After an early start we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport for a 40-minute transfer to the ship via coach - all arranged by Uniworld - and embarked S.S. Joie de Vivre. As we stepped on board we were welcomed not just by the friendly staff with a quick and easy check in, but by delightful French-inspired décor, in keeping with Uniworld's destination-themed ships. S.S. Joie de Vivre - which means "joy of living", is truly evocative of 20s Parisian chic, filled with artwork, antiques, plush furnishings and chandeliers - complete with emblematic Eiffel Tower views as we sailed away.
After enjoying a welcome drink of Kir Royale, we were shown to our suites - ours a Deluxe French Balcony with floor-to-ceiling windows for all-encompassing Paris views - and a continuation of the French inspired décor. It had all the modcons you'd expect from a five-star hotel, from the very comfortable beds (Savoir, no less) to an individual thermostat and flat-screen TV alongside a lavish marble bathroom with Asprey bath and body products and a cosy bathrobe and slippers - always a big tick from me!
To really spoil yourself, though, opt for a Suite or Grand Suite, where you'll be treated to an in-suite butler, packing and unpacking assistance, in-room breakfast, daily fruit and cookie plate and an evening snack, Nespresso coffee machine and fine teas, fully stocked mini bar, bottle of wine upon request, shoeshine and free laundry service - with the Grand Suites also offering a bath and separate living area.
After a 4am start, we were ready for lunch by this point! We were shown to Le Restaurant Pigalle, the main restaurant where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served, though there are plenty of other dining options should you wish to branch out - more on that later. As we sat down we were instantly offered ice water and our choice of drink - a dry rosé for me - which appeared in a flash. We both agreed the crew went above and beyond throughout the trip and really made our stay; they were friendly, kind, and simply couldn't do enough to help, with any request taken care of immediately.
Lunch was a lavish buffet with more or less everything you'd want on offer, and we certainly took full advantage, beginning with a classic croque monsieur and beef bourguignon with creamy mash and carrots before sampling the salad bar which was full to the brim with delicious dressings, topping options and a huge array of freshly-baked bread - with lashings of French butter alongside of course.
The dessert bar was too good to miss, and I went for a chocolate mousse, slice of classic French tarte tartin and, naturally, lots of French cheese with grapes and crackers - the soft brie was to die for. There was even an ice cream bar with four flavour options and a whole choice of toppings; I finished off with a frothy cappuccino which was, again, of a very high standard.
After our big lunch we decided to visit the spa. Handily on the same level as our suite, its blue-hued walls and starry ceiling felt like an oasis of calm, complete with a small gym and swimming pool, as well as massages which can be booked on request. Whilst the weather wasn't on our side, there was also a conservatory area (which can be covered) looking out onto the water, with board games, marshmallows and sweets - perfect for whiling away an afternoon.
We enjoyed a relaxing hour reading by the pool - which has a bar offering complimentary cookies, tea and coffee and delicious, creamy hot chocolate, as well as healthy smoothies. At night, the pool cleverly disappears and is covered by a wooden floor to then become Claude's, offering a signature cocktail menu alongside local music performances and even a cinema screen on certain nights.
Back in the suite we enjoyed our complimentary macaroons and chocolates and, as the sun briefly came out, tried out our French balcony window - opened with the press of a bedside button - as we sailed away from Paris. Later we returned to Salon Toulouse for an aperitif (all drinks - including champagne - are included throughout your stay with Uniworld, except premium wines/spirits) - and an array of delicious pre-dinner snacks. I opted for champagne while my colleague went for a gin and tonic which she assured me was delicious; there was a huge variety of drinks available to suit every palate, from expertly-mixed cocktails to an endless variety of wines.
After a welcome from the Captain, a run through of the next day's activities by the Ship Manager and an explanation of the evening's wines by the on-board sommelier - a Sauvignon Blanc and a (delicious) blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot - we were shown back to the dining room.
