ABOARD THE S.S. BEATRICE -- With Uniworld River Cruises' launch last week of the renovated River Beatrice as the company's fifth Super Ship (the S.S. in the ship's name), President and CEO Ellen Bettridge said the ship's modern, sleek interior design is part of the company's overall strategy to appeal to a broader audience of travelers.
The new ship has fewer, but more spacious, cabin options; two new dining venues; and a light, yacht-style interior that is decidedly less opulent than some of Uniworld's older ships. But that doesn't mean it's skimped on the things that matter most to luxury travelers: detailed service, authentic experiences and fine cuisine.
Having heard that Uniworld was the more traditional (read fussier) of the top river cruise lines, I admit I was dreading a bit the packing process, expecting most guests to be dressed to the nines every night for dinner. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a quite casual atmosphere, and I felt perfectly comfortable to have only really dressed up twice: once for the captain's welcoming dinner and then again for his farewell reception. In fact, the only dress code was no shorts in the restaurant at dinner.
The bedroom in one of the owner's suites on the River Beatrice. Photo Credit: Jeri Clausing
I also realized that a key to true luxury in river cruising comes with the cabin. As part of the media fam for the maiden voyage of the S.S. Beatrice, I had been invited to bring a guest. I warned my friend in advance that the cabin would be tight but that we would have plenty of options for hanging out in public spaces. Instead, we arrived to discover I had hit the media cabin jackpot and was assigned one of two owner's suites, which was almost as spacious as a regular hotel room.
The 350-square-foot cabin has two princess balconies; separate sleeping and sitting areas; a large bathroom with a long double vanity; lots of cabinet space; a full-size, deep soaking tub and separate shower; a fully stocked bar; plenty of closet space; and best of all, Uniworld's attentive butler service.
The butlers are trained at the same institute where the British royal family's attendants are schooled, and Bettridge said their service, which is standard for all suite categories, helps set Uniworld apart in the luxury river cruising world. They're available to attend to guests' every need, including packing and unpacking, shining boots and shoes, making sure snacks and drinks are always on hand and ensuring that clothes are laundered and pressed.
"Their only job is to attend to guest," Bettridge. "They don't also wait tables."
One of Uniworld's butlers about to sabrage the champagne to officially launch the River Beatrice in Budapest. Photo Credit: Jeri Clausing
They make every attempt to read your mind. Noting that we liked champagne, our butlers had a chilled bottle and snacks waiting for us every afternoon when we returned from excursions or walks about town. And they made sure to find us to ask if those clothes left on the floor meant they should be laundered or left alone.
The butler service is the same across all Uniworld ships, Bettridge said, adding that consistency and attention to detail is what sets the line apart. On every ship, she said, "there is always a butler, always a maitre'd, always two bartenders" and all the little touches likes cookies and candy and 24-hour room service.
Those touches, she said, play a large role in Uniworld's 95% return-guest rate. And with the renovation of the Beatrice, two more Super Ships under renovation and the launch this season of two U by Uniworld ships targeting the millennial audience, Bettridge said her top goal now is to attract more and more guests who have never before been on a river cruise.
Correction: The River Beatrice is Uniworld River Cruises' fifth Super Ship; incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this article.