Uniworld, famous for its ultra-luxury river ships, has turned river cruising on its head with a new product aimed at a whole new generation of cruiser. Its newest brand – U by Uniworld – is for a younger (in body or mind), more active, and social crowd. It’s also our favourite new way to see Europe! So calling all couples, friends, solos, and honeymooners: here’s our take on what makes U by Uniworld the perfect vacation, and why it needs to be next on your list.
The people you meet onboard
In our opinion, U by Uniworld ships are perfect for ages 30 and up. Ship life is geared to a crowd who likes to stay up a little later at night and start their days a little later in the morning. Brunch is served daily from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and most city tours start mid-morning or after dinner. Our ship had a couple of singles, several small groups of friends, couples and even two sets of honeymooners. You can be as social (or not) as you want. With a maximum capacity of 120 passengers, we made friends quickly and there was always someone to chat and share a drink with when we got back on board.
Ships have a lounge, dining room, fitness centre, self-serve laundry, and sun deck and ice lounge on top. No matter where you go onboard, you’re never more than 45 seconds from your stateroom...which is ah-mazing when you want to grab an extra layer or your phone charger. The lounge was the hub of activity from mid-afternoon until well after midnight. In both Amsterdam and Cologne, local DJs came on board and spun the soundtrack to our dance parties well into the night.
Our itinerary took us from Amsterdam to Frankfurt in seven days. We spent two nights in Amsterdam and two in Frankfurt, which meant plenty of time to explore each city at our own pace. The best part? River ships can dock right in the centre of Europe’s most amazing cities, so you step off the gangplank and right into the heart of all the action – no shuttles or taxis required! The long stays in port also mean you can craft your own to-see-and-do list and take the time to enjoy ticking off each item.
You won’t find a traditional cruise director on board the U ships. Instead, we had two U Hosts whose job was to provide a sense of place each time we stopped somewhere. They escort walks and city tours, and are available to provide information on whatever you could possibly want to know – history, culture, schnitzel recommendations, they’re favourite go-to hotspot. Once on board, we added ourselves to a What’s App group that they set up for guests that week. They’d share the next day’s itineraries, names of places to check out and pictures throughout the week. Everyone started sharing pictures and videos of what we were all up to which made it fun to scroll through every day. See our chat with our hosts Boris and Caspar above.
On any other ship, these would be known as “excursions” but with U by Uniworld, they're called "U Time." The options are wonderfully varied; we got to privately visit a castle in Kolblenz, bike around and tour a now-closed coal mine with a fascinating history, cycle to an Abbey and indulge in their famous Rieslings, and sail Amsterdam’s famous canals after dark with stops and guided tours of the Red Light District. But while we were doing this, other guests were making cheese, visiting Keukenhof Gardens, taking part in foodie tours and mixologist classes, and even blokarting on the beach! Each U Time experience has been designed with a fun, adventurous group in mind and will provide some of the most authentic experiences you’ll find in each port.
The cruise experience
While U has catered its ships and itineraries for a younger demographic, the essence of river cruising – what everyone loves so much about it – is still there. It’s gliding down the rivers, slipping right past towns and villages where everyday life is happening. It’s the excitement of transitioning through the locks, and of ducking and cheering simultaneously when passing under bridges so low it’s impossible to stand (see above!). It’s curling up early in the morning under a blanket on the sun deck to pass through “castle alley” – our scenic ride on the Rhine – where the morning sun highlighted castle after castle, vineyard after vineyard; everyone quiet and awestruck as we sipped coffee and took pictures.
It’s unpacking once, travelling while you’re sleeping, knowing where you’re laying your head every night, and looking forward to seeing friendly faces each time you get back on board. It’s getting to experience some of Europe’s most amazing cities without losing time travelling between them.
On one of our favourite days, the ship pulled over and let about 25 of us off with bicycles (they keep them on board for passengers to use at any time). We set off on a path that ran right beside the river for 20 kilometres with our ship following quietly behind. When we were done, we re-boarded and off we set again. It’s peaceful, it’s effortless, and it’s absolutely stunning.
If Europe is coming up on your list, U by Uniworld has created something that will give you the best of all worlds – leave the planning to the experts, unpack once, travel in style, see and experience Europe your own way, and make memories with new friends.
Ready to go? Check out their cruises here.