Last updated: 10:30 PM ET, Sun March 29 2015

Uniworld Unique

Guy Young says his goal is to be the best, not the biggest

Vacation Agent | Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Theresa Norton

Uniworld Unique

PHOTO: Guy Young of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection.

Tell us about the S.S. Maria Theresa, your newest ship that was scheduled to be christened on March 26.

All of our ships that we build are one-of-a-kind. In the case of Maria Theresa, we created a floating palace fitting for the namesake of the ship, who was ruler of the Hapsburg Empire from 1740 to 1780. No expense was spared.

As one example, the ceiling in the lobby was hand painted by 17 painters over a two-week period. There’s also beautiful artwork. One of the centerpieces is a stunning 10-foot painting of Maria Theresa in the lobby. A lot of river cruise vessels are cookie-cutter, but we come out with one-of-a-kind, beautiful vessels, which really do set us apart in the river cruise sector.

Beyond the stunning design and style of the ship, we have unique public area amenities and high-tech features. For example, with the press of a button the window goes down in the stateroom, creating an open-air balcony. We also did something new in the suites. The beds face outside and we never want to obscure the view, so the TV actually drops down from the ceiling. We have also made a huge investment in the upgrade of our Internet and Wi-Fi across our entire fleet.

The ship also has an indoor swimming pool with a beautiful mosaic wall, a Viennese café serving coffee and pastries, a cinema and our beautiful signature Leopard Lounge for alternative dining and drinks.

We have increased the number of suites on the Maria Theresa, and the number of guests that we will accommodate is only 150.

Are there more new ships in the works for Uniworld?

In 2016, we will launch a new program on the Ganges River in India, and in 2017, we have plans to launch a new ship in France. We’ll reveal details on that later in the year.

At Uniworld, our plan has always been to launch one to two ships per year. It’s a different philosophy from that of some of our competitors. We want sustainable growth, and we want to build the best ships on the rivers. We internally finance our ships, so there’s no debt and we don’t have to rely on outside financing to grow the company.

Next January, you will start sailing on the Ganges River in India, an exotic new river cruise destination. Is there demand for India?

Young: “We come out with one-of-a-kind, beautiful vessels, which really do set us apart.”

We had our product team go to India on a product inspection and to experience the itinerary. They came back super excited to start up a program, but we were a little hesitant. No major U.S. river cruise operator had gone into India yet.

Now we’ve been in the market three or four months, and the demand for our India program is just amazing and even better than we expected. We have a number of dates already sold out.

We have very loyal past guests who are always interested in going to new destinations with us. India can be a very busy and hectic destination, so we combine a five-night land tour to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, staying at Oberoi hotels, with a leisurely seven-night cruise. The ship is going to be extremely luxurious with a décor fitting the destination. The smallest cabin is 261 square feet, so it will be very luxurious and very comfortable.

Uniworld is scheduled to return to Egypt with the River Tosca in October. How is the market responding?

I have a personal attachment to Egypt. I traveled there in October 2010, just a few months before the uprising, and it was probably one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. The people are so warm and welcoming and rely so much on tourism. It is a little bit slow, but we do hope that, with the right amount of advertising and others starting to go back, there will be more of an appetite for people to travel to Egypt.

This year in Russia, Uniworld cut back to four departures on the Volga River between Moscow and St. Petersburg. The website shows 12 departures for 2016. Do you think the situation will settle down there?

Russia has been a challenge for us. We’re operating fewer departures in 2015 than we have operated historically, and we’re in a bit of a holding pattern. We’ll have to see if things calm down in Ukraine and if the political tensions with Russia ease.

Historically, Russia has been one of our best itineraries. We had a 98 percent load factor in 2013. Then 2014 wasn’t quite as good because they were already starting to have problems. So for next year, it’s still very early on and we don’t start operating those until May 2016. We will need to see how sales come in over the next three or four months before we make the decision on how many departures we choose to operate.


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Vacation Agent Magazine

A version of this article appears in print in the April 2015 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.