice, and the launch of our new brand, U by Uniworld In fact, we were so overjoyed to see the jaw-dropping transformation of S.S. Beatrice and our guests’ reactions to her new look in April that we couldn’t wait another second to get to work on renovating another vessel.

Uniworld Crew Uniworld Crew

In the coming months The River Royale will undergo extensive renovations and reemerge as S.S. Bon Voyage in spring 2019. She’ll still be cruising through France’s incomparable Bordeaux region when she is relaunched. S.S. Bon Voyage will be reimagined to capture the wine-making and gastronomic expertise of the region. From the design scheme to the enhanced culinary experiences onboard, it will be a unique, delightfully French experience, through and through. The S.S. Bon Voyage will be a one of a kind experience just like all of the other ships across our fleet.

She’ll boast a redesigned top deck, added swimming pool and lounge area, and two new dining venues: Le Café du Soleil and La Brasserie. The casual Le Café du Soleil, which opens up onto the new pool, will serve lighter French fares with a local spin. In the evening, the venue will transform into a bar and the setting for intimate French cooking classes with the chef. La Brasserie, a bistro inspired by Bouillon Pigalle in Paris, will be serving up delicious sharing plates reflecting local cuisine. The main dining room, Le Grand Fromage, will also have its enhancements, including a chef demonstration area and a private dining and wine tasting venue.

Plus, S.S. Bon Voyage will include four new luxury suites, marble bathrooms throughout and the gorgeous yacht-like finish that you may know from the S.S. Joie de Vivre and the S.S. Beatrice. The one thing that will not be changing is our amazing crew. Our onboard team lives by the motto “no request too large, no detail too small,” and I am so proud of each and everyone one of them. They make the difference every day!

I can’t wait to see her and experience this amazing wine region. To secure my spot onboard, I’ve arranged to host the 2019 River Heritage Club Reunion Cruise, which will take place on the June 30, 2019 sailing of Brilliant Bordeaux. I invite you to reserve your spot on this exclusive cruise and join me and my family along with fellow River Heritage Club members next summer.

Ellen and Christiane Amanpour

My final great news, in a few days Uniworld will make our television debut as the founding corporate underwriter of Amanpour & Co., a new nightly series on PBS. Amanpour & Co. features CNN’s Chief International Correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. She’ll be presenting wide-ranging and in-depth conversations with various noteworthy contributors including author, history professor and journalist Walter Isaacson, NPR host Michel Martin, PBS NewsHour Weekend anchor Hari Sreenivasan and journalist and commentator Alicia Menendez.

I had the opportunity to meet and have lunch with Christiane Amanpour. She is engaging, funny and incredibly bright. In short: perfect for the Uniworld brand. Her travel experience is a legacy of going everywhere as a renowned and trusted international correspondent for CNN. Tune in on Monday night, September 10th at 10/9c on PBS (but be sure to check your local listings as well).

Trust is very important to the Uniworld customer and that is why we chose to make our television debut with PBS. As a brand and experience we are dedicated to the highest standards of service. PBS delivers the same service for their audience with similar passion and respect. PBS shared that their viewers are 48% more likely than non-viewers to take a cruise, 66% more likely to take a foreign cruise, and 121% more likely to spend $8,000 or more on foreign travel. They are curious, well-educated and affluent—that’s the PBS audience—and it’s ours too.

Thank you for all your love and support of Uniworld.

June 28, 2018

A Great Summer Start


Hopefully, everyone’s summer is getting off to a great start. I know mine is, and it’s largely because of the support of the great staff I have here at Uniworld. I’d like to share a story that illustrates that.

While a big part of what Uniworld does is to carefully map out fascinating itineraries for our guests to enjoy from beginning to end, unforeseen incidents occasionally throw us a curve that sends us back to the charts to adjust our best laid plans.

One such unplanned “adventure” came just this week when we received word that a cargo ship was involved in an accident in a lock near Weissenkirchen, Austria, on the Danube. All boat traffic was temporarily blocked. While none of our ships were even in the area at the time, it would soon affect two of them. The River Duchess, bound for Amsterdam, and the River Princess, on her way to Budapest, were both on the Danube. Coming from opposite ends of the river, they were scheduled to pass each other during their voyages. However, with the lock out of commission for an undetermined amount of time, both ships were headed for an impasse in Weissenkirchen.

