On The B, shore excursions are divided into those that are included in your fare and "U Time" options that have an additional fee. Because the ship doesn't serve lunch, most excursions build in time for passengers to grab something to eat in town.
Consistency with shore excursions was an issue. While many of the excursions sounded good on paper, we found that they didn't live up to their descriptions and were held on different days than we expected. On our cruise, several shore excursions were canceled due to lack of participation, restricting choice even more.
For example, the website and published itinerary said that on the second day, passengers could either visit Versailles for a fee or the village of Auvers-sur-Olise, where Van Gogh once lived. When we boarded the ship, we were told that the Versailles trip was now included, and the Van Gogh trip was a no-go. Many passengers were further surprised when the group got to Versailles and were told that they'd only be visiting the gardens and Marie Antoinette's house, and not the main palace. Likewise, a trip to the D-Day beaches at Normandy did not stop at the Bayeux Tapestry, which was name-checked in the excursion description. Honesty is always the best policy when it comes to shore excursions, and U River Cruises should be more upfront in their descriptions so passengers aren't unpleasantly surprised.
That being said, we found many high notes within The B's shore excursion program. Passengers loved the cathedral light show and late-night bar crawl in Rouen, as well as the rollicking 11 p.m. Moulin Rouge show in Paris. A morning hike to Chateau Gaillard provided lovely photo ops and high marks were given to other active excursions such as kayaking. Passengers raved about unusual options, like a retro motorcycle tour of Paris and a visit to the rooftop of the Paris shopping icon, Galeries Lafayette, which has views galore. Finally, the U Hosts were knowledgable, interesting and always willing to point you in the right direction.
U River Cruises is best for those who are OK going off on their own without a lot of guidance, particularly in Paris where excursions are limited (and there's a lot to do and see on your own). If you're the kind of person who is happy being independent in a city and taking public transportation, U River Cruises might be a good fit. If you like a little more hand-holding, it's probably not the line for you.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Mornings on The B begin at 8 a.m. with an optional group fitness activity such as stretching or yoga. We found these fairly well attended, especially at the beginning of the cruise before passengers encountered late nights.
Several fun activities are offered free of charge when the ship is sailing. A wine and paint class filled up quickly, while mixology classes were so popular that a second session was added. Several passengers mentioned that they wouldn't mind other daytime activities, such as trivia, particularly since space was limited on those that were offered.
At night, the ship staff did its best to entertain passengers with local DJs, brought onboard twice, and a silent disco, held once. These events weren't as popular as you'd expect on a youth-oriented cruise. We blame it on the fact that the passengers on our cruise skewed much older than U River Cruises' intended demographic, as well as the competing allure of Paris -- why stay on the ship when the City of Light is at your doorstep? U River Cruises might also be overestimating the party-hearty willingness of millennials taking a river cruise. The younger set on our cruise seemed more content playing board games, drinks in hand, than dancing the night away. If the ship does want to promote a party vibe after hours, perhaps getting the U Hosts or more outgoing bartenders involved might shake things up too.
The B also has tents that can be rented for overnight camping on the top deck. These haven't really proved popular, however, and while they are included in the ship's romance package, no passengers have actually slept in one overnight at the time of this review.
Other than mixology and painting, organized enrichment activities aren't really a draw on The B. The best place to get your history in is on the excursions.
Nightlife is a huge draw of the U River Cruises brand, and the staff does its best to make the bars and lounges enticing. On our sailing, however, people spent more time hanging on the comfy sun deck banquettes and clamshells than in the bars. A charter singles cruise before ours, however, had passengers dancing until the sun came up (and passing out in the public spaces). We suspect the onboard vibe varies greatly with the group that's on your particular sailing.
U Lounge (Deck 2): The main inside area of the ship has seen a remarkable makeover from its beginnings as a Uniworld vessel, and we found it set the tone for the cruise. A neon heart welcomes you as you enter. Next you'll find black vinyl booths surrounding the bar, perfect for game nights or a light snack.
A dance floor anchors the middle of the lounge. The front of the lounge has punk rock black-and-red checkered chairs and black banquettes, each with outlets and USB ports underneath. There's also a foosball table. Modern rock music plays during the day and if you're looking to read or work on your computer -- we saw several people going through their photos on various devices -- it's a great place to hang.
The nice weather on our August sailing meant the lounge wasn't utilized as much as you might expect; passengers tended to stay upstairs on the sun deck until midnight or later. We were surprised by the lack of interest in the DJs; this might vary depending on who is onboard.
The cocktail menu is extensive, with drinks created just for the ship by spirits writer Jack Bettridge (who happens to be married to Uniworld president Ellen Bettridge). Fresh herbs and trendy ingredients make the drinks comparable to what you'd find on land, with similar prices (8 to 10 euro). Nonalcoholic cocktails are also available, as are wine ( also 8 to 10 euro) and beer.