Dinner is all à la carte with a distinctly French flair - though there are options to whet any appetite. I opted for the frog's legs which - perhaps unsurprisingly - we all agreed tasted like chicken! Others on my table had the prawn cocktail which also looked delicious. Paired with the aforementioned red served by the sommelier himself, it was then onto potato soup and duck l'orange before finishing with a delicious Crème Brûlée. We then returned to Salon Tolouse to the fabulous singer for the evening before retiring to bed after our long day!
Somehow the next day we were ready for more food and returned to the restaurant for our decadent buffet breakfast, complete with an omelette station, as well as an array of freshly baked bread, cooked breakfast dishes, smoked salmon, French toast and lighter options like porridge, fruit, smoothies and granola - as well as classic French delights like cheeses, Charcuterie and, of course, delicious, hot pastries - I had to have two pain au chocolats, they were that good.
It was then time for our first excursion of the trip where we visited the beautiful Château de Malmaison, reached via a comfortable, 40-minute coach ride with our amusing and knowledgeable guide. On arrival we were split into groups and walked around the fascinating chateau which was the home of Napoleon and his wife Josephine; we learned in detail about their lives and about the rooms within the chateau, such as Napoleon's counsel chamber.
Upon return to the ship to sail back to Paris, we were greeted by a refreshingly cold towel before another delicious lunch - this time we went for oysters with red wine vinaigrette followed by coq au vin and fresh lamb - with carrot cake and pear tart for dessert. There are plenty of other dining options - and if you are celebrating a special occasion on board, let the concierge know, who'll inform the team and will do their utmost to make it extra special.
The onboard show kitchen, La Cave des Vins, is an extra special experience (not included in your fare), where the on board chef prepares a seven-course meal along with wine pairings designed just for you by the sommelier - just ask the concierge once you embark to reserve your spot. For a more relaxed affair, Le Bistrot is a Parisian-style sidewalk café that serves classic French cuisine where you can also enjoy lunch or dinner on request for no extra charge.
After some relaxing free time exploring the ship, we returned to prepare for our final gala dinner on board where everyone took the chance to dress up (not compulsory by any means, though!). Dress codes are generally relaxed on board, though shorts and sportswear are not allowed in the evenings.
As we sailed the final stretch back to Paris it was time for our last dinner on board - and what a feast it was! I opted for l'escargot in a delicious garlic sauce before enjoying a creamy French mushroom soup paired with the red wine of the evening which was another fabulous blend. The star of the show, though, was the beautifully-cooked filet mignon - and the classic French Crepe Suzette! Whilst menus are based around French cuisine, there are plenty of other options if you fancy something different or lighter. I loved the French theme of the cruise and it's perfect for foodies who like enjoying different cuisines - if you're based on, for example, Uniworld's River Princess in Austria and Germany, there are options like Wiener Schnitzel and Apfel Strudel on the menu.
After dinner we returned to the lounge for post-dinner espresso martinis and another fabulous singer who really worked the crowd! The highlight of the night, however, was going up to the top sundeck at 10pm for the perfect view of the Eiffel Tower as it sparkled (every hour on the hour the Eiffel Tower is adorned with its golden covering and sparkles for 5 minutes) and shone over Paris; a beautiful sight that thrilled everyone on board.
The next day - with alarms double checked due to the clock change! - after a final delicious breakfast, we disembarked the ship for our Paris tour. There are plenty of excursion options with Uniworld such as a coach tour which stops at the Champs-Élysées, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre and other iconic sights, cycling tours along the Seine and Metro tours. We opted for the 'Paris like a local' Metro tour where we took the 'tube' to the Latin Quarter, the oldest district in Paris. Here, our super friendly guide informed us about the quaint area that was filled with traditional café and bookshops, overlooked by the Pantheon where we sampled some chouquettes - light, moreish French sugar puffs.
We then got the metro back to where the ship was docked - which was all a very easy process - and said our final farewells to the fabulous crew before departing via coach back to Charles de Gaulle airport - a quick journey thanks to the central Paris docking port of the ship. If you are arriving and departing via train on the Eurostar, Uniworld can also easily arrange transfers to Gare du Nord train station.