From Danube to the Nile River, Ellen Bettridge is never landbound for long. The president and chief executive officer of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises shares with Jessica Chan the best boltholes in the world.
Ellen Bettridge, president and chief executive officer of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
The numerous stamps on Ellen Bettridge’s passport draw envy. The president and chief executive officer of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises has ticked off most of Europe, the United Kingdom and big bucket list spots like Egypt - onboard the luxury cruise line’s River Tosca - before joining the company in 2016. Her decades of experience in hospitality, with American Express, Silversea Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, puts her in good stead to oversee the multinational staff and 19-ship fleet. The 52-year-old also manages the brand’s latest Super Ship (S.S.), a term for ships upgraded with more suites, restaurants and luxe finishes. Recently, she joined the crew of S.S. Beatrice along the Danube River. Next on her plate: the launch of S.S. Bon Voyage in Bordeaux next April.
What does Uniworld have in-store for 2019?
As a company, we are ahead of the curve. Our customers live hectic lives and want to be pampered to the hilt. It was a natural decision to rebrand our popular ships into S.S., but the upgrade offers more than just added suites and dining options.
Seeing that our guests are getting more in-tune with their health, we’ve added wellness coaches
and Go Active excursions. The latter provides a range of hiking, biking or walking tours through the cities. The Ganges Voyager II, which relaunched this month, will see expert yogis from Delhi offering yoga and meditation classes while the restaurants serve up organic meals. I’m most excited about the S.S. Bon Voyage (previously named River Royale) as it will take the food and wine experience of Bordeaux to new heights. There’s going to be chef demonstrations in the dining room, a Bouillon Pigalle-inspired bistro and additional bicycles for guests to explore the wine region’s beautiful landscapes on their own.
The best part about your job?
Hands down, it’s the letters from our guests. Just the other day, an old couple sent me a handwritten one with photos. It was adorable. The wife started off by saying, “I’ve never written a love letter to a cruise line.” They were on their sixth Uniworld cruise as her husband had Alzheimer’s and she believed it to be their last cruise. On the night of the Captain’s Dinner, he had forgotten how to tie a tie. The room steward jumped right in to help. Hilariously, the captain exclaimed, “I can do better than that,” and dropped whatever he was doing to redo his tie. There’s a photo of him in a bathroom with a crazy hat and a makeshift turban. They had bump into a bunch of Australians who decided they were going to have a pyjama party on the top deck. Best of all, her husband won first prize.
Share with us your own river cruise experiences.
Years ago, I went onboard the River Tosca with my then 15-yearold daughter. It sailed through the Nile River, taking us along the picturesque Aswan. We got to see the Abu Simbel temples, Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. The guide, who was a high school history teacher, actually stocked up on trinkets to give away as prizes for answering his little quizzes. My daughter learned so much; she even made a small presentation for her friends back at school.
My husband joined me onboard the River Countess last year, and it was the first time I’ve felt relaxed in years, We got to enjoy
excursions to Bologna and
Burano. The latter, known for its vibrant fishermen houses, lace-making and seafood, made for a great day trip. My favourite was when we got a private tour of St. Mark’s
Basilica at night. Not only did we skip the snaking queues and crowd, a historian joined us as a guide. She took us behind the altar (a restricted area) and down to the catacombs with only candles as a light source.
It was like I was inside a movie.
My most recent cruise was with the S.S. Beatrice in Vienna. At night, it would move its docking position and sail in front of the parliament. It’s the best view with the mesmerising lights dancing against the cool, dark sky.
I also loved the cook-off on the ship’s Max’s Restaurant. I joined a group to make sauces, Caesar salads and desserts to go along with the dry-aged steak. Everything tastes better when you make it yourself.
As a fan of curry, where do you go to satisfy your cravings? Within the Hotel D’angleterre in Geneva is the Windows Restaurant which serves an amazing chicken curry. It’s under the Red Caranation Hotel Collection, a sister company under The Travel Corporation. The recipe comes from Mrs Tollman. They serve it with papadums and little plates of sauces. Honeycomb ice cream as dessert is a must.
There’s also The Curry Room at The Rubens. On top of amazing Indian-cum-african fare, it’s got a rocking view of the Royal Mews of Buckingham Palace. Always make a pit stop at the bbar next door for the best chicken sandwich. Cheekily called the “Son of a Gun” Buttermilk Chicken Sandwich, it’s a cult favourite that got famous by word of mouth.
High dam monument in Aswan, Eygpt Chicken curry from Windows Restaurant River Countess