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S.S. Joie de Vivre


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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 easy-going 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..

Compared to other ships in the fleet, the décor 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 café at one end of your street (Le Bistrot) and a cool bar at the other (Claude's).

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, 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.

Joie de Vivre Inclusions

The cruise fare includes all dining (except La Cave de Vins), 24-hour room service, alcoholic and non-alcoholic 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.

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.

Shore Excursions

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 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, Honfleur 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 or lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant after a wonderful tour of Château 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 Château de Champs-de-Bataille. Additional and customisable excursions are available for an extra fee. 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 cosier 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.

Joie de Vivre Bars and Lounges

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 Patrón Platinum Silver tequila, Nolet's gin and Taittinger 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 socialise. 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 fibre-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.

Joie de Vivre Outside Recreation

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.

Joie de Vivre Services

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. There is no dedicated boutique but luxury items, such as jewellery and sunglasses, are presented for sale in cabinets outside the Salon Toulouse bar.

Club L'Esprit is the combined spa, wellness and fitness centre. 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.

In our opinion, Uniworld has some of the best cuisine of any cruise line -- river or ocean. After experiencing the cuisine of several other ships in the fleet, we are pleased to report that Joie de Vivre does not let the line down. Each meal is a triumph, from the taste, freshness, diversity and portion sizes, to the friendly service of the wait staff. This small ship has an impressive six dining options: the main restaurant, a French-style bistro, supper club, the lounge, a private table in the show kitchen and room service.

On the downside, luxury travellers who wouldn't be seen dead in a buffet may balk at self-serving breakfast and lunch every day; however, the food is so good and there's never a queue. There are ways around it, such as ordering eggs from your waiter without moving from your chair at breakfast, or eating lunch in the bistro.

Free Dining

Restaurant Le Pigalle (Deck 3): Brace yourself for the feasts ahead in Joie de Vivre's buffet extraordinaire for breakfast and lunch and à la carte dinner served by waiters and a sommelier. Evoking a 20th-century Parisian restaurant, this venue exudes simple elegance with white tablecloths, vintage lights, fresh flowers, pineapple motifs on the walls and cream leather chairs with a handle in the back to help pull them out. Tables are set for two, four, six or eight people.

Breakfast offers a selection of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, grilled vegetables, breads, pastries, cold meats, cheese, smoked salmon, yogurt, fruit, French toast, smoothies, freshly squeezed orange juice and pitchers of other juices. A chef is on hand to whip up omelettes, fried eggs or poached eggs on request.

The lunch buffet is superb, providing a wide variety of hot entrees, which are never repeated over a week's cruise. Sides include vegetables, cold meats, salads, soups, an astonishing array of local cheeses and sometimes a cold seafood section. Don't miss the lamb chops, fish pie, duck confit and cottage pie. Afterward, check out the ice cream bar, the sensational cheese and the counter of desserts as good as any French patisserie.

Dinner varies according to the latest shore excursion but generally starts around 7:30 p.m. The menu has six courses: amuse-bouche, le premier plat (a choice of two appetizers plus vegetarian option), soup, entrée (two choices plus vegetarian), cheese platter and dessert. The overall flavour is French but you don't have to eat escargots, frogs legs and foie gras all day; there is plentiful chicken, pork, beef, veal, venison, duck, fish, shrimp, scallops, oysters and vegetables.

Vegetarians are treated equally with a menu as long as the carnivore selection. Each day brings new options including a lovely eggplant mille-feuille, baked Camembert, corn and leek cake with ratatouille, crepes, salads, soups, curry, lasagne and lentil cottage pie. You can mix and match from both sides of the menu, and a "healthy options" menu is also available. Any dietary request or food allergy can be catered for, and the crew will personally attend to each person, talking them through the menu or walking them around the buffet to point out what not to eat.

Reservations are not required and passengers can choose where to sit. To seat a group at the same table, get down there when the doors open. Most people wander in 10 or 20 minutes later, and everyone gets a water view, so there's no need to make a mad dash downstairs for the best seats.

As always, drinks are included throughout meals, from the Champagne chilling on the juice counter in the morning through to the fine French wines offered at lunch and dinner. Waiters are well trained to keep the glasses topped up.

Le Bistrot (Deck 4): An authentic tribute to a Parisian café, Le Bistrot is meant to be an alternative option to Le Pigalle but it's so cute and casual, you'll want to eat here often. The French scene is set with red and white checked tablecloths, burgundy leather banquettes, engraved cutlery and Art Deco posters and lamps. If it's a nice day, ask them to open the windows.

Traditional dishes include onion soup, steak, Dover sole, lemon chicken, a ham and cheese baguette, apple tart, and assorted pate and terrines with olives and pickled onions. The standout entrée is a duck confit, Toulouse sausage and haricot bean cassoulet, which also appears at the lunch buffet and on Claude's menu to make sure nobody misses it.

This small space with 10 tables for two is located at the bow of the ship and connects to Salon Toulouse. Le Bistrot is open from midday and closes when dinner service begins in the main restaurant, although they are tinkering with the times to see what passengers want.

Salon Toulouse (Deck 4): Tea time, accompanied by light piano music, runs for an hour from 4 p.m. Take a seat and waiters will serve tea, coffee, Champagne and tiered trays of sandwiches, cakes and macarons. From around 5 p.m, nibbles are served with drinks before dinner. These light snacks range from pretzels, peanuts, chips and a homemade guacamole to more substantial canapes for special occasions. Passengers can order meals from Le Bistrot menu to be served in the lounge. There's also a caviar tasting one evening, granting the chance to sample a spoonful of two varieties that sell for US$4,000 per kilogram – included in the fare.

