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

April 3, 2020

We Will Navigate Through this Together

2020 Uniworld Gala
2020 Uniworld Gala

How quickly things change.

Just over a month ago, I was in Düsseldorf aboard the S.S. Antoinette with our sales team and crew members for Uniworld’s annual kick-off event. We worked hard all week preparing for the 2020 season and ended the event on a high note, celebrating the team’s success and anticipating a year of adventure.

As the entire world is now aware, travel plans have been put on hold for the immediate future. Nevertheless, the progress that Uniworld has been able to make up until this point has me very excited for the season ahead, whenever it will commence. Our fleet stands ready to sail along with our wonderful onboard crew, who I’m happy to report we will be able to retain.

In the meantime, here are some of the many exciting things you can look forward to:

  • S.S. São Gabriel is getting its finishing touches and will be the most luxurious ship on Portugal’s Douro River. The ship’s entire top deck is fitted with suites and we have created additional dining venues giving guests options which enhance the experience. The incredible essence of Portugal has been brought to life onboard with bright Portuguese tiles and local art. I look forward to sailing on the Douro in the near future.
  • The S.S. Antoinette, which sails on the popular Castles along the Rhine itinerary, was the first Super Ship in the Uniworld fleet and this past winter she was refreshed to ensure she continues to delight guests for years to come. Three of her suites were completely transformed and all her staterooms rejuvenated. The S.S. Antionette is ready to go!
  • Our new Peruvian experiences will launch September 23, 2020. With most of Peru covered in jungle, river cruising is one of the best, and sometimes only, ways to explore the dense Amazon. We have two immersive itineraries to offer, both based out of the port of Iquitos. For both the 11- and 15-day experiences we have partnered with Aqua Expeditions. Guests will enjoy the all-suite Aria Amazon ship. The itineraries have been on sale for only a few short months, and I am thrilled to see that 82% of the guests are past passengers. Come join them!
  • New Crew Cabins
    New Crew Cabins
    One enhancement you will not be able to see, but we are still very proud of, is the new living spaces our crew will enjoy. Over the winter we also completed new crew cabins on River Duchess, S.S. La Venezia, S.S. Beatrice and River Princess. These new crew cabins are well designed, bright and welcoming, because our wonderful crew deserves the very best – just like our guests!
  • Last but not least is the incredible transformation of River Countess to S.S. La Venezia. The S.S. La Venezia is just about ready to go. The final stages were brought to a halt when our team from the Netherlands were sent home prior to the quarantine to ensure they remained safe. We are anxious to get back onboard to make the final touches and at last show off the latest new floating boutique hotel in Venice. S.S. La Venezia has been designed to celebrate Venice’s history of artistic movements, immersing guests in Venetian style and antiquity. Much of the décor has been influenced by the local design house, Fortuny, creators of fine, handmade, printed cloth since 1907. These exquisite Venetian fabrics are an elegant homage to mid-century Italian style, sweeping floor to ceiling throughout the ship. Every space has been designed to celebrate Venice. Whether guests stay in a classic stateroom, one of the four junior suites or two grand suites, they will experience the unmistakable essence of the city from the meticulously orchestrated décor. S.S. La Venezia’s restaurants and bars are culinary revelries, fit for a country famous for its unique cuisine. As expected from Uniworld’s signature dining experience, there are several options to choose from. Italy is one of the most sought-after destinations and I personally can’t wait to step onboard and experience S.S. La Venezia for myself.
The Chefs of Uniworld
The Chefs of Uniworld

We have a lot to look forward to, and most of all—being together again. Most of our crew are at home anxiously awaiting the first sailings of 2020. Each of our ship’s Hotel Managers and Captains are in constant contact with them, keeping them informed and ensuring they have what they need. All the ships are docked and manned with a Captain, an engineer and a few sailors to ensure they continue to be properly maintained and secure.

I am at my home in Westlake Village, CA and spending my days in video meetings with my employees in the US, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Singapore and Switzerland. All our employees are safe at home, spending some extra time with loved ones and learning how to maneuver through these times. I have tried to keep a regular routine of getting up early, going on long walks (which includes a huge hill) and connecting with my team virtually. We are busy finalizing Uniworld’s 2021 brochure and developing our 2022 itineraries, connecting with partners and adjusting plans so we are ready to go when the time is right.

Today, I’m hosting a virtual happy hour with my teams and am looking forward to seeing all their faces, making sure they are well, sharing stories of containment and reminding them that we are very fortunate. Uniworld is a proud member of The Travel Corporation, a fourth-generation, family-owned and passionately family-run company. We are completely debt-free and financially very strong. I am confident that we will get through this crisis and come out even stronger. We have the support, the team and the most beautiful floating boutique hotels and we will be here for a long time to come, working together to deliver the very best!

I am so honored to lead the dedicated and passionate Uniworld team and we all look forward to welcoming you onboard very soon.

