Uniworld Announces Four New Super Ships

Uniworld S.S. Bon Voyage Suite
Uniworld S.S. Bon Voyage Suite

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has announced a substantial expansion of its fleet, with three new vessels in Vietnam, Egypt and Portugal to launch in the next ten months. This comes following the extensive renovation of the S.S. Beatrice last year and S.S. Bon Voyage in April this year, with the renovation of the River Countess into a Super Ship occurring in Italy ahead of its 2020 relaunch.

The cruise company began transforming its fleet in 2017 with the launch of the S.S. Joie de Vivre, and when the three new cruise liners planned for the Mekong, Nile, Venetian Lagoon and Douro rivers float out in 2020, more than half of the ships in Uniworld’s fleet will be Super Ships.

Uniworld CEO Ellen Bettridge says the expansion of the Uniworld fleet is one that is considered, as opposed to the rapid and aggressive expansion models of other cruise lines in a time when cruising is king in the travel industry. “We have been in a consistent and relentless pursuit of excellence. But expansion for expansion’s sake has never been our business model.”

The new floating boutique hotels will feature the signature touches and distinctive themes the company’s ships are known for – more suites, more dining venues and luxurious finishes, while maintaining their high crew to guest ratio, and will showcase bold and adventurous interior design concepts that buck the trend of the overly-cautious, minimal interiors found on many other vessels.

“Our ships are absolutely unique and like a boutique hotel, reflect the destinations they serve from décor and artwork to food, beverage and programming.  We look forward to making our high calibre of service and personalisation in these remarkable destinations even better,” says Bettridge.

Uniworld’s new ships launching in 2020 include:

S.S. Sphinx, Egypt

With Egypt back on travellers radars, Uniworld will solidify its position as the only luxury river cruise line in Egypt when it launches the newest, most luxurious ship on the Nile river on January 6, 2020. Named after the goddess of the Nile, the S.S. Sphinx will offer three gourmet dining venues, including a private dining room and an al fresco dining experience on the upper deck, a swimming pool, massage room and 42 suites. Locally-sourced Egyptian artwork, fabrics and hand-carved furnishings will be used to bring the beauty of the region to life onboard. This ship will include 12 adventure-filled days to experience Egypt and the Nile’s top sites starting and ending in Cairo.

 

S.S. São Gabriel, Portugal

Launching on March 26, 2020, Uniworld’s S.S. São Gabriel will be the newest ship on the Douro river.  Designed to embody the beautiful Douro River Valley region, the entire top deck will offer all lavishly appointed suites, enhanced with Butler service, giving guests the option to dine at any time they’d like while enjoying the ship. Guests on S.S. São Gabriel will experience the UNESCO-designated Douro River Valley and indulge in the best of Spanish and Portuguese culture and cutting-edge, locally sourced cuisine.

 

S.S. La Venezia, Venice

The River Countess will undergo a complete design renovation and re-emerge as S.S. La Venezia on March 27, 2020 bringing guests complete luxury while exploring Northern Italy. The S.S. La Venezia will offer a 10-day itinerary that starts with an included two-day land stay in Milan where guests will visit Da Vinci’s renowned The Last Supper, and then continue with an eight-day of cruising through and around Venice, the Po river and three outer-lying Venetian islands: Burano, Mazzorbo and Torcello. Guests will also have the option of purchasing the eight-day cruise-only portion of the itinerary.

 

Mekong Jewel, Vietnam & Cambodia

Debuting on January 3, 2020, this will be the newest and most luxurious ship on the Mekong river. Uniworld’s all-suite ship will include two dining venues: one main restaurant and an al fresco eatery on the upper deck. The Mekong Jewel will be 10 metres longer than the Mekong Navigator, but with the same capacity offering guests more space and amenities. The ship is being constructed with sustainable and eco-friendly materials, such as special paint used for the hull of the ship that creates less drag caused by bio-fueling, specially designed ship propellers that increase performance and efficiency, energy-efficient LED light fixtures, automatic air conditioning controls to optimise cooling resources, and water cooled air-conditioning system that will save energy. The 13-day itinerary will take guests from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, with visits to Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat and more.

