This unique river cruise company defies convention, and the latest addition to their fleet is an incarnation of a Parisian boutique hotel par excellence. No one who witnessed the interiors of the 128-passenger S.S. Joie de Vivre, resplendent with fin de siècle detailing, Beaux-Arts furniture and 20th century French posters, was left in any doubt this was indeed a paragon.
At 410 feet, Joie de Vivre is slightly smaller than her fleet sisters. This was an operational constraint to allow the ship to dock at Quai André Citroen in the heart of Paris and offer guests an up-close-and-personal perspective on the Statue of Liberty standing sentinel on the tiny Ile des Cygnes. It is one of the few ships that navigate the Seine as far north as Caudebec-en-Caux.
During my cruise I spoke to Toni Tollman - lead designer of Uniworld's river vessels and daughter of Stanley and Beatrice Tollman, who created Red Carnation Hotels.
"We set out to create a celebration of all things French: their culture and passion for food and wine. The style of 20th century designers such as Jean-Michel Frank and Armand-Albert Rateau inspired me to create this amazing grand hotel super-yacht on the Seine," boasted Toni.
Indeed Joie de Vivre positively oozes the very best of French cuisine. Every meal in Restaurant Le Pigalle is a tour de force. Lighter options are available in the Parisian-style Le Bistrot, forward of the main lounge, as well as in Claude's Supper Club where brasserie cuisine comes with superb river views. Dedicated gourmets can sign up for a specially created dinner at the Chef's Table in the Cave des Vins. High-quality French wines are sourced by the onboard certified sommeliers and served on a complimentary basis in all restaurants and bars.
The Salon Toulouse has been cleverly created to give more space for socialising by moving the bar to the forward part of this plush room. Nightly entertainment is a cut above the norm for river cruising and on two nights classic French films are shown in Club L'Esprit. By day this room offers an indoor swimming pool and is a quieter option for guests wishing to read or catch up on their emails thanks to fast WiFi. Close by is the fitness centre and spa offering a host of treatments. From the lobby, which is crowned by a trompe l'oeil ceiling and antique crystal chandelier, guests ascend a sweeping wrought-iron double staircase to the open deck.
There are three decks of staterooms and suites. Two Royal Suites and eight Suites on Victor Hugo Deck are attended by two butlers. Each has its own unique colour scheme with silk wall fabrics as well as antique mirrors. There's a balcony with a window that drops at the flick of a switch, as well as period cabinets concealing a mini-bar; not to mention lavishly appointed bathrooms with shower and bath. Category 1, 2 and 3 staterooms have similarly plush appointments. Category 4 and 5 staterooms have small windows as opposed to drop-down balconies.
The all-inclusive 7-night cruises from Paris offer a close encounter with the bucolic Normandy countryside, while shore excursions reveal Richard the Lionheart's Chateau Gaillard; the medieval capital of Rouen; Monet's impossibly pretty garden at Giverny; and the poignant Normandy beaches.
Find out more: Request a Uniworld brochure