That New Ship Smell
Taking Uniworld’s Joie de Vivre for a test drive

by Nina Slawek

With the champagne on ice, the bedspreads freshly ironed and the brass polished to a gleam, we boarded Uniworld’s Joie de Vivre where else but in Paris, the city that embodies the exultant phrase.

All aboard

Sitting comfortably aboard a coach on day 2, rambling around the arrondissement, sipping champagne and munching on a fresh butter croissant, gives one time to ponder the meaning of travel (and yes, the bubbles helped).

Travel is made up of moments. And the ones that truly touch you are the ones you remember. The ones you retell. The ones that stay with you.

Moments such as a butler bringing you a glass of superb wine as you sit in your stateroom, window fully lowered, sun streaming in, pastoral French countryside passing by. Or perhaps a mouthful of buttery caviar washed down with a glass of Bollinger. (Is there a theme here?)

More moments: gazing onto Rouen’s Notre Dame Cathedral from the very room where Monet painted it, while I stand at an easel, being gently guided in my clumsy attempt at an impressionistic watercolour. Or sharing the emotional weight of the beaches of Normandy with fellow passengers – many of whom lost relatives in the liberation effort.

All those moments are the stuff of ‘It was a great trip.’

It’s also a great ship. All of us on this pre-inaugural journey inevitably succumbed to the charms of the Joie de Vivre. We are only human.

Personally, being spoiled is one of my very favourite things. I’m also quite good at it. Serve me a delicious duck confit to rival the best kitchens of Paris, paired with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and you won’t hear a peep from me. Not until I saunter over to the cheese table for some decadent raw milk brie and a port – and then perhaps little squeals of delight might escape.

Joie de Vivre had me at ‘Bonjour,’ so perhaps some other perspectives would be appropriate, for the sake of journalistic integrity.

Susan Bowman, Transat’s VP Marketing & Industry relations, says many Canadian travellers have experienced cruising and want more upscale product.

“The beauty of Uniworld is that what they promise, they deliver. The ambiance is 1st class as is the service. You truly feel like you’re coming home and it’s hard to put a price on that. Then there’s the dining. The kitchen on board is absolutely unequalled on the river or the ocean.”

Bowman added that a highlight of the trip was the ability to understand the passion and commitment that goes into the building of a ship by the Tollman family, architects of Uniworld and The Travel Corporation.

“They put their heart and soul into a project like this. Whether it is Bea Tollman’s own recipes served in the dining room or Toni Tollman’s interior design – the whole family is 100% engaged in the product and that is reflected in the quality.”

“The all-inclusiveness on a luxury product is just amazing,” said Mike Dawson, Chairman at Toronto-based Worldview Travel.

“I’ve been extremely impressed with the quality of the food, the service, the décor and the tours. At Worldview, we sell Regent, Silversea and Seabourn – and I would say that Uniworld is a perfect complement to that line up on the river cruise side. It fits right in to our positioning and there is certainly an opportunity to sell more.”

For Joel Ruff, Operations Manager of the Alberta Motor Association (AMA), the trip marked his first visit to “breathtaking” Paris. He said a trip on Joie de Vivre “is a perfect fit for the segment of AMA Travel's clients who appreciate a luxurious but carefree holiday. Many of our members would prefer to pay to have an inclusive experience so once they are in destination they don't have to worry about anything.” 

Ruff said the ship’s ambience, service and cuisine was a perfect match for the destination.

“I thought the ship and onboard experience was unbelievable. They did an excellent job of using design and mirroring to make each space feel as spacious as possible while maintaining an intimate feel. My favourite place on the ship was le Cave des Vins.  That felt like a once-in-a-lifetime private dining experience.”

Ruff said AMA is sending two of its senior travel advisors to experience Joie de Vivre in May to ensure there’s a depth of specialized knowledge to share with clients.

“There are other products in the market that are also very good, but the combination of the ship, the experience and the itinerary will provide a unique opportunity for our members. Europe is strong this year out of our market so that will also help demand.”  

Uniworld president Ellen Bettridge told Open Jaw that there’s a growing market for the luxury experience offered on Joie de Vivre.

“For travel agents who are reluctant to upsell to a luxury product I would say that you are leaving money on the table. Ask your clients what they want out of a vacation. If you put them on the wrong product, they will not come back. This is true for all our source markets and for those in Canada it’s important to understand the value of the all-inclusive product.”

Summing up the experience of cruising on Uniworld’s newest and perhaps most glorious vessel, Bettridge said: “What we have is a unique product built by a unique family. The ship is a piece of art and the experience of sailing on it is how it makes you feel.”No arguments there. Overall, the Uniworld experience is characterized by superior quality and the tangible desire of staff members to deliver memorable ‘moments’ to their guests.

For me, those ‘moments’ were provided by people like Martin at the front desk who accompanied me into town without hesitation when I asked about the nearest ATM; by our doting waiters who truly could not do enough to please; and by the amazingly knowledgeable tour guides who brought ancient buildings to life.

For a time, Uniworld’s newest vessel carried us blissfully away from the stress of work and the troubles of the world, and allowed us to revel in the joy of living – or as the French say, le Joie de Vivre

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