River Cruise Report: Uniworld Raises the Seine

Rainer Witzgall

Uniworld’s new French cruise brings high design and unique excursions to one of Europe’s great, overlooked rivers.

One of the first things you notice aboard Uniworld’s new, 128-passenger S.S. Joie de Vivre is the grand staircase that resembles the one in the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, in Paris. Elsewhere in Europe, river ships have been arriving steadily in recent years, but this boat, which launched in March, stands out from the crowd because it ushered in a new level of luxury on the Seine. From restaurants such as Le Bistrot and supper club Claude’s to its French neoclassical Directoire-style decor, Pierre Frey fabrics, and Georges Goursat caricatures, the boat is ultra-authentic to France. “The ship is reflective of my favorite designers of 20th-century Paris, Armand-Albert Rateau and Jean-Michel Frank,” says Toni Tollman, director of design and projects at Red Carnation Hotels, Uniworld’s sister brand.

Left: Le Bistrot serves traditional French bistro fare. Right: The lobby’s staircase is inspired by the one in the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, in Paris. Courtesy Rainer Witzgall

The Joie de Vivre’s true highlight, however, is its Bespoke Experiences excursions program, which takes guests away from busy ports of call, where other ships can be double- or triple-docked. On Uniworld’s Paris-to-Normandy route, we had a private tour of Château du Champ de Bataille, architect Jacques Garcia’s castle and gardens (also home to one of the world’s largest collections of 18th-century French furniture), and met with working Benedictine monks at the Saint-Wandrille abbey. The concierge also arranged a trip to Mont-Saint-Michel and tickets to the Moulin Rouge. “Every experience, destination, menu item, and wine was selected with the ‘joy of living’ philosophy in mind,” says Red Carnation Hotels founder Bea Tollman.

Rates from $2,800; uniworld.com.