Uniworld’s S.S. Joie de Vivre reflects the French joy of living.
WHEN TONI TOLLMAN SET OUT TO DESIGN THE
128-passenger S.S. Joie de Vivre she had some of her favorite things about Paris in mind. As the Director of Design and Projects at Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, she wanted the new river ship to embrace the Golden Age of French shipbuilding, the elegance of a grand Parisian hotel, the ambience of a luxurious pied-à-terre, and a touch of classic chateaux — all circa 20th century. “I was thinking, for instance, about cruising in the 1930s, when people got dressed up for dinner with diamonds and went out on the town,” Tollman said. “It’s the genre of going back in time.” The result is a chic, four-deck river ship designed to delight Francophiles as she cruises the Seine CULTURAL IN S P I R A T I O N_ S.S. Joie de Vivre debuted in the spring, with British actress and unabashed Francophile Dame Joan Collins as godmother. Include Collins among those who were impressed that you’d know where you’re cruising on this ship even if you didn’t see the Eiffel Tower out the window. She said she was blown away by the ship’s beauty.
“All the ship is French culture, in the fabric, the art, everything,” said Tollman, adding that the joie de vivre — joy of living — is really what they wanted to bring in. For the designer, whose family owns the river line and parent company, The Travel Corporation, luxury was a focus, but so was not going too much over the top.
Salon Toulouse, the ship’s windowed main lounge, is elegantly inviting, done up in rich and colorful Pierre Frey fabrics and silk wall coverings with yacht-style high-glossed wood and brass accents. It’s a wonderful place to watch the views while you sip free-flowing champagne (drinks are included in your cruise fare). Original architectural hand engravings of Paris in the early 19th century adorn the back wall and add a subtle historical element.
The lobby’s signature feature is a double wrought-iron staircase inspired, Tollman said, by a staircase at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris. There’s also a glass elevator with a waterfall feature. Flying on the reception desk are bronze butterflies, a motif that Tollman borrowed from the Château de la Croë, the villa on the Côte d’Azur where The Duke and Duchess of Windsor lived for a time. ( It’s now owned by Russian businessman Roman Abramovich.)
In Le Pigalle restaurant, Tollman went with her dream vision of what a classic post-war Parisian restaurant should look like. Guests sit in cream- colored leather chairs or on semi- circle salmon- colored banquettes beneath a tufted velvet ceiling. Vintage lights and fresh flowers decorate the white tablecloths. It’s the perfect setting for generous pours of local wine and classic French cuisine (and an amazingly sumptuous cheese selection at the lunchtime buffet).
Upstairs, the more casual Le Bistrot is designed as the perfect little Parisian sidewalk café — complete with little half curtains, tiled floor, café tables and chairs, red banquettes, and red-and-white-checkered tablecloths. Tollman said she had no specific inspiration for Le Bistrot, but created a space based on “what a French bistro should look like.” French onion soup, perfect roast chicken, and duck cassoulet are on the menu. In fact, you could Facebook or Instagram this venue and your friends would think you made a real Paris find. ART,DÉCOR, AND MORE_ Toll man let her creativity run wild with Club L’Esprit, an indoor wellness oasis with a pool and juice bar. The room is furnished with cushioned wicker chairs and Tollman herself created the handpainted leaves on the walls — inspiration from the works of French artist Henri Rousseau. At night, the space magically transforms (thanks to a nifty pool cover and a mood ceiling with clouds and twinkling stars) into Claude’s, a sexy supper club named for artist Claude Monet. Live jazz is performed while you dine or enjoy drinks. On some nights, the space also morphs into a movie theater showing French classics. At the aft end of Club L’Esprit is a little Winter Garden with a ceiling and windows that open in nice weather, a delightful spot for afternoon tea or a romantic dinner. Nearby is a small fitness center and massage room.
Original French posters are part of the ship’s art collection and include a particularly impressive one of Josephine Baker in an elaborate feathered headdress, which you’ll find in the club. Caricatures of Parisians by Belle Époque artist Sem (Georges Goursat) festoon hallways named for French writers. You’ll find your cabin on the Victor Hugo, Balzac, or Jules Verne decks.
Tollman adorned the cabins with more lush fabrics from Pierre Frey. Upholstered headboards top the handcrafted Savoir of England beds. Bathrooms are marble and feature a shower, and most cabins have French balconies.
Eight junior suites are each individually decorated as in a boutique hotel, but with added sitting areas. Two opulent Royal Suites come with separate living rooms, large onyx bathrooms (with tub and shower), and the clever feature of a TV that comes down from the bedroom ceiling. They also connect to a second bedroom if desired — through a secret door hidden in a mirror.
Up on the sundeck, big, circus-like redand-white umbrellas provide shade and a touch of playfulness. And foodies will love La Cave du Vin, a first-of-its-kind wine room with bottles on display in coolers and a marbletopped table for 12. Here, chefs lead cooking sessions followed by a seven-course tasting meal (for an additional fee). From one venue to the next, this river ship
is joie de vivre indeed.
For the designer, luxury was a focus, but so was not going too much over the top.
Parisian influences can be seen in suites and the lobby (opposite page) as well as (L-R) Le Pigalle restaurant, Club L’Esprit, and Le Bistrot.