Bordeaux River Cruise with Uniworld
Arriving in the heart of Bordeaux we could see from the dockside that the SS Bon Voyage had a unique style, standing out from the other river ships with her bright blue, playfully designed top deck. Stepping aboard the first thing that struck us was the opulence and grandeur of the reception area, perfectly melding luxurious highly polished, glossy wood furnishings with local affectations, including two enormous ornate vases magnificently displaying the most gorgeous bunch of sunflowers ever and a large, vibrant wall mosaic depicting a typical French countryside.
Throughout the ship the dark, glossy, gold-embellished wood is complemented by light grey, green and blue soft furnishings. The main indoor area is Le Salon Champagne lounge, a wonderful place to pass the time of day, with its large, homely, soft cushioned sofas and abundance of large plants which bring the room to life. At one end of the lounge is the magnificent, glass-ceilinged bar, where the wonderful bar team are on hand all day serving up complimentary coffees, afternoon tea, top deck refreshments, pre-dinner cocktails, delicious local wines and bedtime nightcaps. Le Salon Champagne is the heart of the ship where guests gather for the daily port talks with the ship’s cruise director; Captain’s cocktail parties and receptions; and local entertainment, the highlight of which for us was a rather lively cancan dancer.
Located below the lounge is the cheekily named Le Grand Fromage dining room, which is equally as lavish as the rest of the ship with plants, ferns, flowers and herbs decorating almost every flat surface available. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style with the food generously served up by the ever attentive restaurant team, as well as a daily changing menu of dishes cooked to order. In the evenings, dinner is waiter service with the quality and variety of food on offer throughout being top notch at every meal, with some of the best fish dishes we have ever tasted and lunchtime pasta that I would start to look forward to almost as soon as I’d finished breakfast.
Apart from four suites, most of the staterooms on the SS Bon Voyage are a similar size with the only difference being that those on deck three have sliding patio doors whilst on the deck below the staterooms have a large picture window. Our room was beautifully appointed with the same dark glossy wood adorned with an abundance of full length mirrors and offset with soothing light green grey soft furnishings, providing plentiful storage to house all of our luggage. As with most cruise ships the bathroom was small but luxuriously appointed with marble tops and tiles and a large, powerful shower. The thing we loved most about our room was being able to throw open the sliding patio doors to watch the French countryside pass by from the comfort of our perfectly positioned, sumptuously soft bed.
This being our first ever river cruise we were a little unsure as to how things worked and initially we found it quite unusual that the itinerary dotted about the two main rivers, often doubling back on itself with no apparent rhyme or reason to the scheduling of the ports of call. However as the cruise progressed the low bridges, tides and placement of other river ships shone a light on the itinerary and one of the things we loved most about the Bordeaux river cruise was largely having the ports to ourselves with a general lack of traffic on the rivers.
During our first evening meal on board we quietly slipped the ropes and left Bordeaux to make our way to our first destination, just in time for one of many beautiful sunsets we would witness over the coming week. Already we were loving the ease at which we could get anywhere in the ship within a few minutes. See a beautiful sunset out of the restaurant window, and within a minute and a couple of flights of stairs you can be outside taking it in from every angle. Take a seat on the top deck and the sun comes out - don’t worry you are only a quick nip back to your room for the sunscreen, it’s just so easy to get about on a river cruise ship.
Within a day or two we were relaxing into river cruising, relishing the flexibility and opportunity to explore independently with the ship more often than not docked right in the heart of a town and overnight stops allowing us to come and go whenever and as often as we wanted, day or night. And unlike ocean cruising most of the sailing on this voyage took place during the day, offering a chance to just sit back, relax, and simply watch the world go by, or take part in one of the planned activities on board, such as a delicious oyster tasting or an art class in the wonderful Le Cáfe du Soleil located on the top deck.
The top deck soon became one of our favourite places on the ship, being the perfect place to take in the scenery during the leisurely daytime sailings or soaking in the evening atmosphere of a port when docked alongside overnight. The SS Bon Voyage has to have one of the most comfortable top decks of any river cruise ship, with its beautiful padded loungers; spacious, shaded cafe style tables; chic Cáfe du Soleil and aft facing infinity pool, perfect for cooling down on a hot summer's day sailing through the French countryside.
SS Bon Voyage is able to have such a luxurious top deck because a Bordeaux river cruise doesn't involve navigating any locks or low bridges, the only exception being the Pont de Pierre ‘Stone Bridge’ which, with its 17 low arches and the 6 metre tidal range made it one of the most challenging navigations of the voyage. Although the Captain invited all of the guests up on deck to witness the 6am sailing under the bridge he made the mistake of telling us that we would be returning back under it at the more convenient time of 4pm so, unsurprisingly, not many people joined him for the first navigation under the bridge, preferring instead to attend the sabering ceremony performed by the ships butler to celebrate our safe return under the bridge, prior to our longest sailing of the voyage, from Cadillac to our furthest destination, Libourne.
Libourne was the gateway for the highlight of the voyage, a full day in the historic, renowned wine making town of St. Emilion, with its 97 wine shops and plethora of restaurants, cafes and bistros, many with Michelin stars. But before we could disembark for our day trip to St Emilion, the Captain had to untether us from our berth to sit in the middle of the river whilst a muscaret passed us by. If, like me, you had never heard of a mascaret, it is a tidal bore which occurs on estuary rivers and in Bordeaux can create waves up to two metres high. If the ship was berthed at this time it could cause damage to either the ship or the dock so the Captain had to take us into the centre of the river to ride the wave.
Libourne itself had lots to offer and for the second time on this voyage we joined a cycling excursion along the meandering river bank through the French countryside. SS Bon Voyage carries a number of the bikes which guests can request to use to explore an area independently or, as we did, join a guided cycling tour. Although neither of us are regular cyclists we found the bikes incredibly easy to ride and the excursions perfectly paced, especially enjoying the one through the vineyards of Medoc incorporating a visit and wine tasting at the recently renovated premier cru Chateau Malescasse.
The voyage finale was a return to the beautiful city of Bordeaux with two overnight stops giving us plenty of time to explore from our centrally located berth right in the heart of the city. For our final evening on board the SS Bon Voyage we had asked to eat in the Brasserie restaurant located at the front of the ship next door to Le Salon Champagne. The Brasserie seats only a dozen guests and offers a bistro type dinner in a small French cafe type setting with views out of the front of the ship, perfect when docked in the heart of a city like Bordeaux. We were sad to say goodbye to the SS Bon Voyage and her amazing crew whose ability to be everywhere at the same time, always on hand to preempt our needs and answer questions we didn’t know we had, made sure our time on board was as personalised and attentive to detail as was the design and decor.
Helen and Rich are proud ambassadors of Panache Cruises. For full disclosure, they were invited on board Uniworld's SS Bon Voyage through their partnership with Panache Cruises. All opinions and content are their own.
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