The Captains of Uniworld
The Captains of Uniworld

February 14, 2020

All We Need is Love

Ellen and her Husband, Jack

Love for travel. Love for life. Love for good food. And most importantly, love for all the people we meet along the way. I am fortunate to have found the job I love in travel with Uniworld and the love of my life over 27 years ago, my husband, Jack.

Something that’s always stood out to me working with Uniworld is how open and warm the environment is, both in our offices and on our ships. I see our teams forming lasting connections all the time and it never fails to brighten my day, so I thought I’d brighten yours too by sharing some of my favorite love stories from onboard our ships.


Menno + Alexandra

Menno + Alexandra

During the winter season in 2005, I was working the bar onboard the River Queen on embarkation day when I noticed two ladies walking into the lounge. I pulled some funny faces at the girls to make them laugh, so they came to sit at the bar, and I learned that they were from Uniworld’s LA reservations team. I immediately liked Alex – her smile could light up the sky. They ended up joining me and some colleagues for drinks at a local bar and she stole my heart. Alex says I won her over later that week during the Crew Show onboard, when I serenaded her with my “Dutch Elvis” impression, singing “It’s Now or Never”.

In my free time, when we were able to get off the ship and wander the villages, we realized that this was more than just friendship… but the week had to come to an end. Our last evening together was so romantic – the moon was full, and the trees and paths were full of snow. The photo here is from that evening (we called it our ‘engagement photo’ because we already knew).

Henkjan + Anna

Henkjan + Anna

June 5, 2012. That was the day my future wife entered the gangway of the S.S. Antoinette, when we were docked in Speyer, Germany. Needing to know who this woman was, I did some investigating and discovered that her name was Anna and that she had come from Slovakia to work with us. Working together, we realized how much we enjoyed spending time together. We worked together for many more seasons and our relationship grew. Eventually she stopped working on the ships and is now working back in the Netherlands, where we live happily together with our two daughters.

Peter + Jana

Peter + Jana

This is the story of how I met my wife…
I had been working with Uniworld for 9 years as a chef and one day, the Hotel manager mentioned that a new purser from Slovakia would be coming onboard. I’m not sure how, maybe because I am also Slovakian, but I knew that we would be together. And I was right. The next day, she was sitting in the office and I walked in, without any greeting, and said only that I would introduce myself later. She must have thought I was so lofty and arrogant for not talking to her…

Later that evening we had a crew party on the sundeck. I took a bottle of wine and two glasses and sat next to her. We had a very nice conversation over that bottle of wine, during which she told me that she had just gotten out of a long relationship and had come onboard to forget him, build a career and take a break from men.

Well, plans changed for her and one year later she was pregnant with our first child and we are now about to have our second. We are the happiest couple in the world, and I love her so much. Thank you, Uniworld, for introducing me to my wife!

P.S. If you haven’t already, it would be an honor if you shared your love for Uniworld in the 2020 Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards. Help us win “#1 River Cruise Line” for the third year in a row! Voting ends March 2, 2020. Vote Now >

January 7, 2020

Always Packed: My Top 10 Bucket List for 2020

President's Cruise onboard the S.S. Bon Voyage
President's Cruise onboard the S.S. Bon Voyage

It’s true what they say. Travel planning is one of the most satisfying and pleasurable parts of the travel process. It’s when the dream takes shape as plans of where to go (and what to do, see, eat, sip, learn and possibly acquire) are conjured up in my imagination. And at each new year I take a moment to reflect on where I’ve been and even better, where in the world I intend to be.

Dune of Pilat Sunset
Dune of Pilat

My travel wishes for 2019—the chance to explore more of the Europe I thought I knew so well—came true. Best of all, I got to experience these fascinating places: beautiful Bordeaux, charming Porto, and surprising Guernsey all for the first time. In addition, I made my annual trip to visit with my team and partners in Sydney, Singapore and Malaysia.

During the annual President’s Cruise aboard the reimagined S.S. Bon Voyage I took a sunrise hike to the otherworldly Dune of Pilat, Europe’s highest sand dune. I met with partners to prepare for the S.S. São Gabriel in lovely Porto. I joined TTC colleagues at Red Carnation’s The Duke of Richmond Hotel on the English Channel island of Guernsey. It was an incredible escape to a place I had dreamed about after reading the bestselling novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. (All those hours on planes give me time to catch up on my reading.) I also got to see some of the island’s 1,400 cows and beautiful beaches. On a more personal (and less far-flung) note, I also achieved one of my most important goals for 2019: getting my youngest daughter settled into her first year of college at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. It involved several treks to my hometown, including moving her in and visiting parents weekend, and, I am happy to report, resulted in a great first semester for someone I can’t stop thinking of as a toddler.

Ellen with her family

For 2020, I hope to travel to the rain forest of the Amazon to the deserts of Egypt and Jordan. I’ll return to favorite cities Venice and Budapest and discover places I’ve only dreamed about, including Prague, Vietnam and Cambodia. And I’ll follow personal passions to explore Down Under, go wine tasting in nearby Napa and chase the royal lifestyle in the English countryside and Scottish Highland.

