5.0

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

Review Summary

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Pros

  • Luxurious "boutique" river cruise ship that reflects French chic
  • Ship can dock in Paris due to its smaller size
  • Food is excellent across all dining options, most included in rates
  • Well-appointed staterooms showcase high-end decor
  • Marble bathrooms have heated floors and spacious showers
  • Onboard spa has excellent treatments 
  • Fitness center is modern, well-equipped, and has large windows 
  • Pool with a current simulates lap swimming
  • Excursions include exclusive access to sights
  • Entertainment includes live music and film screenings
  • L’Occitane toiletries provided

Cons

  • Cabins (other than suites) are on the smaller side
  • Staterooms lack balconies, even in higher categories
  • Pool is on the small side and more suited for fitness
  • Wi-Fi can be slow, but boosted routers are available
  • Limited 24-hour room service menu

Bottom Line

Uniworld bills itself as being a "boutique" cruise line, and its luxury super-yacht Joie de Vivre backs up that statement with opulent 20th-century French decor. There are six dining options aboard (including room service), five of which are covered by the fare (all alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages are included, too). Onboard daytime activities include a fitness center with classes, a pool, a massage room, and afternoon tea service. In the evenings, passengers take in live music and film screenings. Due to its smaller size (its capacity is 128 passengers), the Joie de Vivre can dock in Paris at a port just a 20-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, but its size also means that staterooms are smaller. Despite this, the Joie de Vivre is one of the most luxurious river cruises sailing Europe.

What's Included (and What's Not)

The Joie de Vivre is an all-inclusive ship on the whole -- the base rate covers the majority of expenses. All dining options except La Cave du Vin are included, as are all beverages, both alcoholic (including top shelf) and nonalcoholic. The majority of excursions are included as well, though some exclusive experiences require an extra fee. Wi-Fi is free in all areas onboard -- a rarity in cruise ships at large -- though it can be slow in more rural areas. There are mobile hot spots available to rent for a fee to provide faster, stronger Wi-Fi. 

Activities like film screenings and performances of live music are also always included in rates. While fitness classes and use of the gym equipment is free, massages cost an extra fee -- but we highly recommend indulging. 

Remarkably, all gratuities are included in the base rate. (Uniworld does not disclose percentages.) If guests would like to add additional gratuity, they can tip crew members directly. 

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Scene

5.0

Intimate, boutique ship catering to well-off, sociable couples in their golden years 

Interiors of this luxurious, upscale ship take cues from 20th-century French decor, exuding a refined but not stuffy vibe

The Joie de Vivre is Uniworld’s most luxurious ship to date, and it might be one of the most luxurious sailing Europe's rivers.

Uniworld's in-house design team, spearheaded by mother-daughter duo Beatrice and Toni Tollman, wanted to match the ship's decor with its geographic sailing location -- the ship only sails in France. The team took design cues from 20th-century French decor, filling both public and private spaces with luxurious patterned textiles, warm woods, white marble, and vintage posters and artworks. The high-end finishings create a refined but not stuffy atmosphere, perhaps like one found at a five-pearl boutique hotel on dry land.

River cruises often attract an older clientele, and the Joie de Vivre is no exception -- most guests are in their fifties, sixties, and beyond, though it's not too unusual to have a few younger adult passengers. There typically are no children on sailings, though there is no official minimum age requirement. (There are specific multigenerational cruises geared for families across all ages -- Uniworld recommends that children be at least 4 years old.) As it’s a luxury ship, rates are equally high, resulting in a more well-heeled crowd than you might find on other river cruises. Most passengers travel as couples, but there are also adult families and groups of friends. There is a very convivial and social atmosphere onboard, and passengers tend to often make new friends during the sailing. On our sailing, many guests were avid river cruisers who were partial to the Uniworld brand. 

Due to the older average age of the crowd, the ship does not have a very boisterous atmosphere, though you’ll often be able to find passengers dancing to live music in the evenings. (Nights tend to end on the earlier side, around 10 or 11 pm.) While the overall vibe of the ship is relaxed -- this is reflected in the rather casual dress code, as there are no formal evenings -- there is undoubtedly an air of luxury onboard.