While Weissenkirchen is a quaint 14th century town, named for its white church and surrounded by vineyards, we didn’t think our guests would appreciate spending the bulk of their vacations there. Luckily, quick thinking on the part of Ben Wirz, Head of Operations in Europe, provided a brilliant alternative plan that saved the day. Since the ships are virtually identical in design, he reasoned that they could swap passengers at the disabled lock and turn around, allowing everyone to finish their planned routes—only on different vessels.

The plan was simple - the passengers on the River Duchess would leave with their luggage to make a short bus trip around the lock and check into their corresponding cabins on the River Princess. Then they would continue on to Amsterdam, almost as though nothing had happened. The River Princess guests would do the same, transferring to the River Duchess to sail on to Budapest. Voila! Not only did we solve a complex problem, but our guests got the chance to experience life onboard TWO different Uniworld ships during their trip.

I am fortunate that Uniworld has so many employees who are clever enough to react nimbly to the inconveniences (both major and minor) that from time to time arise on the river. Sometimes our guests are aware of it. Sometimes their voyages continue on seamlessly. In a way, it’s a reflection of our size. I believe that as a small, debt-free, family-owned company, our staff feels a special connection to our guests and a sense of ownership to ensure that your vacation is perfect. I know this is true from the beautiful letters I receive and the comments posted by our guests on Feefo (a platform for collecting unedited comments and ratings from our customers) that sing their praises. This positive attitude and genuine caring spirit is in our DNA and makes us special.

Ellen with Mr. and Mrs. Tollman

At the same time, Uniworld also enjoys the travel expertise and support that comes from being under the umbrella of The Travel Corporation, the 30 + brand tourism company that was founded more than 50 years ago by Beatrice and Stanley Tollman. Providing excellence in travel experiences has always been the goal throughout the corporation. Perhaps you are familiar with some of these companies that provide family, individual and youth tours, luxury hotel accommodations and safari adventures across six continents; brands like Brendan Vacations, Contiki, Trafalgar and The Red Carnation Hotel Collection are just some of our amazing sister brands. I’m thrilled that our past Uniworld guests are able to take advantage of a past-passenger discount with any of our sister brands and of course on your next Uniworld cruise.

Finally, I am very happy to announce that I am planning my next Uniworld experience on the S.S. Joie de Vivre on December 6th when I will be hosting a River Heritage Club Reunion Cruise. It’s my chance to meet with more of our amazing guests, share in the Uniworld experience together, and listen to the feedback our guests have on the services we offer. My husband Jack and I are looking forward to connecting with our customers while enjoying Paris and other enchanting French cities on the Seine during the holiday season.

One thing is for sure: we will be in great hands with our amazing staff looking after us. I hope you will consider joining me on the incredible S.S. Joie de Vivre.

April 27, 2018

From Ship to Super Ship

S.S. Beatrice Lobby Staircase

I have witnessed the renovation of many a ship in my career, but the word we usually use to describe it—refurbishment—hardly does justice to what just happened to the River Beatrice. “Incredible transformation” was the term that rushed to my mind when she debuted on April 4th as our newest Super Ship the S.S. Beatrice. From stem to stern, she is more dazzling than ever.

You step aboard and are greeted by a grand staircase—the signature design element of all our Super Ships—then quickly realise that, from its yacht-inspired décor to its new dining and public spaces to its collection of fine art, you are experiencing a brand new Beatrice.

Wolfgangs Lounge

The Super Ship designation is the one we reserve for the newest vessels in our fleet. Now with a total of five, the growing category is taking the river cruising experience to the ultimate level. River travel may have its size limitations—based on the size of the locks, the ships can only be so long and so wide—but Uniworld has found a way to stretch the boundaries. We do it, not by making the ships bigger, but by making them better.

The S.S. Beatrice is bright, modern and elegant and every detail is perfect. The new visual motif is based on yacht-style blonde wood and touches of blue and white everywhere. The lounge features sofas and chairs with hand-made upholstery, a parquet floor, upholstered ceiling panels, solar shades and new USB ports allowing guests to charge their devices anywhere they are sitting.

