Uniworld taking luxury to new heights in French Bordeaux
S.S. Bon Voyage
Designed to immerse guests in French culture, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection recently welcomed the “new” S.S. Bon Voyage to its fleet, now sailing the scenic rivers of Bordeaux.
The former River Royale received a complete US$14 million top-to-bottom transformation that added new dining venues, a heated infinity pool – a first for the river cruise industry – and a blue and green French-inspired vintage decor.
Offering three itineraries along the Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde rivers, the Super Ship features four spacious new suites, four dining and beverage venues and a Soleil Deck featuring panoramic views of the countryside, an infinity pool and Le Café du Soleil, offering light local fare and chef-led cooking classes.
In addition to its design and fine craftsmanship, guests may take advantage of new and immersive offshore excursions and Wellness on the Water, integrated programming that honours the importance guests place on maintaining their healthy lifestyles while travelling.
The S.S. Bon Voyage was specifically designed to elegantly and comfortably immerse guests in French culture, art, wine and cuisine (all food, for instance, is sourced locally).
“Like the finest couture, the S.S. Bon Voyage was built with a singular purpose, to share the marvels of this amazing destination with our guests, and there isn’t another like it in the world,” said Uniworld CEO and president Ellen Bettridge. “It is certainly more expensive to build [ships] exclusively for a particular destination, but we know our guests value authentic experience above all else.”
Renowned and lauded for its boutique approach to interior design that combines fine antiques, original art and distinctive colour palettes, the Bon Voyage references its French heritage throughout from its stunning lobby clad in polished wood with subtle brass details, complementing the magnificent hand-crafted balustrade to the stylish emerald tones found in bar Le Salon Champagne, inspired by Yves Saint Laurent’s personal abode, Villa Majorelle.
With the overhaul, Uniworld eliminated several cabins to increase the number of suites from one to four, including two royal suites with over-sized soaking tubs and double vanities.
Uniworld also added an enclosed rooftop dining venue, the blue-and-white tiled heated infinity swimming pool, deck chairs covered by blue umbrellas, and a private dining room, La Cave du Vin, where guests can have an intimate five-course dinner and wine pairing (for an extra charge).
The ship’s other dining venues also capture the essence of France. La Brasserie, for instance, with its natural green and pops of yellow décor, was inspired by the famous Bouillon Pigalle and serves traditional bistro fare. Le Grand Fromage offers menus reflective of the local cuisine, prepared from locally sourced ingredients. Poolside service at Le Café du Soleil offers casual French cuisine, as well as open-air cooking demonstrations with chefs.
In addition to the public spaces, every stateroom received a redesign, complete with marble bathrooms.
For Uniworld, it’s all about service, attention to detail and luxurious touches – from beds hand-crafted by Savoir of England to the highest quality linens and Italian marble-lined bathrooms.
During a recent four-day familiarization cruise with a group of travel professionals, including Canadian Travel Press’ Greg Coates, Bettridge described the ship’s transformation as “incredible.”
“This was not a renovation – it really is a transformation, this ship, there’s not much left of what was here before,” said Bettridge. “I went to the shipyard and I was a little afraid when I walked around and saw nothing but metal, not even walls, and wires hanging down, that was it, so everything is absolutely new.”
About the only thing left from the River Royale is a mural that hangs behind the front desk.
Bettridge said the changes come from listening to customers and watching what their needs are.
The beds, robes, linens, towels (and towel warmers), it’s “all the little things [designed] to make guests feel comfortable.
“There’s a feel of elegance, but at the same time a feeling of comfort,” said Bettridge. “Not one of our ships is the same, and no one else builds a ship like this with this amount of luxurious finishes.”
So what does a Super Ship mean?
“It comes down to three things, having more dining venues, again something our customers are asking for, they don’t want to just eat in the same dining venue over and over, it’s about more suites, there used to be just one suite, now we have four, and more luxurious finishes,” said Bettridge.
“We have a wellness coach on every one of our ships,” said Bettridge. “Wellness is not going away… our wellness coaches are specially trained in different types of yoga, different types of treatments.”
Other amenities aboard the 124-passenger Bon Voyage include room service and self-service laundry facilities.
Sustainability is also a top priority with Uniworld – there are no plastic straws or water bottles on board. Distilled water is available in staterooms, with bottle refilling stations located around the ship.