 

For more information visit uniworld.com or call 1300 780 231.

Riviera Travel Launches New Solo Passengers Only Cruise

By Staff Writer

River cruise line, Riviera Travel, has announced a new cruise in Europe exclusively for solo passengers, free of any single supplement. The new sailing marks Riviera Travel’s ninth cruise that will set sail in 2019 exclusively for passengers travelling alone, giving them the luxury of having a twin-share cabin all to themselves. The company has tripled the number of solo-only departures for the 2019 season since last year.

Riviera Travel’s International Sales Manager for Australia, Thomas Morgan, said the new sailing has been released due to increasing demand for solo-only travel by Riviera Travel’s customers. “It can be frustrating for solo travellers to find good-value river cruises that don’t come with hefty supplements. Our solo-exclusive river cruises include everything a solo traveller needs for a great holiday, which means a cabin or suite all to yourself – with no single supplement.”

The new solo-only sailing is a seven-night cruise on the Rhone and Saone Rivers beginning in the gastronomical capital of Lyon, and ending in the medieval city of Avignon, France, and will take place aboard the five-star, 76-cabin river ship, the MS William Shakespeare. Guests will travel to the wine region of Burgundy, the flower-flecked meadows of Provence, the spectacular Rhone Valley, the Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard, and the city of Arles which was once home to famed painter, Vincent Van Gogh, and which this year will host a major arts and ideas forum.

Eight other solo-only passenger cruises are available across Europe with Riviera Travel this year, while another 187 solo occupancy cabins—each free of a single supplement—have also been added to 23 of the cruise line’s sailings across Europe in April and May.

Fares on the new solo-only sailing in France on October 14, 2019 start at A$3,999, including guided excursions, onboard meals, and Wi-Fi. Fares and cabins are subject to availability.

For more information on Riviera Travel’s river cruises, visit www.rivieratravel.com.au.

Crystal River Cruises Announces Full 2021 Deployment

By Staff Writer

Luxury cruise line Crystal River Cruises has announced the complete deployment for its award-winning fleet in 2021, becoming the first river company to open its reservations nearly three years in advance.

The line’s five luxury river ships – Crystal Mozart and the four identical sister ships Crystal Bach, Crystal Debussy, Crystal Mahler, and Crystal Ravel – will sail the Danube, Rhine, Main and Moselle rivers on itineraries of seven to 16 days in 2021, with 45 unique ports of call, dozens of which are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Every voyage also features at least one overnight stay, many with double and even triple overnights, allowing guests to further immerse themselves in the ports’ charm and history, or venture to nearby towns for broader experiences.

“We have seen such great demand and increasing desire by luxury travellers to secure their ideal European journeys earlier than ever and we are pleased to make our complete offerings for 2019, 2020 and now 2021 available for booking,” said Karen Christensen, Crystal’s senior vice president and managing director for Australasia.

The Book Now Savings on offer – up to $2000 off – also give more incentive to book early, guaranteeing the best fares for guests who plan ahead.

“In 2021, more than 180 Crystal River Cruises’ departures invite the most discerning travellers to experience the nuances of true luxury on Europe’s rivers. UNESCO-recognised Old Towns in Bamberg and Brugge, epicenters of art and music in Vienna and Salzburg and dramatic landscapes like the Wachau Valley and Middle Rhine Valley add historic and natural flavour to itineraries that also feature contemporary hubs like Düsseldorf and Basel,” Christensen added.

The “Eastern Danube Discoveries” voyage will debut on Crystal Mozart offering deeper exploration of Hungary as well as Serbia and Croatia. Other itineraries highlight the seasonal delights of riverside destinations, like springtime “Tulips & Windmills” sailings that explore the flower-laden fields of the Netherlands and Belgium; and winter sailings that focus on the dazzling spectacles of the region’s famed Christmas markets. Crystal will also sail the river less travelled, with “Enchanting Moselle” voyages through the scenic Mosel Valley.

Seemingly timeless medieval towns mix beautifully on Crystal River Cruises with modern hubs of culture and commerce. Guests can explore Germany’s oldest town of Trier, Beethoven’s birthplace in Bonn, the famed windmills of Amsterdam, Dusseldorf’s vibrant art and culinary scene and the stunning musical heritage of Vienna.

