U by Uniworld's The A and The B river cruise ships transformed for partying

River refurbs

Several river cruise lines are making substantial changes to their existing ships rather than investing in new ones. Uniworld has three freshly made-over ships sailing in Europe this year and Tauck has two; Scenic has scheduled refurbishments to eight of its Space-Ships leading up to the 2019 season.

U by Uniworld's The A and The B are the most radical of the transformations. The former stately River Ambassador and River Baroness now sport sleek black exteriors with neon signage and top decks – The Rooftop Lounge – designed for partying.

Interiors are ultra-cool, decked out in a contemporary boutique hotel style; accommodation for 120 passengers ranges from studio bedrooms fitted with bunk beds for triple occupancy to spacious balcony suites. U by Uniworld cruises are now open to all adult passengers, not just the under-45s as originally planned.

Uniworld's more traditional River Beatrice has been upgraded to Super Ship status after a major redesign. SS Beatrice now features two new Royal Suites, connecting rooms for groups travelling together, a lavishly appointed lobby and new restaurants including Max's, which is also used for cooking classes.

Tauck's MS Treasure and MS Esprit are the last of the company's four 110-metre ships to undergo major "down to the studs" refurbishments. Thirty 40-square-metre cabins were replaced by 20 larger, more luxurious staterooms and the ships now accommodate 98 rather than 118 passengers – with the same number of crew and Tauck directors to look after them.

The Bistro restaurants on the upper decks of both ships now have their own galley and chef and have been renamed Arthur's, after company chairman Arthur Tauck jnr; they provide a more casual alternative to the fine dining Compass Rose restaurants. MS Treasure and MS Esprit sail on the Rhine, Main and Danube and the most popular itinerary is the 14-day cruise between Amsterdam and Budapest.

Scenic ships that will be going under the knife are Scenic Ruby, Pearl, Jasper, Opal, Amber, Crystal, Jade and Jewel, which all cruise on Europe's Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. Like Tauck, Scenic is reducing the number of suites, adding new 48-square-metre Royal Owner's Suites.

Scenic is the first river cruise line to install a Salt Therapy lounge; Norwegian Cruise Line has them in several of its oceangoing spas and they're popping up in spas all over the world. Salt therapy is said to improve various skin and lung conditions; on the Scenic ships, the three-station salt lounges have salt-brick walls, and low-level lighting and calming music for 45-minute relaxation sessions. I feel a bit of a lie-down coming on …

SHORE THING

THE PORT Vienna, Austria

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WHO GOES THERE (river cruises) APT, Avalon Waterways, Croisi-Europe, Crystal, Evergreen Tours, Riviera Travel, Scenic, Tauck, Travelmarvel, Uniworld, Viking.

WHY WE LOVE IT Austria's capital is a visual feast of monumental imperial architecture, baroque churches and palaces and perfectly manicured parks – but there are plenty of contemporary attractions too. Cool clubs and bars make for a thriving nightlife and shoppers will enjoy a great selection of upmarket shops, specialist boutiques and antique markets.

TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Most ships dock at the Reichsbrucke terminal on the Danube, a seven-minute ride by U-Bahn (metro) to the centre. The most famous 19th-century buildings are set along the 5.3-kilometre Ringstrasse that encloses the central district; you can walk it or take the Vienna Ring Tram, which departs every 30 minutes from Schwedenplatz. There is a huge variety of locally operated city tours that cover the main sites or go off the beaten track, from free guided walks to Segway, jogging, bus and "sofa-boat" tours. Ship-organised tours are usually part of your fare and can include experiences such as classical music performances in palaces, Schonbrunn Palace, the Spanish Riding School and shopping with the chef at the fabulous Naschmarkt.

MUST SEE Museums Quartier, which includes the Leopold Museum and Museum of Modern Art; city views from the ferris wheel in Prater amusement park and the tower of St Stephens Cathedral; the Hofburg and Belvedere palaces.

MUST EAT Cakes, pastries (apple strudel and sachertorte are the classics) and coffee, in a traditional 19th-century coffee house; beef goulash, paprika chicken or wiener schnitzel, in a beisl (Viennese tavern). Figlmueller restaurant on Wollzeile, behind St Stephen's Cathedral, has been serving wiener schnitzel since 1905.

NEED TO KNOW Buy a Vienna City Card for 24, 48 or 72 hours for discounted entry to major attractions, travel with Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus Tours plus discounts at a range of shops and restaurants.

ESSENTIALS https://www.wien.info 

CRUISEFACT

The total number of Antarctic visitors in 2017-18 was 51,707, an increase of 17 per cent from the previous season. The majority, 41,996, travelled by sea on ships offering excursions ashore.

NEWS

Africa cruise-safari combo

Ecruising.travel's 19-night African Safari Search for the Big 5  is a new country-intensive cruise package leaving Sydney in February 2020. It includes two nights' accommodation at the Raffles Dubai, a 10-night round-trip cruise from Cape Town on board Azamara Quest and a four-night stay at Little Bush Camp Sabi Sabi, near the Kruger National Park. The ship visits Port Elizabeth, Richards Bay, Durban and East London, with three days to explore Cape Town's many attractions at the beginning and end of the cruise. Little Bush is the newest addition to the Sabi Sabi collection of luxury safari lodges; daily game drives in open vehicles are accompanied by qualified game rangers and Shangaan trackers. Fares start from $14,949, including economy class return airfares from Australia. See https://www.ecruising.travel .

New Ponant itineraries

In addition to the Antarctic itineraries already on sale, Ponant has opened bookings for more than 100 luxury expedition cruises between October 2019 and April 2020. The company is doubling the number of tropical expeditions with the arrival of the first four Ponant Explorers – Le Laperouse, Le Champlain, Le Bougainville and Le Dumont d'Urville – and is also offering 27 all-new itineraries. The Indian Ocean, Mexico and the Red Sea are among destinations new to Ponant. Highlights include UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Seychelles and Vanilla Islands; Mayan treasures of the Yucatan Peninsula on a cruise combining Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras; and Red Sea voyages taking in some of the most important sites of the Ancient World, from Jordan to Egypt via Israel. See https://au.ponant.com

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