Uniworld River Cruise - Paris & Normandy
Uniworld won Travel & Leisure’s “Best River Cruise” in 2018 and we got to experience it firsthand this October in France. We made our way from the beautiful city of Paris to the Normandy Beaches and back aboard the S.S. Joie de Vivre. The ship, adequately name after the Exuberant Enjoyment of Life was the perfect home base on the Seine to explore adorable towns and historic sites. This floating boutique hotel really became our home for 8 days and we loved every second.
Hospitality: The crew on board the SS Joie de Vivre was top notch. When you stay on a ship with only 125 people and 60 staff they really get to know your’e preferences. They remember how you like your coffee in the morning or which kind of chocolate you prefer in your cabin. The cruise director, Adrian, was a delight each evening explaining the itinerary for the next day. He was also always there when you had a question about where to go or what to do. Astrid, the head of the crew team, was a charming personality who greeted us warmly each time we returned from our days exploring. The friendliness of each crew member on board really gave us the feeling of being at home on the ship.
TIP: Special requests are not a problem. One guest requested Coke Zero on the ship which they didn’t keep readily in stock. At the next port a crew member made sure to go out and pick some up to have for the rest of the cruise. No request is too large.
TIP: Don’t forget your bathing suit, Club L’Esprit, the onboard spa and wellness center has a resistance pool to get in your morning laps!
The Ship: The decor of the ship is reds and golds with luxurious sofas and chairs in the lounge as well as lots of booth seating in the dining area. It’s brightly colored, chic and sophisticated with signature accents inspired by 20th-century Parisian design. An amazing chandelier hangs in the entry way, that makes you question if your really on a boat. There is artwork throughout the ship invoking the feelings of being in Paris the whole time your’e aboard. We hear there’s a real Picasso in one of the suites!
There’s a cute self-serve all day bar on the back of the boat plus the entire top deck with lounge chairs to relax with a glass of wine and a book. There’s a spa treatment room and a small gym that looks right out onto the river. They’ve really thought of everything.
Staterooms: We were very surprised at the size of the cabins. Sure they are probably smaller than what your used to for a hotel room, but for being on a boat that’s less than 40ft wide they felt spacious. We made sure to use all the ample storage space to stow our belongings and with the floor to ceiling windows and mirrors we felt very comfortable. The all marble bathroom had heated floors for when you step out of your larger than you expected shower. We were in a Deluxe French Balcony which is the average size room, but there are Suites and Grand Suites if you need a bit more.
TIP: The windows in your stateroom open! Look for the switch on the wall. We slept many nights with the window open while we traveled down the river, and it was delightful.
Dining: The food was fabulous! We must admit, we were wary of what cruise food might entail, but were blown away by the amazing culinary creations aboard the ship. Breakfast is buffet style with American and French favorites with local cheese (they carry 32 varieties on board!) and fresh bread. We rarely ate lunch aboard the ship as we were out and about but the few times we did there was a lovely assortment of light tea sandwiches as well as homemade soups and slow cooked meats.
Dinner was really the highlight. With a different menu every night you’re sure to look forward to it after exploring all day. The chef recommends his farm to table choices each night which we highly recommend as they were superb. We got to try frog legs, cooked french style with garlic and butter, so good! And if you’re not feeling as adventurous there’s many other options, like strip steak or an easy salad. There is also the bistro on board, a more casual dining experience (reservations are a must!) where you can get steamed mussels and fries with a tall glass of cold beer.
Bea Tollman who created Uniworld is also a master chef and her recipes and inspiration are seen all over the each menu.
Drinks are all included and the bartenders know their stuff. They even have 28 types of whisky!
The highlight of our dining on board was the chef’s dinner in Le Cave, the private dining room. Definitely make sure you get a spot here! Part cooking class, part show, mostly decadent indulgence in food and perfect wine pairings.
TIP: Don’t feel like getting up for breakfast. Call room service and have some coffee and a croissant delivered right to your stateroom.
Atmosphere: The ship is small and intimate, it’s a great place to meet your next travel buddies! The idea of only unpacking once and being able to see many destinations is a big draw for people. It’s also something that appeals to those who may have already traveled over the years and are looking for something a bit different, and bit easier. Our professional recommendation would be that most of the sailings are great for the retired or those who are looking for a bit of a slower pace in life. But don’t worry younger folks, Uniworld now has U by Uniworld which caters to the more young at heart.
TIP: Dining is when you want and where you want so you can share a table with different people every night. A great way to mingle and meet like minded travelers.
Activities: The tours are really the highlight of the cruise experience. Our guides at each destination were local so not only were they well versed in history but they were able to add personal antidotes from living in the area for most of their lives. Each day there were 2 or 3 tour choices available. Sometimes there was a biking option, which we did to Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, and it was one of our favorites. Many days there was a city tour in the morning and then the afternoon was at leisure so you could explore some more on your own or head back to the boat to spend the afternoon on the top deck, or take a nap before dinner.
Versailles was another highlight as we got to do a tour of the private apartments and get to know the over the top families that resided before the French Revolution. The gold and mirrors and frescos were unbelievable and of course pictures do not do it justice. Of course, it was crowded, but again our guides really made the experience really memorable and exciting.
When we visited the beaches of Normandy, it really was a full day and fully emotional experience. We aren’t the biggest history buffs, but it really didn’t matter. Our guides were fantastic at really making you feel and understand the immense importance of each place. We visited the American Cemetery and participated in the daily flag lowering ceremony and then we went to Utah Beach where we paid tribute to the many fallen soldiers on June 6, 1944.
TIP: Most of the excursions are included. There are a few select that have an additional cost. Taylor was able to do the side car ride through Paris which was one of her top experiences for the entire week!