There are only three interior decks on the 410-foot Joie de Vivre, and one of them is only partially open to passengers, making navigation easy. You’ll find most of the restaurants and bars in the front of the ship, the staterooms mid-ship, and the fitness center, spa, and one additional dining venue all the way in the aft. For fresh air, passengers can visit the top deck, which is lined with lounge chairs and tables. The ship is about 33 feet shorter than other “super ships” on European rivers (ships can only be a certain length due to locks), and the Joie de Vivre is even shorter to be able to sail into Paris, which has a smaller size limitation.

Cabins

5.0

Not extremely spacious but very comfortable and luxuriously appointed

The Riverview Cabin, the entry-level accommodation, incorporates a style inspired by vintage Parisian glamour

There are three main cabin categories on the Joie de Vivre: Riverview Cabins, Junior Suites, and Royal Suites. Riverview Cabins are the entry-level accommodations and they clock in at 194 square feet on Decks 3 and 4, and 162 to 180 square feet on Deck 2. Junior Suites expand to 260 square feet, and the two Royal Suites onboard are the largest at 401 square feet. Despite being significantly smaller compared to the suites, standard cabins do not feel particularly cramped. Still, there is not much space for lounging in them (typically just a small chair or two), so if you are looking to spread out and relax in your cabin, you might want to splurge on booking a suite. The Royal Suites offer separate living rooms that invite lingering. The majority of cabins are for two guests, but the Junior Suites feature sofa beds that allow for a third guest, and several of these suites are adjoining to accommodate larger groups. 

The ship was decorated by mother-daughter duo Beatrice and Toni Tollman and they were inspired by vintage Parisian glamour. That look is reflected in all the ship's cabins with high-end finishings, from elegant wallpaper to vintage etchings. Rich jewel-toned textiles in ruby red or sapphire blue add to the elegant look. The queen-sized Savoir beds can be converted to two twins, though guests should note that they will be very close together.

All cabins feature spacious marble bathrooms with walk-in rainfall showers (there are tubs in the Royal Suites, which also have a separate room for a toilet and a bidet), heated floors and towel racks, L’Occitane products, and plush robes. 

None of the cabins on the Joie de Vivre have balconies, but the windows on Decks 3 and 4, where the majority of cabins are located, are floor-to-ceiling and can be lowered halfway via a switch to create a balcony-like effect of sorts. All cabins have ample closet and dresser space for clothing, and suitcases can be stored under the bed. Cabins also have flat-screen TVs embedded in mirrors, safes, free Wi-Fi, bathrobes and slippers, hairdryers, a carafe of filtered water (replenished daily and additionally upon request), an umbrella, and individual temperature controls. The in-room entertainment system on the TV also offers an excellent selection of films. Suites add Nespresso machines and mini-fridges. Guests in the suites are also treated to butler service, free laundry services (which are available to other guests for a fee), and daily snacks. 

With such a small number of guests on board, the ship is not particularly noisy -- it's very quiet in the cabins, though guests can certainly hear and feel the hum of the ship.

Food

5.0

Dining on board the Joie de Vivre is superb -- and (mostly) included in the rate.

Le Restaurant Pigalle, the main restaurant, serves buffet fare for lunch and dinner, as well as six-course dinners

Reflecting its French theme, the Joie de Vivre has top-notch cuisine that's "magnifique." There are four restaurants included in the rate: Le Restaurant Pigalle, Salon Toulouse, Le Bistrot, and Claude’s. There’s also room service available 24 hours a day (included in the rate), but guests should note that only a limited menu is available overnight. La Cave du Vin is the only restaurant that requires an extra fee; here, 10 guests can enjoy a seven-course menu paired with wines, and reservations are required. 

Le Restaurant Pigalle is the main dining restaurant open three meals a day. There are no formal seating times for breakfast and lunch, as they are both buffets. Guests are welcome to come at any point during service times (usually a two-hour period) for each meal. On our sailing, we found the buffet was one of the best we've ever experienced, and the food is constantly refreshed to maintain its quality. A chef prepares made-to-order egg dishes for breakfast, and there’s a carving station or a fresh panini station for lunch. There’s also a wide dessert spread of pastries and ice cream -- this should not be missed. Dinner is a six-course affair -- there is only one seating, but tables are not assigned, and diners often arrive fashionably late. Reservations are not required.

