U by Uniworld is a fresh new take on River Cruising designed for independent travelers looking for casual flexibility in their itineraries and age does not define this demographic.
River Cruising is an interesting travel option and one I had my eye on for my own travel wish list (not surprising now that I’ve decided I’m a cruiser!). I saw the value in all the benefits the cruise lines advertise: See Europe at a gentle pace without any packing and unpacking and no trudging through train stations – sign me up!
But, as a small business owner who generally needs to be accessible and whose husband is a web developer who definitely needs internet access to do his job, the real selling point was easy internet access for the entire trip. As long as we had a decent international data plan on our phones (with hotspot capabilities) we didn’t even need the ship to offer quality wi-fi. For several years, I’ve been convinced a river cruise was a brilliant vacation option for us but there was just one problem…
None of the river cruise options appealed to us. They were either too stuffy or too structured, or both; the itineraries didn’t give us the time we wanted to explore; the formal dining rooms were a turn off, and the marketing photos of couples much older than us scared us away. We can’t have been the only 30-something couple with this dilemma and Uniworld, one of our top preferred luxury river cruise partners, pounced on what they saw as a big opportunity in the market. So, they created a pretty daring new product, U by Uniworld, and Josh and I were more than happy to be guinea pigs in this new river cruising experiment!
So, to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary, we booked the U by Uniworld’s inaugural trip down the Rhine River (and several canals and tributaries) from Amsterdam to Frankfurt on The A, formerly known as Uniworld’s River Ambassador. We were even lucky enough to participate in the ship’s renaming ceremony!
Bottom line: This trip was everything we have been looking for all of these years. The itinerary was creative yet relaxed, we had full flexibility to do as we pleased and explore on our terms, I loved not having to wrestle with my suitcase every other day, and we returned home fresh faced and fully rejuvenated from a perfect vacation. The wi-fi? Not great, but adequate. Our international data plan with AT&T filled in the blanks, which is what we expected. By the way, if you don’t have a good international plan, U by Uniworld has a brilliant offer to rent a portable wi-fi hotspot for 10 EUR/day so you can have wi-fi even when you are off the ship.
About the Ship
U by Uniworld currently operates two ships, The A and The B, which share similar designs. Their black exterior give them immediate cool-factor and definitely turns heads, especially when sailing past another “plain Jane” river ship. The interiors are stylish without being garish and they showcase a nice attention to detail in the finishing touches. The rooms are small, but functional with easy to use storage space. Same goes for the bathrooms; they are tight but functional with good lighting and storage. I highly recommend a balcony room – they get more natural light and fresh air, which helps the room feel bigger.
The ship is small and all of the public spaces are multi-functional. The U lounge serves as the main indoor hangout and the bar was always busy. The dining room has several large tables that encourage communal dining, but there’s also enough smaller tables for just 2 or 4 people to give everyone the option to dine together or alone. The guest laundry is complementary and was always in use and Mugs, the self-serve coffee station, was always kept tidy and well-stocked. The ship has a gym with all of the basic equipment you’d expect and they offer morning fitness classes on the rooftop lounge. The rooftop Ice Bar is a really neat space that collapses down for low bridges and provides a fun ambiance at nights.
Each itinerary includes 2 meals a day, brunch and dinner. If you’re an early bird, coffee and pastries are available in the lounge. Brunch is served as a buffet with both hot and cold foods and there’s a made-to-order station with a specialty dish that changes each day. Dinner features a set, 3-course menu with 2 options for the entrée. All of the dining options on the ship were really well received. I was expecting to hear negative feedback due to the lack of menu options, but everyone was happy. The common opinion by guests was that they were happy to have fewer options at a high-quality level, rather than to have more variety of lower quality. All of the meals were well prepared and well presented.
Highlights from Our Trip
For our first night on the ship, we were docked in Amsterdam and we pushed off first thing in the morning for a little day trip to Haarlem and then returned back to Amsterdam just after dinner. I really loved the timing of this day; we got a fun excursion to a city I probably would have never thought to visit on my own and we were back in Amsterdam to enjoy the city’s nightlife – this day offered a little something for everybody! It also positioned us back in Amsterdam overnight to allow for a full day in Amsterdam the next morning, which was perfect for anyone wanting to beat the crowds at the museums.
Haarlem proved to be a very approachable town and we were lucky to be there during a local festival so the locals were out to enjoy the carnival and everyone was in a cheerful mood despite the overcast weather. The ship docked outside of town so we had a 25 minute walk to get into town, which was a little annoying but we knew we were headed to a brewery later so we figured we earned ourselves an extra beer. Our morning began with an orientation walk around town just as the locals were waking up and shops were beginning to open. After our walk, we made our way to the Jopenkerk, a local brew pub housed in an old church near the center of town. I loved the ambiance and I particularly enjoyed the Jopen Koyt brewed with sweet gale, which as legend has it, must be picked at full moon by nude witches. This beer has been brewed according to the brewer’s statute of the year 1407!
