Joie de Vivre brings a French effervescence to Uniworld’s Seine cruises from Paris

The dessert selection at Le Pigalle, the main restaurant on Joie de Vivre.
The dessert selection at Le Pigalle, the main restaurant on Joie de Vivre.

You don’t need to speak French to sail on the new Joie de Vivre, cruising the Seine out of Paris. But you will know from your first step aboard, at the dock about a 20-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, that you are in France.

With its French fabrics, foie gras, daily arrays of local cheeses and hallways dressed in early 1900s caricatures by artist George Goursat (known as Sem), the Joie de Vivre is true to its French intentions, designed by Uniworld Boutique River Cruises as a floating Paris boutique hotel.

I especially like the concept of a Paris vacation that starts and ends at a hotel docked in the middle of the city and cruises the Seine for a week in high Paris style. The ship stops for excursions to some of France’s travel favorites: Palace of Versailles, Monet’s home and garden at Giverny, the old town and Gothic cathedral of Rouen, the port at Honfleur, and the memorials on Normandy’s Atlantic Coast, scene of the invasion of Europe by Allied Forces in 1944.

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Honfleur on Normandy’s Atlantic Coast is a favorite port excursion for passengers on Seine River cruises. David G. Molyneaux

Most cruise companies tend to design one model and build a single ship that represents their brand, copy it as many times as financially feasible, then send the copies to cruise from various ports around the world. This is the most efficient and profitable way to expand a cruise line.

Rarely does a line design a vessel specifically with a destination and itinerary in mind. Uniworld is that rare company. Its newest of 18 river vessels, the Joie de Vivre, is a stunning result.

The design is part of the reason that the 128-passenger Joie de Vivre was nearly sold out for its 2017 season before it began cruising from Paris this spring.

Uniworld is not new to the river cruise business, but during the past decade, after being acquired by The Travel Corp. managed by the Tollman family, the river company has become known as one of the most luxurious (and expensive) of the river cruise lines. Travel Corp. has a reputation for unique décor and style, including antiques, original artwork, and handcrafted furniture. Brett Tollman, the company’s chief executive, told Travel Weekly recently that the carpet for Joie de Vivre took a year to design.

The result is a splurge of a vacation cruise in a one-of-a-kind vessel fit for a classic sojourn on the Seine. Cabins and suites have French balconies and marble bathrooms (onyx in the two owner’s suites). Restaurant choices range from iconic French dishes in the grand Le Pigalle to the more intimate Le Bistrot and Claude’s supper club, with jazz.

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Le Bistrot is Uniworld’s take on a Parisian-style sidewalk café. At the aft end of the Joie de Vivre, it is designed with windows that lower for an open-air ambiance. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

As if Rouen, Honfleur, the Normandy beaches, and Giverny were not enough, Uniworld has added alternatives including playing golf from the port of Rouen and in Etretat, as well as exploring ports near the Seine by bicycle.

The seven-night cruise includes a day and overnight in Paris, and because the vessel is docked in central Paris before and after the cruise, passengers have additional time to tour the city center. Prices start at about $4,350 per person for two, all-inclusive. Information:

Even if you don’t speak French when cruising on the Joie de Vivre (most of the staff onboard is not French), it does help your self-esteem to properly say the name of the ship, ZHwä də ˈvēvrə (pronouncing the last syllable almost as if it doesn’t exist) as you gently shake your head in complete understanding of its meaning.

The phrase joie de vivre means exuberant enjoyment of life and carries with it lightheartedness, joviality, and effervescence, all of which tend to improve anyone’s vacation time, especially in France.

David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of