Pre Cruise: We flew KLM to Amsterdam and stayed 3 extra nights at the Hilton by Doubletree, booked on our own not through the cruise line. KLM was by far the best economy carrier we have used to Europe from Toronto. We took the train from Schipol Plaza to Central Station and walked next door to the hotel, 7 or 8 minutes with the luggage. We had a room facing the water and therefore the rail tracks and the trains are very frequent. I would suggest an upgrade to the city view for a more restful sleep. Beds were comfortable, room well appointed and clean. Food in the dining room was excellent both at breakfast and we had one dinner there. Staff were all very friendly, helpful and accommodating. There is a Starbucks at one end of the lobby closest to the train station. I would certainly stay there again. Amsterdam was a wonderful city to walk around and we did a tremendous amount of walking. Book tickets online in advance for the Anne Frank house.
Cruise: Amsterdam to Budapest, 14 nights along the Rhine Canal, Rhine, Main, Main Danube Canal and Danube Rivers.
Embarkation Day: Scenic Tours has a day room(s) at the hotel on embarkation day from about 9 in the morning. There is coffee and snacks and they will store your luggage. These rooms are used by those embarking and those disembarking. Buses take the luggage to the ship around 1 and then the passengers around 2:30. The ship is only a 5 minute walk from the hotel and if I did it again, I would not wait around at the hotel, I would just go directly to the ship mid day. Embarkation was quick and efficient. The Captain greeted us as we embarked the Scenic Emerald and he was always there to welcome you back on board at all the ports. The most visible and personable Captain I have ever had on any ocean or river cruise.
Ship Comments: Lounge areas are spacious and open although there was never enough seating for the port talks or entertainment times. I hope that when they add the River Cafe for next year, that they don't take away any seating. We were on the lowest deck and the room, while small, was very compact and efficient with plenty of storage. Suitcases do go under the bed. Bathroom nicely appointed, great shower but bring your own shampoo. The L'Occitaine shampoo provided was not very good, at least in my opinion. The beds were of the European style, that is long and narrow but very comfortable. We asked for top sheets as I find the comforter too warm at night.
There was a great deal of bumping and grinding going through the locks during the night. Some nights it woke you up but not all the time. I had previously travelled on an AMA Waterways ship and did not experience this same noise level so not sure if it was because we were on the lowest deck this time or whether the Scenic ship is a bit wider.
The dining room was also very open and airy but very noisy at dinner times. (no different than any of these river cruise ships) Tables of 2 to 10, open seating. It doesn't matter where you sit you have a view of the both sides of the river (unless docked of course) except perhaps if you are in the tables in the corner. We love the lounge at the front of the ship that turns into Portobellos at night as well as the outside lounge at the front, although quite chilly on our cruise to sit out. Dinner is fixed time generally at 7pm. Some days earlier/later depending upon the tour schedule.
As with all river cruises, the open deck on top has to be closed for about 5 days due to the low bridges, however, there is still an outside sitting area available. Take advantage of the upper deck during the first several days after you leave Amsterdam before they close it. It opens up again on the Danube.
Food and Entertainment: Although the food was for the most part very good, the menu items were quite different to the N. American palate. Some strange choices I must say. However, there was always enough food and you could rely on the standard fare of Chicken, Steak, Salmon or Hamburgers if the other menu items did not appeal. Lunches were better than dinners in my opinion with always something being carved. The special Hungarian night I found to be excellent and the German night was pretty good as well. I found the French night menu a bit strange. Dinner at Portobellos was excellent as well although not items one would expect on a typical Italian menu. Wine and beer was free flowing at lunch and dinner and the white wines were quite good for the most part (didn't try the red wines). The desert selection was not the best, the cakes were a bit dry but the ice cream seemed to always be a hit. The strangest thing perhaps was the lack of coffee/tea being served at dinner. It was almost an imposition to ask for coffee after the meal.
There was a piano player onboard who played every day and night in the lounge and he varied his music to suit the crowd. 70% of the guests were Australian and they love to party and dance. Outside entertainment was brought in on several occasions; a zither player, Oom Pah Pah band, Hungarian dancers, there was a glass blowing demonstration, crew show etc. Everything was very good. We were very fortunate that there was a professional piano player onboard as a guest and he did a concert one night for the rest of the guests and quite often played while the regular piano player was taking a break.
Staff: The Cruise Director Werney was very enthusiastic, tried to get everyone in an upbeat and positive mood all the time. He was well organized and did a fantastic job. The staff, for the most part, were very pleasant, friendly, accommodating and efficient. The Captain was always around, personable, visible and seemed to care that his guests were being taken care of. Many of the staff have to handle different tasks on a regular basis. Everyone hauls luggage including the piano player. Most of the staff take out the trash on a regular basis. The bus drivers (Scenic had four buses on the second half of the cruise that were dedicated to our ship) were excellent and all the local tour guides in each of the towns/cities did an outstanding job. They were very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their towns.
Tours/Excursions: Every day was jam packed with activity from 8 in the morning until bedtime. If you like structure, this is for you. If you like to do things on your own with lots of down time, river cruising may not be for you. Everything was well organized and there were no issues that I was aware of. Sometimes we were docked right in the town where you could just walk off the ship, other times we had to be bused to the city center. We were however, expecting this no not an issue. The city tours were excellent, the walking tours also good. We did Salzburg (2.5 hrs. Each way on a bus) and worth every minute, as well as Bratislava, Slovakia (1 hrs. By bus each way). The only disappointment perhaps was that we were in Bamberg on a Sunday when absolutely nothing but the odd coffee shop was open for business and we had quite a bit of free time. All the Optional tours were already included in the price so no extra cost. The concert in Vienna was outstanding, very enjoyable location and professional performance. The Village Life excursion was terrific. We chose the winery tour and the owner was so passionate about his family business, he loved to talk about all the details and the BBQ and entertainment that evening was wonderful. A fantastic night. Also loved the night sail up and down the river in Budapest.
Disembarkation: Again, very efficiently handled. The day before everyone is given colour coded luggage tags, the bags are to be out by 7am and they are placed in colour grouping depending on where you are going: i.e. to the Marriot Hotel, to the airport directly, on the post cruise excursion to Prague, independent transfers etc. Everyone had to be off the ship by 9:30. If you had a later flight, you could go to the Marriott and have the use of the luggage storage and use of the day room until time to go to the airport.
Post Cruise: We stayed one extra night in Budapest at the Starlight Suiten hotel situated near St. Stephens Basilica, close to the river, Vaci St. And Andrassy Ave. Two room suite with large rooms and bathroom with tub and shower. Microwave and fridge in the sitting area, two televisions. Highly recommend. Staff at the hotel were great. Taxi to the hotel organized by the Scenic reception desk, hotel organized the taxi to the airport. Lots of walking done again in Budapest. Would recommend at least 2 extra nights. Again, flights home via KLM were great although not impressed with the" free for all" boarding of the aircraft rather than boarding by row number.
Overall Impression: Wonderful way to see central Europe, very hectic schedule. Scenic Tours lived up to our expectations for the most part although we were somewhat disappointed in the food. We are not big drinkers so did not fully partake of the free flowing wine and beer. The excursions were excellent and well organized. We would travel again with Scenic and would recommend to others. 70% Australian, 20% Canadian, 10% other. Average age 65-70 (a guess). Age range 40 to 85.