Last week, I heard a lot of people say, “Wow! I never thought cruises were for me…” I have to admit, I was one of them. I used to sail the oceans on my own, and the idea of going on a cruise where I wasn’t charting the course was always a bit off-putting. I’m a solo sorta traveler. I like walking up mountains solo and sailing across oceans with just a few friends. The idea of being crammed aboard a floating city with thousands of other people sounded hellish.
Then I was sent an invitation to go on the inaugural voyage of “The B.” We’d start off in Paris under the Eiffel Tower and sail up the Seine to Rouen and back again. There’d be silent discos, open bars, over a dozen excursions, and a boutique hotel experience. To be honest, they had me at “open bar.” I signed up, feeling that I needed to finally try one cruise in order to consider myself a well-rounded traveler.
U by Uniworld is a latest branch of the Uniworld cruise family. They’re a smart company. They know millennials are getting older and xillennials (those born between 1973 and 1983) still want to have adventures. So they’ve created a cruise that caters directly to 21 to 45 year-olds. There’s yoga on the top deck every morning, “come as you are” excursions that you can easily sleep through, mixology classes, hashtag-worthy dining, floating lantern ceremonies on the Seine, and DJ parties every night. It hits the mark on cool shit you kinda want to do (but didn’t quite realize), while drifting down a river in Europe.
For me, the best way to look at these sort of cruises is to not look at them as a cruise at all. It’s a lot more like a boutique hotel that happens to be docked on a river. The sailing mostly happens at night when you’re partying and then you spend all day in a new city. This means you’re never stuck out in the middle of the ocean for days on end. There’s always something to do on and off the boat. Whether you want to drink wine and use watercolors in the lounge or just walk around a new city at your own pace is entirely up to you. I chose to walk around the cities, typically on the hunt for a nice French bistro. But that’s just me.
Whether you dig being on a boat with 120 other people or not is almost secondary. Why? Because who doesn’t like being in a boutique hotel with great food, a great bar, and a great masseuse on board? It’s a week where you travel to several spots in Europe and only have to unpack your bag once. For me, that’s a million times better than packing up after every night in a hostel and running to catch a train to your next location while trying to buy a sandwich and bottle of water on the platform.
On The B, while we moved between cities, I just strolled downstairs to the dining room and had a chef whip me up some eggs. Instead of rushing around, I sat by the window eating way, way too many croissants. As I devoured said croissants, I had plenty of time to reflect on what I liked about the trip. There was a brunch buffet every morning, with a smorgasbord of standards alongside an array of local pastries, fruits, and juices with a made to order pasta bar. Every night, you’re treated to local delicacies served family style. The real point here is that each boat sources their food as they go along the river from local suppliers. It’s fresh and seasonal and you get to eat locally — meaning you’re supporting local farms and retailers along the way while getting a real sense of the food around you.
The same holds true of the bar as well. While there’s a great array of hardcore, high-end bottles behind the bar with bartenders that are innovative and efficient, they also source their wine and beer locally as the ship travels down the river. That means there’s a rotating selection of local beers and wines that you’ll rarely find elsewhere. As a beer and wine lover, it was spectacular having someone curate a menu that felt like it was exactly for Zach. That, and the $300 bottle of rum that I totally killed. Hey, they said, “open bar” and papa likes his booze good.
Another nice little perk was the personal hotspots. You have to carry a little wallet-sized device around with you, but you’ll have semi-decent wifi everywhere you go on and off the boat. That’s huge. You can keep up with work (if you’re not too hungover) and post up on your Snapchat and Instagram feeds all day with no roaming fees. It’s easy to talk about the nice bed or comfy deck chairs — which the boat totally has — but really, it’s the details like this that make the U cruise stand out.
Where this cruise gets real is on the backend. We know millennials care more about where their money goes than ever before. U for Uniworld gets this. U’s Guardian Angel is the activist and supermodel Petra Nemcova. They’ve partnered with Nemcova’s Happy Heart’s Fund which builds schools around the world after natural disasters.
Nemcova founded Happy Hearts in 2005 after she survived the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. The idea behind the charity is to fill the gap in disaster zones after first responders leave and the local population is largely left alone to rebuild. This often takes years and requires a massive influx of cash — cash that rarely comes. So far Nemcova and Happy Hearts have built 160 schools across ten countries. The work they do is crucial to help kids get back in class after disaster strikes. U by Uniworld helps fund schools directly from the profits they make by running these cruises. It’s the sort of initiative that any vagabond can get behind.
Going beyond just being #woke, spending your money on a company and tour that works very hard to give back to those who need is legit heartening. It adds that extra layer of well-being and, well, happiness knowing you can have a dope time and help people at the same time — even if it’s by proxy.
U by Uniworld’s The B doesn’t launch until next April. Though tickets are on sale now. Most of the trips take one week and have four or five stops along the Seine and Rhein. Prices start at $1,999 per person and they’re offering a $100 onboard credit if you book this month. Sadly, it’ll be a cash bar when it launches with free wine and beer at meals. But, that 100-bucks is a lot of drinks at the onboard bar or a seriously rad massage.
Overall, are any of us cruise people? We’ll never know until we take one. And a mega cruise is a whole different beast. I found that going on a small, 120 person cruise is a great way to get your feet wet. The intimate nature of that number means that you’ll invariably form a crew of new friends and start kicking ass at travel during the week you’re together. The way U by Uniworld set up these millennial cruises means you never feel like you have to do anything you don’t want to do. If you want to ride a bike around a medieval city center, you can. If you want to sit at the bar and drink local beers, you can. If you want to take a long afternoon nap on the top deck, you can.
It’s all for the passenger to decide, and that falls squarely into my ultimate ethos of travel: You do you.
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A fave #THATMuse shot by @france_unframed. @chelseagilligan @toddbrueggemann @bluskyytravel are posing with the #Borghese 3 Graces on their #travelforU #louvre treasure hunt. Will post a shot a day for the week, despite being back from my #parisian jaunt, at home in #london to build #museum #treasurehunts #bluskyytravel
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This was one of the best days in France!….. Such a relaxing, calm, smooth river… You might even say impossible to fall in…. So how did a couple outdoorsy Canadian girls dump their phones in the water?.. Rapid + Boulder = CAPSIZE #hautenormandie #kayaking #loveoutdoors #TravelforU #alwaysputphonesinplasticbags #rapidsbecrazy #letsdoitagain
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🍽: Aboard “The B” on U by Uniworld. 📍: Paris, France. 🌎: Wine tasting, Beverages. _____________________ Drinking to your heart’s content with bottomless local wine! 🍷 This is the châteauneuf pairing we enjoyed with dinner on night 1 of the cruise! Worlds different from the Cabernets I’m accustomed to in California!
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Beer One Imports – sipping locally made #honey #beer from a scenic overlook over #conflanssaintehonorine #france at #sunset with new friends from #montreal is a good day no matter how you slice it. @ubyuniworld inaugural #rivercruise for 21 to 45 y.o.s #travelforu #wanderlust #carriellegoescruising #cruise #boatlife