A stunning and truly breathtaking new river ship has arrived and is now sailing the French waterways on the Saône and Rhône Rivers from Spring to Fall every year.
The ultra-glamorous S.S. Catherine, the latest vessel in the fleet of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection was introduced in March of this year to much acclaim. Her Godmother is the fabled star of stage and screen, Ms Catherine Deneuve, a true French icon but in this instance I must say that the S.S. Catherine is so utterly gorgeous that she outshone her namesake and is no doubt destined to become an icon in her own right.
The S.S. Catherine was 18 months in the making and is the latest in a series of exquisitely appointed ships from Uniworld – her recent siblings being the River Beatrice and the SS Antoinette and next year there will be another – the SS Maria Theresa, which will cruise the Rhine and Danube Rivers. These ships are virtually unequalled and to quote the French – they are “nonpareil” - literally without equal. My first impression was that of unsurpassed elegance as one entered the 2 story foyer with its enclosed waterfall cascading gently down one side of a gorgeous glass elevator, gilded and filigreed marble staircases with brass railings winding up on either side and an incredibly beautiful, specially commissioned Murano glass chandelier anchoring this space. More delicate and exquisite touches were everywhere as we moved around the ship exploring the lovely public rooms and the superbly appointed accommodations. Mirrors, sconces and art work were everywhere and that this was a sensual, sophisticated ship with impeccable and gracious attention to detail was obvious. Nothing had been missed and the owners, who are also hoteliers, with a keen and practiced eye for décor and design, have ensured that the S.S. Catherine is a most thoughtful and exceptional creation. She offers an absolutely delightful way to enjoy seeing a lovely part of the French countryside in great style.
BEAUTIFUL DESIGN AND COMFORT
It appears that very little expense has been spared – from the monogrammed bed linens which nestle gently on one of the most comfortable beds in which I have ever slept, handcrafted by Savoir ® of England (please may I have one at home), to the lighting which is perfectly styled and placed. Delightful table lamps, Murano sconces and chandeliers, some completely over the top but which really suit this ship, to mood lighting in the right places and perfectly planned night lights in the bedroom and bathroom. Speaking of the bathrooms, they too are just marvelous - marble with heated floors and towel rails, a spacious shower and modern rectangular basin, a make-up mirror, hairdryer, both US and European outlets, L’Occitane amenities and excellent storage. And of course in each stateroom there is a flat screen TV, a small dressing table, and the windows can slide up and down to create a nice sitting area with a view and outdoor feel, with fresh air flowing in and a mosquito screen if needed. The fabulous and ornate furnishings and fabrics used, the tasseled drapes, ceiling detail, the darling love seats with a profusion of color, to the perfectly plumped accent pillows add to the elegant interior. With the incredible vases full of flowers of all kinds, books stacked just so and objets d’art in just the right places creating the feel of a lovely country house where you feel you are visiting old and good friends - this ship is spectacular and inspirational. The Catherine is warm, inviting, romantic, comfortable and very, very chic. Sensuous fabrics abound and every surface begs to be touched. Gorgeous sofa tables, potted ferns chosen to thrive indoors, stunning mosaics, a fireplace, candles at dinner, starched, whiter than white napery – it is seemingly never ending. Everything is designed to allow for a feast for the eyes and also the senses.
Practical flawless delivery from the staff just adds to the overall experience on the ship. The service is friendly, caring and discerning without a whiff of pretentiousness but full of professionalism rarely found except on the most luxurious ocean-going vessels. It is not often that you can experience and enjoy a remarkable and consistent brigade of staff humming with anticipation to serve. The cuisine and the choices offered at all meals was truly excellent and the dining experience overall would compare to the finest restaurants in some of the world’s major cities. Artfully prepared meals, beautifully presented at all times including the buffets for breakfast and lunch and all very tasty. Entertainment is offered in the signature Bar du Leopard located aft and which references the famous Leopard Lounges found in some Red Carnation Hotels, Uniworld’s sister company. The leopard-print furnishings, elephant-head bar rails, wood paneling and a spectacular jungle mosaic makes this a fabulous spot for a pre-dinner aperitif or an after dinner nightcap accompanied by music and good company and the views of these picturesque rivers. By day this spot is a quieter venue for reading and pure relaxation and the small swimming pool is in this area as well. Normally on most new Uniworld ships the pool would be on deck but on the French rivers where the bridges are quite low, there is not enough room for a pool on the lovely and spacious sun deck above. The main lounge, named the Van Gogh in tribute to one of the masters of French painting is forward on the ship and is the hub of social activity and where lectures, introductions, parties and other events are planned. It too is beyond beautiful in every way and a great gathering spot for guests to mingle and meet.
INCLUSIONS and ITINERARIES
The S.S. Catherine has been purposely built to sail along the glorious rivers of France following in the footsteps of Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh himself and will take guests on a delightful and idyllic journey through Southern France. The countryside and culture that inspired the Masters includes beautiful Avignon and the Palace of the Popes, the ancient Roman town of Arles in stunning Provence, with its amphitheater still in use and small, charming wine towns along the river. Lyon, the culinary capital of France full of hidden treasures and Beaune, in the heart of the Burgundy wine-producing region round out the array of lovely stops along the way. This is a cruise ideal for wine buffs, gastronomes and art and history aficionados to enjoy a tradition as deeply rooted as the historic grapevines along its route. In 2014, Uniworld has become an all-inclusive brand and their gracious onboard hospitality includes all gratuities, unlimited beverages with an extensive selection of distinctive wines, craft and regular beers, cocktails and soft drinks, all meals, all shore excursions, free Wi-Fi and transfers to and from the ship on arrival and departure days. The ship also offers bicycles for easy personal exploration in the countryside, Nordic walking sticks and on the 14 excursions from which to choose, an audio headset system and naturally, local onboard entertainment and cultural enrichment. If you wish to explore this region of France, then the S.S. Catherine will be a delightful home away from home for you and is an excellent choice.