On every voyage, the Crystal River Collection of more than 200 inclusive, curated experiences ashore will enhance the journey for guests with an abundance of options that cater to varied interests. Complementary Signature Events, optional more elaborate excursions and exclusive dining experiences are also on offer.

Crystal’s new-build river vessels are all-suite, all-butler ships, with every category of accommodation positioned above the water line.  All suites feature Panoramic Balcony-Windows and walk-in closets and dual vanity in the bathrooms are featured in most categories. Sister-ship Crystal Mozart is Europe’s most spacious river ship, at twice the width of any other, and offers an unrivalled number of social spaces, restaurants and the largest spa on the rivers.

All of Crystal’s river ships feature private butler service in every room category, king-sized beds, ETRO amenities, robes and slippers, and wall-mounted flat-screen HD TVs. Additional enticing features include farm-to-table cuisine in multiple, open-seating eateries: the elegant Waterside Restaurant, namesake Bistro cafés and the exclusive Vintage Room; and the Palm Court for entertainment, enrichment presentations and sweeping views of the countryside. Crystal’s attention to detail reaches ashore, as guests are transported on the days’ adventures in luxury motor coaches equipped with complimentary water and Wi-Fi for added convenience and comfort.

 

The Details

Fares for Crystal River Cruises’ 2021 voyages start at US$2,574 per person. Book Now Savings are up to US$2,000 per suite on select voyages when booked by November 30, 2018. Crystal also recently unveiled the complete deployment for 2020, which features new itineraries and special programming, including the decennial Oberammergau Passion Play.

 

For Crystal’s full 2021 deployment, visit crystalcruises.com

Dancing The Danube Waltz

By Sally Macmillan

It’s hard to believe you’re in the centre of a European city when you wake to the sound of horses trotting down the street. But this is Vienna, and horse-drawn carriages are as much a feature of this graceful city as its opulent palaces, monument-lined Ringstrasse and historic coffee houses.

We’re here to join the Scenic Jasper, on a voyage along the Danube from Vienna to Linz, Durnstein, Bratislava and Budapest, which will include a private concert in the Liechtenstein Garden Palace.

Before we join the ship, we view a training session of white Lipizzaner stallions at the 18th-century Spanish Riding School to view a training session of the white Lippizaner stallions. Six immaculately dressed riders put the horses through their paces in the arena accompanied by classic Viennese music and a fascinating commentary.

It’s just one awe-inspiring experience on a cruise packed with cultural highlights. Author and comedian Kathy Lette is the ship’s godmother and she declares “Not only is river cruising the best way to see Europe – no sat-nav malfunctions, no orbital ring roads, no traffic jams or cancelled trains – but this sleek cruise ship is so luxurious it should be renamed HMS Hedonism.”

The queen-size bed in my spacious balcony suite is so comfortable I sleep through breakfast at our first port of call. Not to worry as butler Natalia arrives bearing tea and pastries within minutes of my panicked call. Every stateroom on the ship has a butler, 24-hour room service, a minibar restocked daily and other luxury touches such as L’Occitane bathroom products and plush bathrobes.

Breakfast is required to fuel the (optional) 34km cycle from Durnstein to Melk, our next stop along the Danube. The ship’s electrically-assisted bikes are a joy – you can breeze up any incline while taking in the glorious surroundings.

The following day, we moor at Linz for a half-day trip to Salzburg, Mozart’s birthplace and the setting for many scenes of the movie The Sound of Music. The exquisite city is also home to the grand Hotel Sacher where the original Sacher-Torte was first produced in 1832 and is still served today in the hushed environs of the formal café, and where Julie Andrews stayed during the filming.

We have a full day and night in Budapest, but even a week wouldn’t do justice to this extraordinarily beautiful city. From the moment I see the sun rising behind the Hungarian Parliament buildings across the Danube, I am hooked.

