Sailing the Danube Aboard Uniworld’s Newest Super Ship

by Kerry Tice
Sailing the Danube Aboard Uniworld’s Newest Super Ship

River Beatrice sailing on the Danube. Photo: Uniworld.

The recent redesign and upgrade of Uniworld’s River Beatrice to a Super Ship (now fittingly named the S.S. Beatrice) serves as the perfect completion of what is already an ultimate immersive experience along the Danube.

On the newly transformed S.S. Beatrice’s inaugural sail of its 10-day "Highlights of Eastern Europe" itinerary, passengers were provided with what is perhaps one of the most exclusive up-close-and-personal experiences available of the historic, and in some cases, relatively unknown cities along this route. Couple that with luxurious accommodations, fine dining and premier service, and it’s understandable why the majority of Uniworld’s passengers have sailed with them before.

Culture-rich itineraries deliver authentic experiences
At a time when more travelers are seeking unique and authentic experiences, Uniworld more than delivers with its culture-rich itineraries. On this particular sailing, passengers embark from Budapest and stop at ports in the small towns and cities of countries that include Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and finally, Romania. Many of the names of these cities, those like Belogradchik and Vukovar, would not ring familiar, thus adding to the very attraction of them. And while the scenery along the Danube is beyond picturesque and an added bonus of the cruise, it is what awaits passengers both onshore and onboard that serves as a dual reward.

According to Uniworld’s cruise manager, Gabriel Rotar, the company’s approach to developing its excursions is what sets it apart from its competitors. He said: “Uniworld is the only company that really immerses the guests deep into the historical, cultural and local flavors of the land. And flavors are always the very best ambassadors of the land. Not only are the ships unique, but the land experiences are unique. Everything influences everything and contributes to the whole experience.”

St. Matthias Church in Budapest
Matthias Church in Budapest.

Exclusivity at its finest
The local Uniworld guides are extremely knowledgeable, and in almost all cases on this itinerary, were raised in the very cities they are chronicling. This special touch brings the history of each respective destination to life through their narration and, thus, fulfills each traveler’s desire to fully absorb the local culture. To further add to the distinctiveness, as a Uniworld guest, some of the most memorable sights and experiences are reserved for them alone.

According to Rotar, there are 88 exclusive programs offered throughout Uniworld’s worldwide excursions that are not replicated with other river cruise companies. This includes personally meeting a princess from an Austrian monarchy or enjoying lunch in the home of a fisherman and his family in Budapest. Perhaps none, though, is arguably as touching and charming as a specially arranged meeting with the Crown Prince and Princess of Serbia at their palace, accentuated by the sharing of conversation and a photo opportunity with them.

From city tours in Budapest and Belgrade, to visits to Serbian castles and the Bulgarian red rock country, this Eastern European jaunt truly delves into the majestic and war-torn histories that make up the fabric of their existence. And as pointed out earlier, the draw of this itinerary is essentially its non-traditional route – something only river cruising has the ability to deliver.

Bulgaria's Red Rock Country is another scenic excursion offered by Uniworld on the this itinerary
Bulgaria's Red Rock Country is another scenic excursion offered by Uniworld on this itinerary.

“This is a convenient way to see regions that you would probably never book on a trip independently,” said Kate Leas-Clisson, a TPI agency owner with Escape the Ordinary Travel in Homasassa Springs, Florida. “A lot of these towns are not the typical big cities on a cruise itinerary. But on a river cruise, you get to see places that aren’t typical at all.”

Boutique coupled with luxury equals repeat passengers
Pairing this non-typical itinerary with the luxurious boutique style of a Uniworld cruise makes for an appealing combination. Guests onboard, many of them repeat Uniworld passengers, note the intimate and cozy atmosphere, fine dining and first-class service among the reasons they choose to sail again with the company. 

For additional feedback, agents are encouraged to consult Feefo, an independent online review company that compiles what passengers are really saying about Uniworld products. Uniworld makes it easier for agents to access the comments by posting all the feedback, unedited and uncurated, on its own website.

“Being transparent and giving agents and their clients access to real-time information about our river cruises allows travel agents to help their clients make an informed decision about the value and quality of a Uniworld experience,” said Uniworld President and CEO Ellen Bettridge. “We will be continuing to use customer feedback to strive for a perfect score – and as a company, nothing is more important to us than a satisfied guest.”

It is no coincidence that Uniworld likens its ships to floating boutique hotels, similar in appeal and design to its sister hotel boutique company, Red Carnation Hotels. Cabins onboard are elegantly appointed yet comfortable, each featuring warm interiors, comfortable beds, plush furnishings and unique artwork and antiques. The open spaces are equally inviting, with multiple dining options and an expansive lounge for mingling, cocktail sharing and the occasional dance to be shared or local musician or performer to enjoy.

A family tradition handed down
The relaxed, at-home feel of the S.S. Beatrice is accentuated by the attentive and sincere personal service that passengers encounter everywhere onboard – from their staterooms to the public lounges to the dining areas. Ready to assist with any special request, the employees of Uniworld operate under a family tradition handed down from Bea and Stanley Tollman, owners of The Travel Corporation, otherwise known as TTC. The parent company of the Uniworld River Collection, TTC's multiple brands also include Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold, Trafalgar, African Travel and more.

Bea’s signature dishes and desserts – such as her sesame chicken, chicken meatballs and cheesecake – are served onboard, giving the dining experience an even more personal touch.

Wine and food are an integral part of the Uniworld experience. Local cuisine is freshly prepared onboard by the chefs, and wines are carefully selected from each respective city along the Danube.

Savoring the delicacies is enhanced by the fact that almost everything onboard is included in the total cruise fare. From transfers and gratuities to meals, all drinks, lectures and excursions, passengers can sit back and enjoy their travels without worrying about paying another bill at the journey’s end.

“I like that it’s all-inclusive compared to some other lines,” said Leas-Clisson. “You definitely have to look at the amount you’re paying upfront compared to what you’re getting without having to pay for additional excursions, a bar bill, and gratuities and tips for drivers and guides. When comparing to other brands, it is a huge factor to consider the entire experience being offered for one price.”

Uniworld cruise
The Parliament House in Budapest.

The truth about river cruising
While Uniworld seeks to broaden the market for river cruising with the introduction of its newest brand, U by Uniworld, there are still myths to dispel about what defines a traditional river cruiser. In a survey the company did a few years ago, Uniworld found its passengers are typically well-read and well-educated, searching for immersive experiences.

“I’m tired of hearing that river cruising is for old people. River cruising is not for someone who wants to sit around,” said Bettridge. “It is for the person who wants to get there to explore the destinations, who wants to experience the food, those who are adventurous and curious.”

It’s clear, given the positive feedback of this unique itinerary and the company’s intent to now upgrade two more of its river ships to Super Ships, Uniworld has succeeded in defining its customer.

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