Immediately upon boarding Uniworld Boutique River Cruises’ luxurious S.S. Catherine river ship, we’re drawn in by the Murano chandelier and Murano glass horse sculpture displayed in the atrium. These are just two of the hundreds of exquisite art pieces sprinkled throughout the S.S. Catherine, a one-of-a-kind vessel available for full charter.
We sailed on the S.S Catherine this past June on a Rhone River itinerary from Arles to Lyon (in reverse from May to October) and if that sailing is any indication, groups will experience the staff’s attentive service, onboard culinary excellence, festive onboard spaces and well-executed excursions. It’s a perfect match for oenophiles, and history- and art-loving luxury attendees.
Alexandru Marinescu, the vessel’s hotel manager, and Tania Mirão, its cruise manager, sat down with Prevue during the sailing for a chat. They tell us that with its uniquely designed boutique river ships and top-notch service provided by its handpicked crew, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises’ focus is to meet the expectations of its guests. Says Marinescu, “We hold ourselves to a certain standard, offering quality food, premium spirits and wine, an all-inclusive concept and included daily shore excursions.” Adds Wesley Bosnic, VP, charter & incentive sales, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, “At Uniworld, we recognize the value that travel delivers to incentive groups and have a wonderful charter and incentive sales team that is ready to meet the needs of all charters and groups. Uniworld river cruises are unique in that they evoke a floating boutique hotel experience that is five-star and truly all-inclusive—something that can’t be found elsewhere on the rivers.” He also wants planners to know that since the vessels across the Uniworld fleet vary in size, the number of cabins that can be allocated for those not planning a full charter depends on the size of the ship; he suggests planners contact them at email@example.com for specifics.
Built in 2014, the S.S Catherine goes into maintenance every winter to keep it in tip-top shape—and the refresh is palpable with the 81-cabin, 160-passenger vessel offering well-appointed staterooms, sumptuous amenities and impressive public spaces. “Group gatherings can be arranged on the Sun Deck of the S. S Catherine and, in fact, all of our ships, weather permitting, for optimal outdoor views and scenery. Indoors, private groups are welcome to privatize the smaller lounges available across the fleet (on the S.S. Catherine it is the Bar du Leopard), accommodating anywhere from eight to 40 guests,” says Bosnic. Of course, for a full charter, the larger Van Gogh Lounge and Cezanne Restaurant are available.
The cozy staterooms offer plenty of storage space, a sitting area with a full view of the passing scenery, Asprey products, plus 100 percent cotton sateen sheets and 100 percent cotton Egyptian towels and bathrooms with heated flooring. There’s also 24-hour room service for all guests.
Entertainment on board is stellar, with one of our favorites being Los Chiquitines, a flamenco group that performed in the ship’s Van Gogh Lounge. This is also where groups can enjoy cocktails pre and post dinner. Planners can expect three to four different local entertainment experiences during a 7-day cruise. Additionally, there are educational lectures that complement the port stops—during our cruise, we sat in on a “Women of Impressionism” art lecture. Of course, planners can work with Uniworld to customize their experiences, on and off ship.
When it comes to its F&B offerings, Uniworld doesn’t shy away from being extravagant. For example, while relaxing in the Van Gogh Lounge guests can sip on the ship’s signature cocktail, the Lavender Collins—known as the herb of love, lavender flourishes in the Rhone Valley. Or they can even request one of the fleet’s other exclusive cocktails. The bartenders are well trained and can make anything your group desires.
In terms of the exquisite onboard cuisine, menus change daily and feature dishes that incorporate local products. Regional culinary experiences include French onion soup, salade gourmande, pan-seared Mediterranean dorado, pork tenderloin and eggplant steak. There’s always steak, chicken or salmon fillet available, a variety of desserts such as chocolate mousse, and, of course, there’s always an ample cheese selection (this is France, after all). Speaking of local delights, the wine served for lunch and dinner during our sailing was spot-on, with one of my favorites being the 2021 La Reserve de Lucien Lurton, a white Bordeaux. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the Cezanne Restaurant.
S.S Catherine was designed to sail exclusively in France, and this is exemplified by the Provence-style decor. Says Marinescu, “Each Uniworld ship has its own identity, designed to reflect the destination it sails in. From its design to it culinary offerings, the S.S. Catherine is very French.”
During our time at the various port stops, we opted for many of the included excursions as well as the curated Masterpiece Collection tours, which are offered at an additional nominal cost. For those included in the fare, we most loved the Arles Walking Tour, during which we were shown many of the spots portrayed in Van Gogh’s famous paintings, including “The Starry Night,” just steps from where the S.S. Catherine docks.
“These programs,” says Mirão, “are curated with the concept of being away from the crowds for the most part. Our vendors work only with us, and we are very proud of this. We’re the only company to hire guides on a year-round basis that work only for us—they’re exclusive to Uniworld. They’re local and they know the quality of service our company requires. Groups can expect authentic experiences that are intimate and exclusive.” For the Masterpiece Collection, we highly recommend the Olive Farm Visit and Immersive Art Experience tour in Arles, which includes a visit to an active olive farm as well as to Carrieres des Lumieres, an art-based multimedia space projecting images of famous paintings set to music. Within this former limestone quarry that’s dug into the mountainside and features towering ceilings, we viewed the “From Vermeer to Van Gogh: The Dutch Masters” exhibit as well as “Mondrian: The Architect of Colour” presentation. It’s an absolutely mind-blowing experience.
Another must-recommend Masterpiece Collection excursion is to a family-owned truffle farm outside of Viviers, where we learned about their black-diamond truffles, watched Labradors hunt them and then partook in a tasting of truffle oil and truffle canapes with wine.
While docked in Macon, we traveled to Beaune and its famous farmers market (open to all guests) and then, as part of a Masterpiece Collection excursion, visited Chateau de Rully, a 12th-century medieval fortress owned by the same family since inception. The current count and owner gave us a tour of his home, led a wine tasting in his cellar and hosted us for lunch in a barn space that’s used for such events.
Sustainability is important to Uniworld, says Marinescu, with the cruise line committed to net zero by 2050 or sooner and the banning of 60 types of single-use plastics across all operations—including straws, water bottles and plastic bags. Additionally, the cruise brand has partnered with food waste management company Leanpath with a mission to reduce its food waste.