Day 2 On Uniworld’s S.S. Catherine: Ship Of Elegance

Retractable windows, S.S. Catherine

Room with a view: Opened wide on this beautiful day in the south of France, my retractable window in stateroom 326 on Uniworld’s S.S. Catherine. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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.

Cézanne Restaurant , S.S. Catherine

S.S. Catherine embodies elegance — and the feeling of France, where it will sail. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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?

Cézanne Restaurant , S.S. Catherine

French bistro style decor in the Cézanne Restaurant. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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.

Cézanne Restaurant , S.S. Catherine

Fresh berries were among the breakfast offerings for breakfast and lunch on my sailing this week. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

Cézanne Restaurant , S.S. Catherine

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the Cézanne Restaurant with its beautifully decorated tables. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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?)

Atrium, S.S. Catherine

Where some of the $2 million spent on original art surely went: The atrium with its Murano glass horse and waterfall background and stairs descending on both sides. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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.

Butlers, S.S. Catherine

Butlers on deck as we sail from Lyon. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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.

Stateroom, S.S. Catherine

My category 2 stateroom on deck 3 is roomy at 196 square feet and with plenty of storage, including two closets, shelves, drawers and under-the-bed room for luggage. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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.

Bathroom, S.S. Catherine

The marble bathroom features a shower, heated floor and towel rack, L’Occitane bath amenities (plus Hermés in suites), lighted make-up mirror, bathrobe and slippers. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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.

Retractable Windows, S.S. Catherine

On S.S. Catherine, some staterooms feature retractable windows, which you can open as much or as little as you like. Mosquito screens can be raised and lowered separately. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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.

Champagne, S.S. Catherine

In France, all-inclusive includes real champagne. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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

Christening Uniworld's Catherine

S.S. Catherine docked in Tain L’Hermitage. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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.

Biking Tain L'Hermitage

This morning’s ride on S.S Catherine’s complimentary bicycles in Tain L’Hermitage. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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.

Cité du Chocolat Valrhona

We enjoyed a complimentary tour and chocolate demonstration (plus tastings) at Cité du Chocolat Valrhona in Tain L’Hermitage. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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?

M. Chapoutier wines

Enjoying complimentary M. Chapoutier wines on an included excursion to Chateau of Tournon, within walking distance of S.S. Catherine, docked in Tain L’Hermitage. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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.

Tain L'Hermitage

Along the waterfront in Tournon, looking toward Tain L’Hermitage. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

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.

Butlers, Chateau of Tournon

S.S. Catherine’s butlers accompanied our group to the Chateau of Tournon for a wine tasting with a view. © 2014 Ralph Grzzle

S.S. Catherine in Tain L'Hermitage

On our walk back from Chateau of Tournon, Uniworld staff lined the bridge crossing the Rhône to welcome us back on board with macaroons and music. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle