Uniworld Cruising with Alice Ager

Alice Ager and I discuss her love of river cruising and how Uniworld provides a wide range of cruising options for cruising enthusiasts.

In this episode, Allen Suss Discusses Uniworld River Cruises with Alice Ager


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Now here’s your luxury travel Captain Allen Suss.

Allen Suss

 Welcome, everyone. This is Allen Suss, the river cruise expert from TravelManagers Australia, speaking today with Alice Ager, General Manager Australia of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.

Alice Ager

Hi, Allen.

Allen Suss

 Another beautiful day in paradise.

 Allen Suss

 Another great day in paradise. Yes, a great day,

 Allen Suss

You’re the person who knows everything about river cruising.

 Alice Ager

Well, I’m a bit of an expert. Yes, I know a bit about river cruising.

 Allen Suss

Yes. Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into travel?

 Alice Ager

 Oh, sure. Well, my name is Alice and I got into travel about nine years ago. My background was in professional services, where I worked in communications.

I met my husband while working in London. He worked for an airline. And when we first got together, he said to me, “Alice, I’ve got to go away for work. I’m going to Africa on a safari.” And I was like, I beg your pardon.

You get to go on safari for work? And I was really very motivated to get a piece of that.

I thought what a great way to see the world. And obviously, travel is my passion.

So, in 2010, I got my first job working for a luxury hotel in Bangkok, where we were living at the time. I really haven’t looked back since.

I’ve just fell in love with the industry, fell in love with luxury as a kind of travel category. I love buying things in life. I love being spoiled.

And I found myself working on a cruise ship which is essentially a floating hotel.

And when I came back to Australia and found my place in the cruise ship market. Cruising to me is just the most exceptional way to travel. Whether it’s on a river, an ocean, a big ship, or a small ship.

I absolutely love every aspect of cruising.

 Allen Suss

That is very interesting. And of course, you love cruising. Let’s talk a little bit about river cruising. What is different and special about river cruising?

Alice Ager

Well, look, it’s a little bit different. The ships are much smaller. On a river ship, they generally look very similar from the exterior.

In Europe, in particular, we have to build the ship to suit the rivers that we’re sailing on. They have to be able to navigate through the lock systems and have the ability to do

a U-turn to enable the ship to turn around.

We really build the ships based on the river itself.

As I said from the exterior all river ships look pretty similar. They’re about 55 meters in length, and about 35 meters wide. In Europe, they usually carry around 100 to 130 guests.

Obviously, you’ve got different rivers with different dimensions. For the Mekong, for example, you can have a shorter ship or a wider ship.

Really, the difference with river cruising is that you’re always close to shore that you don’t get any sea days.

It’s a much more active version of cruising. You tend to be in port every morning.

When you wake up, you wake up in a new location. And you tend to do a lot of the cruising in the night-time. So, while you’re sleeping, you’re cruising and you wake up in a new place with a new destination to explore.

The other great thing is being a smaller capacity. With only approximately 100 guests, there are things that you can roll out so they don’t have to queue for anything. They always get a seat in the restaurant. And we do things like small group tours.

You can literally step off the ship and actually be in the heart of the city.

I think this is something that really appeals to me about river cruising. I remember when I did my first Mediterranean cruise. It started in Barcelona and I was in Barcelona.

I stayed in the fabulous hotel in Barcelona and then I had to get on a coach. For an hour I sat in the coach to get to the port.

Whereas with river cruising you arrived in the heart of the destination that you’re exploring. So, whether it’s Avignon we put it right under the Pont d’Avignon. In the south of France or in Paris, we are right near the Eiffel Tower.

Our port is right there.

A river cruise takes you into the heart of your destination. That’s not to take away from those fantastic sea days of absolute decadent relaxation that you get on an ocean cruise.

I think river cruising is a very active style of travel because there’s so much to do. It also requires some physical fitness because you do have to be able to walk off and on the ship.

You’re not necessarily ported right onto a continuum, a big marina or a big port. As such it means that you can literally step off and be at the heart of your destination.

Allen Suss

That is so true. I’ve been on a cruise or two and the advantage I find is not only are you close to the banks, both banks are always pretty close to the ship because the ship is wide, but not that wide.

And of course, it’s very easy to walk into town, whether it’s Regensburg, Budapest or Amsterdam, wherever it might be. So, it’s pretty easy.

By the way about languages. How do people get on? If they are, for example, Australians, and they don’t have another language? How do they, you know how to communicate?

Alice Ager

 Our primary language at Uniworld is English.  We have a very international crew. However, everybody speaks English on board.

And also, when we host our all-inclusive shore excursions in each port, we actually use local experts that are proficient in the English language.

So really, you know if you don’t speak any other languages, it’s absolutely no issue. Our crew might try to help you learn some key phrases or salutations in the local lingo. But that’s all part of the fun.

Allen Suss

 Yes, well, I’ve noticed that most of the crews that I have met, and most of them, in fact, were multilingual. They speak two languages. Some may speak five or six.

Alice Ager

 Embarrassing, isn’t it?

 Allen Suss

 That makes me laugh. That’s what happens out there in the big world. I noticed that on the website, which is a very nice website, if anyone wants to go and have a look at it it’s uniworld.com.

You have extensive cruises around the world. How many rivers are you, in fact, on?

 Alice Ager

 Good question, Allen. Well, in our fleet, we have 20 ships. With 20 ships that makes us a relatively small boutique company. We own all of our European fleet outright.

We’re family-owned. And actually, you know, it’s really a big thing to say this after a two-year hiatus of not being able to travel but we’re actually a debt-free, family-owned company.

We’re actually the largest family-owned travel company in the world. We’re called the Travel Corporation. And our background started in Red Carnation Hotels, and then we bought Uniworld as a brand in 2004.

We have replicated that boutique hotel experience just floating on the rivers.

The 20 ships in our fleet, are mostly in Europe. At the moment we’re seeing a real trend for river cruising.  We’ve got three ships across the rivers of France.

We’ve got one that does Paris and Normandy. We’ve got a ship that does cruises from Bordeaux to Bordeaux exploring the road in the Garonne River.

.We have a ship in the south of France that does Burgundy and Provence. That’s quite, you know, classic. The most fascinating and beautiful way to experience France requires no driving.  It’s a really popular destination for Australians.

The Douro River in Portugal is another one that’s really trending for us. And then, of course, you’ve just got the classic, which you’ve mentioned before the ports of Nuremberg and Vienna. We do from Amsterdam all the way down to Bucharest. We cover the Rhine, Maine, and the Danube rivers.

Then we’ve got what we call our exotics program, and that’s anything outside of Europe.

We’ve got two ships operating on the Nile in Egypt. Egypt has really tickled the Australians’ imagination this year. I think this because many saw the film, Death on the Nile, which is the Poirot movie that came out recently this year.

It is fabulous. If you haven’t seen it,  the movie makes you really, really excited to get over to Egypt. Our two ships in Egypt are very, very popular.

We’ve got a ship in India on the Ganges River, which is a fascinating, very like sort of bucket list destination. A really beautiful and luxurious way to experience the North of India.

Then we have the Mekong cruise.  The Mekong cruise is a beautiful program, where we take in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Saigon.

We go to Cambodia and visit Siem Reap and visit all the beautiful temples of Angkor Wat.

The best part about Uniworld is our business is a hotelier at heart. At the core of our philosophies is hospitality and being hoteliers, we work with the best hotel properties that are available for our guests to experience in those locations.

For example, when we go to Hanoi, we stay at the Sofitel Metropole, which is possibly the best breakfast you’ll ever have in the world.

And when we’re at Siem Reap, next to Angkor Wat, we’re in the fabulous Sofitel that is really well located right next to the temples.

So not only is it about the experience onboard the ship, and the ship is a destination in itself, but also about the touring off the ship.

The experience that Uniworld offers is that we cover pretty much all the major rivers around the world.

Allen Suss

 There’s a lot to talk about, Alice, as you would know. So, you just keep going, no problem, because people who are listening to this and who are interested in what we have to say they’ll listen to you because it’s fascinating.

I can tell you that all these places are really interesting, but you know the interesting thing about Porto, where the Douro River starts from. They have, the Harry Potter library, and the triple bookshop, and you pay to go in there.

It’s really weird but you look at this and you think, was this really built for Harry Potter? No, it was built about 100 years ago. And the author of Harry Potter used to live in Porto.

Alice Ager


Allen Suss

 Perhaps JK Rowling got her inspiration from that. That’s possible.

Allen Suss

 Porto is actually quite a small, a small city, but it’s very hilly. You get a lot of exercise wandering about. And it’s also famous for its trams. So, there are a lot of things there.

And if you go to Portugal, you can also always go to Lisbon. It’s not very far by train from Porto to Lisbon. And yes, it’s a fascinating place, and of course, going down the Nile.

That’s interesting. Going down to Abu Simbel, I think that’s one of the most interesting places in the world. They pulled the statues up there when they created the dam there at Abu Simbel. They took the statues that were there, and built them on higher ground.  How do you think how did they do this?

Alice Ager

 How did they do it?

Allen Suss

 Would you go and see it on YouTube, how they were able to cut up all the blocks, numbered them and then put them all together again? It was a massive jigsaw puzzle.

We have a lot of things that we can talk about, but we really have very little time to do it now. We obviously have to have another podcast.

Alice Ager

 We’ll do another one.

Allen Suss


Alice Ager

 There was one thing that I really wanted to share with your audience, Allen. If you would indulge me, it’s something that is unique to Uniworld.

We’ve got a new product and look it’s something very, very, very special.  It’s a combination of four river cruises. We’ve called it ‘Our Rivers of the World’.

It is kind of our version of an ocean world cruise. It’s 54 Nights. In 2024 we will be taking 68 very lucky travellers with us starting in Lima in Peru in South America.

We will be embarking on an absolutely epic journey. We’re using the beautiful Belmond Properties throughout South America for our tour from Lima.

We cruise the Amazon River on board the Aria Amazon, which is a beautiful teeny, tiny river ship. It takes us into the remote areas of the Amazon in Peru. From Cusco to  Machu Picchu.

We take the train up to the Machu Picchu sites and the Sacred Valley. And then the group will go to Iguazu Falls. They get to see the Belmond Das Cataracts when we see the Iguazu Falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinian sites.

This is something very, very special.

And then we spend a night at the Belmond Copacabana Palace Hotel obviously in Rio, I’d never heard of this hotel. But now that I’ve seen it and literally see it everywhere I go, it just looks aspirational and beautiful. So that’s the first aspect.

So that’s the first continent that we touch in South America. And then the whole group will travel together, we’ll fly into Amsterdam, and we’ll do the beautiful Maine, Rhine and Danube rivers together all the way to Budapest.

There’ll be some over-and-above special off-the-ship experiences for those special guests. For example, private Mozart concerts, different activities and special events off the ship.

And then we do one of our most popular itineraries, which I mentioned before, which is Burgundy and Provence.  We then fly from Budapest into Lille. And we cruised seven nights down into Avignon. And that includes obviously all the airfares and all the rail tickets and everything else.

Then from Avignon, we get to train up to Paris together. And we make our way to Hanoi. And I like to mention that we stay at the fabulous Sofitel Metropole, in Hanoi, and we have some sightseeing.

We have a night on Ha Long Bay doing a beautiful luxury Junk Boat in the Bay of Ha Long.

And then we do the Siem Reap and Angkor Wat experience, and then board the fabulous Mekong Jewel. This is a brand-new supership cruising along the Mekong Delta that travels from Siem Reap down into Saigon.

Saigon is one of my favourite cities, of all time. We will spend two nights in Saigon. Yeah, I love it. I’m really passionate about Asia, I have lived there before. And I just feel a real affinity with the climate and the people and the culture and the food of Asia.

But Ho Chi Minh, it’s just, it’s just fabulous.  This is a very, very special cruise. Allen, it’s, you know, I know it’s a very long one. It’s not for everybody.

But it’s something that I really want Australians to have an opportunity to book and to consider.

 Allen Suss

You have one next year, haven’t you, and that’s fully booked now, isn’t it?

Alice Ager

 A 2023 version of this, which starts in Egypt actually sold out within three days, which was fabulous. Also, a bit disappointing because a lot of Australians missed out. And so, what we’re doing for the 2024 version is we want to give people an opportunity to pre-register.

We want them to put their names down so that as soon as we launch this program, which will happen next month in May. What we’d like to do is be able to give people the first chance to book because you know what happens?

Allen, we’ve experienced this all the time. I mean, we’re a global company. We’re competing with the Americans who’ve been travelling already now for 12 months.  They haven’t stopped.

They were back on the river ship back in June 2021. When we were all locked up in our houses. You know, they’re in the mindset of, we’re looking for the next thing we’re already planning ahead.

They’ve got their 2023 organized, and now they’re looking to 2024. What that means is, when we launch this ‘Rivers of the World’ 2024 cruise out into the UK markets and the USA market, they’re just going to snap it up.

I don’t want people to be disappointed this time, I’m trying to make this so that we’ve got a bit more time to get our heads around booking something so far ahead.

I know, October 2024. seems ridiculous but unfortunately, this is what we have to do nowadays, to commit and make sure that we are. You know, lining up our calendars to get what we really truly want.

Otherwise, we’re going to miss out.

Allen Suss

 Following on from that, Alice, if anyone wants further information, feel free to give me a call on 0433 203 713.

 Alice Ager

You need to get to book now. I would love everybody to do so.

Please call Allen Suss. Allen has got all the information on this one. How it works is you just to pre-register.

You pay a waitlist fee and the pre-registration fee or waitlist fee. It’s $1,400 per person. And essentially, what that does is it kind of creates a booking in the system, that is fully refundable.

When we launched the program in May, we will be in touch with you, Allen so that you can work with your clients to work through whether it is the right program for them and if it’s something they really want to do.

And if they don’t if they change their mind, it’s really absolutely no problem. It’s a fully refundable deposit. It’s just $1,400 to hold a spot on this once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Allen Suss

 Sorry, Allen would say, per person or per cabin.

Alice Ager

No, everything’s per person. So, it’s a per-person, waitlist fee.

Allen Suss

That clarifies. But also, you’re offering a special deal. opportunity if people booked via me via the podcast?

Alice Ager

 Yes, absolutely. Well, I wanted to do something to say thank you, to you, Allen, for real, you know, trusting your clients to Uniworld.

Because hand on heart, I promised you that we will take the absolute utmost care of your very important clients.

And so, I thought today maybe we could do something special and exclusive. Just for Allen Suss at Travel Managers.

And that’s to offer an additional $100 per person saving on every booking that comes through for you, Allen and based on this podcast.

If your listeners just mentioned that they’ve listened to the podcast, absolutely. We would love to give them that exclusive offer.

Allen Suss

That’s terrific. Thank you, Alice. Look, you’re not going to believe this. Alice, we have been 20 minutes or so.

Alice Ager

 That was so much fun. It went so fast.

Allen Suss

 There were probably another 3000 questions to ask you, you know, what happens to solo travellers and people expect and what’s the food like? And we’ll wait, we’ll hold that.

Those sorts of questions are over to another podcast anyway.

Alice Ager

 We’ll do it again.

Allen Suss

 Yeah, exactly. What I like to do is to thank you very much for joining me on the podcast today.

This is Allen Suss from TravelManagers Australia, River Cruise Expert until the next podcast.

Today I’ve been speaking with Alice Ager, General Manager Australia, of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.

You’ve got to do a river cruise. In fact, I am doing a river cruise with you later this year, or later, in July.

So gosh, that’s coming up quickly. I’m looking very forward to that. And that will be exciting. Okay, thank you very much.

Alice Ager

 Thank you, Allen.

Allen Suss


Alice Ager

 It was great fun. Thank you for having me.

Allen Suss

 I hope that you have enjoyed listening to my special guest today, travelling and even an experienced travel agent to help you book your trip.

Call me directly on 0433 203 713. And as always be on the lookout for our next Luxury Travel Podcast episode.

This is Allen Suss of TravelManagers Australia; wishing you a wonderful day.