Back in Vienna, we have a choice of guided tours to Schönbrunn Palace, the magnificent former summer residence of the Habsburgs; or Bratislava, the capital of neighbouring Slovakia. A small group of us take the train to Bratislava to spend more time exploring the city. That’s another attraction of river cruising – you can enjoy as many of the included excursions as you like while enjoying your ship as a superbly appointed hotel that travels with you.

Bratislava is an intriguing mix with its medieval Old Town, crumbling mansions, graffiti-daubed Soviet-era buildings and traffic-jammed roads. Lunch at the Flag Ship restaurant is hearty Slovakian fare – garlic soup, potato pancakes and a gnocchi-type dish made with sheep’s cheese. It goes down nicely with locally brewed beer.

We have a full day and night in Budapest, but even a week wouldn’t do justice to this extraordinarily beautiful city. From the moment I see the sun rising behind the Hungarian Parliament buildings across the Danube, I am hooked. Like Prague, Krakow and Lubliana, among others, Budapest has become a hub for students, backpackers, intellectuals, artists and international partygoers. Our tour of Buda (the western, hilly bank of the river) and Pest (the flatter, city-centric side) takes us to landmark sites including Heroes’ Square, Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion on Castle Hill, plus the WAMP contemporary design market.

Thermal baths have been part of Hungarian life since Roman times. The Szechenyi Spa Baths complex in the centre of the city has 15 indoor baths and three outdoor pools. Even though it is a chilly spring morning, all the facilities are well-patronised, mostly by locals. Massages and medicinal mud baths are also available if you book in advance.

A night out in the romkocsma or “ruin pubs” in the old Jewish quarter is a fitting finale to our cruise. These arty bars started popping up in old factory and tenement buildings a few years ago and are furnished with the “found art” materials. Some host informal art exhibitions, experimental films and creative workshops. However, the ruin pub we discover is hosted by a seriously grumpy barman.

Take me to the River: 7 of the Best Luxury River Cruises

The idea of taking a cruise without worrying about getting seasick has a lot of appeal, but that’s only one reason why river cruising is booming. There’s also the joy of travelling from city to city without changing rooms, of the never-ending scenery running past your window or balcony, of being part of life on the river. As river cruising has boomed there’s been rapid proliferation in cruise vessels. Europe alone welcomed more than 20 new vessels between March and July this year. But while ocean-going ships are becoming bigger and bigger, the constraints of rivers and bridges restrict the size of river vessels. Since every company faces the same restrictions, the difference between one company and another may be less pronounced than at sea.

One benefit is that there are no inside cabins so everyone has a view but a disadvantage is that the wider the outside balcony the narrower the cabin. This has necessitated considerable ingenuity in design to make the most of the space available. Some companies have gone for larger rooms and fewer guests, others have created distinct personalities for each vessel and others offer features and facilities beyond your bedroom. That’s not to say that river vessels offer small cabins or suites: it’s a very competitive market and, on average, the typical river cabin may be the same size – or larger – than a ship’s cabin. However, it’s impossible to match an expansive suite on the most luxurious seagoing vessel – Regent Seven Seas Explorer’s Regent Suite is 413 square metres – on board a river vessel that has to squeeze into a lock.

Then there’s height. River vessels must fit under bridges – some of which may have been built centuries ago – so there’s more creativity required to ensure the furniture and canopies on the top deck can fold flat to make the most of every centimetre. Europe is perfectly suited to river cruising – many cities began as river ports – and is definitely the area with the greatest concentration of river-cruise vessels. But there are river cruises on five other continents from South America’s upper Amazon, North America’s Mississippi and Columbia rivers, the Nile, Chobe and Zambezi in Africa, Australia’s Murray and several rivers across Asia.

 

Aria amazon dinning room

 

APT

In this year’s Berlitz ‘River Cruising in Europe’ guide, all of the Top 10 vessels of the 310 ranked represented APT or its partner AmaWaterways. The company’s vessels have always been clever in design and its Concerto class features suites that consist of a French balcony and a separate outside balcony. There are 18 vessels in the European fleet and APT also operates river cruises in the USA, Africa, South America and across Asia.

