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Ship Review: The New Scenic Crystal – European River Cruise!
One of the fastest growing segments in travel is European river cruising. This is quite different from ocean travel and port hopping that the bigger ships offer worldwide. The big difference is these long (360-440 foot long) cigar looking boats ply the European Rivers and carry anywhere from 118-200 passengers depending on the line. As a matter of fact, this exciting form of river travel typically sells out nearly a year in advance due to the limited capacity of these small boat-ships and there just isn’t similar capacity comparing to those larger ocean-going vessels.
I was invited to attend the christening and preview of a different type of river boat-Scenic Cruises new 169-passenger Scenic Crystal. This 443 foot long, 4 deck vessel offers a nearly all-suite, all-inclusive experience.
Scenic Cruises is a division of Australian mega-luxury tour operator, Scenic Tours. This fast-growing highly respected company is equivalent to Tauck Tours in the USA and is wholly owned by 42 year old Aussie entrepreneur, Glen Moroney. He started tours not too long ago by operating bus tours to see Phantom of the Opera in Melbourne and saw the need for an upscale tour company-VOILA!
Moroney decided to build his own boats to his companies own specifications after successfully chartering lesser boats in the mid 2000 era and decided to build his own luxury vessel after a client pulled him aside on a chartered tour and told him that the boat they were on was not up to the Scenic Tours fine standards. Today, Scenic has 6 virtually identical luxury vessels with 82% of all suites having a true private balcony. These vessels carry 169 passengers but have exceptionally large cabins that average 205 square feet. The normal cabin is only 135-160 square feet. Scenic features a very clean and crew friendly experience onboard. The décor is more Scandinavian meets B&B Italia and not overdone by any means. The crew makes the experience very personal and the food quality is very high. Scenic even operates its own fleet of luxury coaches that follow the boats along the river to provide guests with a consistent quality experience along the way during the daily sightseeing tours! While onboard, the experience is virtually all-inclusive with all tips, sightseeing, meals, and most beverages included. NEW FOR 2013, all cabins on all soon to be 7 boats will have butlers with room service and will become truly all-inclusive with alcoholic beverages included too! WOW!
The Scenic Crystal is unique in the fleet with its “Space Ship” appearance and Exclusive “Scenic Sun Lounge” wherein all balcony cabins can become enclosed with a sliding glass partition that can be quickly raised or lowered by the push of a button creating a solarium or open balcony at the guests’ whim or due to a weather change.
Cabins/suites are downright spacious with large slumber beds, a pillow menu, room service, amazing butler service, large bathroom and an amazing shower with its own mood lighting… The greatest feature was the innovative interactive Apple TV complete with complimentary internet and fast internet-I might add. Most other boats and competitors ask guest to go to an internet “corner” to use computers and are not connected like this amazing technological wonder. Internet was FREE everywhere and it worked great! My butler, Andréa, was a dream and brought my personally made pot of coffee with six espresso shots and delicious 2 chocolate croissants daily at 7am and was a welcome wake-up call each day.
The meals onboard were delicious. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style with an option to order entrees from a daily menu. Dinner is served along with the buffet used for extensive salad bar, sushi, and desserts. The preparation was gorgeous. Scenic also offers a River Café in the main lounge that offers a variety of “to-go” items throughout the day and was akin to a luxury Bistro. There are coffee and tea stations, and a complimentary reservation based superb Italian optional dining room called Portobello’s.
Cruising along the European rivers is unique and offers extensive sightseeing options. The days can be quite long if one opts to take all the exciting tour options as I did. My days were full of superbly guided tours to the old cities of Germany and France. This type of cruising is quite special as you have choices for full historical sightseeing, visits to private homes or winery’s, and on every trip Scenic offers at least one evening tour of a spectacular German Castle with a tour, cocktail party, and gala dinner with excellent music or opera provided. All of this is included in your price! The boat offers bicycles for a nice ride if you have free time, and even GPS self-guided tours for those not wanting a guided experience for self-exploration. You can even have a massage or work out in the small but well equipped fitness center onboard!
I loved this experience as it was intimate, offered a unique experience in the heart of Europe, gave a personal and warm travel experience with NO LINES, and was like traveling on a yacht…
My cruise ran from convenient Rudesheim (near Frankfurt) in Germany and ended in Basel, Switzerland. I headed home from Zurich after spending the night at the remarkable Dolder Grand Hotel. Now this is a ultra-luxury and very special hotel set in the foothills about Zurich with the Alps in the near distance!
This cruise is scenic, interesting, historical, and offers a wonderful alternative to ocean going vessels. The prices are a bit higher than normal cruises but remember it is all-inclusive and yacht like. This is no Royal Caribbean or Holland America type of travel experience. It is very special with rates averaging $350pp a day+.
I was fortunate to see some of the other competitors and while there are some good river companies, I suggest you look at Scenic, Tauck Tours, Uniworld, and AMA Waterways only. The others PALE by comparison! If you are going to take this trip, take a river cruise with the BEST!
Happy River Cruising!
Photos: © Tom Baker | CruiseCenter
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