River ship review: the SS Joie de Vivre

The SS Joie de Vivre, Uniworld’s latest offering, is the first super ship built at 125 metres, as opposed to the standard 135. As such, it’s able to slip through France’s winding channels to dock at moorings that are simply too small for other ships. It can even get right into the heart of Paris on the Seine River. Indeed, as its name suggests, the Joie de Vivre is a love song to the French good life, exemplified by its 20th-century Parisian design. As is Uniworld’s dynamic signature, expect to be transported back to the Golden Twenties with handcrafted furniture, fine antiques and original artwork. It’s a complete package too, with everything from the wine collection and supper club to the spa and farm-to-table cuisine enjoying a decidedly Gallic influence.


Given its bijou sensibilities, the Joie de Vivre features just 64 staterooms and suites, fostering a palpably intimate atmosphere. And, the colourful exuberance is invited into each cabin with bright splashes, adding character to dark-wood furnishing and marble-lined bathrooms stocked with L’Occitane amenities. You’ll also be treated to a handcrafted Savoir of England bed, complete with 100% Egyptian cotton sheets, pillow menu and European duvets. In turn, the suites are particularly impressive. Each individually designed and decorated, they all enjoy the services of a personal butler, on hand for everything from delivering your in-room breakfast and helping with your Nespresso coffee machine to offering a shoeshine or laundry service. The two Royal Suites also come with an open-air balcony and a soaking bathtub.


It won’t come as a surprise to learn that there’s a strong emphasis on French dining across the ship’s four gourmet venues. The main restaurant, Pigalle, features farm-to-table specialities from the surrounding regions in four-course dinners, along with buffet breakfasts and lunches that come accompanied by made-to-order options. For something a touch lighter, head to Le Bistrot, the ship’s very own Parisian sidewalk café. Here, bistro delicacies are served up to pretty river views framed by dropdown windows. But, it’s Le Cave des Vins that truly stands out. Under the guidance of a talented chef, you’ll enjoy a seven-course degustation meal using fresh, seasonal ingredients. It’s all washed down with paired wines, tailored by the ship’s expert sommelier.


The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that we mentioned that there were four dining venues. That’s where Claude’s comes in. This elegant venue, all sophisticated glitz and glamour, is transformed each evening into a tapas supper club where you’ll enjoy signature cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and performances from local musicians. On selected nights, it also shows classic French cinema under the stars. For a more traditional experience, head to Salon Toulouse. A full-service bar featuring its very own art collection, it offers a superb drinks menu and, in a nod to French cultural tradition, high tea hosted each afternoon.


As is the joy of river cruising, you’ll want to spend most of your time on deck, watching pretty towns and verdant countryside roll by. The Joie de Vivre’s even features a giant checkers board, along with the obligatory loungers, of course. You’ll also be able to reach stops missed out by larger ships, with each destinations brought to life by included tours. Guides use QuietVox headsets to deliver informative talks. And, when you return from your onshore excursions, you’ll have the option of resting up at the Club L’Espirit, the ship’s onboard spa. Unwind with a yoga session, pamper yourself with a beauty treatment and massage any sightseeing aches. Or, get your heart pumping with a session in the resistance pool or fitness centre.

Scott Anderson is General Manager at The Luxury Cruise Company. The Luxury Cruise Company is your port of call for incredible cruise holidays.

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Comments (13)

  1. Moya Finn says:

    That first view of the church through the picture window says it all, these river cruise cabins are far from pokey.

    Last year, I did a river cruise on the Danube and I was surprised at how much room I had in my cabin. To be honest, I was very happy sat by our window watching the world go by for hour after hour.

    It was my first river cruise. Would now love to do one in France.

    • Helen Johnson says:

      I know what you mean and I’d agree. It’s like those houses that look tiny and so narrow from the front, but it’s like a Tardis and surprisingly roomy inside. I always anticipated cruise ship cabins would be small and pokey and not all that comfortable, but they can be really impressive. Bet your Danube cruise was an experience not to be forgotten!

  2. Helen Johnson says:

    I love the interior design, it’s quite chic and a little romantic. Very charming. Does the personal butler come as standard? I can’t imagine having one of those. It would be very convenient and quite the luxury, but I’m not sure how I’d feel about someone waiting on me like that. An outdoor cinema on nights with good weather is such a good idea. I often find cruises a little too full on but this has a more relaxed feel about it while there still being plenty to do whatever your interests. What seasons does this run in?

    • Hello Helen
      Yes the butler comes as standard! He can do as little or as much as you want Ive used them for shoe shine and ironing/pressing services and thats about all – others use then ti pack/unpack but I’ll rather do that myself! The cruise operates March to October. Let me know if yoju have any other questions!

  3. Kev says:

    We love the cruising lifestyle, arriving at your next destination without any hassle, the only problem is that my wife easily gets sea sick. All our cruises have been confined to river cruises but we love them.

    The Joie de Vivre is a great name for a boat that takes so much pleasure in the typical French love of food and wine.

  4. Lydia Haigh says:

    According to my calculations a 7 course degustation meal with paired wines comes to 7 glasses of wine. I know it won’t always be full glasses of wine. The real advantage of dinner on board is that you can stroll along to your bed without worrying about driving, metro, taxi etc. The perfect dinner out with great views too.

  5. John says:

    I wonder if these smaller ships are the way ahead. For instance, on Portugal’s River Douro the river cruisers are much smaller than elsewhere to enable them to navigate the tighter sections of the river.

    Maybe as water levels fluctuate, sometimes getting worryingly low, these smaller ships will be a thing of the future.

    • Hello John.
      Many of the new river ships are built with a shallow daft to accommodate any low water sitations. Or try the Bordeaux river cruises, where there is never an issue with low waters as its a tidal river!

  6. Wm Lyons says:

    It’s a surprise to see the cabins on this cruise ship are large. I’ve been to some smaller cruises and I didn’t have this much luxury of space. I also get dizzy with rooms that have no window or openable doors to a balcony. I’d be willing to pay more for that just to be comfortable.

  7. Tim says:

    I love the look of the restaurant. All very French. It’s as if they’ve brought a classy bistro onboard.

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