Here then, my top ten list. Truly, my bucket runneth over…

1. Sydney – I have been to Sydney several times but always on business. That changes this February, when I plan a “bleisure” trip, extending a work trip to play tourist for a few days with my husband Jack. We plan to hike up the Sydney Bridge, meet the local Kangaroos and of course sample their famous wines. Thanks to AAT Kings’ easily consumed short breaks and day trips.


2. Jordan – The S.S. Sphinx sets sail in September and if she’s not sold out, I fully intend to join a voyage in the fall. While I’ve been to Egypt, Uniworld offers the option to experience Jordan and I am very excited to visit the Iraq Al Amir Women’s Cooperative, the organization funded by TreadRight that helps women gain and maintain their independence. This experience brings to life The Pledge I took along with my colleges and customers to Make Travel Matter.

3. Prague – The capital of the Czech Republic has been on my bucket list for much too long, and 2020 is the year I finally visit the “City of a Hundred Spires”, when I host our annual President’s Cruise along the Danube. I plan to finally get there when I take advantage of Uniworld’s three-day Prague extension and finally experience the many cultural attractions, many of which survived the violence and destruction of 20th-century Europe. Main attractions include Prague Castle, Charles Bridge and the Old Town Square with the Prague astronomical clock. I can’t wait to explore!


4. Napa – Apparently there is more to California than LA and the confines of the southern reaches of the state. After living here for three years, I intend to discover Northern California with my sister brand Trafalgar Tours. From sipping wine in the Napa valley to discovering the beauty of Yosemite, it will be special to wander and wonder so close to home. I love the idea that it will all be planned and curated for me.


5. New Zealand – This year, I purchased an electric car, added solar panels to my home and like Uniworld, banished plastic water bottles and focused on reducing single-use plastic. So you can see, my family and I are committed to environmental sustainability. In 2020, I will be turning to Inspiring Journeys’ and New Zealand to strengthen that dedication. New Zealand not only has a reputation as one of the most beautiful places on earth, but also for its own commitment to sustaining that environment. In discovering Inspired Journeys, which offers small-group, immersive journeys to remote locations there. I can’t wait to enjoy an authentic encounter with choice scenery, the freshest food, great wines and the nicest people. Preserving what is best for others to enjoy is a journey everyone needs to go on.

New Zealand

6. Great Britain – I have read every book by English historical novelist Philippa Gregory, am utterly obsessed with television’s The Crown and yes, have watched every Royal wedding since Charles married Diana. So I am very excited to live out some of my royal fantasies this summer on Luxury Gold’s British Royal itinerary. The nine-day coach trip takes you beyond the usual London stops to explore inner Britain, visiting castles and countryside, through storied stops like Stonehenge, Bath and the Lake District.

Great Britan

7. Peru – The Peruvian Amazon was on my bucket list long before it became Uniworld’s newest destination. I cannot wait to explore the rich culture and diversity of landscapes on this amazing 15-day adventure. Uniworld has enhanced the traditional Peruvian Amazon Experience by adding a pre-extension in Lima and post-extension to Machu Picchu. It’s an opportunity to experience the region and its natural beauty, while being pampered.

8. Stonehenge – My passion for historical fiction is especially piqued when the story is intertwined with romance, a literary feat that author Diana Galbadon of Outlander fame does so well. Her series of novels kicks off when the heroine Claire Randall, a WWII combat nurse, wanders into a passage that transports her in time. The scene takes place at a fictional prehistoric stone circle, but it is certainly inspired by Stonehenge. Now, I’m bent on finding that time warp. To make it so, I plan to turn to our partner Evan Evans, which offers fantastic day tours that cover the Royals and historical fiction. If I don’t come back, look for me in the 18th century.


9. Vietnam and Cambodia – These countries have called out me for a long time, and I know they would be equally intriguing to my family. In fact, I’m thinking of surprising them with a trip over Christmas 2020 on Uniworld’s new Mekong Jewel. Replacing the Mekong Navigator, it is an all-suite Super Ship, built with sustainable, eco-friendly materials, but comprising Uniworld’s usual luxurious appointments. It will be a treat to celebrate the end of the year and a chance to connect with my adult daughters and my husband, a child of the ‘60s who finds it ironic that Vietnam is now on his bucket list.

Vietnam Halong Bay

10. Venice – Even while I’ve visited it many times, Italy holds a permanent top place on my travel bucket list, with its richness of history and beauty. Now Uniworld provides another irresistible reason to go back, the launch of the new S.S. La Venezia in one of my favorite Italian cities: Venice. Our newest Super Ship will not disappoint. It will have more suites and more dining venues, as well as authentic luxurious finishes that bring the essence of Italy onboard. Another reason to say “si” to this incredible place of art, culture, food and life. Ciao, bello!

New Ship

I hope you enjoyed reading and are inspired to pack up and go on an incredible adventure in 2020!

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 program 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 realize 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 program 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 color your canvas however you choose.

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