Sitting in S.S. Joie de Vivre’s intimate Le Bistrot, admiring the burgundy leather banquettes, classic red- and white-checked tablecloths and Moulin Rouge poster and enjoying scrumptious onion soup and cassoulet, it would be easy to think I was at a Parisian cafe. Introduced this spring, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s newest Super Ship is as French as the Seine River it sails, from the Pierre Frey Braquenie fabrics and plush velvet dining room ceiling to the local wines the sommelier selects to complement regional culinary choices featured at each meal.
What first struck me as I stepped aboard was the sumptuous decor. My 194-sq.-ft. French balcony stateroom, picture-perfect with its Savoir of England bed, rose fabric headboard, silk-covered walls and puffy white bedding, had a floor-to-ceiling window that lowers halfway to convert to a French balcony or can be covered by drawing the elegant drapes, all with the press of a button. Generous storage space included six drawers plus two large under-bed drawers and a full closet. The marble bathroom’s heated floor and towel rack, L’Occitane products, comfy robes, and regular and rain showerheads felt totally indulgent.
Despite carrying only 128 passengers, the ship offers a choice of dining styles. In addition to the bistro and 24-hour room service, the main dining room, Le Restaurant Pigalle, served buffet breakfast and lunch and a la carte dinner. Claude’s had a fun sharing menu in a versatile space that converts every evening from the Club L’Esprit pool area to an intimate starry-ceiling supper club. Self-serve areas for gourmet coffees, teas, fresh fruit and candy added a homey-touch, and afternoon tea was served daily in the Salon Toulouse. Two experiences came with surcharges: a cooking/wine-pairing evening in Caves des Vins; and a guided behind-the-scenes Progressive Dinner, visiting the bridge, engine room, galley and laundry. After dinner, several evenings featured local entertainers at Salon Toulouse, while depending on the night, Claude’s offered quieter music or movies.
Highlights of the 8-day Paris & Normandy itinerary included tours of Monet’s Garden at Giverny and Rouen, with tastings of local cheeses and treats in the market, and a full-day bus trip from Rouen to Normandy’s World War II sites.
The ship’s all-inclusive pricing includes excursions, gratuities, WiFi, unlimited beverages, airport transfers and more,and many departures waive or reduce single supplements.
Owned by the hands-on Tollman family, Uniworld brings a highly personal touch to all its ships and Joie de Vivre was clearly designed for this itinerary. In addition to posh French-inspired decor, its shortened length, 125 meters, allows it to dock within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower. It also docks right in the center of Rouen, Caudebec-en-Caux, Les Andelys and Mantes-la-Jolie. As an active traveler, I was delighted by the quality bicycles that travel with the ship and are at the ready at each port. The ship also has a decent spa/fitness center featuring a small pool with a resistance current for swimmers and morning yoga, aquasize and other classes. At many ports, Go Active options, like guided bike tours and golf, complemented more traditional sightseeing, generally walking tours or bike tours. Gentle Walker options were also offered, although some still required a fair bit of walking.
“The Joie de Vivre appeals to everyone from Baby Boomers to younger honeymooners, and we see a great demand among multigenerational families traveling together on our Generations sailings in the summer,” says Kristian C. Anderson, Uniworld’s senior v.p., global sales.
Lisa Long and Rick Amsden of Luxury Vacations LLC, an independent agency in the Avoya Network, who were on my sailing, noted, “It’s the little touches that make all the difference, like the way the Uniworld staff tunes into our guests, how the bar never closes until the last person leaves, the pillow menu…. The nice part for us is that so many clients come back and want to book their next cruise right away!”
Getting there: I flew Norwegian’s nonstop Boeing 787 Dreamliner service from JFK to Paris in Premium class, which, according to a spokesperson, often costs half of its competitors’ Premium Economy fares. Norwegian’s Premium travelers have access to a dedicated check-in line, fast-track security, a lounge, onboard dining and surprisingly wide seats with 46 inches of legroom. Norwegian also flies to Paris from Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando and will be adding service from Newark (Feb. 28), Denver (April 9), Oakland/San Francisco (April 10) and Boston (May 2).
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection: uniworld.com