Despite arriving a smidge late to the river cruising party (2008), the Australian company Scenic is rapidly making a name for itself as a strong player at the high end of the market, with its all-inclusive pricing (meaning gratuities and alcoholic beverages, too), sleek ship interiors, and high-tech enhancements.
Scenic now sports a fleet of five-star, all-inclusive luxury river cruise ships that are among the most technologically advanced afloat. If you like your tech toys and your little luxuries, this is the river cruise for you.
Innovative: Scenic has really pushed the envelope in terms of river cruise-enhancing technologies and services.
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They hand out custom-made GPS devices to passengers for wireless touring, loan electric-assist bikes to utilize ashore, have a very high tech in-room entertainment system, and dedicated butler services for all.
All-Inclusive: Throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, there are almost no additional cost items on a Scenic cruise.
Adventurous Itineraries: Scenic started life in Australia, and the Aussies love to travel. While Scenic offers short, weeklong itineraries, the line really shines with its multi-week river cruise journeys.
High Cost of Admission: Everyone wants to stay at the Ritz-Carlton; few want to pay the price. Even in the costly world of river cruising, Scenic's voyages lean towards the expensive end of the scale.
With a fleet of 17 river cruise ships and counting, Scenic's Space Ships (so-called for their relatively high passenger-to-space ratios) offer a decidedly luxurious river cruise experience that is geared towards active individuals who are curious about the world.
Scenic offers numerous river cruise itineraries in Europe, with voyages that sail the Danube, Douro, Main, Moselle, Rhine, Rhone, and Seine rivers. Cruises along Russia's Volga River from Moscow to St. Petersburg are offered aboard the 112-guest Scenic Tsar, while Southeast Asia cruises sail the waters Cambodia and Vietnam along the Mekong River, and in Myanmar (Burma) along the Irrawaddy.
One of Scenic's strongest selling points is to what lengths it has gone to ensure that there are plenty of options for dining, sightseeing and engaging both on board and off the vessels.
For one, since Scenic began operating river cruises in 2008, the company has had six dining options available to passengers on it vessels (more on that in the dining section below). Scenic also has a Free Choice excursion program, which means that in addition to the blockbuster sightseeing tours it offers in each major port call, there are usually one or two additional excursions on offer that might be a bit off the beaten path or might have a unique theme, such as the Szechenyi Thermal Bath in.
Budapest or shopping with a chef in central Vienna's open-air food market, Naschmarkt.
And as competition heats up on the rivers, Scenic is continuing to add service options, including butler service, which covers early-morning coffee and tea, shoeshine service and help with making on-shore arrangements such as private transportation or obtaining theater tickets (the butler thing is a bit gimmicky, but it definitely makes some passengers feel special).
Then there is also the high-tech component to Scenic cruises, starting with the high-tech GPS devices that the company provides passengers in lieu of the wireless tour guide systems most other river cruise companies use. The Scenic version, which the company calls Scenic Tailormade, is a touchscreen device slightly larger and thicker than an average smartphone. From the device, passengers can access the traditional wireless tour guiding systems (which allows passengers to listen to their local guides via a wireless microphone and headset system), but they can also access a selection of self-guided city tours with information about various points of interest at each port call. And Scenic Tailormade also features a river guide, which includes a follow-along map of the river cruise and commentary about sights along the river this last feature allows Scenic to bypass providing that commentary over the loud speaker on its ships, which can disturb passengers trying to rest, read or do other activities. Frankly, reaction to the devices can go two ways: Guests either love them or they get frustrated with them ship staff definitely have to be prepared for the requisite handful of passengers who find the devices difficult to use.
Another technology-based feature is the entertainment system in the staterooms. In addition to the movies on demand, satellite TV and Internet access that most of river cruise lines' in-room systems have, Scenic's version also has an Internet tracker that shows how strong the Wi-Fi signal is along the river (Wi-Fi signal strength can vary quite drastically along the rivers and can range from quite good in port to non-existent during sailings but it's getting better and more consistent each year thanks to investments and enhancements by river cruise lines like Scenic), plus fact sheets about each port call and the option for passengers to check their invoices.
Final whiz-bang feature: Scenic's ships offer a small fleet of electric-assist bicycles, which can even be used to ride from one port to another to rejoin your ship later on (always, of course, ask if you can do this first).
