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QuirkyCruise Review of Scenic Cruises
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. Expedition cruising will begin in spring 2019. Lots of important features are included. The parent firm also operates the moderately-priced Emerald Waterways. A partnership with National Geographic sees an expert and photographer on board all European cruises.
Scenic prides itself on not taking your credit card details at embarkation because the fare is so inclusive, there’s little chance of spending more on board for anything else. *N.B. Scenic Eclipse entered service in August 2019 with a first cruise from Reykjavik, Iceland via Greenland, Eastern Canada to Quebec . For a press releases describing the ship’s features, scroll down to the bottom of this review.
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).
For Mekong River in Southeast Asia, SCENIC SPIRIT (b. 2016 & 68 p); Irrawaddy in Myanmar, SCENIC AURA (B. 2016 & 44 p).
For Egypt & the Nile, SUN BOAT III (b.1993, refitted 2009 & 36p).
Expedition ship SCENIC ECLIPSE (b. 2019 & 228 p). A second expedition ship is due 2020.
Seniors from 60s on up hailing from Australia and Britain primarily, followed by US and Canada.
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.
Shore excursions, GPS devices for self-guided tours, all drinks including stocked mini-bar, tips, WiFi, use of e-bicycles (in Europe), 24-hour cabin service including services of a butler, wellness facilities, 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.
With such a large fleet, Scenic offers many itineraries, some simply a cruise and others adding hotel stays in major cities, plus extended 10- to 15-day land tours throughout Europe – Britain and Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Eastern Europe, Balkans, Baltic States, and Scandinavia,
➢The Europe 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, plus Dutch and waterways as far south as Antwerp.
➢Most Europe itins are 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 via the Rhine, Main and Danube to Budapest or onto 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 a Portuguese river cruise, cycling trips in Austria and southern France, and culinary classes in France that include sourcing the ingredients.
➢Newly added to the Russia program — St. Petersburg-Moscow — will be an unusual and intriguing 15-day itinerary from Volgograd (Stalingrad) to Moscow via the Volga River.
➢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.
➢The Treasures of Egypt is an 11-day itinerary where day 4 to 7 operates on the Nile. A 10-day Jordan extension, or stand alone, visits Amman, Petra, Dead Sea, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba on the Red Sea.
➢The 11-day Mekong River cruise tours with a stay in Siem Reap may be combined with land extensions for 18 days that take in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam including a 2-night Halong Bay cruise.
➢11 and 18-day y cruise tours on the Irrawaddy in Myanmar see the river portion operating between Bagan, and to the South and Bagan to the north to Mandalay, and beyond. The longer itinerary has more hotel nights in Yangon and Inle Lake. Cruises operate October 2019 to March 2020.
*Note — Beginning in August 2019, the delayed SCENIC ECLIPSE, a brand-new luxury Discovery Yacht,began operating largely in the polar regions with season-changing repositioning voyages and offering 114 veranda suites that begin at 345 sq. ft. with private verandahs and lounges, ten dining experiences 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 fall 2019. Additional year-round itineraries include the Arctic, Western Mediterranean, Norwegian Fjords, Baltic, Cuba & Caribbean, Panama, Colombia, Chilean Fjords and the Falklands, Argentina and Brazil. Even more recently, Scenic announced the construction of a second Discovery Yacht for delivery in May 2020. Itineraries will expand even further to include the Northwest Passage, Russia’s White Sea and the North American East Coast.
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.
A whopping 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.
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.
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. Partnership with National Geographic for all European cruises sees an NG expert giving talks and leading excursions ashore and an NG photography provided tips and classes.
Scenic riverboats in Europe 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. A Bike and River Cruise program is 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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org; scenic.com.au
Scenic’s Scenic Eclipse; a wondrous 228-passenger expedition ship.
After Scenic Eclipse’s christening in New York City by Godmother Dame Helen Mirren, the long-awaited and highly innovative expedition vessel makes it way to South America and the inaugural Antarctica season.
Some attributes are zero-speed stabilizer fins, 50% larger than the standard style to reduce the ship’s roll by more than 85%; Polar Class 6 ice rating, the highest available for a passenger vessel; redundancy features for the propulsion, navigation, and safety systems, and food refrigeration; and a GPS dynamic positioning system that maintains its position without dropping at anchor onto a potentially fragile seabed.
Passengers can choose from ten included dining options that range from the Yacht Club’s alfresco meals, the Azure Bar & Cafés casual fare, Lumiere’s French haute cuisine and the Chefs Table degustation.
The ship’s 114 all-verandah suites range in size from 345 square feet up to the super roomy 2,645 square-foot two-bedroom Owners Penthouse Suite with a separate sleep, lounge and dining areas, spa bathroom and a large private terrace with jacuzzi.
The ship’s Senses Spa offers a wide range of treatments, infra-red and Finnish sauna, and spa and plunge pools.
Excursions offered include two six-passenger helicopters and a six-passenger submarine, capable of diving to nearly 1,000 feet. For land exploration, the discovery team and guides escorts guests on nature and cultural outings visiting historic cities, ancient monuments, and natural wonders.
Worldwide 2020-2022 itineraries take in Antarctica, the Northwest Passage, North and South America’s coastal cities and landscapes, Europe’s northern reaches, the Mediterranean and Greek Islands. A digital brochure of the complete Scenic cruise coverage can be downloaded or for a printed version go to: Canada: www.scenic.ca/request-a-brochure, and for the USA: www.scenicusa.com/brochures.
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