Boutique Boat Hotel


Cruising along the Seine River in France, photographer and eternal traveller DOOK fell in love with a thoroughly modern lady.

I first saw her from a bridge in Paris, slender, stealth matte black, slinking along the Seine River.

She’s so out of this world compared with the other vessels on the river that I thought she could easily belong to the demonic Darth Vader from Star Wars. I imagined him, evilly exhausted, horizontal on the sun deck, heavy breathing in his charmingly evil way, drinking Moon-Uranus cocktails through an eco-friendly straw while watching the French countryside slide silently by for the eight-day trip from Paris to the coast and back.

She is the brainchild of another class act, the stylish South African Tollman hotelier family. Their Uniworld Boutique River Cruises fleet traditionally serves a predominantly very mature market in their classic vessels in destinations from Europe to Asia. Noticing a rising interest from millennials, however, they wanted to cater for them with something different and contemporary. So, when the River Ambassador and River Baroness came up for a facelift, they decided not to nip and tuck the floral ball gown but to do a complete makeover, trimming them into slick, sultry ebony models that would elegantly strut the main European waterways: Aptly renamed The A and The B, the two river cruise ships got their own category: U by Uniworld. The A navigates the Rhine and the Danube, and The B cruises the Seine.

Talented Toni Tollman and her colleague Brian Brennen are the designers behind the look. They dressed the boats in classic black and white, with the occasional furniture accessory in purple or Oyster Box red. The other bright hues cleverly come from metres of hidden LED strips in selected areas around the boat, inside and outside, that change spectrum very gradually and continuously, giving a monochromatically sleek look in the daytime and changing into colourful party attire at night.

The B anchored near the Eiffel Tower.

To allow for more generous space in the public areas, the 61 cabins were made quite compact (apart from the 4 generous suites). All have views, sensible storage (like space under the beds for bags), en-suite bathrooms, Bluetooth speakers and, like the rest of the ship, plenty of sockets and USB ports for all the gadgets we cannot live without.

I adore the look of the two cabins that accommodate three singles in a spaceship pod-like configuration, each with its own TV and control of its own LED lights.

It’s a paperless environment, so daily menus and information are displayed on screens in the suites and public areas. Guests can also expect to be in regular WhatsApp contact with their U hosts.

The U Lounge is the hub of the ship, with a bar, dance area, table football and an iconic neon heart artwork that illuminates one corner booth.

The dining room has a clean café look, with vintage bulbs and gleaming Stormtrooper-white tables. The less-frills concept even applies to teacups, as there are none! Although there is a wide choice of teas, hot drinks are all served in simple mugs.

The cool Ice Bar on top is decked out in a dazzling chequerboard pattern. Along with the captain’s bridge, it fascinatingly lowers itself with hydraulics so the ship can pass underneath some of the older bridges across the Seine. On the sun deck, a perimeter bench upholstered in stripes invites you to lounge about and feel famous.

The fun force was with me, but leaving my new love B was heartbreaking. Then a fiendishly wicked thought came to mind. Go with the flow, make a date with sister A. I realised I’d just joined the dark side!

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