Michelle Palma, Vice President, Field Sales, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

“Committed to excellence”: Uniworld


Michelle Palma, Vice President, Field Sales, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

By 2020 more than half of the ships in Uniworld’s fleet will be Super Ships “as part of our commitment to converting our entire fleet to Super Ships in the coming years, so we can continue to offer the highest standard of luxury available in river cruising,” says Michelle Palma, Vice President, Field Sales, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises in this edition of Take 5.

1. Uniworld is transforming its fleet with ‘Super Ship’ overhauls. What are some of the signature elements of the Super Ship refresh and can you let us know what stage the project is at, in terms of the ships that have been upgraded and the ships still waiting their turn?

“We are in the midst of transforming our fleet and by 2020, more than half of the ships in Uniworld’s fleet will be Super Ships as part of our commitment to converting our entire fleet to Super Ships in the coming years, so we can continue to offer the highest standard of luxury available in river cruising. In 2020, we will introduce three new vessels to the Uniworld fleet in Vietnam, Egypt and Portugal, as well as a new Super Ship renovation in Italy.

“Uniworld’s new ships launching in 2020 include:

· S.S. Sphinx in Egypt: to launch January 6, 2020 sailing a 12-day itinerary down the Nile River.

· S.S. Sao Gabriel in Portugal: to launch March 26, 2020 sailing the Douro River Valley.

· Mekong Jewel in Vietnam & Cambodia: an all-suite ship to launch January 3, 2020 sailing a 13-day itinerary on the Mekong.

· S.S. La Venezia in Venice: As the brand’s newest Super Ship renovation, Uniworld will upgrade the River Countess to the S.S. La Venezia to launch on March 27, 2020 sailing a 10-day itinerary around Venice and on the Po river including a two-day land stay in Milan.

2. Has demand for river cruising started to level off, or is it still through the roof?

“Demand continues to be strong and we are seeing increased demand for the exotics such as India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Egypt. Guest demand is very strong for health and wellness while travelling, which is why Uniworld has been an industry leader in meeting these guest experience needs. We offer on-board fitness centers, certified onboard wellness instructors, TRX training, yoga and travelling ‘Lite’ menus on every ship fleet-wide.

“Another area that continues to grow is multi-generational travel with grandparents taking their adult children and grandchildren to Europe. We have over 10 sailings a year now dedicated to the multi-gen market, where we offer a variety of family excursions every day in addition to the regular excursion options, incredible onboard programs and a dedicated lounge for the kids to enjoy themselves as well. I’ve had the incredible fortune to sail on these departures with my two teenage boys and they absolutely loved it. Last summer, they learned how to make pizza, watched movies with popcorn under the stars on the sun deck and even mastered the art of rowing a gondola in Venice. They are already asking to go back next year because they loved the delicious food, the fun they had onboard with the other teens and the incredible savoir of England beds.”

3. What are some top selling points for Uniworld specifically that you want agents to know about?

“We want Advisors to know Uniworld is committed to excellence with the ultimate goal of providing guests with the highest level of luxury and service in the industry. The design of our ships plays a large role in this. Like boutique hotels, no two ships are alike; each is uniquely one-of-a-kind in every way and our ships are an extension of the destination in which it sails, making guests’ onboard experience as memorable as their time spent ashore. Our aim is to consistently elevate the Uniworld experience for our guests. The Uniworld brand continues to stand for innovation and excellence.

“We are very passionate about our commitment to sustainability. In a recent survey, 66% of consumers said they would spend more on a product if it came from a sustainable brand and we work in partnership with One Tree Planted to plant one tree for every guest who ops for E-Docs instead of paper documents, which has thus far contributed to reducing paper waste by over 110,000kg in the last two years.

“Uniworld has committed to eliminating all single use plastics in our offices and onboard our ships by 2022. We’ve already reduced plastic waste by 27,374kg in the past five years by removing all plastic straws, water bottles and related plastics from all ships in the Uniworld and U lines. All of our Europe ships have been built with the most sustainable practices available in river cruising, including special paint for the hull of the ship that creates less drag caused by bio-fueling, specially designed ship propellers that increase performance and efficiency, energy-efficient LED light fixtures, automatic air conditioning controls to optimize cooling resources and water cooled air-conditioning systems that will save energy.

“Further, we have worked in concert with for over a decade to preserve the world’s rivers and waterways. The program helps to provide communities with clean water to drink and use for cooking, healthy sanitation facilities for washing and infrastructure like irrigation systems.

“Our commitment to sustainability has been driven by The TreadRight Foundation which was founded by the inspirational Chief Executive of The Travel Corporation, Mr. Brett Tollman, in 2004 as a not-for-profit organization with a very clear mission: to have a positive impact on the people and communities we visit, to protect wildlife and marine life and to care for the planet we call home. TreadRight has supported over 55 sustainable tourism projects to-date globally and on World Tourism Day – September 27, 2019 – we launched a global campaign to #MakeTravelMatter, which encourages all of our 10,000 employees globally to take a public pledge, standing up and personally committing to share TreadRight’s ethos as travellers protecting our planet. You can find out more about the pledge to #MakeTravelMatter by visiting the TreadRight website at”

4. Most people associate river cruising with Europe, but Uniworld¹s product offering extends far beyond that. Where is Uniworld sailing to these days and what¹s selling especially well?

“Cruises on the Rhine and Danube are always popular with our new guests and we’ve also seen an increase in our France itineraries with these guests over the last two years. Based on our booking trends, the top destinations for 2020 are Italy, Portugal, Vietnam, India and Egypt which correlates to the new 2020 ships launching.

“For returning guests, we see that many are booking more exotic voyages in Egypt, Vietnam and India. Our returning guests will often choose their next Uniworld cruise based on the ship as they want to experience each of the one-of-a-kind ships, particularly when we introduce brand new Super Ships featuring more suites, more dining venues and the most luxurious finishes. For example, the newest Super Ship S.S. Bon Voyage, which launched this past April in the Bordeaux region, has been one of the best sellers for 2019.”

5. Is there an opportunity for agents to sail on your ships and/or what¹s your key message for travel agents?

“We know how important it is for our loyal partners to experience our truly unique, luxury, all-inclusive ships first-hand which is why we host dedicated FAM trips throughout the year. Our goal is to have as many Advisors onboard our ships as possible as we know once they sail with us, they will come back as passionate and excited to sell our luxury brand as we are. In addition, we offer discounts of up to 60% off our published fares so that Advisors can bring a companion and choose from a wide variety of itineraries and departure dates. They simply need to complete our Uniworld University program to access the Advisor rates, while gaining the knowledge to articulate the Uniworld difference to their clients.”