Guest writer Paulette Hannah files her third review for River Cruise Advisor. This time, Paulette reflects on a recent trip to Bordeaux aboard Uniworld’s S.S. Bon Voyage.
I’ve traveled to Bordeaux before, arriving at the Gare St. Jean from Paris. I’ve walked the city, toured the sites and drank the wines. But after recently traveling to the small towns, chateaus and French countryside from the comfort and luxury of an all-inclusive river cruise, I must say, this is the way to see Bordeaux!
I was eager to explore the S.S. Bon Voyage, newly launched in April after a retrofit described by Uniworld’s website as one “designed to immerse guests in French culture, art and wine.” Upon entering Le Salon Champagne lounge, there was a feeling of elegance. The sofas and lounge chairs of soft blues and greens were soothing to the eye, while classical French music played gently in the background. Brass-rimmed cocktail tables with lavender-filled planters complemented the polished wood and brass bar. It was an invitation to relax, sit back and enjoy the sailing ahead in a refined, yet not excessively formal, way.
River cruising offers the opportunity to socialize, which in my opinion is an important aspect of this kind of travel. That’s why I think a ship should have several common areas besides just the dining room. As I surveyed the sun deck, I was pleased to find that S.S. Bon Voyage did not disappoint me. There were several places to mingle, including Le Cafe du Soleil; a beautiful infinity pool; and plenty of lounge chairs on Soleil Deck.
Other onboard amenities included a laundry room, a small workout room, onboard bicycles and a 24/7 espresso station. My stateroom was ultra-modern: a marble bathroom with magnified makeup mirror; plenty of power outlets with dual USB connectors; bedside reading lights; plush towels (monogrammed, a nice touch); bathrobes; slippers; and a very comfortable bed. Seriously, one would have to work very hard to be dissatisfied on this ship!
I like Uniworld’s “open table” dining policy, which discourages people from saving seats in Le Grand Fromage, the main dining room. For reserved seating, the smaller 12-seat dining room La Cave du Vin was readily available on request. We took advantage of this as we made new friends during the week. Each evening before dinner, we were briefed on the next day’s excursions and the sommelier-selected choice of white and red wines, available on an unlimited basis. We also purchased wine in the villages and brought them to dinner at no extra charge. I would expect no less. After all, this is Bordeaux.
As a self-confessed “foodie,” I would be willing to train for a marathon in exchange for the most exquisite meal of my life. Quality over quantity is key, which is one reason why this Bordeaux cruise hit such a high mark for me. On more than one occasion I found myself sending accolades to the chef. I haven’t had a more delicious duck confit anywhere I’ve traveled. And at every meal there were unique samplings of fantastic fromages (cheeses). With more than 500 varieties, even the French have lost count.
As this was my first Uniworld cruise, I was curious about other passengers. At the welcome reception, we were told this group was mostly American (80%); also, Canadian, British, and Australian. Nearly 70% of the 115 passengers were repeat customers. The cruise manager said Uniworld changed its pricing model to “all-inclusive” in 2019 in response to passenger feedback. That comment was met with applause.
In talking with other passengers, I found a loyalty to Uniworld that extended from three to sixteen cruises. The quality of the experience is what keeps them coming back. One woman I talked with said, “I’ve been so happy with Uniworld, why would I even look at another cruise line?” My initial impression of their “boutique” approach to river cruising is that Uniworld is keenly in touch with what their customers want. This would only get better as the week progressed.
To describe river cruising as sedate would be a misnomer. Like my other two river cruise experiences, this one had more activities to offer than I could possibly accomplish, both on and off the ship. There were wine tastings at chateaus; oyster tastings at medieval fortresses; bicycle tours; hiking; a cooking class; open-deck bus ride at night; museums; onboard entertainment; dancing; wine and chocolate pairing; yoga and massage; and plenty of guided walking tours.
As we cruised up and back along the Gironde estuary, stopping at small towns ranging in size from 2,000 to 5,000 population, I couldn’t help appreciate how accessible they were for us. We would walk to each one’s Maison des Vins, the center of wine tasting from the local region. The locals told us that to drive from Bordeaux would take several hours along small roads with unbearable traffic. Here we were, leisurely cruising from one town to the next with hardly any effort. Most towns were steps away from our dock or a short bus ride away.
One of my favorite onboard activities was the wine and chocolate pairing. Not only did I make new friends, I also learned that dark chocolate pairs better with sweet white wine and milk chocolate with red wine. Any way you see it, chocolate and wine go together!
There were a few optional (added cost) excursions that were very limited and filled up far too quickly. For example, in the “Masterpiece Collection” there was a tour that went to the renowned Rothschild vineyard for wine tasting. With only 15 spots available, by the time it was made public there were no openings. The other passengers seemed to be more ‘in the know’ than me, perhaps those that have traveled with Uniworld before and understand how these exclusive excursions work. Nevertheless, there were plenty of other opportunities I did take advantage of that were worth the extra cost to participate.
All in all, this Uniworld Bordeaux cruise was like an all-inclusive high-end resort experience, where everything you could want or need was right at your fingertips. If you are seeking a five-star experience that delivers on a promise to make you feel you are escaping to a world of fine dining, fine wine and luxury accommodations, look no further. The S.S. Bon Voyage has arrived!
– Paulette Hannah