Uniworld affirms commitment to Paris with new river ship

Actress Joan Collins, godmother of the S.S. Joie de Vivre, christening the ship on Monday. At left is Uniworld CEO Ellen Bettridge. Photo Credit: Michelle Baran
PARIS — Actress Joan Collins christened Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s new river cruise ship, the S.S. Joie de Vivre, here on Monday, signaling the company’s confidence in the enduring allure of Paris.

“Like so many places in the world, [Paris has] had problems in the last couple of years, and like everything else in life and history, that too shall come to pass,” Stanley Tollman, founder and chairman of The Travel Corporation, Uniworld’s parent company, said during the christening ceremony to the backdrop of one of Paris’ most iconic landmarks, the Eiffel Tower.

“Paris is coming back. It’s coming back strongly, ” he said, adding that the Joie de Vivre is nearly 90% booked for 2017, indicating that the $26 million investment The Travel Corporation made in the Joie de Vivre is paying off, despite some initial hesitation about whether to go forward with the launch following the November 2015 attacks in Paris,

Dressed head-to-toe in white, Collins on Monday morning officially named the ship, which set sail on its maiden voyage along France’s Seine River toward Normandy shortly after the ceremony.

The 128-passenger Joie de Vivre is the latest of Uniworld’s Super Ship class of vessels and is a floating ode to Parisian aesthetic and charm, including an impressive collection of unabashedly French artwork throughout the vessel. The entire ship combines rich wood finishings with intricate upholstery, resulting in vintage-looking details that are at once both classic and clean.

The Joie de Vivre houses several new spaces and features for Uniworld, namely a greater variety of onboard dining experiences, including Le Bistrot, an endearing eatery with red banquette seats situated adjacent to the lounge that serves traditional bistro fare throughout the day.

At the aft of the vessel is Club L’Esprit, a pool and juice bar by day that transforms into Claude’s, a lively supper club and live music venue by night with a dance floor atop a retractable pool cover. Here, a covered patio also allows guests to sip their beverages and nosh on small bites either al fresco, weather permitting, or enclosed behind a glass roof and windows. Claude’s will be open about three nights on any given one-week sailing, and will become a small cinema that will show movieson two nights of each sailing.

Passengers on the Joie de Vivre will also be able to reserve a seven-course wine-pairing dinner at La Cave du Vin, a 12-person venue on the lowest deck of the ship where a cooking demonstration will be followed by a menu that incorporates the resulting dishes. While all the other dining experiences are included, this one costs an additional 92 euros per person.

The Joie de Vivre also has a fitness and a spa room, two 24-hour tea and coffee stations and a guest laundry room.

There are five categories of staterooms, ranging from 162-square-foot lower-deck cabins to 410-square-foot suites. Most staterooms range from 180 square feet to 260 square feet. All suites and staterooms on the upper two decks have wall-to-wall retractable windows that drop down with the flip of a switch, converting into French balconies. Some suites can accommodate up to three people and there are adjoining staterooms available, too. There are USB ports in the cabins and the lounge and free WiFi is available to guests onboard.

The christening was attended by numerous Travel Corporation executives, including Uniworld CEO Ellen Bettridge; Beatrice Tollman, president and founder of Red Carnation Hotels, Uniworld’s sister company; Brett Tollman, The Travel Corporation’s chief executive; and Gavin Tollman, CEO of Trafalgar, The Travel Corporation’s guided vacation brand.

Crystal Cruises redeploys new river vessels away from France

The new river cruise arm of Crystal Cruises is delaying plans to deploy two new vessels on rivers in France.

Instead Crystal River Cruises is to increase its presence on the Danube, Main and Rhine, deploying four of its planned new build ‘river yachts’ in the region in 2017 and 2018.

The shift in focus means redesigning and enlarging the company’s two Paris-class river vessels – Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel – as Rhine-class boats, and redeploying them east in 2018.

Previously, Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel were to travel along the Seine, Rhone and Dordogne rivers in France from June and August 2017 respectively.

No mention was made of recent terrorist incidents in France and the extension of the country’s state of emergency for six months following the deadly truck attack in Nice earlier in July.

The luxury line, which draws a large proportion of passengers from the US, said the change away from France was based on passenger feedback “lauding the itineraries planned in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Amsterdam and Holland”.

As a result, “the company has elected to delay its entrance into the French river cruise market, choosing instead to prioritise its offerings in the German/Austrian region in order to meet travellers’ demand for those experiences”.

Chief executive and president Edie Rodriguez said: “Unlike an ocean-going ship that can accommodate a change in itinerary with short notice, a river ship operates within more confined parameters and is unable to re-route easily.

“We are listening carefully to what travellers are telling us and have concluded that the best way to anticipate, meet and surpass their expectations is by making this move earlier rather than later.”

The line is offering a series of compensation packages to people who have booked 2017 voyages on Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel including on board credits and future cruise credits worth up to $1,000.

No details were given of how many bookings the line has received for the sailings in France.

The new design places the vessels as part of the line’s 106-passenger Rhine-class series currently comprising Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler, which are due to enter service June 18 and August 29, 2017 respectively.

Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel are now due for maiden voyages in April 2018 and May 2018 respectively with detailed itineraries to be announced shortly, the company said.

They will be increased in size from 110 metres to 135 metres, the maximum size permissible on the Rhine, Main and Danube. The increased length allows for the addition of a swimming pool with a sliding glass roof and more large suites.

The move follows the recent launch of the line’s first luxury river cruiser, Crystal Mozart.


Doing some water-level damage control

By Michelle Baran

Any river cruise enthusiasts who saw the images of France’s Seine River creeping towards the tops of Paris’ elegant bridges last week probably had the same thought I did — this can’t be good for the river cruise business.
River cruise lines admit that the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris dealt a pretty harsh blow to their 2016 France bookings and that the March attacks in Brussels didn’t help either. But slowly, sales were coming back.
And then the rains came, pushing the Seine so high last week that iconic institutions such as the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay museums in Paris temporarily closed.
Obviously, no river cruise vessels were able to sail under those Paris bridges for a time.
But as it turns out, the flooding was relatively short-lived and the water levels are receding. The Louvre reopened on Wednesday, and the river cruise lines reported minimal disruptions and anticipated that sailings would return to normal in line with the receding water levels.
What was likely more disruptive were the images of the floodwaters in Paris, which isn’t the kind of marketing the river cruise industry — especially in France where bookings are still fragile — needs right now.
But river cruise lines have been learning how to cope. Over the past several years they have taken a fair amount of flak for a lack of transparency and clear communication about water level issues, and they are working on being much more open about exactly how high and low waters are impacting their sailings.
Viking, for example, now how has a dedicated page on its website where travel agents and passengers can see all updates on disruptions, no matter how big or small. Because the Viking fleet is so large and its operations so vast, this page can actually serve as a comprehensive resource for anyone with concerns about water levels that wants to check up on a river they plan to sail.
A river cruise tour guide has also put together a website documenting water levels in Europe throughout the season. Though by no means a comprehensive or official source, this is another good place for concerned passengers and travel sellers to check.
But ultimately, river cruise lines themselves should be and increasingly are the go-to source for questions about high and low waters and specific changes to itineraries, as each line has different contingency plans in place. The good news is that while water levels will always be a nagging problem on rivers, at least river cruise lines are learning how to do more and better damage control, which will ultimately mean smoother sailing through the issue than in the past.