Uniworld welcomes back Americans to river cruising on new ship

VENICE, Italy — Uniworld Boutique River Cruises celebrated the return of European river cruising on Monday with the launch of its newest river ship, the S.S. La Venezia. It is the first sailing for Americans since the pandemic.

While guests boarded the ship here on Sunday, the line officially set sail on Monday. Uniworld marked the occasion with the sabering of a champagne bottle as the ship cruised the through the Venetian Lagoon.

The week-long itinerary will also take guests along the Po River before ending back in Venice later in the week.

Next week, Uniworld will also begin sailing in Portugal with the christening of its newbuild S.S. Sao Gabriel on the Douro River, which will be followed by cruises in France.

Other river lines will be close behind, with sailings beginning the first of July in Portugal and France, and later in July in August along the Rhine and Danube rivers.

The S.S. La Venezia is a top-to-bottom overhaul of the former River Countess, whose already planned renovation began early after being rammed in 2019 by an MSC ocean ship while it was docked in Venice. CEO Ellen Bettridge said the ship was stripped down to the steel frame then completely rebuilt, adding more suites, new dining venues and a fresh design that, like all of Uniworld’s ships, is unique to its destination.

With lots of gold, dark wood, marble and handmade fabrics and furniture, Bettridge said the design is similar to that of the Orient Express, and a nod to 1930s-era Venice. It was inspired in part by the work of celebrated Italian artist and textile designer Mariano Fortuny and includes Fortuny fabrics, Murano glass shell-shaped lamps in the lounge and a long glass wall etched with the Venice landscape. The wall separates the lounge from a new smaller, more private seating area called the Panini Lounge.

The main structural changes were adding two grand suites, a private dining room with a demonstration kitchen used for pairing dinners and cooking lessons, and a seating banquet with shade umbrellas on the top deck that runs down the center.

Coincidentally, the new design also includes a number of Covid-friendly features, with more intimate spaces and booth seating in the dining room that helps with social distancing.

With only about 40 passengers on the first sailing, social distancing was not an issue. And after more than a year of Covid-19 protocols at home, the measures onboard felt nothing other than normal.

Guests had to have a negative Covid-19 test within 24 hours of boarding, which was easy for anyone traveling directly from the States, as U.S. travelers must be tested on arrival in Italy.

Every time guests board the ship, the face scanner used to identify them also takes their temperature. Masks are required while wandering the hallways and public spaces, but can be removed once seated or outside.

There is no self-service in dining areas, and guests have assigned tables for the duration of the cruise. And, of course, dramatically enhanced disinfecting and air filtration systems have been installed.

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