|Left to right, Guy Young, president, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection; famous French actress Catherine Deneuve, godmother of the SS Catherine; and Beatrice Tollman, president and founder of Uniworld's sister company, Red Carnation Hotel Collection, who also was one of the designers of SS Catherine. // All photos by Susan J. Young|
Renowned French actress Catherine Deneuve graced the stage dockside at Lyon, France, on Thursday as she christened Uniworld’s new S.S. Catherine on Thursday, exclaiming that “beauty and elegance reign on this ship.” More than 150 VIP guests, trade partners, Lyon officials and news media watched as Deneuve cut the ribbon; at the same time, a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne crashed into the ship’s bow.
Immediately after, four butlers also cut off the tops of bottles of bubbly in a celebratory show for attendees before Deneuve returned with the ship’s captain for more pomp and ceremony. Skies were sunny, the weather crisp but spring-like.
Beatrice Tollman, the matriarch of the Tollman family and wife of Stanley Tollman, founder and chairman of The Travel Corporation, then took to the stage. The Tollman family owns Uniworld and other brands, including Red Carnation Hotel Group and Trafalgar.
She talked about how she started in the hospitality business 60 years ago in South Africa – working in the kitchen of the Tollman family’s first hotel. Over the years, the Tollmans built an empire of boutique hotels and the journey they experienced along the way helped them to “know what guests expect,” Beatrice Tollman stressed.
She, her daughter Toni Tollman, and Brian Brennan, projects director, worked as a team on the French styled interior design and décor for S.S. Catherine. Agents we spoke to at the christening said the ship’s 80 staterooms, five suites and one Royal Presidential Suite reek of class, high quality décor and attention to detail.
The drapes, for example, have such small touches as ribbons of velvet and gold tassels. Stateroom wall coverings match drapes, such as in Stateroom 330, the stateroom corridors have padded fabric walls, and each of the accommodations is different. The new ship also features hundreds of original pieces of artwork, some newly commissioned, others antique; they reflect both new and emerging artists.
“It’s so emotional for us,” Tollman said in talking about the creative experience, noting that they all put so much love and passion into the project – “not just because it’s a ship but to please people and lift their spirits.”
|Luxurious linens and a soft green and white color scheme in Stateroom 330 // All photos by Susan J. Young|
This 159-passenger ship is definitely not off-the-rack. Kathy and Leo Falkensammer, owners, Prestige Travel/American Express in Las Vegas, were definitely singing the ship’s praises.
“It’s an elegant experience,” Kathy Falkensammer emphasized, noting she viewed it as a luxury choice within the river cruise mix of products. Other agents also said the new ship will appeal to upscale clients who don’t want a cookie-cutter product and wish to have the ultimate in cuisine and comfort.
“Uniworld’s S.S. Catherine is a beautiful ship,” said Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners-American Express Travel. “As river cruises continue to surge in popularity, a new ship is great for the industry and especially for travel agents who want to sell a luxury line such as Uniworld."
Guy Young, president of Uniworld, told guests attending the previous evening’s inaugural dinner that he’s seen an incredible transformation of the brand over the years. “We’re setting a new standard for river cruising in France,” said Young. Uniworld, which is 90 percent sold out for 2014, also has doubled its revenue in the past five years.
Young said the S.S. Catherine, a sister ship to S.S. Antoinette, will allow the line to field more capacity, thus supporting the popular “Burgundy and Provence” and “Grand France” itineraries.
Denis Trouxe, president, Lyon Office of Tourism, spoke briefly, noting they were happy to have the new ship on the river at Lyon. He also quipped that yesterday he was meeting the president of China, in town for a visit, and “today, all of you,” showing tourism guests and trade partners they were valued.
|Artwork in the ship's atrium // All photos by Susan J. Young|
S.S. Catherine delivers the “wow factor” as guests enter the atrium from the gangway – encountering glass mirrors, a fanciful green-and-bronze horse centerpiece, a Murano ceiling chandelier and a multi-story glass elevator with water that cascades down one side.
The atrium is a good indication of the “artistic” theming that guests will discover throughout the ship. Public venues are named after artists like Cezanne, Matisse, Van Gogh, and so on.
The spacious Van Gogh lounge offers a mix of comfortable seating areas with couches, chairs and tables with chairs. Guests can feel cozy with the faux fireplace and enjoy live music (each evening), a large dance floor and bar with comfortable seating. Just outside is the Matisse Terrace with white tables and chairs.
Perhaps the most popular spot on the ship is the Leopard Bar; its décor has leopard printed fabrics, black leather and exotic appointments including a large leopard painting. The adjacent heated swimming pool with its green glow seems akin to a tropical enclave; guests may relax, swim and peruse the wall mural-sculpture of leopards and other fauna and flora.
"I love the Leopard Bar with its elegant jungle-like elements as well as the relaxed atmosphere onboard," said Fee.
Guests also may enjoy a cozy bistro, coffee/tea bar on the lower level, a fitness room with state-of-the-art machines and free weights and a Serenity River Spa. The ship’s Sun Deck is home to loungers and a larger-than-life chessboard; it also has one designated outside smoking area as the entire ship is nonsmoking in other public spaces and accommodations.
|Cezanne Restaurant // All photos by Susan J. Young|
The elegant Cezanne Restaurant serves gourmet cuisine – a sumptuous buffet at lunch and elegant,multi-course table service in the evening. Uniworld says it makes daily visits to local farmers’ markets for fresh fruits, vegetables and fish. The inaugural preview cruise featured some original recipes of the Tollman family as well.
Beatrice Tollman told the crowd at the christening that the style, elegance and all the detailed touches and attention to quality are “what we do” on the hotel side with Red Carnation and the principles remain the same with the design of a river ship interior.
She described the S.S. Catherine as “your home away from home,” and said it reflected the comfort, style and passion that people expect in their own homes.
The ship also has eco-friendly diesel-electric engines and other new technological features. Uniworld is also building a sister ship, S.S. Maria Theresa, which is set to launch in January 2015.
Travel Agent will be doing a more detailed review of the S.S. Catherine in a future issue of the print magazine.