Katy Berzins talks about TUI River Cruises’ debut on the Douro

The brand leader tells Rebecca Gibson why TUI River Cruises is prioritising flexibility and choice when designing the interiors, onboard offerings and itinerary for its first newbuild vessel 

Katy Berzins talks about TUI River Cruises’ debut on the Douro

TUI River Cruises

By Rebecca Gibson |

TUI River Cruises will mark a defining moment in its history in spring 2025. Not only will it grow its fleet to five ships by debuting its first purpose-built newbuild, but it will also expand into new regions of the world by operating sailings on Portugal’s Douro River.  

According to head of TUI River Cruises Katy Berzins, this will be a significant step for the brand, which launched with three pre-owned and extensively refurbished vessels – TUI Isla, Maya and Skyla – on the Danube, Rhine and Moselle in 2021.  

“We started on the European waterways, will begin cruising on the River Nile with TUI Al Horeya in winter 2024, and now we will also offer our customers the chance to experience the Douro,” she says. “The opportunity for us to bring a new ship to the market that we can design with our customers in mind is a hugely exciting step forward for us in our journey.” 

Like the other vessels in the fleet, the new TUI Alma (‘soul’ in Portuguese) will be marketed primarily at British customers. The four-deck ship will accommodate 123 guests in a total of 62 cabins, including six standard balcony cabins, two suites with balconies, and one room for solo travellers. Other onboard highlights will include an atrium with a reception area and shore experiences desk; Novo Lounge, which will be home to the ship’s main bar and host nightly entertainment; and the Sorriso’s, Vinha and Cinder dining venues.  

Sorriso’s will be a “bright, modern space” serving both buffet and a la carte options three times a day, while al fresco restaurant Vinha will offer evening meals created using local flavours and ingredients and feature interiors inspired by the Douro Valley’s “colourful landscapes”. Located on the top deck, Cinder will be open for self-serve lunches cooked by chefs on an open grill.  

TUI River Cruises

TUI River Cruises launched three pre-owned and extensively refurbished vessels – TUI Isla, Maya and Skyla – on the Danube, Rhine and Moselle in 2021

The three dining venues are part of the brand’s commitment to maximising choice for guests. “We want every guest to be able to tailor all elements of their river cruise experience to suit their personal preferences, so we’re designing TUI Alma with true flexibility in mind,” explains Berzins. “Having three dining venues that each offer their own distinct aesthetic, service style and cuisine will give passengers a minimum of two choices for each meal of the day.” 

TUI Alma will also feature hybrid venues and transitional spaces to offer various experiences and entertainment options throughout the day.  

“River ships are small, which makes it challenging to incorporate multiple public spaces, adequate accommodation and the necessary operational areas of the ship,” says Berzins. “By designing venues that can serve multiple purposes and using design elements such as lighting and zoning to transform the atmosphere of these areas throughout the day and evening, we essentially create extra venues to give our guests more choice in how to spend their time onboard the vessel. 

“The Retreat, for example, will serve as an indoor wellness venue with a space for exercise classes and a bar serving healthy smoothies and snacks in the daytime. At night, it will become a cosy and intimate lounge bar for guests who want to escape the entertainment in the busy main lounge.”  

Similarly, the top deck of the vessel will be divided into several zones, including an area with a shallow pool and sun loungers, a wellness and exercise space, and the Cinder al fresco bar and grill. 

“Guests will be able to exercise, dine with friends, or simply relax while taking in the panoramic views,” says Berzins. “The Douro Valley is famous for its dramatic gorges and terraced hills lined with vineyards, so we’ve designed a space that will enable guests to make the most of the amazing scenery and summer weather. It will be one of the most beautiful venues on the ship and very different to what our competitors offer.”  

TUI River Cruises also prioritised flexibility when developing TUI Alma’s itinerary, which will have a “heavy focus on relaxed daytime sailing”. The seven-day roundtrips from Porto will include calls at Entre-os-Rios, Peso de Regua, Vega de Terron and Barca d’Alva, as well as various immersive shore excursions. 

“We’ll organise traditional excursions to key attractions and we’re creating unique experiences to give guests an authentic taste of local life,” says Berzins. “Guests will also be given the freedom to explore by themselves if they prefer. In addition, we’ll offer a TUI Flying service from London Gatwick to Porto, allowing us to own the end-to-end customer experience and take our river cruise product to new heights. 

“We’ve put our heart and soul into this product, and we’re excited to create something amazing for our guests.” 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of  Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe  for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.  

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