October 2017 – I Can’t Take My Eyes Off ‘U’
This month saw the introduction of a really exciting concept in the river cruise market.
U by Uniworld seeks millennials aged 21 to 45 looking for "immersive, fun, and adventurous travel."
U by Uniworld
Naturally, the maiden voyage was filled with millennials although the social media coverage from this cruise was alarmingly minimal. Given us millennials (yes I am one; no, I wasn't invited) are Instagram-loving tech addicts, this is hugely concerning. By contrast, Royal Caribbean's launch of it's high-tech Quantum class ship garnered so much social media and press coverage you couldn't see beyond the endless selfies and photos posted online.
As a concept, it should be applauded. Uniworld has tried to do something radically different and I sincerely hope it is a great success.
But I'm not sure U by Uniworld is a viable long-term proposition. Unlike on ocean cruise ships where there's plenty of space to add in escape rooms, dodgems, rock climbing walls, indoor skydiving, sports courts, and the like, river cruise boats are inherently limited to space. And that lack of space means that you can't cram in physical features that differentiates a river boat made for millennials. So you're left with the outer shell (painted black in this case, accented with purple lighting), the culinary side of things (trendy as expected), the interior décor (interesting to say the least), and the itineraries and excursions.
On that last point, competitors can easily replicate itineraries and put together remarkably similar 'youthful' excursions. My concern is that there's not enough to distinctly differentiate U by Uniworld from its competitors. That may well lead to an uphill struggle to find passengers aged 21 to 45 willing to splurge upwards of £1,499 per person for a week-long river cruise.
I like the convenience of a river cruise, where you're always in the centre of the action - or sailing between it. I like the type of excursions U by Uniworld has compiled. The itineraries are interesting although I'd like to see a better selection of shorter runs. I'm just not sold on the ship nor the overall experience. I don't think it quite hits the mark.
U by Uniworld definitely deserve credit for tying to something new, and for attempting to do to river cruising what has happened in recent years in ocean cruising. I sincerely hope it's a success and in years to come they begin to exhaust the alphabet as their fleet expands (the first two ships are named The A and The B).
Getting millenials into river cruising
I think we'll start to see various iterations of this idea of attracting a younger audience into river cruising over the coming years. I would like to see more focus on hassle-free travel with more inclusions baked into the price. One simple flat fee for everything onboard would be an easier sell.
Adventurous themed cruises could become especially popular, such as a wine or beer pilgrimage cruise, or a gastronomy cruise searching for the best and the most innovative cuisine, or a wellness cruise with complimentary spa treatments and holistic wellness sessions. Shorter (and therefore cheaper) itineraries may appeal more to time-poor millenials.
Multigenerational cruises is big business on the ocean and it would be great to see a river cruise line finally get to grips with this, perhaps offering fast WiFi, in-room games consoles, all-inclusive board with a regularly open buffet to cater for kids and adults, a communal family playroom (not a full blown kids club, there's no space for that), family-friendly activities, and family-friendly excursions. I suppose Adventures by Disney is the pioneer in that space but more could follow suit.
The ultimate family cabin
Royal Caribbean revealed what is arguably the best and most fun family suite on a cruise ship. The Family Loft Suite will have a home on Symphony of the Seas and attracts a starting price from around £10,000 per person per week, depending on the itinerary. Expect this suite to be in high demand.
Inside you'll find plenty of goodies in this two-level suite, including a cinema room with popcorn machine, in-room slide, LEGO wall, air-hockey table, and a whirlpool on the balcony.
Symphony of the Seas will in large be similar to sister ship Harmony of the Seas, with familiar attractions such as the Ultimate Abyss slides, the robotic Bionic Bar, and AquaTheater. Amongst the small changes is a seafood brasserie named Hooked, a sports bar, a sweet and ice cream shop not dissimilar to Cherry On Top on Carnival Vista, and a Mexican eatery named El Loco Fresh Mexican.
In other news...
- Thomson Cruises rebranded to Marella Cruises this month. The awful new name flies in the face of the current effort to rebrand Thomson stores to TUI stores, ridding the high street of the brand that itself swallowed up the Lunn Poly branding. TUI Cruises UK would have made far more sense as a new name, but I guess there's a reason they didn't opt for that, perhaps as it could conflict with the German arm, TUI Cruises. I'm not a fan of the horrid new name, and based on the general consensus on social media, I'm not alone. But hey ho, it's only a name, isn't it? In case you wondered, the word Marella means ‘shining sea’ in Celtic. Now you know.
- Norwegian Breakaway will homeport in New Orleans for the Winter 2018/19 season, offering seven-, 10-, and 11-day cruises to the Caribbean. Meanwhile, Norwegian Jewel will stay put in Australia and New Zealand for the same period after a successful season.
- Carnival Elation underwent extensive renovation work introducing a new WaterWorks splash park, 38 new cabins, 98 balconies to existing ocean-view staterooms, as well as a range of new dining options.
- Oceania Cruises has enhanced its Concierge level perks to include room service from the Grand Dining Room menu during lunch and dinner, and a free laundry service with up to three bags per stateroom.
- Celebrity Cruises has revealed its Celebrity Revolution plan to upgrade its fleet. The $400 million plan will introduce the sleek interiors, public spaces, and dining venues based on those that will appear on Celebrity Edge. The renovations will take place between 2019 and 2023.
- Speaking of Celebrity Edge, Summer 2019 itineraries were released with the news that the ship will call Civitavecchia (Rome) and Barcelona home for the first season. Better yet, the ship will sail from Southampton on a 10-night European inaugural sailing on 15 May 2019.
- The steel cutting ceremony for Hapag-Lloyd's HANSEATIC took place this month. The second new-build expedition ship from the cruise line is under construction at VARD shipyard in Tulcea, Romania.
- MSC Cruises deployed a man-overboard video surveillance system on MSC Meraviglia. In collaboration with Bosch and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, MSC Cruises claims the new system offers "even greater on-board security".
- Guy Fieri fans rejoice as Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse|Brewhouse will showcase on Carnival Horizon in Spring 2018. The venue pairs a full-service barbecue venue with a craft brewery. Dinner dishes at the restaurant will be charged on an a la carte basis although there will be a free-of-charge self-service BBQ lunch buffet from noon to 2.30pm on embarkation day and sea days. If the barbecue kiosk on Carnival Breeze is anything to go by, expect the lunch events to be ram-packed.
- Celebrity Cruises now offers same-sex marriages following a change in legislation in Malta where the majority of the Celebrity fleet is registered. The new ruling enables legal same-sex marriages in international waters.
- Hurtigruten’s Northern Lights Promise is back. The deal is simple - if the crew on the bridge do not spot any Aurora Borealis activity during your 12-day Classic Round Voyage or Astronomy Voyage between 1 October 2017 and 31 March 2018, you get a free 6- or 7-day voyage subject to terms and conditions.
- P&O Cruises is to update Arcadia and Oceana with new décors. The multi-million pound schedule of works won't see the addition of any new spaces or concepts but will refresh the ships, leading to a more contemporary feel onboard. The work will take place in Hamburg this autumn.
- The keel was laid for Virgin Voyages' first yet-unnamed ship. In an over-hyped ceremony, it was revealed the cruise line would be adults-only.
(Main photo credit to U by Uniworld)