When I received the email about U River Cruises, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was definitely intrigued. My prior cursing experience was limited and left me with some conflicting feelings.

About 9 years prior, I went on my very first cruise, it was on a mega ship, a large ocean cruise liner. I had planned and was super excited about the prospect of seeing so many places and all the many activities on the boat. By the end of it, while the experience was mostly positive, I found that the cons made m less eager to book another trip.

To quickly round up what those were, I’ll say it really started with the seasickness- ocean waters can get rough and for a very long time- the boat never quite settled and neither did my stomach. So while there was more food than was humanly possible to consume, I enjoyed very little of it. And then there were just so many people, so many crowds to deal with each day either during embarkation or disembarkation at a port. Found a favorite corner of the ship, but it was always occupied, had a preferred corner for breakfast, but there was always someone there. Also, when there are so many people on a ship, it gets harder not easier to meet and connect with folks. Cost of the cruise quickly ran up – for additional $$ for everything from drinks to excursions, from the internet to basic necessities (like toothpaste).

So yeah- I had some reservations but this was different- this was a river cruise. What did I know about river cruises: (1) they were much smaller boats (2) they skewed older (3) they were probably bumpier than small ships because they are smaller and can’t sustain as well as a big ship can. In spite of it, the allure of the destination- a cruise down the Rhine river with stops in Amsterdam, Haarlem, Cologne, Bonn and Frankfurt to name but a few were too enticing to let up.

So I packed up and got ready for my trip.

We landed in Amsterdam at 9 am in the morning- and headed to a meeting point, a known point at the train station for folks to meet and often for travelers to meet their tour groups or tour guide. U operates much more differently than other river cruises and had created a WhatsApp group to share messages and updates. We quickly found out that we could wait a little for an escort or we could head to the port quite easily by Taxi. We decided to keep our head start and jumped into one of the many Tesla cabs available at the Amsterdam Schipol airport and headed to the port. 

U River Cruises is unique in many ways, the first of which is that they also happen to be the only Back Ship (haha Black Sheep) on the river. So identifying them was plenty easy- we literally told the driver that we were looking for a black ship and we spotted it from a distance. 

Unlike a big cruise ship where embarkation can be as convoluted as airport travel- the check-in process was less than 5 minutes, we walked the plank, we handed our passports, and got our keycards with barcode stripe which we used to check in and check out the ship. U is working on being completely paperless and does an excellent job in using email, messaging and even the In-room TV to convey and share messages about activities and schedules. 

There are 3 room categories, room without balconies, rooms with balconies and larger suites with balconies. We were in a balcony suite and I was pleasantly surprised but the size and design- updated, modern and minimal- but the highlight was the white marble bathroom that doubled (maybe even more) the size of our bathroom in the mega ship. There was more than enough room to put away our 3 suitcases and fully unpack everything we came in. Double sinks in the bathroom, with under sink cabinets. 2 hangar rows (his and hers), nightstand table with drawers, pull out desk and a bar section that included coffee/tea set-up, mini fridge, and stemware. It just felt very thought out – like every single space or thing we could possibly need was incorporated into the space. The balcony while narrow perfectly accomplished its purpose. It became my favorite spot over the course of the trip.

And here’s where it gets interesting- a river cruise is significantly more intimate in every way. Capacity maxes out at 130 passengers as compared to 6000 on a mega ship. Soon we knew our neighbors who hailed from the globe- Australia, UK, Atlanta, Seattle, South Africa, Colombia, Hong Kong, Costa Rica and more. We would meet and see each other in one of 3 main shared spaces: The lounge where we would gather for itinerary updates, games and late night get-togethers; the Dining room, where we would convene over breakfast, brunch and sometimes family style dinners; and the top level deck where they would host morning yoga, afternoon Bbq’s, Drum sessions and Sail-away LIVE jazz Sessions. During those moments and the moments in between, we would laugh and chat, updating each there one which activities we chose for the day and what we would do next.

As part of your ticket, there are a vast number of included activities (walking tours, bike tours, castle hikes)- and in addition to those, there are additional special activities (wine tastings, forest zip lining, Holland Tulip gardens) that would come at an extra fee. Point being, you could go as hard or as relaxed as U choose to go. It was clear to me that a big reason for the flexibility and varied activities was to encourage a younger crowd that river cruising (often thought to be only for the old) was also for them. My cruise had a healthy mix of 20,30, and over 40’s, probably an even third for each segment. 

The moment it hit me  that I was really enjoying this, was when I was sitting at the top deck, listening to our Sax player, as we sailed past green hilltops, old Germanic castles, as we made our way down the Rhine river, and I turned to my husband and said, when are we doing this again. Seriously, when do I get to do this again- if it’s up to me – Very very soon. 

P.S.: The staff and service were excellent- from housekeeping to the restaurant crew that knew our names from Day 1 and quickly familiarized themselves with our faves, allergies, and dislikes, our hosts who really felt more like co-guests and personal friends rather than hosts.

You can visit www.ubyuniworld.com. to book your own cruise that includes three daily meals, Wi-Fi, select shore excursions, onboard local hosts and more starting at $1,499.


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