Scenic's bread-and-butter is the 55-plus crowd. Passengers tend to be well-traveled, well-educated, and financially well-off. They typically have already done some upscale ocean cruising prior to river cruising. This is a social bunch, predominately Australians and Brits. They like to get to know the other passengers on board as well as the local citizens in the countries they are sailing in.
Scenic has the major waterways of Europe covered, with sailings that operate throughout Europe, including France and Portugal. The line still operates a comprehensive 15-day Jewels of Russia itinerary that runs between Moscow and St. Petersburg, making Scenic one of the few operators to remain committed to the River Volga.
The new jewel in the Scenic fleet is undoubtedly the line's Southeast Asia sailings. Ranging between eight and 27 days in length, these eight voyages explore the farthest reaches of the Mekong River that runs through Cambodia and Vietnam, and Myanmar's mysterious Irrawaddy River. Particularly noteworthy is the 18-day Mystical Myanmar itinerary that operates roundtrip from.
As mentioned above, Scenic vessels all offer six dining options, so there is no shortage of variety. On each ship, there is Crystal Dining, the main dining room; either a Portobellos, an Italian-themed, or L'Amour, a French-themed specialty dining restaurant; Table La Rive, an invitation-only, six-course, wine-pairing dinner experience offered exclusively to passengers in the upper-deck Suites and second-deck Junior Suites; River Cafe, a casual cafe open from 6am to 6pm, offering a range of light meals (think mini sandwiches and small pre-prepared salads), snacks and beverages that guests can grab at their whim; Sun Deck Barbeque, a traditional barbeque (from burgers to seafood) served on the Sun Deck at least once per week, weather permitting; and 24/7 in-room dining.
The variety makes for a more fun and dynamic onboard dining experience, and the food churned out at each venue is first-rate. It doesn't have the uber-gourmet feel of Uniworld dining, but is rather more contemporary-chic style, with each venue putting its own little twist on things (the River Cafe, for instance, light and fresh tapas-style bites, whereas the Table La Rive is where the chef gets experimental with a unique nightly tasting menu, including fun dishes like a lemongrass creme brulee appetizer). Dining on board is more casual and social, less fussy and forced. And while you'll likely see plenty of European fare woven throughout the menus, Scenic doesn't shy away from other international influences such as Asian cuisine and spices.
Don't expect anything hokey or forced in terms of onboard activities. For one, Scenic provides its guests with tools for keeping engaged on their own while cruising, including the Scenic Tailormade GPS device it hands out to all its passengers, which in addition to serving as a listening device during guided shore excursions has commentary available for sights along the rivers so that passengers can relax and follow along on their headsets kind of like an audio tour at a museum. When and where it makes sense to do so, Scenic will also bring a relevant lecturer on board or offer an interactive demonstration such as a wine or food tasting.
Children aged 12 and over are welcomed aboard all Scenic river cruises, though no special provisions are made for them Your chances of finding fellow families traveling on board is greatest during the summer vacation months (July, August) and closer to Christmas.
In addition to the nightly music in the lounge, Scenic will bring additional musical and dance groups on board during the cruise to showcase the local culture. That could be a boisterous oompah band in Germany or folk dancers in Hungary. Scenic also offers onshore entertainment in cities where that is popular or where it is available. For instance, in Vienna, passengers may take in a classical music concert in a beautiful Viennese palace. Vienna is, after all, the City of Music.
With its new butler service (which is included for all guests), Scenic has kicked its service standard up a notch to white-glove level. But don't expect the butler to be at your beck and call 24/7. The butlers have other duties on board the vessel, so they are there to help fulfill personal requests such as laundry service, for everything else you will still need to get assistance from the very helpful reception staff. All tips and gratuities are included in Scenic's pricing.
The Scenic fleet consists of Scenic Aura (2016), Scenic Azure (2016), Scenic Diamond (2008), Scenic Emerald (2009), Scenic Gem (2014), Scenic Jasper (2015), Scenic Opal (2015), Scenic Pearl (2011), Scenic Ruby (2009), Scenic Sapphire (2008), Scenic Spirit (2016), and Scenic Tsar (2013).