Le Salon Toulouse functions as a bar, lounge, and casual dining venue. It serves a proper afternoon tea, light snacks and drinks before dinner, and also offers plates from the adjacent Le Bistrot. In the evening, it’s the main gathering space for after-dinner drinks and entertainment. Reservations are not required.

Le Bistrot is another casual dining option, located at the bow of the ship in front of Le Salon Toulouse and designed as a classic Parisian bistro. It serves classic French fare from midday to the start of dinner service. There are only 10 tables here, but no reservations are required.

Claude’s is a 26-person supper club housed in the fitness space, which might sound odd, but the pool is covered and mood lighting changes the ambience completely. There’s also a sunroom in the back (windows can be opened for a breeze) that offers fantastic views of the Seine when in port. 

Throughout, the ship offers delicious vegetarian options for every meal at every restaurant, and the staff is highly attentive to food allergies and restrictions.

Drinks

5.0

All drinks are included in the rate, including Champagne and a full wine list

L’Esprit Bar, located in Claude’s, includes an outdoor deck with incredible views of the Seine

All drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are included in the rate. That includes top-shelf liquor, Champagne, and an extensive wine list, among other options. The beer menu is more limited. Guests are also allowed to bring their own alcohol aboard -- there is no corkage fee. There are two formal bars on board, and they're housed in Le Salon Toulouse (open all day) and Claude's (only open in the evening -- during the day, the bar is part of the fitness center and serves juices and smoothies). Alcohol is served in all of the restaurants during every meal. Waitstaff will also stroll the outdoor deck to take drink orders from sunbathing guests. Signature cocktails change frequently: When we were on board, the signature drink was a delicious cider cocktail. There are also tea and coffee stations in the stateroom hallways for guests to use at any hour of the day. While tap water is drinkable on the ship, fresh glass decanters of water are refilled in the staterooms daily.

Entertainment is low-key, as on-shore activities fill the majority of the itinerary.

Onboard entertainment is low-key: on our sailing, screenings of quintessential French films were held in Claude’s

Entertainment is minimal, but enjoyable aboard the Joie de Vivre. In the afternoons and evenings there are often live performances by singers and musicians in Le Salon Toulouse and Claude’s -- on livelier nights, guests are likely to get up and dance to classic hits. Genres can range from jazz to classic rock to disco. On two evenings of our sailing, quintessential French films were screened at Claude’s, too. While watching a movie, guests, who are seated in cushioned wicker lounge chairs, can enjoy free candy that's stocked in glass jars. 

There are two main events for guests outside the welcome and farewell dinners: a Champagne reception and a caviar tasting.

There is no true shop aboard the ship, but displays of luxury goods line the main atrium and can be purchased via the the front desk.

Small pool mainly for fitness, not recreation

Just one small indoor pool is located on the ship, mostly used for fitness

Joie de Vivre's pool could be considered one of its few shortcomings. There is just the one, and it's a small indoor pool, housed within the Club L’Esprit fitness center and spa (which turns into Claude’s in the evening). While it does have a handful of padded wicker loungers nearby, it gets zero sun -- not even from windows or a skylight -- so those looking to sunbathe a bit would do better on the Sky Deck. On the plus side, the pool was never crowded during our sailing. Note that it’s only open to guests during the day, as the pool is covered for dinner. Fitness classes are held in the pool on some mornings, and a current can be turned on to simulate lap swimming. 

Compact, practical fitness center, plus a spa with excellent massages

The compact, practical fitness center includes a treadmill, two stationary bikes, free weights, and other equipment

Club L’Esprit is the combined fitness center and spa facility that is only open during the day before it is transformed into Claude’s supper club in the evening. The fitness center -- which has a treadmill, two stationary bikes, a rowing machine, kettlebells, and free weights, among other equipment -- is free to all passengers, and guests can also make use of the pool, which can simulate lap swimming with a current that can be flipped on. Free yoga and water aerobics classes are held here in the morning, and guest do not need to sign up in advance.

The "spa" is limited to one private massage room -- it is minimal, yet quiet and comfortable. Services are limited to massages, body treatments, and facials. We highly recommend a massage (particularly by the magical Elena), but guests should note that it does cost an extra fee, and advance reservations are required. On our sailing, Elena’s massages were extremely popular, so we advise making an appointment as early as possible. After a workout or a massage, guests can enjoy juices and smoothies at the bar in Club L’Esprit.

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