Onboard Review: Uniworld’s S.S. Catherine

Suite accommodations on board Uniworld's S.S. Catherine
Suite accommodations on board Uniworld’s S.S. Catherine.

Picture a sunstruck day in Lyon, where the eye-catching S.S. Catherine is poised on the history-rich Rhone River, awaiting christening. An orchestra tunes up, godmother/film legend Catherine Deneuve sets foot on the red carpet, a bottle of Dom Perignon stands ready to smash across the bow. Oh la la, the Gallic glamour.

No less allure awaits post-inaugural clients who set sail in the South of France with the 159-passenger S.S. Catherine. Agents, you can count on raves and repeats from those with a taste for uncommon comforts, innovative styling, imaginative offerings on board and on shore—and yes, the Frenchness and fabulousness of Uniworld’s newest creation.

“I am confident that the S.S. Catherine will continue setting the standard of excellence in luxury river cruising,” says president and CEO Guy Young. “She will allow us to offer more capacity to support our popular Burgundy and Provence and Grand France itineraries.”

With every fresh entry in the fleet, Uniworld seems bent on upping its already high-end image of luxury, elegance, and attention to detail, and this newcomer is no exception. For the March christening ceremony of the new vessel (a river biggie at 443 ft. long) and the following maiden voyage, Recommend joined travel journalists, travel consultants, and the company’s top guns—including members of the talented Tollman family, who first planted the seeds that would blossom into the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection.

dressed to impress
The ship shows off the sure stamp of Beatrice Tollman, president, founder, and guiding design light of Uniworld’s sister company, The Red Carnation Hotel Collection—a group of properties famed for their luxe, individualized decor. It’s a distinctive style that’s splendidly evident in the vessels Young calls, “Red Carnation on the waters.”

Take the lobby, where a magnificent Murano chandelier captures all eyes; the glass elevator with a glittering waterfall cascading down its side; miles of mirrors and white marble; and artworks both commissioned and antique. (Stay tuned for the next new, one-of-a-kind masterpiece, S.S. Maria Theresa, set to debut in spring 2015.)

Then there are the staterooms—ranking high on the romance meter with their rich palettes and textiles, French-flavored furnishings, and handcrafted Savoir of England beds dressed in fine linens. Gleaming marble bathrooms boast a large glass-enclosed shower, with towel warmer and L’Occitane products. Other touches that add to cruising comfort: a handy wall switch that signals a request for privacy or room attention, a bathroom night light, a thermostat, a lighted safe, hair dryer, robe and slippers, bottled water, a flat-screen TV/infotainment center, complimentary WiFi, twice-daily housekeeping, and evening turndown.

The ship encompasses 61 staterooms designated Categories 1-3 (194 sq. ft.), and 13 staterooms designated Categories 4-5 (162 sq. ft.). Category 1 staterooms and suites have full open-air balconies; Categories 2 and 3 have French balconies. (Category 5 rates begin at $3,349 pp.) In the suite picture are five at 305 sq. ft., and the Royal Suite at 410 sq. ft., each with its own butler.

Public areas, named for renowned French artists, include the Van Gogh Lounge, with velvet love seats for gatherings and enjoying entertainment; the top deck’s Matisse Terrace, for soaking up a drifting gallery of soft-edged scenes that have inspired countless paintings; and the Cezanne Restaurant, home to culinary specialties featuring fresh ingredients from local farmers’ markets and signature recipes that come straight from Beatrice Tollman’s own perfected collection—tasty chicken pot pie, for instance, and honeycomb ice cream.

The fun award goes to the Bar du Leopard, or Leopard Lounge, where—you guessed it—leopard prints abound. The room’s most striking feature is an indoor pool, accented by a wall-art recreation of a whimsical and wildly colorful jungle.

There’s also a spa, fitness center, boutique, and a pair of round-the-clock stations (one in the Leopard Lounge, the other in a tiny bistro) where magic machines produce specialty coffees with beaucoup cookies at hand.

catherine’s journeys
On Catherine’s 8-day Avignon-to-Lyon Burgundy & Provence journey, the Super Ship (S.S.) drops anchor at Tarascon, Avignon, Viviers, Tournon/Tain l’Hermitage, Chalon-sur-Saone (Beaune), and Lyon. As for shore excursions, they feature wine, truffles, and chocolate, so how could you go wrong? Among these: at the “twin cities” of Tournon/Tain l’Hermitage, a demonstration, with sampling, at Cite du Chocolat, Valrhona, where clients will discover the close link between Valrhona chocolate and the art of blending wine; and Tournon’s impressively preserved castle-museum built between the 14th and 16th centuries. At Viviers, guests travel to a truffle farm in the region of La Rabassiere to walk with the owner’s dog, well-trained in sniffing out the celebrated “black diamond”; afterward comes a tasting of homemade terrines, pates, and local wines. In the culinary capital of Lyon, it’s a tea ceremony and crepe-making demonstration with tasting at L’Institut Paul Bocuse.

Other options include a walking tour and silk-weaving demonstration in Lyon, and a walking tour with a cathedral concert at Viviers. For more
active outings, hikes and bicycle rides are on tap. All tours are led by knowledgeable local guides.

Shore adventures and regional specialties are happily reflected aboard on menus, and in afternoon tastings of Rhone Valley wine, Arcachon oysters
and Aquitaine caviar. Not the least of which is the dish of sumptuous, regularly replenished chocolates in staterooms.

Big news this year is the company’s introduction of all-inclusive fares, with unlimited wine, beer, and spirits, plus gratuities for services on and off the ship, including pre- and post-cruise extensions.

what travel agents are saying
Notes Guy Young, Uniworld’s president and CEO, “In 2014, with Uniworld going all-inclusive, our commission levels have increased significantly. The average commission per booking that we are paying in 2014 is $1,800.”

Heidi Hoehn, general manager of TravelStore in
Pasadena, expresses delight at the news. “Yes, fares have increased,” she says, “but that translates to increased earnings for us. It’s a different product, worth the higher cost, and we have clients that appreciate and understand this. Uniworld has been very generous in commission
payments, and this position shows up on their ships, too.”

Sarah Henshall, v.p. of travel and branch operations, AAA Carolinas, echoes the accolades. “Uniworld is such a great partner. We’ve worked hand-in-hand to build the business together and spread the word about luxury river cruising. Our members and customers are happy with the experience and our agents are happy promoting and selling the product.”

contact information
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection: (800) 733-7820; uniworld.com or uniworld.com/agency/user/login