Upon boarding Uniworld River Cruises’ S.S. Joie de Vivre in Paris, my family instantly understood the relevance of the ship’s name. As we were set to embark on our Seine River cruise, we could see the “joy of living” in the smiles of the crew and fellow guests.
That feeling rarely wavered for my husband, my 21-year-old daughter and me during our eight-day river cruise in France, a round-trip Paris and Normandy itinerary, offering glimpses into Monet’s world, medieval Rouen, Versailles, a visit to Normandy, and other scenic and immersive opportunities.
River cruises traditionally skew older, but we found this type of voyage to be an ideal choice for families with young adults like us. It was so easy to unpack once and effortlessly be transported from one fascinating city or town to the next in luxury, leaving the daily planning to someone else. Plus, almost everything was included in the rate – a choice of daily excursions, all food and beverages (even premium spirits and wines), gratuities, Wi-Fi, a fitness center and wellness classes, onboard entertainment and group airport transfers during set times.
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Aboard the Ship
The atmosphere on board the S.S. Joie de Vivre was friendly among guests, who were excited to share the experience with others. We were among a total of 109 passengers, a mix of Americans, plus a few Canadians and a group of Australians, mostly in the 50s to 70s age range. Almost all openly welcomed our 21-year-old daughter and took a personal interest in her.
The ship itself was filled with Parisian touches, with floral couches in the main salon, handcrafted furniture, antiques and artwork. The salon was the pre-dinner spot for hearing about the next day’s excursions and the post-dinner meet-up, which included live entertainment on select nights.
Open seating in the main dining room with larger tables encouraged camaraderie, while an optional dining choice was available in Le Bistrot for classic French cuisine. All the meals were excellent, with buffets for breakfast and lunch and a la carte offerings for dinner. Special requests and provisions for allergies or dietary restrictions were easily fulfilled. In fact, the word “no” did not seem to be in the vocabulary of any of the 54 crew members, whose superior service went above and beyond throughout the trip.
Other public spaces included Club L’Espirit with a small resistance pool, seating area and bar. In the evening, the pool was covered to allow more room to relax as it transformed into Claude’s for listening to music or for movie night. Off Club L’Espirit at the back of the ship was a seating area where guests could pull windows down for an open-air experience playing games, working on puzzles or eating available sweets. A fitness center, massage room and a 24/7 coffee and tea station were nearby, and the deck at the top of the ship offered plenty of space to relax on lounge chairs while enjoying river views.
Almost all the guest rooms feature a French balcony, a window that mechanically opens half-way. In-room amenities included a flat-screen TV, built-in closets and a marble bathroom with shower. Upgrades to the grand suites and suites for butler service and more features are available.
Our Seine River Cruise’s Cultural Itinerary
Each day of the Paris and Normandy itinerary of our Siene River cruise had us visiting a different port, with our ship usually sailing at night. Many days offered a choice of included excursions, self-guided exploration or the option to stay on the ship and enjoy the peaceful and scenic surroundings. It was nice to have a full day in Paris, where we opted for a walking tour of the Latin Quarter.
While in Vernon, we took a guided tour of the medieval Chateau de La Roche-Guyon in the morning, returned for lunch on board, and then spent the afternoon at Monet’s Gardens and House in Giverny. Our guide provided wonderful background on Monet’s life and the choices that led him to this idyllic spot, which is recognizable as his inspiration for many of his paintings.
Our day in medieval Rouen started with a walking tour that included the historic quarter, Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Saint Joan of Arc Church. After lunch on the ship, we ventured into town on our own. Another option was a visit to a Camembert Cheese Farm. Some guests opted for a full day at the island of Mont Saint-Michel for an extra fee.
While docked in the cute village of Caudebec-en-Caux, our excursion choices included a scenic motorcoach drive to Honfleur for a walking tour of the fishing village or golfing in Etretat’s clifftop course with club rental.
Perhaps the main reason many opted for this itinerary was the chance to visit the Normandy beaches. The full-day excursion included an approximately 2.5-hour motorcoach ride both ways and a stop at the American Cemetery. We also had lunch in the charming village of Bayeux, the first liberated by the British.
The 80th anniversary of D-Day is June 6, 2024, so keep that in mind if planning a trip for next year.
Another highlight of the itinerary was our day at Versailles, where we had a private tour guide taking us through Versailles Palace and then away from the crowds and into the Secret Apartments.
Exclusive Uniworld moments for only our ship’s guests experienced throughout the voyage made our river cruise even more special. A touching memorial ceremony at Omaha Beach, a private viewing of Versailles Palace’s Royal Chapel and a private concert at the Rouen Cathedral are truly cherished shared memories from our family’s French adventure that still bring smiles to our faces.
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All photos are courtesy of Uniworld River Cruises.