Claude's (Deck 4): From 6 p.m., the supper club serves shared plates and hors d'oeuvres. With dim lighting, a starry ceiling, tables for two and a maximum capacity of 26 people, this intimate venue specialises in cocktails and live music from 9:30 p.m. If you prefer to dine quietly, arrive before the band starts. On our cruise, they also trialled a dinner at Claude's. Although the menu is likely to be changed from the cheese and white meat focus that we had, the view of the sunset and the ship's wake will be the same. For this reason, it was one of our favourite nights.

Room Service: Available 24 hours a day, the menu changes slightly depending on the time. Options are fairly limited but sufficient for a simple snack or a quiet night in. The all-day menu consists of a ham and cheese baguette, charcuterie plate, onion soup, salad Niçoise, Toulouse sausage in a bun, cheese plate, fruit plate, chocolate mousse and cheesecake. A breakfast of croissants and other pastries can also be delivered to your room.

Fee Dining

La Cave des Vins (Deck 2); 95 euros: Tucked "down below" on a deck that few people discover is a private dining room and show kitchen. La Cave des Vins hosts the only meal with a surcharge which comprises seven courses of "farm-to-table" cuisine paired with wines and a French cooking class with the chef. It is one shared table, limited to 10 guests, so it also has the potential to become the perfect hideaway for a decadent dinner party. Reservations are required.

The ship has two Royal Suites, eight Junior Suites and 54 river view staterooms spread across three decks. Four sets of cabins (total eight) are adjoining; these are helpful when the ship does its family-oriented Generations itineraries. None has a step-out balcony; instead the ship has French balconies, comprising wall-to-wall windows that open halfway down with the flick of a switch. The benefit of French balconies is that there is more space to walk around the bed(s).

The queen-sized Savoir beds, which can be converted into two twin beds, are soft and cushy with Egyptian cotton sheets, European duvets and a range of pillow types. Up to four suitcases can fit under the bed, with two bedside tables and another set of drawers for further storage.

All cabins have a small desk and chair (with a welcome folder, service directory, writing pad, stationery, envelopes, pen), built-in closets with ample drawers and hanging space, a hair dryer, telephone, safe, bottles of water, ice bucket, umbrella, flat-screen TV with complimentary movies and music, and individual climate control thermostat. Metal flasks are provided as a gift for passengers to refill at the onboard water station. International outlets accept U.S./U.K./EU/AU plugs, while USB ports can also charge devices beside the bed, so there is no need to pack a power adapter. Free Wi-Fi is available ship wide.

Each white marble bathroom has a walk-in, glass-enclosed shower with two options (overhead or handheld) and a door that seals closed to keep the heated floor dry. There is also a heated towel rack, backlit magnifying mirror, Asprey toiletries (soap, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion), a vanity kit, plush towels, bathrobes and slippers. Two large drawers and a shelf above the basin provide adequate storage for two people's personal items.

Riverview: Staterooms on decks 3 and 4 have French balconies and measure 194 square feet in total. On Deck 2, staterooms have a smaller window and range from 180 square feet to 162 square feet. These cabins can accommodate two people in a queen bed or separated into two single beds. Designed in a boutique hotel style of classic elegance, the colour scheme is red, white and peach with striped wallpaper, beige carpet and heavy curtains that can be closed to block out sunlight in the morning. One wall is all mirrors, which increases the sense of space. The cabins are still very compact but feel a little more spacious than those on some other Uniworld ships where the design can overwhelm the room. There is no fridge in these cabins.

Junior Suite: At 260 square feet, these larger rooms on Deck 4 have a sofa that converts into an extra bed to accommodate a third person. Junior suites can also interconnect with other triple-share suites (403, 405, 407 and 409). As well as all the amenities of river view staterooms, suites come with butler service, which includes packing and unpacking assistance, picking up and returning laundry (free and unlimited), in-room breakfast, coffee and tea service, daily fruit and cookie plate, an evening snack and shoeshine. One special evening is offered in the Captain's Lounge, where the butler serves drinks and dinner. Suites also have a Nespresso coffee machine and tea, fully stocked mini-bar and a bottle of wine upon arrival. The décor is more opulent with wallpaper that matches the bedspread and sofa, a coffee table and more wardrobe space. Design and colour scheme vary between suites to give each one a unique look.

Royal Suite: The largest suites with the most perks are found on Deck 4. Forward facing, these two suites each measure 401 square feet -- more than twice the size of a standard cabin. Butler service is provided, including packing and unpacking, picking up and returning laundry (which is free and unlimited), in-room breakfast, coffee and tea, daily fruit and cookie plate, an evening snack, and shoeshine. On one evening, passengers in suites can have drinks and dinner in the Captain's Lounge, served by the butler.

Aside from all the amenities of other staterooms and suites, Royal Suites also have a living room, a marble bathroom with rain shower and bathtub, a separate toilet and bidet area, heated floors and towel racks. On the port side, Royal Suite 401 is decorated in red floral matching wallpaper, bedspread and sofa. It accommodates up to three passengers and can also interconnect with the neighbouring suite (403) for another three people for a total of six. Royal Suite 402 accommodates two people and has a different décor, which is an understated grey and white. Both suites have higher quality bed linens, a coffee table, more storage and wardrobe space, and two French balconies -- one in the bedroom and one in the living area.

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