(9:37 a.m. EST) -- In what surely was this river cruise season's christening with the most star power, legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve traveled to Lyon today to serve as godmother of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection's new S.S. Catherine. "Beauty and elegance reigns in this ship," she said (in English) as a bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne smashed along the bow.
The ceremony for the 159-passenger S.S. Catherine, which also included boat captain Pascal Rech, was held on the Lyon, France quayside from where the ship will sail Provence- and Burgundy-focused Rhone river itineraries.
Uniword will build a second S.S. Catherine-class ship, scheduled to launch January 2015. S.S. Marie Therese will share the same layout but feature all-unique decor and ambience. It will cruise Rhine-Main-Danube itineraries.
Even with 150 guests mingling outdoors the christening felt familial. Unsurprising, as Uniworld is part of family-owned The Travel Corporation, which also operates the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, Trafalgar Tours and Contiki Holidays.
One of the ceremony's most memorable moments occurred when family matriarch Beatrice Tollman, the founder of Red Carnation, shared the story of the company's modest beginnings 60 years ago. When the former nursery school teacher and her husband Stanley Tollman bought their first hotel, she worked as the chef, despite no cooking experience, and he managed the front of the house. "We've come a long way," she said. "We put so much love and passion [into Red Carnation Hotels and Uniworld ships]. We want to please people, uplift their spirits, and create something different."
The decor onboard S.S. Catherine aims to re-create a 19th century Provencal villa, with plush, velvet-covered walls, an ornamental fireplace in the Van Gogh Lounge, hand-made Murano chandeliers (not to mention a whimsical, near life-sized hand-blown green glass horse, a lobby centerpiece), an elevator flanked by a waterfall, and the intriguing Bar du Leopard, which combines a swimming pool with a swishy nightclub.
--By Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief