Scenic prides itself by stating that your credit card details are not taken when embarking because the fare you pay is so inclusive, you have little chance of spending more on board for anything else.
Snapshot: The river cruise line was founded in Australia in 1986, then expanded in 2007 to the UK and Canada, and to the US in 2008. Most recently the line has expanded from its main focus in Europe, including Russia, to Southeast Asia cruises. Lots of important features are included. The parent firm also operates the moderately-priced Emerald Waterways (q.v.).
Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers: There are 11 riverboats referred to as Space-Ships. The following European riverboats are remarkably similar: SCENIC JASPER, OPAL & AMBER (built 2015/2016 & 169 passengers); SCENIC CRYSTAL, JEWEL & JADE (b. 2012, 2013, 2014 & 169 p); SCENIC GEM (b. 2014 & 128 p); and SCENIC SAPPHIRE, EMERALD, DIAMOND, RUBY & PEARL (2008-2011/remodeled 2013 & 167 p). For Russia, SCENIC TSAR (b.2012 & 112 p) and SCENIC AZURE (b.2016 & 96 p). Added in January 2016 for the Mekong River in Southeast Asia is SCENIC SPIRIT (b. 2016 & 68 p). and in September 2016, SCENIC AURA (B. 2016 & 44 P) began sailing the Irrawaddy in Myanmar.
Passenger Profile: Seniors from Australia and Britain primarily, followed by US and Canada.
Passenger Decks: Most of the riverboats have elevators that serve the two principal cabin and public room decks, and none reach the Sun Deck. SCENIC TSAR’s elevator connects the three cabin and public room decks.
Price: $$ Expensive
Included features: Shore excursions, all drinks including stocked mini-bar, tips, WiFi, use of e-bicycles, 24-hour cabin service including services of a butler, laundry, all meals in multiple dining venues, transfers between airports and the ship. Newly added is travel insurance that covers cancellations, delays, weather-related incidents, natural disasters, mechanical breakdowns, and strikes.
Itineraries: With such a large fleet, Scenic offers many European itineraries, some simply a cruise and others adding land extensions and hotel stays in major cities. Most offered from late March to October last from 8 to 14 days, and a few ambitious itineraries may start such as this one does in Amsterdam and sail to the mouth of the Danube as it enters the Black Sea, with an extension to Gallipoli and Istanbul. Christmas Market cruises operate in November and December mostly along the Rhine and Danube, bracketed by Paris and Prague. Newly added programs offer both cycling trips in Austria and southern France and culinary classes in France that includes sourcing the ingredients.
The rivers covered are the Rhine, Moselle, Main, Danube, Rhone and Soane, Seine, Douro in Portugal and the Gironde, Dordogne and Garonne in the Bordeaux region. The Moscow-St. Petersburg waterway cruise uses the riverboat as the hotel for multiple nights in both cities. In both cases, the boats tend to be moored well out of the city center with longish bus rides for sightseeing excursions. From January 2016, Mekong River cruises commence with 8-days on the river and land extensions (up to 27 days) that take in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Then from September 2016, 14-day cruise tours will begin on the Irrawaddy in Myanmar with the river portion operating between Pyay, a city north of the capital Yangon, and Mandalay.
*N.B. Beginning in 2018, the SCENIC ECLIPSE, a brand-new luxury discovery yacht, will begin operating in the Mediterranean offering 114 veranda suites that begin at 344 sq. ft., six dining options at no extra charge, extra powerful stabilizers that operate at zero speed, a submarine for underwater exploration, and two twin-engine helicopters for exploring away from the ship. Antarctica cruises will begin in December 2018 with six departures through to February 2019. Additional itinerary details to be added as they are announced.
Why Go? The passengers are truly an English-speaking union coming as they do primarily from Australia, Britain, Canada and the U.S.
When to Go? The departures coincide with the better expected weather conditions with the busiest tourist season mid-June to September. Off-season allows you to share the trips ashore with fewer people descending on the main attractions, and some of these sailings may be less expensive and/or offer single rates without a supplement..
Cabins: 82 per cent have balconies. On the two principal cabin decks, the generously proportioned accommodations have large view windows and on the lowest (Jewel) deck, a shallow rectangular double pane of glass high in the cabin bulkhead. The Royal One-Bedroom Suites are two rooms with a separate lounge and balcony. SCENIC TSAR in Russia has two decks of balcony cabins and just four that are standard grade with windows. SCENIC SPIRIT in SE Asia has all balcony suites (344 to 867 sq. ft.) with separate lounge. SCENIC AURA, with four decks, has all two-room suites, plus a small pool on the Sun Deck.
Public Rooms: On all the riverboats (except SCENIC TSAR), the forward Panorama Deck lounge (covered and open to the sides) connects aft to Portobellos Restaurant, the River Café and the main lounge with bar. The main Crystal Dining venue is one deck below shared with the Table La Rive specialty dining section. The Riverview Terrace with umbrellas occupies Sun Deck forward of the navigation bridge, and the rest of this deck has canvas awning coverings or is open with a surrounding circular walking track. SCENIC TSAR has a midships lounge with bar and an aft dining room on the same lower deck and a second aft-facing lounge with bar two decks above.
Dining: Multiple venues starting with the Crystal Dining Room, the big-window main restaurant with tables from 2 to eight; River Café, casual with buffet dining for breakfast and a light lunch; Portobellos, 5-course Italian for 32 passengers; and Table La Rive, a 6-course degustation menu for 10 at a time and reserved for Diamond Deck passengers and located in a curtained off section of the main restaurant. More effort than the norm is spent providing memorable meals in a variety of settings. SCENIC TSAR has no alternate dining other than light food selections in the second lounge.
Activities & Entertainment: There are three types of shore excursions: Enrich, Free Choice, and Tailormade. The last-named excursions are designed for you to go ashore on your own and at your own pace by foot or bicycle with a GPS locator providing the commentary and an interactive map. Subjects covered may be art, architecture, and history, and they are available in 140 locations. You can also use these tools on board while ensconced in a lounge chair on the Sun Deck or in the Panorama Lounge. Free Choice allows you to concentrate on your interests and whether you want an active, moderate or relaxed pace. Active might involve a hike or cycling outing; moderate, a city walking tour, and relaxed a museum visit or a canal cruise. Favorite hiking routes are the Danube Path through Austria’s Wachau Valley and a coastal path near Bordeaux along Arcachon Bay. Enrich excursions are led by an expert in history or local culture to get beneath the surface. On board cooking school, Scenic Culinaire, operates on the French waterways and that includes going to local markets to buy the ingredients for the onboard cooking component.
Scenic riverboats carry a fleet of e-bikes that help you propel your way into villages and vineyards so you become part of life ashore and not just a spectator. New for 2017 will be a Bike and River Cruise program operated by Trek Travel, specialists in high-end bicycle tours. Nine departures between May and September will come under the titles Gems of the Danube sailing between Budapest and Nuremburg and Rhine Highlights between Amsterdam and Basel. During the former, specialists in guiding bicycle tours of 15 to 60 miles will take passengers to breweries for beer tasting, along paths in the Wachau Valley, Austrian grape wine-growing country, into Vienna Woods and the hills of Buda in Budapest. The latter will visit the Alsace Wine Route, the Rhine Gorge, Cologne’s network of cycling paths, and cheese tasting in the village outside Amsterdam. Non-cycling activities will also be offered.
Special Notes: SCENIC draws English-speaking passengers from around the world, something that may appeal to the international-minded. Single travelers pay no single supplements on selected departures in March, April and October to December. 50% of the single supplement is available on selected sailings May to September.
Along the Same Lines: Scenic is among the top lines to offer in-depth river cruising with lots of choices for sightseeing and enjoying meals aboard.
USA – One Financial Center, Suite 400, Boston, MA 02111; scenicusa.com. 855-517-1200; scenicusa.com
CANADA – Suite 1025, 401 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC V6B 5A1; Scenic.ca, 866-689-8611; scenic.ca
UK – 13th Floor, 111 Piccadilly, Manchester M1 2HY; Scenic.co.uk, 0161 236 2444; scenic.co.uk
AUSTRALIA – Level 15, 56 Pitt Street, Sydney, NSW 2000; Scenic.co.au, email@example.com; scenic.com.au