Having capped off an incredible week on board Crystal Serenity with our first visit to Venice, it was time for the second part of our honeymoon.
My new wife and I had not sailed in luxury on the scale offered by Crystal Cruises before. Every part of the on board experience had been taken into account and planned meticulously. From the amount of space on deck to the quality – and selection – of the alcohol in our room. Everything was about choice, and through that choice the line underpinned its place in the ultra-luxury market.
The second part of our honeymoon would be a different proposition altogether, albeit aimed at the same luxury traveller. Interestingly it will also be one of Crystal’s competitors when it launches its own river cruise line in the not to distant future.
Uniworld River Cruises is not renowned for its subtlety. Having seen one or two ships before at Clia’s River Convention, I was intrigued about what to expect. I knew that the line sat right at the top of the ultra-luxury market for river cruises, but, apart from that, I knew little else. How would a luxury river product compare with its ocean counterpart? Would we feel as relaxed at the end of week two as we we did at this moment in time?
We left Venice on an early flight and landed in the city of Lyon at about 11am. Our transfer was waiting to meet us at the airport and we were whisked away to our home for the next seven nights: the SS Catherine.
Lyon is France’s third biggest city and sits at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers. Our cruise would first take us north, to Macon and Beaune, before heading south. We would stop in Lyon (we wouldn’t be spending our first night here) and further on through the Rhone Valley and eventually to Avignon.
First impressions are an incredible thing. This could almost be a mantra for Uniworld. The ship’s foyer was dominated by an emerald Murano glass chandelier, which hung above a large glass horse. Each wall around the ship’s public areas was covered in mirrored glass and decorated with criss-crossed green piping. The upkeep of the surfaces alone must have been a nightmare.
We checked in and had a quick buffet lunch with the other early arrivals, as well as the late leavers who were trying to cling on to the last remnants of their holiday. They looked at us jealously – always a good sign – and joked around with the crew like old friends, proving their old-hand status.
After we’d finished eating we were told that our room wouldn’t be ready for another couple of hours. While Lyon was feeling decisively more autumnal than Venice, the sun was making a decent fist of it and it looked like a fine day. We opted to take a couple of Catherine’s bicycles – which are offered free on a first come first served basis – out for a ride alongside the Rhone River to see what the city had to offer.
Unsurprisingly, given France’s cycling heritage, Lyon is a very safe city to ride in. As somebody who braves London’s roads on a daily basis, it was a welcome change to have a lane that was free of cars, buses, motorbikes and pedestrians. We rode for a couple of miles along the river before reaching the huge iron gates of Parc de la Tête d’Or, 117 hectares of lakes, rose gardens and greenhouses. It even has a zoo.
We navigated our way around the beautifully manicured grounds and felt a little healthier for doing so. It was the first step of shaking off the sluggish indulgence which had defined our week on Crystal.
On our way back to the vessel we discussed the differences we’d encountered during our brief time on board so far.
The SS Catherine is a ship which wears its luxury like a queen wears her crown. And its market – predominantly Americans and Australians – love it. They are spending good money on these trips, which often form part of a longer holiday, and many of them find it reassuring to see the heavily decorated ship after they’ve made the long hop over here. To an extent it is the first justification of their purchase.
That’s the power of first impressions.
Over the next seven nights we would be seeing if the ship was suitable for a British market and, if so, how travel agents would get their guests on board.
Our next stop was north, to Macon and Beaune. But first, it was time to check into our stateroom.
To read about the previous instalment of our honeymoon cruise click here