Anne Majumdar

If you thought river cruises were just for oldies, prepare to be surprised as U by Uniworld revamps the mode of travel for millennials.


The new offering, announced in October, targets travellers between the ages of 18 and 40 – from couples, to honeymooners, to solo travellers.

Uniworld will shift two of its vessels, River Baroness and River Ambassador, to the new product with both to undergo a refurbishment at the end of the year ahead of their first voyages under the new banner on April 14, 2018.

“Uniworld were the original people who kicked off luxury river cruising in 2009 and now we’re going to be the first to really introduce youthful river cruising for millennials,” president and chief executive Ellen Bettridge told KarryOn.

“We’re taking a big plunge, jumping in with two ships not just one and ensuring we have got different offerings for different people with four itineraries.”

So why does Uniworld feel so confident sailing into these unchartered waters?

“With anything that’s brand new, you’re very hopeful,” Bettridge explained. But she also highlighted insights gained from sister brand Contiki as positive signs.

“We know from our Contiki people that their travellers had expressed interest,” Bettridge revealed. “We have also done a couple of different surveys among Contiki guests to find out if this is of interest and they responded so incredibly positively.”

As a result, Uniworld has been able to pull together information about how its target market travels, what they like and what they want to do.

But while Uniworld plans to leverage the market strength of its youth specialist Contiki, Bettridge predicted it would not be smooth sailing straight away.

“We’ll see what works, what doesn’t work and we’ll have a lot of learnings that first year,” she admitted.

“We’re about creating an environment for people to come together while they’re on vacation.”

The full product offering will be revealed in March with the launch of the new brochure, but Bettridge was able to reveal a few details in the meantime.


Here are five ways Uniworld plans to make river cruising cool with U:

1. A lower price point

U By Uniworld - Amsterdam

A lighter price tag is a win in millennials’ eyes so Uniworld is bringing the cost down by tweaking the inclusions. Instead of a wholly inclusive product, U will be “partially inclusive”, according to Bettridge. That means two “solid” meals a day instead of three – also a good thing because it means travellers can go off to “grab a bagel” or “go to a bistro” giving them a chance to experience the local cuisine.


2. Lots of free time

U By Uniworld - Budapest Lo Res

Forget big group tours to obvious tourist hotspots, although excursions will be available. U encourages its guests to head off and explore on their own, discovering the beating heart of each destination.

“We’ll be giving them a subway ticket and saying ‘Go see Paris’, ‘Go see Amsterdam’, “Get out there’, ‘Go’.” Bettridge said.


3. A contemporary vibe

U By Uniworld - Rhine River

Both vessels will undergo a refurbishment to bring them in line with the new brand at the end of the year. What does this mean?

“We’re going to change it up to make it a bit more contemporary,” Bettridge said.

Beyond the furnishings, expect mixologists, DJs and cooking classes on board.


4. A little bit of luxury

U By Uniworld - Paris Lo Res

A lower price point and a “contemporary” vibe doesn’t mean that U will be skipping all the luxuries for which Uniworld is known.

“It will still be a luxury experience,” Bettridge promised. That means awesome beds, flat screen TVs and marble bathrooms.

“We know these people appreciate fine and nice things.”


5. A partner in crime


“Australia and Contiki go hand in hand – Aussies absolutely love Contiki,” Bettridge said.

“So they’ll graduate from Contiki and go to U by Uniworld.”

Besides helping the brand get a foothold in the youth market, sister brand Contiki will also be lining up land tours to combine with the new river cruise itineraries.

“This is going to be a fantastic market for us.”

What do you think of the new U by Uniworld product?