UNIWORLD Boutique River Cruises CEO Ellen Bettridge last month reaffirmed her determination to maintain Uniworld’s position as “the best river cruise operator in the world,” with the newly transformed S.S. Bon Voyage taking the company’s product in the South of France to a new level. Formerly cruising as River Royale, the ship has been stripped back to the studs and remade with a host of new features, more suites, a wider array of dining options and sumptuous finishes throughout — all with a distinctive French flair.
travelBulletin was fortunate enough to be on the inaugural sailing of the vessel, cruising the Gironde Estuary which is home to some of the finest vineyards in the world. In keeping with Uniworld’s philosophy of making its vessels a reflection of the destinations where they sail, S.S. Bon Voyage offers the finest of fine wines on board, with a curated wine list meaning every meal is perfectly accompanied with the ideal beverages. For those wanting an even more unique experience, the ship has the Les Caves du Vin private dining room, with a full degustation menu and wine pairings.
S.S. Bon Voyage offers a fabulously sunny top deck complete with funky tiger-print lounges, the only infinity pool on a river ship and an indoor/outdoor eatery which makes a delightful spot to watch the world go by. There’s a fully equipped gymnasium, along with a massage room and spa, with Bettridge telling travelBulletin wellness is an essential feature of every Uniworld voyage. A wide array of daily activities were on offer, ranging from archaeological tours and cycling adventures through to cellar tours providing a deep insight into France’s deeply embedded wine culture.
Early risers were treated one morning to a trip to Europe’s highest sand dune, where they were able to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean in a truly magical experience. Back on board there was also plenty of time to luxuriate in the on-board lounge area with impeccably attentive service — or relax in the cabins which are fitted with Uniworld’s signature Savoir bedding along with the finest of linens, fluffy towels, robes and a fully interactive on-demand entertainment system – not to mention optional room service.
Bettridge highlighted the wide array of sustainability initiatives which have underpinned the development of the on-board product on S.S. Bon Voyage. There are no plastic straws and no plastic water bottles, with reusable metal bottles provided to passengers along with carafes of fresh water for in-room refills. Food, much of it sourced from nearby communities to support the local economy (not to mention being super fresh) is delivered to the ship in re-usable crates, while laundry is delivered in baskets rather than plastic bags. On-board staff recycle any rubbish left by guests, and bags used in the kitchen are made using a bio-degradable potato-based polymer.
Unlike most other river cruise operators, Uniworld employs its own in-house crew who are very loyal to the brand and committed to excellence, with exceptionally low staff turnover. Travel consultants are key to the brand, with Bettridge saying “agents know how to sell the Uniworld difference”. She said Uniworld strives to have the best quality and the highest standards in everything it does. “This ship certainly hasn’t let us down,” she enthused. Uniworld enjoys a high repeat cruiser rate, and Australia continues to be the company’s second biggest market after the US.
Looking forward, Uniworld is already working on more Super Ships for the Douro River in Portugal, Egypt’s Nile and the Mekong in South East Asia — and plans for the brand envision further upgrades to the entire fleet in the coming years.