Food is a high priority and APT has recreated its Chef’s Table Restaurant as a true tasting-menu experience. The company has also partnered with action travel company Backroads to offer hiking and cycling excursions.
aptouring.com.au

Avalon Waterways

In its panoramic suites, Avalon has turned the beds to face the window – a glass wall that opens to a French balcony – so you really do feel as if you’re floating on the river. Meanwhile, Avalon will introduce Avalon Fresh in 2017 with an emphasis on local ingredients from small producers.

Avalon offers cruises across Asia and on the Amazon, and a range of themed cruises in Europe. Next year, the Avalon Luminary will run a nine-day Active Discovery voyage on the upper Danube that includes cycling, guided hikes, canoeing and more.
avalonwaterways.com.au

Crystal Cruises

There was a new operator on the Danube this year – Crystal has moved into river cruising. The Crystal Mozart is a completely refurbished vessel that now carries 52 fewer passengers than in its previous iteration. There are four more vessels being built to operate on the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers by 2018. All carry just 106 passengers so there’s space for walk-in wardrobes and river-view beds.

In one of the onboard restaurants there will be a dedicated space for daily cooking classes and, as well as hiking and biking, Crystal offers more adventurous activities like sightseeing via helicopter.
crystalcruises.com

Scenic

Scenic’s 16 river cruise ships operate across Asia and in Europe as far as Russia. Two of its vessels based in France are being redesigned to better satisfy cruisers’ luxury needs. The number of cabins on both the Scenic Diamond and Scenic Sapphire has been reduced to create two large Royal Owner’s Suites, a vitality pool and an expanded wellness centre. There are up to six dining options from casual to formal degustation.

Both vessels provide onboard cooking classes in a dedicated space featuring cooking stations and a cheese and wine cellar. While the redesigns are starting in France, the development may extend throughout the fleet.
scenic.com.au

Strand suite bathroom

 

Tauck

From just four European river vessels in 2014, Tauck now has nine. They operate on the Rhine, Rhone, Seine and Danube. The new MS Joy offers a range of suites including some loft cabins that extend over two decks. Tauck prides itself on offering special cultural experiences and that’s true for its cruises, too, from a private tour of the Baroque libraries of Prague to an imperial evening in Vienna. As well as some themed cruises, Tauck offers a range of family cruises perfect for multi-generational holidays.

tauck.com.au

Uniworld

Uniworld has recently been judged the World’s Best River Cruise Line by Travel + Leisure magazine. There are 21 vessels in the fleet and they operate in Europe and Asia. The company has teamed up with Butterfield & Robinson to offer some great outdoor excursions from biking along the Danube to kayaking in France. Uniworld doesn’t have standardised décor for its vessels, viewing them rather as floating boutique hotels.
uniworld.com

Viking

Viking reassessed the way it used space when it created its Viking Longships in 2012; vessels that, as the name suggests, utilise Scandinavian décor. More public space was found by removing the under-utilised gym and massage room. Now 46 of the 65 vessels in the fleet are Longships.  Viking operates throughout Europe and Asia. Each voyage offers an in-depth cultural enrichment program to bring the destination to life through music, history, art and food. It has expanded its food and wine program with Taste Of events that extend from food-based excursions to cooking classes and on-board demonstrations.

vikingrivercruises.com.au

Viking star main pool

 

Asian offerings

There are some river cruise companies that operate solely in Asia and these are worth seeking out. This is particularly true for the increasingly crowded Irrawaddy and other rivers of Myanmar.
Pandaw is a partial recreation of what was once the largest shipping line in the world, the Irrawaddy Steamship Company (ISC). ISC vessels were scuttled to stop them being used by Japanese troops during World War II. One – The Pandaw – survived and was the model for the new fleet. The quest for authenticity ensures these vessels don’t have every modern amenity but the level of service is first class. The fleet has now diversified to other rivers across Asia.

The Strand is a legendary and recently renovated colonial hotel of Yangon, Myanmar. The hotel has now expanded into river cruising with a vessel of the same name that offers a similar level of luxury on the Irrawaddy. The Strand joins Belmond Road to Mandalay, the long-running luxurious sister vessel to the world’s most exotic rail journeys, including the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Sanctuary Retreats operates the only all-balcony vessel on the Irrawaddy: the Sanctuary Ananda.