You are greeted by elegance right off the gangplank, just after you meet our security guard that is (a standard on all our Uniworld ships). The lobby features a white Murano Chandelier with blue shades, elegant mirrors and white marble floors. The grand staircase, fashioned from nickel and iron, follows. Then you’ll start to notice the original artwork placed throughout the ship–pieces by Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder and Pino Signoretto.


To enhance the onboard culinary experience, we added two additional dining venues. Located at the stern, Max’s is named for the Austrian-born composer Max Stein who wrote the scores for Gone with the Wind, Little Women and King Kong. He was also the first recipient of the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, which he won for his score for Life with Father and his wife’s name was Beatrice–what a coincidence! Max’s offers intimate cooking classes led by the chef as well as the best reimagined steak dinner on the rivers with gorgeous meat aged to perfection in our dry ager.

Schubert’s Sharing

At the ship’s graceful new bow is the other dining addition: Schubert’s. It’s an Austrian-styled café that offers lunch and afternoon refreshments. In the evening, the wonderful locally-inspired menu starts off with a tempting shared plate and ends with Mrs. Tollman’s famous Honeycomb Ice Cream. Of course, Mozart’s, the ship’s main restaurant, and Wolgang’s, the bar and lounge, are always an option. (Are you starting to recognize the Austrian composer theme here?)

S.S. Beatrice Royal Suite

And while we couldn’t make the ship any bigger, no one said we couldn’t add suites. The S.S. Beatrice has two new Grand Suites (310 square feet) as well as an additional Royal/Owner’s Suite (390 square feet). The staterooms are pretty amazing in themselves. They all come with the usual lush, Uniworld appointments: marble bathrooms, ample storage space, Savoir® of England beds draped in high-thread-count 100% Egyptian cotton sheets and European duvets, along with a menu of pillow options. Connecting rooms, ideal for friends and families traveling together, have also been added.

Lest you get the idea that this Super Ship is only about onboard amenities, let me describe the inaugural itinerary. The Highlights of Eastern Europe cruise is a 10-day trip beginning in Budapest, Hungary, and ending in Bucharest, Romania. Before the journey begins you can explore Budapest on one of our Do As the Locals Do excursions or by exclusive guided Let’s Go bicycle tour. In Croatia, you can see ajvar being made in the courtyard of a monastery or visit the Vucedol Culture Museum followed by lunch at the Goldschmidt winery. Belgrade offers a plethora of architectural styles – Gothic, Ottoman, baroque, art noveau, modern high-rises as well the opportunity to explore the 19th century Residence of Princess Ljuubica and tomb and memorial of Josip Broz Tito. When you get to Golubac, the Danube presents more of its treasures, like the Iron Gates, an 83-mile stretch of scenic gorges cut through mountains that offers dramatic and beautiful sights. In Vidin, drive through scenic Bulgarian red rock country to Belogradchik and explore the astonishing rock formations nearby. Rousse has the ruins and history of Veliko Tarnovo, perched on the hills above the Yantra River. Finally, in Bucharest, there’s the chance to explore the opulent Ceausescu Mansion, home of Romania’s infamous former leader, Nicolae Ceausescu. And that’s just the beginning. This is an itinerary not to be missed!

In other exciting news, I’m already planning a cruise on another one of our newest Super Ships. Beginning December 6th my husband Jack and I will be hosting a River Heritage Club reunion cruise on the beautiful S.S. Joie de Vivre on our Parisian Royal Holiday itinerary. Please come join us as we explore the Christmas markets of France and have some fun!

March 29, 2018

Uniworld 2018 Global Kick-Off

The minute I walked in the room I knew I was going to throw my diet overboard. Spread before me in the dining room of the beautiful River Duchess was the most sumptuous banquet I’d ever seen—or smelled.

At the beginning of March, I attended the annual Uniworld 2018 Kickoff event—our final run-up to the beginning of the cruise season. Our crew members come together to hone their skills and look at new ways to enhance the experiences of our guests. One of my favorite days is our “FAM rotation day” designed so that employees can familiarize themselves with what the other departments have in store. Everyone tours each section of the ship every year. This day, the kitchen was showing off the bounty of food that they would soon be offering our guests in the upcoming sailing season.

