River Cruise 101: Scenic
Article Published: Saturday, February 23, 2019
In 1987, Australian entrepreneur Glen Moroney founded Scenic Tours, a company that got its start offering coach trips to the Australian coast. Initially, Scenic Tours marketed its product to residents of Melbourne but soon realized that its guests would travel further with them. For two decades, Scenic Tours continued to grow and expand, earning accolades from travelers around the world for quality and service, not to mention Scenic's rapidly diverse array of tour packages.
In 2008, Scenic Tours dove headfirst into the river cruise market with the launch of its purpose-built Scenic "space ships." A fitting name for vessels with interiors that showcase a sleek and minimalist design ethos and technology offerings light years ahead of many of their competitors.
On April 13, 2015, Scenic Tours officially changed its name to simply "Scenic," and like Prince, Madonna, and other rock stars, one word is all that's needed to convey its five-star persona. Scenic has a fleet of 15 river cruisers, with two oceangoing expedition ships on order. In addition to the company's itineraries in Europe, Scenic also offers luxury, all-inclusive river cruise voyages along Russia's Volga River; Myanmar's Irrawaddy; and the mighty Mekong that flows through Cambodia and Vietnam.
Six original "space ships" were built between 2008 and 2012: Scenic Sapphire, Scenic Emerald, Scenic Diamond, Scenic Ruby, Scenic Pearl, and the Scenic Crystal. Scenic continued its fleet expansion beyond 2012. In 2013 the Scenic Jewel was christened. Two new "space ships" were added in 2014—Scenic Gem and Scenic Jade. In 2015, Scenic welcomed the Scenic Jasper and Scenic Opal, and 2016 saw the line take delivery of four new ships: Scenic Aura on the Irrawaddy, Scenic Azure on Portugal's Douro River, and Scenic Spirit on the Mekong and Scenic Amber on the waterways of Europe.
Recently, Scenic Diamond and Scenic Pearl were the first recipients of a $10-million investment that has resulted in an extensive refurbishment. All suites received an entirely new look complete with new wallpaper, marble desktops, furniture, soft furnishings, and carpeting. In addition, stateroom balconies—all of which are full "step-out" Sun Lounges—have been refitted with retractable windows that allow guests to fully enclose their balconies for use during inclement weather.
Complimentary butler service is offered on all Balcony Suites, along with complimentary shoe shine service and laundry at no charge. Some other notables include Scenic's gym, the Salt Therapy room, the US$17,000 coffee machine, and more. Apple computers have been linked to HD televisions, providing in-stateroom access to the ship's upgraded Wi-Fi system using Satellite and UMTS Mobile Technology. This represents a considerable speed boost over the previous system.
Ashore, complimentary options like Scenic FreeChoice excursions and Scenic Tailormade, an interactive system that provides GPS-enabled commentary throughout most major cities in Europe, help to personalize the off-ship experience. Scenic has also added Scenic Enrich experiences on its France and Portugal itineraries which include music and dinner.
Scenic's refit of Scenic Diamond and Scenic Sapphire coincided with the new Scenic Culinaire program that features an onboard cooking school that uses a new dedicated space in order to offer immersive courses that highlight the culinary delights of France's Rhône, Saône, and Bordeaux regions.
Using fresh ingredients sourced from local markets, guests will be able to make regional recipes that will be itinerary-specific, all under the guidance of experienced chefs. Scenic's new Culinaire space will have dedicated cooking stations, a cheese and wine cellar, and cameras linked to video screens to provide detailed instruction to participants. Although class sizes are limited, Scenic schedules ample sessions to ensure all interested guests are able to participate. As with all of Scenic's other programs, Scenic Culinaire is extended to guests free of charge.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner can be ordered in-room, a rarity among river cruise ships, many of which offer no room service of any kind. Though it might be enticing to eat-in, casual meals are available in the River Café, including gourmet pizza made fresh onboard and Table La Rive is dedicated to a full degustation dining experience.
Some of the dishes I had on Scenic Diamond were among the best I have ever had on the rivers – the tortellini in L'Amour comes to mind – while the wines were regional and of some acclaim. Portobellos has undergone a complete redesign, along with The Bar, which now features Eurocave wine dispensers.
Overall, Scenic is for those who appreciate refined elegance with a personal touch. While one might immediately assume stuffiness to go hand-in-hand with white-glove style service, I found Scenic's staff to be professional, personable, and quick to share a laugh.