With its guest DJs and mixology classes, active excursions and paperless information sharing, U by Uniworld’s The B is not your grandmother’s cruise ship. And that can be a good thing if you’re under age 50 (or act like you are), love to stay up late (and then want to sleep in), and prefer to decide what to do in port (versus feeling wed to set excursions). The concept is a new one for Uniworld: The B debuted in April 2018 with “The Seine Experience,” a seven-night itinerary roundtrip from Paris to Normandy, and the idea could entice a new generation to try European river cruising (along with sister ship The A, which cruises the Rhine and the Danube).
What We Love
It’s Different: Before you even step onboard, it’s obvious The B is unique: Painted black with neon-lit U logos and a funky heart motif, it resembles a stretch party limo ready to take you for a night on the town—albeit one that can accommodate up to 120 passengers. And that’s the idea. With an overnight in Rouen and two nights in Paris, after-dark partying is part of the ship’s raison d’être.
The Cool Activities: In-port options fall into two camps—included excursions and “U -Time” optional tours (costing 35 to 209 euros)—and there are great experiences in both. Explore picturesque Honfleur, wander the gardens at Versailles, and enjoy a pub crawl in medieval Rouen without paying extra (cocktails excluded). Also free onboard: morning yoga, a mixology class, and a paint-and-sip watercolor class (wine at 10:30 a.m.!). Other cool stuff is extra, but well worth it, such as a wild ride around Paris in a vintage motorcycle with a sidecar (book ASAP or you'll miss out) and a kayak excursion on the Eure River.
The Free Guest Laundry: Washers and dryers make packing light easy—and you can launder workout clothes after using the well-equipped gym.
Best Known For
A Focus on Food—With a Caveat: Uniworld’s culinary excellence has carried over to U—but in a less formal, and some might say, less satisfying way. Only two actual meals are served daily. While early risers will find croissants, fruit, and coffee in the lounge, most guests opt to wait until the buffet brunch at 11 a.m. It’s similar to Uniworld’s buffets, so eggs, bacon, potatoes, smoked salmon, waffles, salads, cold cuts, pastries, and fresh fruit are plentiful—but that’s all you’ll get until 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. There are no free snacks, so some guests buy their own in port to satisfy between-meal cravings. Dinner is international eclectic with a tapas-style sharing plate to start (hummus and falafel one night, charcuterie and cheese another), followed by a crock of self-serve soup, a set entrée (sometimes plated, sometimes family style, and there’s always a vegetarian option), and dessert.
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Who It's Best For
Singles and Couples Looking to Cruise at Full Throttle: Yes, mornings are quiet, but around 11:00 a.m., things kick into gear and then don’t settle down until after 2:00 a.m.
Those with an Independent Streak: Because guests can pick and choose what they want to experience, they can treat The B like a floating hotel and do their own thing versus touring en masse all the time.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
The Cabins Are Tiny: The B is actually a clever renaming of Uniworld’s River Baroness (replaced in 2017 by the S.S. Joie de Vivre). The makeover, while dramatic, was only skin deep. The Balcony and Studio cabins are still just 128 square feet with lots of mirrors (even in the bathroom) to make them feel bigger (they don’t). There are also four 256-square-foot suites and two Studio Triples sleeping three friends.
Information Sharing Could Be Better: U is paperless- and announcement-free, which can leave guests guessing about excursion details (some of which require riding the Paris metro, others walking significant distances or missing a meal) and even The B’s location (you can’t actually stroll off and explore Honfleur—the ship docks in Caudebec-en-Caux, a 45-minute bus ride away). Each day’s very basic agenda arrives via email or WhatsApp, so guests need to check their phones for updates (there’s free wifi). In-cabin TVs also show daily schedules.
Drinks Are Pricy: At both the U Lounge and the top-deck Ice Bar you’ll pay 9 euro for wine (choose from three reds and three whites) by the glass, and not always a healthy pour, or cocktails (which are superb). Beer costs 5 euro and soft drinks and iced tea are 3 euro. If you plan to drink liberally, a 299-euro package covers all beverages for the week.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.
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The B at a Glance
- Line: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
- Number of Passengers: 120
- Ship Size: Small
- Launch Date: 2018