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Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection as a brand name may be a mouthful, but its latest S.S. Joie de Vivre is a refined masterpiece.
For my first sailing on the line, I'm pleased to see the new ship depart from the fleet's previous penchant for extravagance.
My initial perception of Uniworld found its ships rather showy-like the Palace of Versailles had been condensed for interior application on the much smaller riverboats. S.S. might stand for "Super Ship," and the vessels are efficiently sized and appointed, but they are not nearly large enough to pull off such grandiose designs, in my opinion.
Thankfully, the aesthetic has been dramatically toned down on the S.S. Joie de Vivre. There are some elements that remain a bit pattern-heavy and somewhat visually oppressive, but it's altogether tastefully and appropriately French along the Seine river.
Opening back up the spaces are plenty of mirrors and reflective wood surfaces.
Make no mistake, the modern exterior look is repeated nowhere inside. In fact, the designs lean more Turn of the Century. As a graphic designer, I love the vintage posters on display in the Salon Toulouse and even in one of the aft stairwells.
The S.S. Joie de Vivre's forward lounge is interestingly configured, with the bar positioned towards the front as a divider for Le Bistrot at the bow.
Perhaps most appreciated about this cafe: It serves alternative meals not just for lunch and dinner but straight through from noon to 9:00 pm daily. It's great for grabbing a bite after returning from shore. Room service is also always available-another welcome addition not regularly featured on river cruises.
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That is what impressed me most onboard Uniworld: All the little bonus details like the incredibly comfortable handcrafted Savoir of England stateroom beds. I truly believe it's the plushest one I have ever slept in onboard or ashore.
Other riverboats have swimming pools, but the one in Club L'Esprit is special for having both a resistance jet and a raisable floor. This allows the venue to become Claude's at night for an extra dining room as well as a cinema. Just behind it is also a great little terrace patio that can be enclosed or opened up over the stern for views of the wake. Here also is a complimentary candy bar that was a pleasant surprise to discover.
Back in the cabins, my favorite L'Occitane toiletries come standard. And even though shower gel is the default over soap bars, a refreshing Verbena variety is available upon request. Category 1-3 stateroom showers are also nicely sized and easy to turn around in for riverboat accommodations.
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The only thing missing from all cabins onboard are exterior verandas.
In their place are electronically-retractable windows that slide down to become a French balcony which can be screened off. If it means having a larger shower, I'm mostly happy to forfeit the veranda, especially since the efficient space also means greater storage allotments.
Of course, good hardware is only nice if there is good software to back it up.
The crew onboard is very friendly and attentive, quickly picking up on guest preferences. The cuisine is also excellent. Some dinner selections are meager, but the quality is great. The fact there is also yet another La Cave du Vin restaurant to try is seriously impressive for a ship of this size.
The S.S. Joie de Vivre is a mighty fine riverboat for exploring one of the finest regions of the world, and Uniworld overall has a winning design on its hands.
Jason Leppert - Senior Writer, Cruises and Cruise Travel - is a San Diego-based cruising expert with more than 100 sailings...
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