Chocolate Slider

The room was filled with table after table of tempting dishes. Bernhard Zorn, our Culinary Director, a Master Chef certified by the World’s Association of Chefs, with over 30 years of experience, had outdone himself. New sinful selections like the chocolate hamburger and scrumptious cupcakes along with some gorgeous healthy selections like the quinoa burger and the cauliflower steak.

Appetizer Platter

I could have filled up on that spread alone, but I needed to soldier through if I was going to sample something from each tasting plate. There were new soups, local meats and an array of cheeses. In addition, several delicious recipes were inspired by our guiding force at Uniworld, Mrs. Beatrice Tollman, from her cookbook A Life in Food, a book I keep on hand in my home kitchen.

Of course, every plate had a suggested wine pairing curated by our sommeliers, who choose from only the finest wines sourced from renowned vineyards and regions our guests sail through. Moreover, Uniworld (which is part of The Travel Corporation and owned by the Tollman family) also serves the family’s vineyard—Bouchard Finlayson’s award-winning wines—aboard every ship.

I made a mental note that after this I’d have to avoid the bar—tempting as it would be. Not only are Uniworld’s onboard bars stocked with 11 vodkas, including Grey Goose and Chopin, as well as 28 different whiskies and bourbons, each ship has a signature cocktail based on ingredients sourced from the region it sails through. And if you’re not a spirits person, you can enjoy unique lagers, ales and stouts crafted by small specialty brewers in Europe.

It was just my luck that the last station I arrived at featured the Traveling Lite menu, our selections for those interested in healthier, as well as vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dining options. Why couldn’t I have found this first – it was all amazing! Anyway, the point is you won’t go hungry onboard a Uniworld ship.

Ellen with Butlers

Lest you think Kickoff Week 2018 only showcased dining and drinking options, there was plenty for me to experience as we reviewed procedures in every aspect of the Uniworld experience.

Many of our staff have worked with us for over a decade and 93% of our crew return to Uniworld from one season to the next. We boast the highest staff-to-guest ratio in the industry, and everyone is a consummate professional. Valentin Gradescu, our lead butler reviewed room procedures and another one of our dignified butlers, Sandor Tomasek, went over phone etiquette and communication to ensure they are always at the top of their game.

Of course, our butler programme is another source of great pride for Uniworld and we recapped all their duties onboard with everyone randomly involved. These professionals are educated under the tutelage of Zita Langenstein, at England’s Ivor Spencer Butler School, adhering to the same standards of excellence required by Buckingham Palace.


I’m a devoted fan of Downton Abbey, but here’s one thing I’ve never seen on TV: the prospective butlers actually being trained by serving other experienced butlers. Who better to guide them, I suppose?

There is one thing our butlers don’t do: venture into other positions. They assume the role of butler 100% of the time. That way they can focus on delivering an exemplary experience around the clock.

However, every team member onboard Uniworld from the housekeepers to the bartenders has a common bond. They are all guided by the mantra: “No request too large, no detail too small”

The week ended with an incredible celebration to thank the crew for all they do every day. It was a beautiful event and an evening filled with love. All of us look forward to welcoming you onboard this season.

Hat Toss

January 26, 2018

Ushering in a new era of Uniworld

Ellen and Beatrice Tollman

I hope everyone had a joyous holiday season and a Happy New Year! It was a wonderful time to reflect on just how much Uniworld has accomplished in the last year and prepare for all of the momentous occasions we have in store for 2018. In the spirit of fresh starts and new things, I wanted to take a moment to share a few of my resolutions for the coming year.

Get in shape.

I know, I know, that’s everyone’s New Year’s resolution. But at least when I’m traveling to visit our ships I’ll be able to take advantage of our well-equipped, onboard fitness centers. As well as riding a stationary bike, I might also venture ashore on some of the many guided mobile bicycle excursions available. Hopefully I won’t forget that all the galleys also serve delicious light fare alternatives for those who do not want to indulge in the many dishes that are always tempting me.

Find time to relax.

Every hectic schedule should be balanced with some downtime. When I’m onboard I look to the morning yoga sessions and the Serenity River Spa on our European voyages (when I want to pair my meditation with real indulgence).

Pilot one of our Super Ships through a lock on the Seine.

