If you’ve never heard of Scenic Tours, don’t worry — I hadn’t either. The Australian river cruise line, part of a larger tour company, has only recently begun to market its cruises to North Americans; currently, the majority of its passengers are from Down Under. And if you’ve got the time for a two-week European river holiday and the bucks for a luxury cruise experience, these guys — and their fleet of seven 169-passenger “Space-Ships” and one Russian river cruiser — should definitely make your short list.
How does Scenic stand out from the crowd? Let us count the ways.
Fares are all-inclusive. And we mean all-inclusive. The company covers all beverages round the clock (with the exception of the highest-end liquor and French Champagne), not just at meals; butler service in every cabin (to bring room service and drinks, arrange spa treatments, shine shoes or even arrange a cocktail party for in upper-category cabins); gratuities; and all tours, including both standard walking tours and special events like dinner in a castle or a ballet performance in a palace.
Most cabins have “Sun Lounge” balconies. First, there were French balconies (glorified floor-to-ceiling windows), then there were open-air balconies (great when it’s sunny, useless when it rains), but Scenic went a step further with “sun lounges,” found in nearly all of its cabins. They’re glass-enclosed sitting areas that are a part of the cabin’s interior space, letting lots of light into the staterooms, making them feel more spacious and airy. But when the weather is nice, you can open up the large exterior window, shut a glass accordion-door behind you, and — voila! — instant full-size balcony.
Shore tours offer more choices. While other lines stick to the tried-and-true walking tours in port, Scenic makes sure its passengers have choices. On any given day, you can choose to take a walking tour of port, bus to a nearby town or museum for a different tour experience, or cycle the city on a guided bike tour. If none of those options suit, explore on your own with Scenic’s exclusive GPS system, ScenicTailorMade, which combines a GPS map of your route with commentary about the various attractions that automatically begins to play as you pass by.
Electric-assist bicycles open up cycling to everyone. Riverboats tend to carry bikes onboard for cycling within or between ports. But Scenic stocks electric-assist bikes onboard. These are typical 3- or 7-gear bikes with an extra boost — a small motor that kicks in at the touch of a button. If you’re not used to biking or are falling behind on a long hill with wind in your face, you can ease the burning in your legs with some extra power from the bike itself.
Choose from five different dining options. It’s hard to find space on a riverboat for alternative dining venues, but Scenic makes the most of its small size. In addition to the main restaurant, Scenic offers specialty Italian dining in Portobellos, exclusive dining for upper-category passengers with Table La Rive in one corner of the dining room, casual dining in the lounge with the River Cafe and a limited room-service menu that includes all-day dining for everyone and full breakfast service for upper-level cabins. Sometimes there’s even an on-deck barbecue on sunny days.
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