Building a French-themed ship based in Paris is always an ambitious venture, particularly in such a challenging time for tourism in France, but Uniworld has succeeded with perhaps its best creation yet. Joie de Vivre lives up to its name, bringing together the joys of life: fabulous food, wine, music, art, design and travel with family and friends, lifelong and new.
This is a ship where you can start the day with gentle yoga at sunrise, overlooking the Seine River, and finish it dancing on the same floor -- the wellness space becomes a supper club with a live band at night. Passengers can sample caviar in the bar or sip Champagne on the sun deck. They can cook with the chef, cycle with the masseuse and be welcomed back by the captain after a tour -- mostly all included in the fare.
Uniworld's biggest challenge may be explaining that exclusive doesn't mean excluding. The truth is there's no pretension here; anyone could have a good time on this ship. One of the ship's greatest achievements is its easygoing extravagance -- Joie de Vivre is luxurious in a comfortable way; high-end and yet low-key. There's a relaxed ambience, despite the glamorous surroundings, and this balance is what makes it work. Joie de Vivre is 'oh-so-Frenchy' without being gimmicky. The crew are courteous but fun; the butlers mix with everyone, not only those in suites. Staff are paid a salary rather than contracted and it shows in the pride they take in their work.
Joie de Vivre is the same width as the line's other 'Super Ships' but 33 feet shorter in length and with a smaller capacity of 128 guests in 54 cabins and 10 suites. Permitted to dock in the heart of the city -- about 20 minutes' walk to the Eiffel Tower -- it operates a seven-night Seine River cruise round trip from Paris via Rouen, Vernon and Caudebec-en-Caux for excursions to Monet's Gardens at Giverny, Palace of Versailles, Normandy's World War II landing beaches and more.
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Compared to other ships in the fleet, the decor on Joie de Vivre is softer; more boutique hotel than palace. The cruise line is owned by the Tollman family, who is very involved in all aspects, so there's a personal touch in every piece of furniture, artwork, the flowers, the brand of chocolates in your room. The result is that the ship feels like your fanciful second home -- complete with chefs, waiters, bartenders, housekeepers, concierge and personal assistants, with an adorable cafe at one end of your street (Le Bistrot) and a cool bar at the other (Claude's).
The majority of passengers are American, with sizable contingencies from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Europe and the U.K. The main age group is 50s to 70s but it would not be unusual to see couples in their 30s, 40s or 80s, mothers and their adult daughters, solo travelers and groups of friends.
Passengers dress casually during the day to be comfortable for shore excursions. Most people change for pre-dinner drinks. In the main restaurant, men are encouraged to wear trousers, a collared shirt and optional jacket (ties not required); women wear dresses or elegant pants and top, glamming up a little more for the welcome and farewell dinners. If jeans and T-shirts are your preferred vacation style, you can dine in Le Bistrot or order room service. There are no formal nights.
The weather can turn wet as the ship heads north to Normandy, so bring a rain jacket (umbrellas are provided) and a scarf; a heavier coat would be wise for early or late season. Particularly in Paris and the south of France, it can get very hot so take a hat and sunglasses. Dress in layers to best manage the changeable conditions. If you plan to use the pool or gym, don't forget swimwear and activewear.
The cruise fare includes all dining (except La Cave de Vins), 24-hour room service, alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, daily shore excursions, Wi-Fi, yoga, bicycle rental, entertainment, lectures, self-service guest laundry and gratuities for onboard crew and tour guides. The only extra costs are optional, such as spa treatments, laundry and pressing service, a few premium brands of alcohol and a small selection of additional tours. The onboard currency is the euro.