Ice Bar (Sun Deck): One of the most noticeable features when you see The B on the river, the Ice Bar on the top deck is one of the most fabulous spaces we've seen in river cruising. Black-and-white geometric flooring matches the chairs and stools, and black banquettes are uplit with neon. An extensive bar, also lit up with neon, anchors one end of the room and there's a top notch sound system. Even more amazing than the decor is the fact that the entire room can fold down if the ship encounters a low bridge.
With such cool surrounds, we wondered why the Ice Bar wasn't utilized more by the ship or its passengers. On our sailing, mixology classes took place here and a few of the silent disco dancers wandered inside with their headphones, but otherwise the Ice Bar remained dead. We think it's partly because the rest of the sun deck drew passengers who wanted to chill out and relax and partly because the U staff tend not to interact much with the guests at night. A designated party person might be able to get things going. Another passenger posited that the high numbers of older people on the ship inhibited the younger ones from getting down. Whatever the case, we hope The B finds more reasons to get passengers inside this awesome space.
The sun deck on the B is extremely appealing, and on our sailing, it ended up being the main hangout space for passengers, both millennial and beyond. More than half of the deck has a striped cushy banquette that wraps around, facing anti-gravity chairs and cocktail tables. Clamshell cabanas are perfect for couples or close friends. And don't worry, you can still charge your phone -- USB ports are located under the couch.
There's no bar service on the sun deck per se, but the Ice Bar is only steps away. If you get chilly, The B staff will find you a fleece blanket. While The B doesn't have many of the diversions that you might find on other river ship top decks, like giant chess games or putting greens, we found that offering a very comfortable, slightly trendy place to hang out, day or night, is really all you need.
An area at the back of the sun deck is reserved for smokers, of which there was a surprising number on our cruise.
The black-and-white lobby is the get-things-done center of the ship. Here you'll find the front desk, which can help you with your bill, making reservations for the spa and making tour reservations. (For more detailed questions on tours, the U Hosts have a desk in the nearby lounge.) The front desk will also help you set up your WhatsApp account; you can choose to receive communication via email or a chat group within the app. We recommend that you do both, as sometimes notices went out by email well before they showed up on the phone. Wi-Fi on the ship is free, although occasionally slow, particularly in the countryside outside Paris. You won't want to use it for streaming. If you need to be in touch or want a stronger signal for streaming apps, the ship allows you to rent individual mi-fi devices for 8 euros a day.
The front desk is open around the clock.
Just off the lounge, the U shop has souvenirs, sunglasses, logo gear and practicalities like water bottles for sale. You purchase them at at the front desk. This is also where you'll find the vending machine for bottled water and snacks. Items cost a few euros.
The shop area also has a small photo "booth" where you can take candids with your new besties. No one on our sailing seemed to find this gem, despite having a large #TravelforU sign. The four printed photos that you get are free.
A huge boon to passengers who like to travel light (or who might be coming from other places in Europe), The B has a self-service laundry facility on Deck 1 with two washers, two dryers and an ironing board. Tokens are one euro each and are bought at the front desk. The cabins also have laundry service with a cloth bag in the closet. Prices are per item.
The B doesn't have an elevator, but there is a chairlift between Decks 1 and 2.
The B has a small room that's designated as the spa; essentially, a converted cabin on Deck 1. Spa by U services are billed as "choose your own" by style, oil and length, with choices including classic body massage, deep tissue massage, Thai massage, Japanese bamboo and Himalyan rock salt; facials are also available. For our deep tissue massage, we were not offered a choice of oil; however, the service itself started with a foot bath and was very well executed. Prices for all services cost 50 euros for 30 minutes, 90 euros for one hour and 130 euros for 90 minutes. You can add scalp, face, hand and foot massages or an eye treatment for 25 euro.
Cruisers who want to stay in shape will be pleased by The B's fitness room, which is larger than you typically find on river cruise ships. The space not only has several treadmills, bikes and an elliptical, it also boasts TRX suspension cords, free weights, mats and exercise balls. The gym is located on Deck 1 and is open 24 hours.
The B also has a wellness instructor onboard, who leads daily stretching, yoga and Pilates classes at 8 a.m. These complimentary sessions were well attended at the beginning of the week, not so much toward the end. You can also sign up for private training.
The B carries bikes and helmets for passengers to use on guided excursions or just to take out on their own. On our sailing, one bike excursion was canceled and another through the city of Rouen felt a bit dicey, due to traffic and the large size of the group. As the U Host noted, if you don't bike regularly at home, a European city might not be the best place to try it.
U River Cruises says that the minimum age to sail is 18. So we were surprised to hear that in its inaugural season, The B had kids onboard as young as 8. There are no special spaces or menus allotted for kids, and with the focus on nightlife, we don't see it as a good environment for them.