The Art of River Cruising

Welcome to The Art of River Cruising, my new blog on all things Uniworld. Each month I'll be sharing a new post with you highlighting all the exciting things happening at Uniworld. I hope you enjoy reading!

Ellen Bettridge

Uniworld President & CEO

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.

Butlers

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.

Redecorate.

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.