Earlier this week, I was in Vienna for the christening of a new river cruise vessel from a company that I knew little about. Scenic (formerly Scenic Tours) launched its new Scenic Jasper alongside the Danube River in the lovely Austrian city.
As is customary at such events, the godmother, Australian novelist and comedienne Kathy Lette, made a speech and cut a ribbon that sent a bottle of champagne smashing against the hull.
Based in Australia, Scenic (a tour company in its early days) has been around since 1986 and has operated its own ships since 2007. Still, the company is a relative newcomer, particularly to North Americans. I spent six nights on the new vessel sailing from Budapest to Vienna, by way of Linz, Durnstein and Melk. Here are my take-aways.
Here I attempt to review Scenic Tours European river cruises to help you decide if it’s a good fit.
The company began to charter vessels from other companies in 2005 and started building its own ships in 2007. With 11 Scenic ships now in operation, Scenic’s chairman Glen Moroney says his company aspires to be the most inclusive and most luxurious in the river cruise industry. Of course, he has a lot of competition from companies such as Uniworld, AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways and others.
On my sailing I did see similarities between Scenic Jasper and several luxury lines:
- Regent, for Scenic’s included components
- Silversea, for Scenic’s butler service for every stateroom and suite.
- Crystal, for its service
- Seabourn, for Scenic Jasper’s contemporary design
Scenic includes almost everything in its cruise package.
The company even bundles in all gratuities, including those for guides ashore. I saw envelopes with gratuities being handed over to guides when they came on the ship to collect their groups. The company isn’t skimping on its inclusives either. Champagne is poured, not the less-expensive sparkling, top shelf spirits are included, single malts, for example. You can belly up to the bar for a bottled European beer or a draft, at no extra charge. About the only thing you can dig into your wallet for is a massage.
Tours & Bicycles
There are some components that Scenic does better than luxury ocean cruisers.
One is Scenic’s electric-assist bicycles. The idea is that you pedal as you normally would, but when you feel you need assistance, going up hills or against headwinds, for example, you simply push a button using your thumb to engage an electric motor that propels the bike. With the motor fully engaged, I was able to maintain about 20 miles per hour with ease, against a headwind.
The bikes were used everyday, and on one day, between Durnstein and Melk, a couple dozen of us participated in a three-hour guided tour covering about 20 miles through the Wachau valley, a wine-producing region in Austria.
As we pedaled, Scenic Jasper sailed along the Danube, arriving in Melk about an hour before we did. The electric-assist bikes make this type of tour appropriate for all age groups and all levels of fitness.
The bikes are available each time that Scenic Jasper docks. Helmets and water are provided. Moreover, cyclists, as well as walkers, can take along GPS-activated devices that Scenic brands as Tailormade, to tour on their own. The devices indicate points of interest in various towns and cities — and provide directions.
Tailormade is part of a larger concept known as Scenic FreeChoice. The idea is to give guests optional excursions — join a group or go on your own. Scenic’s Glen Moroney says five choices of excursions are offered in most destinations that Scenic ships visit.
“We decided that the one size fitting all was a dead concept,” he says. “People want choice.”
Another program, called Scenic Enrich, is designed to offer upgraded experiences ashore, and during our cruise, the Scenic Enrich experience was exceptionally well-executed. We watched a Viennese concert, which nearly all river cruise companies offer, that was better-produced than some I have seen in the past. Musicians played selections from Austrian composers Strauss, Mozart and Beethoven. The evening was entertaining, personable and memorable – indeed enriching as Scenic had promised.
Dining, Five Choices
Choice is also extended to the five dining options. The Crystal Dining Room is equivalent to what you might expect to find on other river cruise vessels. Breakfast is buffet-style with an omelette station, lunch follows the same pattern, while dinner is served to guests at tables for two, four, six and more.
Within the dining room, situated forward, is Table la Rive, a six-course dining experience with paired wines. Table la Rive is available only to those on deck three and those in the Junior Suites one deck below. I dined in Table la Rive on the evening we were leaving Linz, Austria. Service, as well as the quality of cuisine and wine, were outstanding, on par with what one might expect to find on luxury ocean cruisers.
A favorite among many during our cruise was Portobello, situated at the front of the lounge (called the Jasper Salon) and separated from the lounge by a glass-wall. The menu is Italian-inspired, and it’s the only place where the bubbly that is served free of charge isn’t champagne. It’s prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine.
Also situated within the lounge is the River Cafe, which serves light snacks, as well as breakfast and lunch. I enjoyed muesli, yogurt and fresh fruits one morning for breakfast; wraps and pizza on other days for lunch. Scooped ice cream is also served here, refreshing after those extended bike rides.
Scenic also offers 24/7 room service, and the menu is fairly impressive: Minute Steak with fries, Club Sandwich, burgers, salads and more. Deck three and Junior Suite guests on deck two may request a full breakfast in their rooms as well as dinner from the restaurant menu served course by course.
Rooms & Suites
Scenic Jasper features a mix of staterooms and suites, ranging from 160 square feet to 475 square feet. The major distinguishing feature of a Scenic stateroom is the “Sun Lounge,” a mix of open-air balcony/solarium in all but the standard staterooms.
- All rooms, except for standard staterooms, feature private balconies with Scenic Sun Lounges.
- Complimentary mini-bars are restocked daily.
- WiFi is free of charge and works throughout the vessel.
- Samsung HDTVs are integrated with Apple technology (Mac Minis) for on-demand movies, internet access and more.
- Butler service is included for all staterooms and suites, as well as 24-hour room service.
- Bathrooms feature showers, L’Occitane bath amenities, hair dryers, bathrobes and slippers.
Royal Panorama Suites, situated aft on deck 3. The Royal Panorama Suites measure 475 square feet each. The two suites each feature a bedroom, a half bath and a full bath with tub and rainforest shower. The suites feature living spaces and cozy Sun Lounge nooks set off to one side.
Royal Suites feature a new integrated wall separates the bed and living area.
Both the Royal Suite and the Royal Panorama Suite offer €100 per person credit in the Wellness Center along with other perks such as private chauffeur service at Amsterdam, Budapest, Bucharest, Basel and Nuremberg airports.
Other suites and staterooms:
- Junior Balcony Suites measure 240 square feet.
- Balcony Suite measure 205 square feet. The Deluxe Balcony Suite measures 225 square feet.
- Balcony Suite 224 is for the solo traveler. The odd cabin also bumps the capacity up to 169 guests on Scenic Jasper.
- Standard Stateroom features the same shipwide amenities and services but at a lower price point. Standard Staterooms measure 160 square feet.
Scenic may be the right choice for luxury ocean cruisers who want to make the leap to river cruising.