Uniworld Boutique River Cruises led the return of European river cruising earlier this month with the launch of the S.S. La Venezia, one of three new Super Ships joining the luxury line this year.
The launch marked the first sailing of a river cruise for Americans in Europe since the pandemic.
Known formerly as the River Countess, the S.S. La Venezia is a top-to-bottom overhaul. The ship was stripped down to the steel frame, then completely rebuilt, adding more suites, new dining venues and a fresh design that, like all of Uniworld's ships, is unique to its destination.
Since ships can only be christened once, the company marked the revamped vessel's debut with a Champagne sabering on the top deck as the ship set off for a scenic sailing of the Venetian Lagoon.
With lots of gold, dark wood and handmade fabrics and furniture, the design is similar to that of the Orient Express and a nod to 1930s Venice. It was inspired in part by the work of celebrated Italian artist and textile designer Mariano Fortuny and includes Fortuny fabrics, shell-shaped Murano glass lamps in the lounge and a glass wall with the Venice skyline etched into it that separates the lounge from a new smaller, more private seating area called the Panini Lounge.
One of the new grand suites on the redesigned ship, which was the River Countess before a top-to-bottom overhaul. Photo Credit: TW photo by Jeri Clausing
The main structural changes were the addition of two grand suites, a private dining room with a demonstration kitchen used for cooking lessons and pairing dinners and a seating banquette with shade umbrellas that runs down the center of the top deck.
Coincidentally, the new design also includes a number of Covid-friendly features, with more intimate spaces and booth seating in the dining room that help with social distancing.
With only about 40 passengers on the first sailing, distancing was not an issue. And after more than a year of Covid-19 protocols at home, the measures onboard felt anything but unusual.
Guests had to have a negative Covid-19 test taken within 24 hours of boarding, which was easy for anyone traveling directly from the States, as U.S. travelers had to be tested on arrival.
Every time you board the ship the face scanner that is used to identify you also takes your temperature. Masks are required while wandering the hallways and public spaces but can be removed once seated or outside.
Uniworld also began sailing in Portugal with the christening of a brand new Super Ship, the S.S. Sao Gabriel.
The company will also launch a new ship, the S.S. Sphinx, on the Nile this year.