S.S. Catherine Cruise Review by ny-outdoorsman: Traveling Like Royalty Through Burgundy and Provence
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Traveling Like Royalty Through Burgundy and Provence
This was the second part of our Grand France Uniworld itinerary. The first part was on the River Baroness from Paris to Normandy. This part for us began in Paris, with a high speed train TGV to Lyon, where the SS Catherine awaited us. We were glad we did our itinerary in this order for several reasons. Since I have a track record of buying lots of presents when we travel, we had a lot more storage room on the Catherine than on the Baroness for me to amass my gifts. Although the Baroness is a nice ship with a great crew, the Catherine is full of creature comforts, something we would miss if we went to the Baroness after the Catherine. Finally, after doing Paris for a week, and then doing Normandie and Versaille, this second part was more relaxing and less physical, and thus more enjoyable.
We arrived at the Catherine in Lyon, in the early afternoon, after a very relaxing and enjoyable train ride, about 280 miles. Its a new riverboat, which was christened at the end of March More 2014 by its godmother, Catherine Deneuve. Its specs are: 443 feet long, with about 160 guests and close to 60 crew. The lounge is called the Van Gogh Lounge, with the Cezanne Restaurant, and Matisse Terrace. There is a lot of artwork all over the ship. In the Leopard Lounge in the stern, there is a small swimming pool with jacuzzi jets. I used it after an long bike ride on the third day, and it was great! The room itself was comparable to some hotel rooms we have had. Our French balcony had a window the length of the room, and several times while cruising, we lowered the screen and opened the window. The bathroom was completely marbled and the floor is heated. As on the Baroness, we had free wi-fi, so we were always in touch with home, and I was able to post my pictures on Facebook.
A minor thing to some folks, but not to me: since we were prior Uniworld cruisers, we had free laundry twice during the itinerary.
Uniworld has a program called TNT, Tiny Noticeable Touches, and they were all over this ship. This included linen coasters to Murano chandeliers, to cookies and petit fours and plenty of fruit in the afternoon. The bathroom has L'Occitane products, towel warmers and cozy bathrobes. Even the top deck water scuppers were embossed with the Uniworld name. There is even a team of butlers, to make sure proper etiquette is practiced by all the staff.
Service was at a very high level. Our friends were used to having a clock in their house, and within an hour of remarking to a staff member that they missed their clock, they had a clock in their stateroom. Another time, they needed a blanket, and one was delivered almost when they hung up the phone. One other time, we left our Do-Not-Disturb light on, realized it, told the front desk, and within minutes, our room was being cleaned. The staff were friendly, but I think less likely to stop and talk because of the need to have perfect and timely service. This is a brand new ship! This was not the case with the restaurant manager Tihomir, or the wine steward Laurentia, or Astrid the hotel manager, all of which we had great conversations and many laughs. Even Plamid, our main waiter, seemed to relax with us after a few days. Tihomir was very amusing at times, but I could also see him continually looking and checking to see if everyone was performing at their expected high levels of performance. They were, and I was looking too! Another time, I mentioned to Laurentia that my daughter collects corks, and within minutes, she hands me a bag of corks. We made a picture montage of them, with the Uniworld logo, "UW" in the center, using a bed pillow. We do not smoke, so when transiting through the smoking area, we noticed full, smelly ashtrays. Upon remarking to the hotel manager about this in our mid cruise survey, we never noticed the problem again.
The itinerary, as with our Baroness portion, was orchestrated by Piet, our tour director. It was actually good having hime for the entire two weeks, as we knew he was quite capable, so we were more relaxed that second week. His attention to detail was flawless. His selection of guides was perfect, and we enjoyed having Frances, our guide for Viviers and the Lavender-Ardeche Gorge tours. Francis even brought some tour members to her own home. Every evening, before dinner, Piet discussed what the next day program was going to be, and when you went back to your room, there was the program on your turned-down bed. There was a "gentle walkers" group, for those who could not walk as far or quickly as the others. Turns out we saw just as much, the ratio of guide to group was 1 to 4 or 6, and we learned more interesting things about the town we were in. People were asking us if we paid more money for the more intimate tours!
The gourmet dining experience was unparalleled as it seemed to be getting more and more refined, with special food presentations as every day went by. The wines that were offered with the meals were excellent.
There was entertainment in the Van Gogh Lounge every night after dinner, some better than others. I particularly liked one performer who sang some appropriate Edith Piaf songs. Another time, there was an silk scarf demonstration for the women.
I happened upon about 200 French reenactment folks who had many pieces of US World War II equipment in the town of Tarascon the day before we left the Catherine. I had quite a few conversations with them, and would have enjoyed their parade in the town, to celebrate their liberation which came from Marseille, while D-Day was going on. Unfortunately, the Catherine left the town for Avignon a half hour before the parade was to begin. Perhaps, better coordination with the town authorities would have enabled us to witness that too.
Disembarking from the Catherine went smoothly, as several groups had different departure times. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time.
This second week on the SS Catherine of our two week Uniworld river cruise only confirmed our happiness with the cruise line, and we look forward to doing it again. The Catherine is truly a beautiful ship. I think Uniworld may have it right in terms of quality versus quantity, of riverboats. Tulips and windmills, anyone? Less
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Cabin review: S.S. Catherine 323
The stateroom is midships, port side. The room was comparable in size to some hotel rooms we have had, and without a doubt the biggest river boat room we have had. There is plenty of storage space. The huge windows open, with lowered screens, a nice touch, so you do not have to look through a screen all the time. The marble bathroom, with L'Occitane products is quite large.
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