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If Scenic Tours’ river cruise product is the least known to North American passengers, it won’t stay that way for long. The April inauguration of the Australian line’s sixth newbuild, the 169-passenger Scenic Crystal, brought extremely positive reviews from agents and press. Scenic’s ships are beautiful, the service is excellent, the all-inclusive aspect is very appealing to passengers and the company is raising the bar even further next year.
Scenic’s airport transfers are included, whether or not the guest purchases air from them, and next year they will offer private transfers, so there will be no waiting for coaches. Butler service, now available in the higher-end accommodations, will extend to all passengers in 2013.
All gratuities, even for shore excursions, are included in the fare. And, although Scenic currently uses state-of-the-art wireless listening devices for shore excursions, the company will add a GPS guided tour system that allows guests to tour independently. Scenic Tailormade will be available next year as an app for Apple and Android devices.
“Because we are tour operators, we know that the experience on land is as important as the experience on water,” said managing director Glen Moroney.
On shore, the line offers exclusive Scenic Enrich events. During my sailing, the event took place in the Baroque Rastatt Residential Palace on the Upper Rhine and featured a palace tour, dinner and a delightful concert after dinner with two gifted opera singers who know how to involve the audience without compromising the performance.
Conventional and electric bicycles are complimentary. Ebikes are a home run for steep hills or clients who are not physically active, yet want to blast by other bikers. There is also a 24-hour fitness center on the ship with a treadmill, a bike and a stair stepper.
On the food and beverage side, regional wines, beer and soft drinks are currently complimentary at lunch and dinner and, next year, unlimited complimentary beverages will be available shipwide. The Crystal Dining Room has open seating and abundant choices for all three meals, while appealing lighter fare is served in the lounge. Behind glass doors is the Italian Portobello Restaurant, an elegant reservations-only option that carries no extra fee for its seven-course dinners with champagne and regional wines. The Chef’s Table experience, which features a seven-course tasting menu, is held in the main restaurant, where 10 passengers occupy a table with a view of the galley. On designated days, the Sun Deck offers an open-air barbecue.
“We listened intensely to our guests, and these led to extended dining hours, with early and late riser breakfast, brunch, etc.,” said Moroney.
Among Crystal’s room categories are four Royal Suites, two junior suites and the 20 new 225-square-foot Deluxe Balcony Suites. Staterooms and suites range from 164 to 315 square feet, and have ample closet space, Apple televisions and pillow menus. Step-out balconies with a side table and chairs, called Scenic Sun Lounges, are enclosed with glass at the push of a button, which allows them to be used in rain and chilly weather. Scenic will be making one adjustment for next year: lifting the balcony rail above seated eye level. Bathrooms are outstanding; passengers compared their experiences with the three showerheads and the top showerhead’s LED-colored lighting display.
The lounge was used at all times of the day and the night, with people helping themselves to the elegant choice of coffees, teas and snacks, having a drink at the bar and eating lighter meals, not to mention reading and using computers. In the evenings the space is used for lectures, performances, port talks and dancing.
Scenic has announced the commission of a seventh Space-Ship for its European fleet. To be christened Scenic Jewel, she will undertake her inaugural voyage in 2013 along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers from Amsterdam to Budapest. Meanwhile, all previous Scenic ships (except the Scenic Emerald, which sails in France) will be retrofitted to include most of the innovative features found on the Scenic Crystal and Scenic Jewel for next year.
This season’s Scenic Crystal sailings include the eight-day Gems of the Danube from $3,245, the 11-day Gems of the Danube and Prague from $4,415 and the 15-day Jewels of Europe between Budapest and Amsterdam from $4,895. Executives said pricing generally runs 10 to 15 percent higher than Avalon, Viking, Uniworld and AmaWaterways and parallel to Tauck.