The Cruise Line Targeting Millennials Just Announced a Major Expansion

Jun 21, 2019

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It looks like U River Cruises, the one-year-old river line targeting millennials, is finally gearing up for growth.

This week, the California-based company announced a doubling of departures for 2020 with three new itineraries in Central and Eastern Europe.

The expansion comes as the line prepares to relaunch one of its two original ships, The B. Designed for 120 passengers, it’s a sister ship to the single vessel the line currently has in operation, The A.

“Demand is strong,” U River Cruises president and CEO Ellen Bettridge told The Points Guy on Thursday. “We’re looking at The A [this year] probably ending up close to 80% occupancy. For a ship and a concept that is new, I call that a win.”

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Operating under the name U by Uniworld until a few months ago, U River Cruises originally launched in 2018 with both The A and The B. But the line canceled all sailings on The B this year in a move that many industry watchers saw as a sign of struggle.

Bettridge said the cancellations were precipitated by specific trouble the line was having selling trips on France’s Seine River, where The B was based. (The A is based on Europe’s centrally located Rhine, Main and Danube river complex.)

But it wasn’t a sign the U River Cruises concept was a bust, she said.

“She just wasn’t performing the way we wanted her to [on the Seine],” Bettridge said of The B. “We weren’t getting the same level of demand and excitement that we were getting for The A.”

(Photo courtesy U by Uniworld)

As part of the relaunch of The B, the ship is being moved from the Seine to the Rhine, where Bettridge expects it’ll perform far better. Starting in April, it’ll operate one of the line’s three new itineraries: a seven-night sojourn through the waterways of The Netherlands and Belgium called Amsterdam & Brussels Bound. The trip features visits to Amsterdam and Rotterdam in The Netherlands, and Antwerp in Belgium. Excursions in the works include millennial-focused fun like hopping between breweries and bars in Antwerp with a local guide.

Vicky Garcia, the chief operating officer for Cruise Planners — a network of more than 2,500 travel agents who sell cruises and other trips — called the redeployment of The B to Central Europe a smart move. She noted the waterways in the region offered a lot of opportunity for the sort of authentic immersion that U River Cruises focuses on.

“The brand had some growing pains, but is adapting to demand,” Garcia told The Points Guy.

Garcia was upbeat about the line, noting it serves a fast-growing market.

“Millennials are the second-largest generation in the US, following Baby Boomers, [and are] changing the way we travel,” she said. “They don’t want to travel the way their parents did where they visit historical landmarks and pursue relaxing activities. They’d rather collect adventures like spending a night out with the locals or hiking to a pristine, hard-to-reach spot for that ultimate picture to later recount their memories on Instagram.”

As Garcia pointed out, Insta-worthy adventures are a big part of the U River Cruises concept.

(Photo courtesy U by Uniworld)
(Photo courtesy U by Uniworld)

Among the new itineraries the line unveiled this week for 2020 is Vienna Vibe, a seven-night Danube trip between Nuremberg, Germany and Vienna, Austria that brings The A to cute little river towns like Passau, Germany, and Melk, Austria. Excursions might include a street art tour of Linz, Austria, where there are more than 100 graffiti murals, or a beer hall crawl in Munich, Germany, via a nine-seater Bulli.

The third new itinerary, also offered on The A, is Eastern Europe Escape: a routing on the Danube that traverses the stretch of the river between Vienna and Belgrade, Serbia. Along the way, the vessel will stop at Bratislava, Slovakia; Budapest and Mohacs in Hungary; and Novi Sad, Serbia.

Fares for the newly announced itineraries start at $2,799 per person.

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In addition to the three new itineraries, U River Cruises will continue the seven-night Rolling on the Rhine trips that it has been offering — with a few tweaks. To be offered on The B, the one-way Rhine voyages between Amsterdam and Frankfurt, Germany, will be enhanced with several new excursions. Among them, a nighttime “crime cruise” in Amsterdam hosted by a local guide and police officer to learn about the mystery and mayhem that plagued the city in the 1980s. Also new will be the “Game of Wines” tour. It’s (you guessed it) a wine-focused outing for “Game of Thrones” fans that includes a wine tasting at Abbey Eberbach, where scenes for the hit HBO series were filmed. It’ll take place during a stop at the vineyard-enveloped German town of Rudesheim.

(Photo courtesy U by Uniworld)
(Photo courtesy U by Uniworld)

Unveiled in 2018 by longtime river cruise operator Uniworld, U River Cruises launched with a laser-focus on a younger crowd than is typical for river cruising. Its ships boast sleek, matte black exteriors; onboard mixologists and DJs; deck-top yoga; and communal tables for dining. Accommodations include studio bedrooms, some of which hold up to three people.

It’s a market that another start-up cruise line, Virgin Voyages, also is eyeing. But in some ways, U River Cruises has been even more aggressive in its focus on millennials. Initially, U River Cruises was aimed almost completely at millennials and only took bookings from passengers under the age of 45. It’s since relaxed that age limit, and Bettridge said the line now is drawing plenty of nonmillennials, too.

In fact, the average age of passengers this year is running close to 40, she said. That’s above the age range for millennials, which by most definitions of the term this year is 23 to 38.

Yep, it turns out even 40- and 50-somethings like to be hip.

Gene Sloan has written about cruising for more than 25 years and for many years oversaw USA TODAY’s award-winning cruise site, USA TODAY Cruises. He’s sailed on nearly 150 ships.

Feature photo courtesy U by Uniworld.

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