Newer, sleeker ships keep coming to Europe’s waterways, thanks to a surge in new passengers who are attracted to river cruising. And as today’s traveler looks to immersive experiences, the interest in this form of travel — which highlights small tours, hyper-local cuisine, and cultural attractions — will only continue to grow.
This year, one of the most anticipated debuts was Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s S.S. Joie de Vivre, the fourth in the line’s class of Super Ships. Uniworld — which won a Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Award in 2016 for the top river cruise line — is known for having some of the most luxurious, well-designed vessels on the water. (Think less cruise ship, more boutique hotel meets super yacht.) And unlike many other cruise companies, which operate on the rivers and at sea, Uniworld designs each ship individually, giving travelers a sense of place and customization that feels unexpected and refreshing.
Once you set foot on the Joie de Vivre, it’s clear you are in France. With its sumptuous Pierre Frey Braquenié silk wall coverings and caricatures by the Belle Epoque artist George Goursat (Sem), the ship evokes early-to-mid 20th century Paris — but there are plenty of contemporary touches, too. In the elegant main restaurant, Le Pigalle, which has walnut-paneled walls, soft pink banquettes, and velvet-covered ceilings, passengers can dine on French classics such as coq au vin or beef bourginon — but also healthy breakfast smoothies and on-trend dishes like a creamy burrata toast.
The itinerary itself is also a standout. The ship will be making regular 8-day sailings to Normandy from Paris, so guests can easily tack on a couple of days pre-or-post cruise in the City of Light. (Also of note: the ship is built to be 410 feet wide, so it can sail right into the heart of the city.) Once you leave Paris, the itinerary reads like a greatest hits tour of some of France’s most famous destinations, including Honfleur, Rouen, and Giverny, where Monet had his home and gardens.