“We’re looking at every way we possibly can to be sustainable, and to ensure that we’re doing the right things for these regions and for these rivers,” said Bettridge.
The average age of Uniworld’s clients is 60, something the Uniworld CEO is okay with.
“I’m really happy with that. Sixty is not old [and] they have time, they’ve got money, and they appreciate what we’re doing for them. They appreciate the service, they appreciate the food, they appreciate the attention to detail.
“At Uniworld, we like to say it’s all about the tiny noticeable touches. It’s about having fresh flowers, it’s about having the candy dishes out if you want a little sweet, it’s about having some fresh baked cookies, it’s all the little things that we do to help to delight someone.”
For agents, Bettridge advises that they get to know their clients’ needs and wants.
“Sell the Uniworld difference, we are the most expensive, but, guess what, you pay for what you get. I need agents to understand that and to be selling this to the right customer. Ask your client, ‘what do you really want out of your vacation and what kind of quality do you want?’”
Because it was not an official christening, Bettridge marked the occasion by shearing the top of a champagne bottle with a sword rather than the traditional smashing of a bottle of champagne against the hull.
The ship will sail exclusively in the Bordeaux-Medoc region, and, like Uniworld’s other ships, was designed to make guests feel like they are in the region they are sailing, “whether they are on the ship or off the ship,” Bettridge said.
The launch of the ship brings to six the number of Super Ships in Uniworld’s European fleet.
Sample itinerary: Brilliant Bordeaux
(Eight days from Bordeaux to Bordeaux)
Set sail along three rivers, the Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde, a historical and invigorating journey that uncovers the proud legacy and heritage of Southwest France.
Explore the country’s wines and cultural treasures across the region in Bordeaux, Fort Médoc, Cadillac, Blaye, Libourne, and more. Guests can wander through archeological marvels, historic landmarks and magnificent vineyards where they’ll be treated to a sampling of quintessentially French experiences.
Embark on a scenic drive from Blaye to Bourg along the Route de la Corniche Fleurie and see the sights of Blaye Fortress and Lansac Windmill along the way. Slow things down in Libourne
and on the return to Bordeaux take part in multiple wine tastings, village tours, a farmers’ market visit and Bordeaux heritage
Connoisseur Collection (select sailings)
Explore the world of gourmet French cuisine with Uniworld’s Connoisseur Collection Program, which includes an assortment of culinary-inspired excursions and events, featuring visits to vineyards, orchards, restaurants, museums, culinary hot spots
Q&A with Kristian Anderson, senior vice-president of global sales for Uniworld
What are your selling tips on how agents can sell the S.S. Bon Voyage to their clients?
The S.S. Bon Voyage is one-of-a-kind and was designed to immerse clients in the beauty of France, while providing an unparalleled luxury all-inclusive experience. In particular, for your wine enthusiast and foodie clients, the S.S. Bon Voyage’s on-board dining experiences, including four dining and beverage venues, are reflective of the cuisine of the region and feature locally sourced ingredients.
For those seeking a venue to celebrate a special occasion, I suggest La Cave des Vins, an intimate space where connoisseurs can gather for expert food and wine pairing dinners upon request.
For clients looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle while travelling, the S.S. Bon Voyage itineraries offer immersive offshore excursions and a full Wellness on the Water program complete with yoga, local hikes, guided trekking, sunrise mediation, and more.
Lastly, for those seeking to simply enjoy unsurpassed luxury, the S.S. Bon Voyage debuted four brand new suites, including two Royal Suites with over-sized soaking tubs, double vanities and butler service.
What are some fun facts that you can share that most people wouldn’t know about the S.S. Bon Voyage?
The S.S. Bon Voyage was moved from France to the Netherlands for eight months where the overall design, aesthetic and structure of the ship were transformed.
The S.S. Bon Voyage has the only infinity pool on the rivers. This heated infinity pool is situated on the Soleil Deck near the Le Café du Soleil, which offers light local fare, as well as chef-led cooking classes. This is one of the most popular venues on the ship for guests to relax and enjoy views of the French countryside.
The emerald tones found in bar Le Salon Champagne were inspired by Yves Saint Laurent’s personal abode, Villa Majorelle.