with Uniworld’s S.S. Joie De Vivre
Getting on board with the ever-growing popularity of European river cruises, many sign on for the deservedly popular Danube as their first choice. But discerning Francophiles, those in the know, and veteran cruisers looking for where to go next, are focusing their attention on one of Europe’s more overlooked rivers, putting the Seine on their short list of dreamy sailing options. When Uniworld christened their newest ship, the S.S. Joie de Vivre, in 2017, they ushered in a new level of luxury on the Seine.
When a Seine cruise offers Paris as the point of both departure and return (few European river cruises are round-trip), one almost need not say more. But upon closer look, the 8-day itinerary aboard the Joie de Vivre boasts a mix of France’s greatest hits, from the dazzling homes of the Sun King (the opulent Palace of Versailles) and Claude Monet (the legendary gardens of Giverny, where water lilies were blooming during our visit) to Rouen, the small and elegant capital of Normandy. Known for its beautifully preserved Old Town and celebrated Gothic cathedral, which Monet repeatedly painted so luminously, Rouen is also known as the place where, in 1431, Joan of Arc was burned as a heretic at the stake.
But perhaps it was the Normandy coast that was the standout memory for many. In the company of our remarkably well-informed guide, we learned how the coast was an important muse of the Impressionist painters (how the charm of the fishing town of Honfleur, for one, was captured on countless canvases). We also explored its significance in the Allies’ D-Day invasion—the landing beaches and the pivotal role they played during the final days of World War II was explained in detail, with taps played for us on a deserted Omaha Beach at the end of an emotional day.
I floated through this history- and gastronomy-rich region of northern France aboard Uniworld’s 128-passenger Joie de Vivre, built to reflect the “joy of living” philosophy, as its name promises. It is a stylish celebration of all things French, with an unrivaled attention to food and wine (and plenty of it—with an accent on French classics, locally sourced and paired with vintages carefully chosen by the resident sommelier). This is all enjoyed around the clock amidst an ultra-authentic French aesthetic designed to recall Paris in the first half of the 20th century—with rich fabrics, original vintage posters and art, and choice items and paintings from the personal collection of the hands-on owners, the Tollman family (the same family proudly at the helm of Red Carnation Hotels and Trafalgar Tours).
The cruise line’s full name—Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection—may be a mouthful, but, in fact, our one-of-a-kind river vessel—designed specifically with the Seine itinerary in mind—felt very much like a floating 5-star boutique hotel that was both high end and low key. Its oh-so-French style throughout was tasteful and polished, but never too-too. The Joie de Vivre is unprecedented for a European river vessel in many impressive ways, beginning with its special measurements. (It was built 10 meters shorter than the standard river ship yet still feels surprisingly spacious.) This size allows it to conveniently dock in the 15th Arrondissement, within walking distance of the city’s most beloved landmark, the Eiffel Tower (a 20-minute stroll away), while most other Seine cruise boats are required to dock farther outside of the city center.
The price for Uniworld’s journey on the Seine includes many things beyond all land excursions that are not commonly covered on other river cruises, from numerous dining venues and room service to top-shelf beverages and crew gratuities. The handsome and spacious staterooms are extremely comfortable thanks in large part to the super-plush handcrafted Savoir of England beds. Perhaps it is the bed, which all the passengers were talking about, that best encapsulates Uniworld’s ardent dedication to comfort and quality. Impeccable service is also of paramount importance, and at any given time the truly friendly and attentive crew from around the world (Uniworld boasts the highest staff-to-guest ratio in the river cruise industry) does their best to grant your every wish.
There is plenty to do in between stops, from al fresco yoga classes at sunrise to live lounge music and local entertainment après dinner that enhances the sailing’s regional focus. Land excursions were perfectly organized, with several options in each port (including the use of complimentary bicycles on board), and passengers were broken down into smaller groups and also offered three pacing options—active, regular, or gentle. Then each group was placed in the seasoned hands of a local expert. The affable concierge could also arrange bespoke experiences upon request: Want to play a round of golf or arrange a private tour? Check off Mont-Saint-Michel (a full-day excursion not on the program)? Procure Moulin Rouge tickets upon your return to Paris?
No request went unmet, ensuring that our one-week sail on the Seine was both relaxing and enchanting. This was surely joie de vivre at its best.
Patricia traveled with Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and the S.S. Joie de Vivre.
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