Well, that one isn’t going to happen. It would violate too many waterway regulations without my going to school and learning the ropes like our talented and dedicated crew.


The family has finally settled into a new house since I relocated for my position at Uniworld. And I’m itching to make some changes. Maybe I’ll consult with the Uniworld design team that has managed to pack so many special touches into every ship of the line. Of course, that might give my husband, Jack, heart failure.

Learn bartending.

My favorite cocktail to mix is a Bourbon Old Fashioned, but I hope to widen my horizons with some of the specialty cocktails available onboard. Our experienced bartenders hold regular seminars on how to fix them.

More family time.

All of us with a busy schedule hopes for quality time with their families. Mine includes my teenager Abigail and college grad Grace, who is leaving the nest soon for her own apartment. We’re already planning a voyage through Vietnam and Cambodia in December.

Try a meal I’ve never had.

I mean that figuratively as well as literally. 2017 was a year of many spectacular firsts and has motivated me to continue experiencing those precious moments of discovery in 2018 and beyond. From learning which dishes are guest-favorites onboard and what European UNESCO World Heritage Sites are most popular, to discovering the history of Amsterdam’s famous Rijksmuseum and why guests love certain destinations, there’s no greater feeling than truly understanding why our guests return to Uniworld time and time again. In 2018, I’m thrilled to continue delving into and experiencing the cultures of the magnificent places we visit.

Get to know more of our guests, staff and crew on a personal level.

This is a never-ending endeavor. My first full year as President & CEO included a lot of listening, learning and meeting new people, something I’ve particularly enjoyed. I’ve had the pleasure of forming bonds with so many wonderful people in the Uniworld family, hearing their stories and discovering what drives them to create the best possible experiences for our guests. That spirit after all is an integral part of the Uniworld experience. We pride ourselves on our dedicated and passionate team, whose commitment to excellence and love for what they do stems from their relationships with guests. I’m extremely grateful to be a part of such an incredible, supportive and spirited family who inspire me to make everyone feel as welcomed and as accommodated as I’ve been.

A look at the year ahead

A lot of exciting things are coming to fruition in the next few months, and I’m so excited to watch our planning and hard work brought to life for you to finally enjoy. On our April 4, 2018 sailing of Highlights of Eastern Europe, the S.S. Beatrice will make her much-anticipated debut. We’ve spent the last several months readying her for her maiden voyage, transforming the River Beatrice into our magnificent fifth Super Ship. After going an extensive bow-to-stern renovation, S.S. Beatrice will re-emerge with a fresh, sleek look and graceful bow, redesigned lounge, an elegant grand staircase, two new Royal Suites, an additional Owner’s Suite and several connecting rooms ideal for families traveling together. She will truly rival her sister ship the S.S. Joie de Vivre. I invite you to experience the magic of river cruising onboard our newest Super Ship, S.S. Beatrice, as she cruises along Europe’s dazzling waterways on some of our most beloved itineraries.

2018 is an especially big year for U by Uniworld. Its first open-to-the-public cruise aboard The A happens April 14. Guests will be Rolling on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Frankfurt in a few shorts months. They’ll discover one-of-a-kind experiences fit for any travel personality. Adventurers can go blokarting on the beach in Haarlem, foodies can take a mouthwatering crash course on Dutch cheese, history buffs can learn how Jewish people played a crucial role in the city of Frankfurt’s success and night owls can follow a local expert on an exploration of Amsterdam’s notorious Red Light District. With U, guests will find that there’s truly something for everyone. And that’s just one of six phenomenal itineraries. After the excitement surrounding U’s inaugural cruise in October, we’re eagerly awaiting The A and The B to officially set sail and make their mark on the industry. We can’t wait to welcome a whole new generation of guests to the world of river cruising.

With all that’s going on, I won’t have to search far for resolutions for next year.

What are your resolutions for 2018? If they involve new experiences, expanded horizons, or revisiting a place you hold dear to your heart, we’d be honored to be a part of them. Here’s to another year and another opportunity to full of accomplishments.

December 21, 2017

2017: The year our world got even bigger.

