I thought I had cruised Uniworld before. I had not. It is true that I had been on a vessel with the Uniworld name emblazoned on it, the River Empress. But that was in 2008. That Uniworld and the Uniworld I am experiencing this week are, well, Uniworlds apart.
Embodying the new Uniworld to its fullest, the S.S. Catherine is a stunningly sophisticated and elegant vessel. It will no doubt appeal to anyone who has an eye for luxury (those who cruise Silversea, Seabourn, Crystal and the like) and the finer things in life (free-pouring champagne, gourmet cuisine, butler service and an all-inclusive environment). And as S.S. Catherine sails along the Rhône and Saône, the newest member of the Uniworld fleet will also appeal to Francophiles. C’est vrai.
The main dining room, in fact, resembles a fine French bistro, and the dining experience — particularly the quality of the cuisine — has a certain French flair. Breakfast each morning has featured French yogurt, French-press coffee and croissants that were better than I wished they would have been, but then who is counting calories when we have complimentary bicycles to burn off the excess from a little morning decadence?
On the breakfast and lunch buffets, I was surprised to see an abundance of fresh berries, which aren’t cheap. Blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry. I joked to Guy Young, the president of Uniworld, that he must have spent something like $2 million on berries alone.
Where Young did spend $2 million — or rather the Tollmans, the family that owns Uniworld — was on the artwork throughout the vessel. All works of art on S.S. Catherine are original, and they contribute to the elegance of the new ship. She’s a beauty to walk around an admire — in case you tire of looking at the gorgeous French countryside (like that’s going to happen, right?)
Further contributing to the luxury setting, the crew-to-passenger ratio is favorable. With 57 crew total, there is one crew member per 2.78 passengers, compared to ratios as high as one crew member per four passengers on other river cruise vessels.
Does the more favorable crew-to-passenger ratio make a difference? When it comes to service, yes. Think of it this way: Ten crew members serve about 28 passengers on S.S. Catherine, compared to 10 crew members serving 40 passengers on some other ships.
Suites have the services of white-gloved butlers wearing tuxedo jackets with tails. They serve guests in S.S. Catherine’s six suites, ranging from 305 square feet to 410 square feet, all done in different styles. Suites also come with a one-per-person complimentary in-suite spa treatment and a mini-bar and bar set-up.
S.S. Catherine carries 159 passengers. Why the odd number? There is a single-occupancy stateroom with no single supplement (although we hear that Uniworld often waives single supplements for other categories as well.)
On decks 2, 3 and 4 are five categories of staterooms. The dozen staterooms on deck 2 (categories 4 and 5) are smaller (162-square-feet each) than the category 1-3 staterooms on decks 3 and 4, which measure 194 square feet each. For those seeking value, however, the smaller staterooms can be up to $1,700 per person less than the larger staterooms.
The smaller staterooms feature similar amenities to the larger staterooms, but with windows only, whereas the larger staterooms have either a sliding glass window that lowers and raises with the push of a button — or a balcony. The balcony staterooms, all on deck 4, are the same size as the non-balcony staterooms one deck below, but keep in mind that the balcony counts in the overall square footage, meaning that interior space in the deck 4 staterooms is a bit less than the interior space in the deck 3 staterooms.
No matter what category you book, all accommodations on S.S. Catherine feature handcrafted Savoir of England beds — among the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slumbered on. Read more about last night’s sleep here.
In France, champagne flows freely on S.S. Catherine (Sekt in Germany, Prosecco in Italy — all true to the sailing region where Uniworld vessels are operating), and as of this year, all wine and spirits flow at no extra charge as Uniworld is now all-inclusive.
On S.S. Catherine, even the self-service laundry is complimentary, including detergent. If you prefer not to do it yourself, laundry services are available for a fee.
S.S. Catherine isn’t perfect, but I am having a hard time finding anything that might concern our readers. The main dining room ceiling is a bit low for me. I’m 6’5″, and my head clears the ceiling by about an inch. Does it bother me? It did at first, but I became accustomed to it after my second visit for lunch. Sorry folks, that’s about the only fault I can find, and I’ve spoken with a lot of experienced cruise sellers who are also on this inaugural voyage. There’s no complaining — only words of praise for the vessel.
Tomorrow, I’ll show you a few more of the public rooms, including the Van Gogh Lounge and the room that is proving to be everyone’s favorite, Bar Du Leopard, but first a brief recap of our day ashore.
Our Day In Tain L’Hermitage and Tournon
We docked in Tain L’Hermitage this morning, across from the town of Tournon. Two complimentary tours were offered beginning at 9:30 a.m., which gave me time to pedal one of S.S. Catherine’s complimentary bicycles along the waterfront for about an hour.
I returned just in time to get a taste of chocolate during our included tour of the Cité du Chocolat Valrhona, a luxury French chocolate manufacturer in Tain L’Hermitage.
Afterward, we walked across a pedestrian-only bridge spanning the Rhône to the town of Tournon where we toured the Chateau of Tournon and enjoyed a wine-tasting on a terrace overlooking the river, the two towns and the vineyards across the river that grew the grapes that went into the wine we were consuming. How cool is that?
It was a gorgeous spring day, and many of my fellow traveling companions stayed ashore as long as possible, having a late lunch on S.S. Catherine before she sailed at 2:30 p.m.
The sailing too was exceptionally beautiful and many found places outside to sit or on their stateroom balconies or opening wide the windows in their stateroom as S.S. Catherine, this ship of elegance, transported us along some of the most beautiful countryside we could imagine. Tomorrow, Viviers. Stay tuned.