River cruises have become one of the hottest types of vacations -- you just have to look at how many new river cruise ships have been built in the last few years, with more coming online -- and not just in Europe on the Danube, Rhine, Saone, Douro, Po and others, but also the Mekong, Irrawaddy, Nile, Ganges and, in the US, on the Mississippi, Columbia, Snake and more!
One of the European river cruise lines tapping into the US vacation market is Scenic, an Australian company. I recently joined a group of travel agents to experience this newer entry in the US market. Two other agents had just come off a 14-day Tauck river cruise, others had experiences on AMA Waterways, Uniworld, Viking and Avalon. It was a mixed group of well-traveled agents and their guests, so we had a good cross section of opinions and viewpoints. We came up with a number of benchmarks for luxury and great service onboard the Scenic Jasper. Here's what made their cruise memorable for me and left me wanting more.
1. As an Australian company, Aussies still make-up a large component of guests onboard. I think we had a real taste as to what the “Scenic experience” will be once the North American guest ratio increases. Certainly Australians are friendly and fun to be around, and the cultural diversity onboard perhaps offers a unique twist from more popular lines.
2. The ship was physically beautiful…like a fine “modern” European hotel….nothing flowery or overstuffed about it. I thought it would be a bit “cold” because I don’t usually like modern…but it wasn’t! On the contrary, I found it refreshing, crisp and indicative of the upbeat atmosphere on board…clean and modern lines with black and shiny chrome leading the color palate. Lots of glass, clean spaces and modern decorating details.
3. I boarded with lots of questions about the much touted Butler Service. My experience was exceptional and equal to, if not better than, my butler service at the Lanesborough Hotel in London or onboard a Regent cruise. The difference here was a perfect mix of formality and respect, with warmth and approachability. These butlers not only deliver refreshments to your room, provide valet service, shine your shoes and more, based on your cabin category, they also serve in the specialty restaurants and assist in the dining room. Of course, you have 24/7 access to them by phone, so during the hours they were occupied in the dining rooms, the head butler would be the one to take your room service order and fulfill requests. (P.S. I can’t say enough about breakfast in bed delivered by my butler!)
4. Scenic’s marketing differentiates the “Choices” they offer versus “options” some other lines offer. A great example of this was their lounge camera. On most ocean cruises, you can usually view recorded lectures in your cabin. Perhaps you missed the shore excursion talk or a special lecture because of a scheduling conflict…with so much going on at the same time. Scheduling conflicts don’t usually happen on a river cruise with the limited available space on board for simultaneous activates. On the Scenic Jasper, they have a lounge camera so you can view live presentations from your cabin.
In my case, I’d return from an excursion and just want to stretch out and rest before dinner. I turned on my entertainment system to the “lounge camera” and watched the shore excursion lecture live from my bed. How about watching the evening’s live entertainment in your pajamas? I know this isn’t a deal breaker…but I personally love to go hard all day and relax in the evening. Scenic has found a way for me to enjoy everything with this CHOICE. It is a great feature!
5. What can I say about shore excursions? I could write a few pages, but suffice to say: close to Tauck quality but not quite. Their coaches were among the best: beautiful, new and the seat belts worked. The best feature was the drop down monitors normally used for showing movies. During long transfers, it was great to have the driver’s view of the road. You could sit in the back of the bus and see the same live panoramic view of the drive as if you were the lucky one seated in the front seat. It was a very impressive and a much appreciated touch.
6. Most river cruises offer complimentary bicycles to enjoy ashore -- but Scenic offers electrically-assisted bicycles, making it much easier to climb hills and to get about if you're not an avid cyclist.
7. The Scenic Sundowner is described as “an exclusive cocktail reception hosted at some of Europe’s most majestic locations where one can toast the day’s end and the beauty of the riverside destinations”. Ours was held near the port of Melk at Schonbuhel-Aggstein Castle.
This ancient hilltop fortress afforded beautiful vistas. To our delight an annual Spring Renaissance Fair was being held, so our Sundowner turned out to be much more than a cocktail party at sunset. It was a true cultural experience with roasted pig, hot chocolate, wine and more. Another fabulous Scenic “Choice”.
8. The Scenic ‘Sun Lounge’ in each cabin provided 24/7 access to your private balcony, no matter the weather. These are among the best full-window views on any river. The capability of having fresh air at the touch of a button was immeasurable. I took this picture of sunrise in Budapest from my balcony with open window. It’s priceless.
9. The food was delicious and every bit as good as on a luxury ocean cruise or any other river cruise I've been on. My most enjoyable meal was the seafood buffet, with lobster in cream sauce, giant prawns in Caesar salad, the caviar, salmon, calamari, sushi bar and on and on. Not to mention their vegetable and healthy salad options every day!
There are so many more details I could share…like my first ever safety drill I've had on any river cruise. We had to muster on the sundeck and were given safety instructions for an emergency …much like on an ocean voyage. Nice touch to know that there is a plan “A” and plan ‘B”. “Just jump overboard and swim to shore” isn’t the only option.
Scenic Luxury River Cruise Line is a welcome addition to the luxury river cruise inventory, and I will be pleased to offer them to my clients looking for a top-notch river cruise line, along with Ama, Tauck and Uniworld.
For more insights or to book your river cruise vacation, contact Eva Bailon.