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.

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Christening season is upon us

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Viking Cruise multiply River Cruise ship Christening
It’s that time of year again: River cruise companies are rolling out the red carpet and getting ready to smash Champagne bottles against their newest vessels as christening season gets underway. So what, if anything, will be new this year?

As anyone who has been on at least two or three river cruises may know, river cruise ships are confined by length and width dimensions that are dictated by the locks and bridges along Europe’s inland waterways; in essence river cruise ships are all very similar in size and can only include so many onboard features and amenities.

Well, sort of. If the ships were so totally the same, travel media and travel sellers wouldn’t bother to make our annual pilgrimages across the pond to see what’s new and different among all the new European river inventory. We are heading over there to scope out whatever tweaks and adjustments river cruise lines are making. And while I don’t know what all the possible surprises that await this spring may be, I can tell you what I’ll be looking for in terms of fresh takes on river cruise ships so that you, too, can be on the lookout.

Always high on the list is food, of course. Despite the limited amount of space on river cruise ships, lines have increasingly been making efforts to amplify and expand their culinary offerings. So, this christening season I’ll be taking a close look at new and different takes on dining venues. Crystal in particular has ambitious plans for multiple dining venues on its forthcoming “river yachts”, slated to launch this summer. And Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has teased us with some serious new dining ventures, as well, on its latest creation, the S.S. Joie de Vivre, launching later this month in Paris; think a Bistro resto; special al fresco dinners; chef’s table, farm-to-table dining; and something it’s calling a “progressive dinner” involving a tour of the vessel.

Next up is public spaces. As I tour these freshly christened vessels, I’m always looking for new and unique features in the lounge and bar areas, perhaps in the spa and fitness room or on the sun deck. Lately, river cruise lines have been breaking up these spaces to offer more diverse options. So maybe in the entryway to the lounge, there might be a new library or sitting room (something AmaWaterways has implemented on its newer vessels). Is there a new pool or whirlpool element? Not a lot of vessels in Europe have pools because of the unpredictable weather, so if there’s a pool, that’s noteworthy.

And then, of course, there’s always the up-close-and-personal inspection of the staterooms and suites. Are there balconies off of the cabins? Are they full, step-out balconies or French balconies? Are the staterooms relatively roomy or pretty petite? What about the furnishing and decor: pretty standard or rather distinct? What kind of toiletries are stocked in the bathroom? How comfy are the beds? These are some of the questions I’ll be arming myself with.

Off the ship, the excursions are key and often are what truly make the river cruise memorable. River cruise lines have been working to offer more active and interesting shore experiences, so I’ll be looking for those “wow” activities, meals hosted in charming venues, fun hiking or biking trips that raise passengers’ heart rates or more interactive outings, such as cooking classes or encounters with locals.

Lastly, there is, of course, the service  the people element. I will be looking out for whether there are new policies or service enhancements available, such as a concierge or butler service, another area where river cruise companies have been upping the ante.

All told, when christening season is through, we should have a better sense of some of the new trends emerging on and off the vessels and a reaffirmation of the fact that even within a relatively confined space there is always room for progress and innovation.

River cruise news to watch

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Bohemia Rhapsody New Year’s Eve Cruise | Pragues Eve Cruise | Prague

Last year was a challenging one for river cruising, so as we round the bend into 2017, it’s worth pointing out some buzz-worthy stories on the horizon that could help the industry get its groove back.

When it comes to buzz, we can certainly count on Crystal Cruises, which will unveil two of its first four “river yachts” this summer – the Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler (the Crystal Ravel and Crystal Debussy will follow in spring 2018). The company promises some pretty over-the-top features on its first set of river newbuilds, such as multiple, sleek-looking dining venues with open-seating, and all staterooms built above the waterline – something that hasn’t been done before on a river cruise ship. The renderings released of the yachts last summer evoked chic and contemporary interiors, and river cruise insiders are surely champing at the bit to see how Crystal delivers on its lofty river cruising promises.

Speaking of buzz, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is bound to help reignite some much-needed hype for river cruising in France, which took a big hit following the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris. The company remains committed to launching the latest in its Super Ship class of vessels, the 128-passenger S.S. Joie de Vivre, on France’s Seine River.

In true Uniworld style, the company didn’t hold back with the Joie de Vivre, which will be christened in March. Features include a collection of fine art and antiques acquired from both auction houses and private collections, and a pool area with a hydraulic floor that by night can turn into Le Club l’Esprit, a dance floor or outdoor cinema. Travel Weekly will be there to report on the unveiling of the Joie de Vivre firsthand.

It will also be Adventures by Disney’s second year offering river cruises in partnership with AmaWaterways, and we’ll be watching to see how that product continues to grow and evolve. Disney has already made some tweaks including raising the minimum age from 4 to 6 and adding an adults-only sailing.

CroisiEurope’s ongoing and arguably aggressive expansion will continue in 2017 with four new ships: a 132-passenger vessel on Portugal’s Douro River; the 106-passenger Symphonie II on the Rhine; the 135-passegner Douce France II on the Danube; and the 60-passenger Indochine II on the Mekong. The French company is coming on strong and it definitely has our attention.

In fact, Portugal’s Douro River has been experiencing growing interest of late, with Emerald Waterways also launching a new ship there this year: the 112-passenger Emerald Radiance (the Scenic-owned company is also launching the 138-guest Emerald Liberte on France’s Rhone and Saone rivers this year, hopefully also sparking renewed interest in France).

Closer to home, the American Queen Steamboat Company will be adding the 166-passenger American Duchess on the Mississippi River in June, a former gaming vessel that is being converted into an all-suite paddlewheeler with unique loft suites.

Lastly, we’ll have our eyes on developments on exotic rivers. Momentum seems to have quieted a bit on rivers such as Southeast Asia’s Mekong and on China’s Yangtze, so we’ll be watching to see how much and whether river cruise lines invest beyond Europe, including in places such as India where it’s rumored that AmaWaterways may be eyeing the possibility of a new ship in 2018.