If I could do this day again, I would skip the walk to town and grab one of the complementary U by Uniworld bikes, instead!
Dining in Amsterdam
I loved that our itinerary began with ample time to explore Amsterdam. During our stay, we we so lucky to make two food-related discoveries that made a huge impression on my palatte! The first is Graham’s Kitchen in the De Pijp neighborhood. We made a reservation here on a whim based on a foodie blog review I read about a deconstructed English breakfast appetizer created by an English chef living in Amsterdam. I had no idea if this would pay off and as we walked through the residential neighborhood to find this restaurant, Josh was really starting to wonder what I had gotten us into! The risk paid off 100% and we gobbled up our reward! I promise you, Dinner at Graham’s kitchen is a MUST! We hit the jackpot when we realized our server was Chef Graham himself and he personally served us every dish with stories about the ingredients, the inspiration for the recipes, etc. This restaurant is a true hidden gem!
Next, we set out to visit some of the famous Amsterdam museums, but we were stupid. We didn’t go early and we didn’t pre-book anything. So, when we saw the lines and calculated the wait times, we also gave up early. I should have known better but I am my own worst client as well as my own worst travel agent and I didn’t give myself time to plan ahead. The next Amsterdam trip will be very museum heavy to make up for my mistake! The silver lining for us this time around is that we had a little extra time to get a little extra adventurous about our lunch plans. Another great perk from U by Uniworld was the complementary 24-hour transit pass and the advice from the staff on how to get around Amsterdam. So, we hopped on a tram and headed to the Foodhallen – how could we not?! The Foodhallen is a beautiful industrial barn full of little food stalls and bars featuring everything from tacos to dim sum, to burgers, and much more. And, of course, we had to end our adventure with some decadent stroopwafels. We had a blast and ate very well that day!
Fucking Good Cheese in Rudesheim
Pardon my French, but that’s actually the name of a cheesemaking experience hosted by a very smart, patient, and entertaining master cheesemaker in Rudesheim, Germany. This was, by far, the best experience we had on the entire trip. We learned that making cheese takes time and patience and the best thing to do while you are waiting for your cheese to do its thing is drink wine and eat cheese! The class was held in the Vinothek Rheinweinwelt and the best description I can find for this amazing place is to call it a Wine Casino. We were given little tokens and shown into a wine gallery that is one of the most unique and creatively repurposed spaces I’ve ever seen. These magical tokens were the key to tasting a fantastic collection of wines from the Rhine River region. What a fun, wine & cheese fueled day!
So, is U by Uniworld a good option for you? Here’s my advice’
Know What You’re Buying:
If you’ve been on another River Cruise, you will definitely want to check your expectations. The U by Uniworld pricing is very appealing when compared to those other ships, but don’t get distracted by the savings until you understand what you’re buying. This cruise should not be compared to the other options on the market; it is a product that stands in its own category and many of the things you were accustomed to on other cruises may not be available or the same on this cruise. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you don’t want to be caught off guard.
U by Uniworld pricing starts at $1500 per person for a full week cruise. This includes 2 meals daily (brunch and dinner), a number of complementary shore excursions, gratuities, and some complementary on board activities like a DJ party or wine tasting.
Age Does Not Define This Demographic:
You might have heard that U by Uniworld has an age limit – this is false. When they first announced the new cruise line, they did intend to limit the cruise to guests in the age range of 21-45 but they have since rescinded that policy. U by Uniworld is onto something really interesting with this new format for river cruising and it will appeal to travelers of all ages. The appeal is more about a casual lifestyle and a fresh, unstructured approach to the destination. This, of course, will naturally appeal to a younger demographic but it isn’t exclusive to younger travelers by any means. If you are a laid back traveler looking for a relaxed social environment and very little structure for touring, then you will fit right it.
Be Prepared to Go It Alone:
Each U by Uniworld Itinerary offers complementary touring, which are very basic walking tours using the ship’s guides. This is really location-dependent in terms of knowledge from the guide. The free tours are good for stretching your legs and getting a lay of the land. The tours that have an extra fee are well curated and of a higher quality featuring very creative and unique experiences with knowledgeable local guides. The cruise does not offer an overabundance of excursion options so you will do well to plan ahead and understand when/where you will be on your own to explore or you might want to pre-book a private tour.
One of the best parts about U by Uniworld is how accommodating you are to your own schedule. The ship is often sailing during mid-day. So, if you get off the ship in the morning and you don’t want to be held to the ship’s tight schedule, just plan to take the train to meet the ship at the next docking point! No stress, no hassle, the ship’s crew will even give you directions to the train station and recommendations for which train to take! They make it very easy for you to be independent!
If you are curious about U by Uniworld, let us know! I would be happy to help you compare your options and help you make the right choice for your next adventure!