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The river cruise industry is developing so quickly that Scenic Cruises owner Glen Moroney has opted to spend $10 million to completely renovate five of Scenic Cruises’ existing ships to bring them to the standard of the new 169-passenger Scenic Jewel, even though the oldest vessel in the Scenic fleet is four years old. The ships were taken down to the bare bones and given everything from new balconies to furnishings, marble desktops, carpets and softgoods.
Now, more than 80 percent of the staterooms on Scenic’s ships have Sun Lounges and private walkout balconies that can be glassed in with the push of a button that converts it into an all-weather lounge that appears as an extension of the room. On our early spring cruise onboard the Jewel, there was considerable wet and chilly weather, and relaxing in the light-filled, sheltered balcony was a true luxury that added considerable openness and space and kept passengers lingering in their rooms.
Scenic Jewel definitely receives high marks for its elevation of the company’s product. Double insulation and a new engine configuration have reduced vibration and noise dramatically, and it’s easy to forget that the ship is moving until you see the fields, towns and castles slide past.
Rooms have 32-inch Samsung high-definition televisions linked to Mac mini computers with Internet access that uses satellite and UMTS mobile technology and exceptionally comfortable queen-size beds with Egyptian linens and a pillow menu. The bathrooms are really spacious, with large full showers.
Jewel’s 24-hour fitness center is quite a bit larger and more impressive than those on previous ships and on shore electrical assist bicycles delight guests, both for climbing steep hills and for zooming past other cyclists.
The quality and consistency of dining is quite a bit higher than a year ago, both in preparation and presentation. Exceptionally fresh local produce is served in all five dining options, which include the casual fare in the River Cafe, the degustation at Table La Rive and Portobello Restaurant’s Italian dishes.
Another cause for applause: Scenic’s all-inclusive policy has expanded this year, with guests paying only for personal items, massages, hair salon services and ultra-premium beverages. Everything else, from the shore excursions (including the premium ones) to the new, much faster Wi-Fi system and gratuities, both onboard and on tours is included.
Decor in the public rooms is very elegant, with splashes of color, and drew compliments from guests on our sailing. Each Scenic ship has two lounges. The Observation Lounge is an open-air teak deck at the bow of the ship, where it provides wonderful views of the scenery ahead. The Panorama Lounge and Bar offers music and dancing in the evenings, as well as local concerts and shows: a group of beautifully dressed Bavarian performers, a classical music ensemble, etc.
Scenic also provides an exclusive shoreside event on each cruise without charge. On Jewel’s cruises through the Rhine Valley from Budapest to Amsterdam, it’s a tour and medieval dinner and show at a restored 12th-century fortress, Marksburg Castle.
Guests explore Marksburg’s rooms, from the smithy to the knights’ hall, and see artifacts that include medieval chastity belts, arms and armor. It should be noted that the stone floors are very uneven with sharp ridges; guests with limited mobility can choose to relax and enjoy the view near the dining hall while the tour is held, joining the rest for the dinner show, which is offered complete with mead, jesters, musicians and jugglers. It’s almost a shock to come back to the 21st century and the clean lines, charming and amusing artwork and European decor of the ship as it sails onward.
The 14-night itinerary between Amsterdam and Budapest is where you’ll find the Jewel this year.