Few onboard activities are organized because the majority of each day is spent ashore; when passengers are back on the ship, they just want to relax, nap, check email and Facebook, sit on the sun deck or have a quiet cup of tea or coffee. At night, you can enjoy live music and dancing in two venues or watch classic French films in the cinema.
Daily excursions are conducted by local English-speaking guides through the use of a QuietVox system with the commentary transmitted to your own earpiece. "Go Active" options are offered every day, usually a guided bicycle ride. Using the ship's own pedal-powered (non-electric) bikes, passengers cycle at a leisurely pace along the riverbank to nearby attractions. The "walk and bike" tour of Versailles garden is more walking than biking. Other walking tours include Versailles Palace, Hornfleur Old Port, Monet's Gardens at Giverny and the Rouen Gourmet tour, which doesn't include much food so don't turn up hungry. Better foodie options are the market visit and cooking class with Michelin-star chef Gilles Tournadre, experiencing Julia Child's menu at La Couronne (unfortunately we heard the meal was underwhelming) or lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant after a wonderful tour of Chateau de Champs de Bataille.
Most tours are half-day (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) except for the full day to Normandy's landing beaches, golf at three Marine Golf courses and Chateau de Champs de Bataille. Additional and customizable excursions are available for an extra fee, from 80 to 295 euros per person. These include a visit to Moulin Rouge in Paris and creating your own French fragrance at a perfumery.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Free onboard activities include a welcome dinner, farewell dinner, Champagne receptions, caviar tasting, high tea, lectures and a pianist who plays in the main lounge in the late afternoon. At night, there are movie screenings, at least three live bands and dancing, and a recital of a classic French song. What sets this ship apart from many other river vessels is the choice of two venues in the evening: the main lounge or the cozier Claude's.
There is not a lot of downtime for educational talks but a lecture about Claude Monet's art is held in La Cave des Vins.
Uniworld's complimentary drinks menu is exceedingly generous, extending to top shelf liquor, German beers, premium spirits and liqueurs. Grey Goose, Belvedere, Tanqueray, Glenfiddich, Courvoisier, Grand Marnier, Bailey's -- the list goes on for five pages. And then there are the cocktails -- no menu; order whatever you like. The only priced drinks are listed under Diamond Selection: the likes of Beluga Gold vodka, Chivas Regal scotch (25 years), Gran Patron Platinum Silver tequila, Nolet's gin and Tattinger Champagne.
Salon Toulouse (Deck 4): Inspired by France's Golden Twenties era, the main lounge comfortably seats all passengers. Dusky to deep shades of red are repeated throughout the space, from the carpet to the bar stools and vases of roses. Accented by gold and brass details, the design is ornate but tasteful. Handcrafted furniture was custom-designed in the style of French royal antiques. Natural sunlight floods in through 18 windows, while at night the lighting is soft, emanating from wall lanterns and downlights. Three long lounges that can accommodate 10 people, and facing another six chairs, are a welcome addition for passengers who like to mingle with a large group.
During the day, it's a lovely, relaxed and spacious place to unwind on the comfy, cushioned seats and sofas. The crowd grows in the evening, peaking in the hour before dinner when almost everyone turns up to socialize. After dinner, Salon Toulouse is the main spot to head for a nightcap. Depending on the liveliness of the entertainment, fellow passengers' vibe ranges from polite and subdued to tearing up the dancefloor until midnight.
Claude's (Deck 4): Uniworld's signature Bar du Leopard, featured on its last few ships, has been replaced with an equally sexy version with less animal print. Instead of leopards and tigers, the walls and staircase are adorned with French Art Deco posters. The low ceiling is dotted with fiber-optic stars and a hydraulic floor covers the pool, which is a better use of the space than found on the other vessels.
During the day, the room is known as Club L'Esprit and used for wellness activities; by night it transforms into a sexy den of dancing. It really does feel like you've wandered off the street into an underground jazz club with that air of spontaneity and surprise. An evening at Claude's tends to start slowly as people sip cocktails while listening to music, but it can instantly switch gears into a party that lasts as long as the clientele can dance (or drink). On some nights the venue is used to screen classic French films, such as "Moulin Rouge" or "Amelie," on a retractable screen.
The top sun deck is crowned by red and white striped marquees, reminiscent of circus tents. There are no games, sports, bars, whirlpools or walking tracks, although it is a perfectly fine space to stroll around. Passengers come up here to relax in the fresh air, watch the passing scenery, often with a drink in hand, or have a cigarette in the designated smoking area at the front of the ship.
The ship has a reception/guest services desk, a concierge desk, six butlers for the suites, a self-serve guest laundry (complimentary) and laundry service (for a per-item fee or free for passengers in suites). Wi-Fi is complimentary for all passengers but the connection is weak in some regions and frequently drops out. There is no dedicated boutique but luxury items, such as jewelry and sunglasses, are presented for sale in cabinets outside the Salon Toulouse bar.
Club L'Esprit is the combined spa, wellness and fitness center. Located at the back of the ship, the room is dominated by a pool which is small but suitable to swim in (against the resistance stream of water). The pool, surrounded by summery chairs and tables, is covered in the morning to create a larger floor for the 7 a.m. beginners yoga (free of charge) led by the massage therapist. The treatment room is compact but adequate for the (reasonably priced) massages and facials. For example, a one-hour massage is 80 euros and highly recommended. After a treatment or workout, complimentary smoothies, juices and water are available at the L'Espirit Bar.
The fitness room has a treadmill, two stationery bikes and a rowing machine, with views of the Seine through floor-to-ceiling windows. Many people tend to leave their exercising to the almost daily bike ride tours along the riverside, although these excursions involve very little and very light cycling, so don't expect to burn off a lot of calories. The yoga and bike rides are appropriate for all ages and ability levels, and the scenery is gorgeous.
The Paris & Normandy itinerary is one of Uniworld's Generations cruises tailored for children aged six through 18, who receive 50 percent off their fare when traveling with an adult. These cruises offer family-friendly excursions, art and crafts, bike rides, cooking workshops and modified menus in the restaurants. The ship accommodates families through its suites with pullout sofas, as well as adjoining staterooms for multigenerational travel.
On other sailings, kids and teenagers would feel bored and out of place on Joie de Vivre.