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"Will Batman be onboard?"
As we rolled up to The A ship by U by Uniworld, our taxi driver couldn’t help but make this joke.
And it was easy to see why. The matte-black riverboat does more closely resemble the Batmobile than a traditional white river cruise ship, and my perennial Comic-Con International-attending self appreciated the reference. It’s also an appropriate aesthetic for a vessel geared predominantly toward millennials.
Younger clients will want to hop onboard this line because its new approach is dramatically changing the face of river cruising — and not just in terms of its hardware.
Even shore excursions, one of which is included daily, are more immersive and allow much more time — day and night — for walking in the heart of town, rather than sitting on a bus. An evening stroll through Regensburg, Germany, or a pub crawl in Budapest, Hungary, are the kinds of authentic experiences that are available on a sailing with U by Uniworld.
As a youthful offshoot of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, U by Uniworld was first introduced only for guests ages 18 through 40; later, the demographic shifted to 21 through 45. It has since opened to all adults ages 18 and over. The result is now a demographic extending even to young-at-heart boomers, although the brand’s average age is still much lower than most river cruises. About half the passengers on our sailing fit the original target market.
The initial DNA of the brand remains, and that means a hipper ship. What was once the parent company’s River Ambassador vessel is now The A. (River Baroness was similarly converted into the brand’s other ship, The B.) There are still some marbled and mirrored vestiges, but accommodations now favor USB charging ports and Bluetooth speakers over gilded fixtures. Modernized venues sport monochromatic details and pops of LED illumination. There are retro touches, as well, courtesy of dangling Edison bulbs in onboard restaurant Dine and vibrant Marilyn Monroe art in U Lounge, the ship’s social hub.
Inclusions are pared down, but the product is offered at a lower price point. A daily tour, cruise and excursion gratuities, shipboard entertainment, certain activities, select nonalcoholic beverages and two meals per day are complimentary on U by Uniworld sailings.
Because most guests are touring onshore midday, the restaurant only prepares a buffet breakfast or brunch, depending on timing, as well as a buffet dinner. But the service style doesn’t reduce the quality. In fact, Uniworld’s usual level of luxury is found both in the cuisine and the cabin comfort onboard The A. Regional flavors are presented with flair, and plush stateroom and suite mattresses are provided by Savoir Beds.
In conjunction with information presented at periodic briefings, programming is communicated in a paperless fashion via WhatsApp and email delivery of daily PDF documents. The approach is eco-friendly; however, occasionally, some information that would be better conveyed in a traditional format gets lost in the digital shuffle.
Another omission onboard is any sort of video gaming — I think a large Nintendo Wii-style interactive screen would do wonders behind the dance floor.
Activities range from onboard yoga and foosball tournaments to shoreside hikes and the use of complimentary bikes. For an extra cost, cruisers can purchase treatments at The Spa; logo items at the Shop; and specialty cocktails at the Ice Bar (so named for its cool lighting, not for anything frozen). I recommend ordering the Dutch Old Fashioned or the Manhattan Transfer.
Entertainment takes on new life onboard The A, with a silent disco, karaoke and guest musicians. DJ Koki and Matthew Sax brought an energy to our sailing that I’ve never seen onboard a river cruise. As one masterfully spins pop tunes, the other artfully improvises riffs. When the music isn’t live, the ship’s soundtrack skews toward electro swing and hip-hop — never classical. A resident pianist would just seem boring by comparison.
Some older guests I spoke to told me they had heard about the brand through travel fairs and Costco, whereas younger passengers explained that they were attracted to the prospect of a youthful crowd without children. Despite some surprise among cruisers that the demographic onboard our sailing was broader than initially advertised, everyone got along swimmingly, finding common ground while exploring Europe together.
I do wonder, though, if U by Uniworld might eventually evolve to fulfill its original mission statement. The more travel agents sell to millennials, the more it may be possible.
The DetailsU by Uniworldwww.ubyuniworld.com