Cruise Critic awards

When I look back on 2017, I’m reminded of so many memories, many of which seem like they were just last week. Time flies when you spend it well, there was never a shortage of exciting moments. 2017 marked my first full year as President & CEO of Uniworld, making it all the more memorable. I wasn’t the only one who thought so. This year Uniworld received several recognitions from Cruise Critic, including the following 2017 Editors’ Picks Awards in the River category. In the U.S. we were awarded “Best New River Ship” for S.S. Joie de Vivre and “Best Service”, in Australia “Best River Cruise Line”, and in the UK “Best River Cruise Line”, “Best River Cruise Line for Luxury”, and “Best River Cruise Line for Service”.

2017 came right out of the gate with a bright start, as we launched a new marketing campaign titled The World Is Your Canvas. When I first stepped on a Uniworld ship years ago, it was like nothing else I had ever experienced—one of a kind in every sense. It felt like I was in a luxury boutique hotel, museum and five-star restaurant at the same time. Our The World Is Your Canvas campaign was created to capture these artistic elements and breathtaking moments that you’re bound to experience on your cruise and to share those with past guests and Uniworld first-timers alike. So much of the amazing destination experience is interwoven into what you’ll encounter onboard, from meals made with ingredients sourced from just miles down the road, paired with local wines, to a ship design that draws inspiration from the places you visit. The world is beautiful, our ships are spectacular and your canvas is blank to build your perfect vacation.

Spring sprung in vibrant fashion at Uniworld, with the launch of a new Super Ship, S.S. Joie de Vivre. From the very beginning, S.S. Joie de Vivre was a labor of love and passion, all of which is very apparent the moment you step onboard. I don’t know how Toni Tollman and the Uniworld design team manage to repeatedly outdo themselves with each new ship build, but they did and the S.S. Joie de Vivre is stunning through and through. The design, reminiscent of 20th-century Paris, is both classic and innovative—just wait until you see the pool in Club L’Esprit transform into Claude’s supper club in the evening. Amid all the Tiny Noticeable Touches and astonishing features, one of my favorite activities onboard is to simply sit in Le Salon Toulouse and look out the window, with a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. “The joy of living” shines through every aspect of the ship, and if you didn’t get a chance to cruise with her in 2017, I’d love to invite you to do so next year.

S.S. Joie de Vivre wasn’t the only reason to get excited this year. We also announced the launch of U by Uniworld, our groundbreaking and innovative endeavor to share the love of river cruising with a new generation—21-45 year olds, specifically. In October, we hosted an inaugural cruise from Paris to Paris, bringing social media influencers, travel agents and a few lucky guests onboard. To say it was fun doesn’t even scratch the surface. There was brunch on a double-decker bus, kayak excursions, a silent disco, a pajama party and so much delicious food. The ship design was equally as impressive. The all-black hull of The B couldn’t help but attract some stares as we sailed down the Seine River. Onboard, the design feels sexy, modern and inviting. It’s a boutique hotel in and of itself, and incorporates design elements that appeal to our 20- to 40-something guests. 2017 was just the beginning for U, as the first open-to-the-public cruises will set sail in spring of 2018.

This past summer, I had the pleasure of traveling with my husband Jack on our Gems of Northern Italy sailing, as part of my President’s Voyage. This itinerary is not our typical sailing. Instead of cruising down a river, our River Countess cruises up and down the Venice lagoon, docking at different areas of the island and allowing you to explore this unique Italian gem in depth. It’s truly a floating boutique hotel. You step right off the ship and you’re in the heart of Venice each day—it couldn’t be more convenient. For us, it was the perfect pace of having multiple excursions and activities to choose from each day, while leaving time to relax and enjoy each other’s company. If you’ve cruised with us on a more traditional itinerary and are looking for something a bit different, I strongly recommend this sailing.

What a year 2017 has been. One of the many aspects that drew me into Uniworld was The Travel Corporation’s family-focused approach to running the many companies in their portfolio. In my first full year, I feel so fortunate to be able to work alongside Brett Tollman and the entire Tollman family to continually take Uniworld to new heights. The Tollmans’ passion for travel and their dedication to creating the best experiences for our guests are contagious, and drive our entire team to push the envelope day in and day out.

It will be hard to top 2017, but given some exciting announcements we have in the works, 2018 will keep the momentum going. I wish you all a happy new year and the opportunity to colour your canvas however you choose.

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