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

February 23, 2018

Romance is in the air

Ellen and Jack

Inspired by The Bachelor

What is it about seeing something on television that makes it come into focus? Our U by Uniworld team has been working diligently to realise the dream of a Uniworld experience accessible to a younger audience. But it took TV’s The Bachelor for us to realise what we’d achieved. You see, The B served as a floating hotel during a week of Parisian adventures when the remaining women vied for the heart of Bachelor, Arie Luyendyk Jr. When the ABC reality TV show aired on February 5, we all—of course—returned to the office after hours together to watch the national broadcast debut of our baby, The B. Audible shrieks filled the room when the gleaming black ship made her entrance. The excitement was palpable, even among those of us who had been there for the last year’s launch. As we watched the episode together, we knew that millions of people were getting their first look at U by Uniworld and The B—and becoming as big fans as we already are.

In fact, we were so inspired by seeing their romantic getaway in the “City of Light,” that we unveiled U Get the Rose, a Bachelor-inspired romance package that traces some of the experiences the ladies of The Bachelor had in Paris. This package, available on U’s The Seine Experience itinerary, includes a bottle of rosé in your room at check-in, romantic rose petal turndown service, breakfast in bed, a romantic movie on the rooftop deck, a night experience for two at the Eiffel Tower and one night camping under the stars in a tent for two on the rooftop deck.

My Top 3 Romantic Getaways

That got me to thinking that romantic getaways aren’t limited to The B. In fact, I’m now planning the next destination where my husband, Jack, and I can be swept away. The challenge is always whether we should explore someplace we’ve never seen or return to a favorite location we’ve enjoyed so much–especially when experienced on an ultra-luxurious river cruise. This month, I’ve decided to share with you my Top 3 Romantic Getaways perfect for any time of year and any occasion.

1. Italy

Inevitably, a certain magic captivates you on your very first visit to Northern Italy. For me, it was the art. Milan is home to Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” Venice boasts the famous Biennale art exhibition and Ferrara is an astonishing ancient centre for the arts and a beautifully preserved Renaissance city. Our Gems of Northern Italy itinerary allows you to uncover hidden treasures and iconic sites in the most intimate and special of ways. Last summer we got lost on foot in alleyways of Venice, and a friendly gondolier came to our rescue. We were almost back to the River Countess when we decided instead to make a pit stop at the Venetian Baroque-style Santa Maria di Nazareth Church. Her interior is filled with elaborate paintings and frescoes–some of the most beautiful and intricate works of art I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. It was the perfect mix of relaxing and taking in the sights. Between days of exploring local markets and Venetian architecture and evenings spent dining on the ship’s top deck with a glass of Veneto wine in hand, our cruise was spectacular. It’s only been a year, but Venice is calling again.

2. France

I’ve also been dreaming of a douceur de vivre (sweet life) indulgence in southwest France. Our Bordeaux, Vineyards & Châteaux itinerary treats you to every pleasure the region affords. It’s easy to understand why Bordeaux has been described as an oenophile’s paradise and a sight-seers dream as you travel along the captivating Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde rivers through one of the world’s most celebrated wine regions. The views are breathtaking, the wine is impeccable and the culture is fascinating. I’ve been itching to travel onboard the River Royale and experience the phenomenal nightly pre-dinner wine presentations from our onboard sommeliers. Our guests say that every word resonates with passion as each night, their sommelier managed to teach them something new, despite spending much of their day visiting renowned vineyards and wine châteaux. For example, your find out through a food pairing that Bordeaux Pauillac wine is often goes best with venison, rather than the traditional beef and poultry. Our staff and crew are dedicated to creating just such unforgettable moments for our guests. I’m dreaming of spending a blissful day in Cadillac, sipping delicious Sauternes at Château de Cazenueve, an impressive 14th century fortress nestled on the river bank. Dessert wines always seem to hit the spot and Cadillac’s dessert wine is some of the most delicious. So put, the Bordeaux region is high on our list of places we want to go.

3. Portugal

Between charming quintas, dramatic landscapes and delicious wine, Portugal has something for everyone to enjoy. To me, nothing quite matches the colorful capital city of Lisbon, where countless architectural treasures, mouthwatering foods and extraordinary museums just wait to be uncovered. The Douro Valley has been producing wine for 2,000 years and you’ll also find plenty of opportunities to sample the region’s emblematic fortified wine: Port. I suggest a stop at the lovely Quinta de Avessada, where you can learn how winemakers produce their delicious Moscatel, a wine consumed almost exclusively in Portugal. This hilltop winery is as breathtaking as they come. The ride to summit top alone is filled with magnificent views of the Douro Valley and beyond. Make sure you don’t miss the incredible photo opportunities on your ascent. At the top, you’ll be greeted by Luis Barros, the owner of Quinta de Avessada, his family’s vineyard. After a tour of the grounds and a lesson on how the grapes are grown on the land’s unique terroir, you can sample the sweet, floral wine in a beautifully restored cellar, complete with a traditional country lunch. I encourage you to experience Portugal’s incredible allure for yourself on our Portugal, Spain & the Douro River Valley itinerary.

2018 is already off to a wonderful start and with each coming week, we’re getting more and more excited for the much-anticipated debut of S.S. Beatrice and U by Uniworld’s The A in early April. I look forward to showing off these two beautiful ladies. Until then, I’m going to keep the momentum going by starting to plan Jack and I’s annual getaway.

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 colour your canvas however you choose.