I had researched long and hard for a couple of years, since our last ocean cruise in 2008 (Cherry Blossom Cruise) about European river cruises. Considering lines, ships, itineraries, inclusions and extensions that we wanted to make. Taking into account all of the above decided on booking Scenic Tours Amsterdam to Bucharest, Black Sea and Turkey. 38 days in total, 21 days on board the Scenic Crystal. We booked through my travel agent and then Scenic tours, both our airline tickets with Singapore Airlines ( entitled to only pay taxes with early bird offer and free stop over in Singapore on our return) and our accommodation at Amsterdam at the Doubletree.
My husband and I are in our late 40's, and traveled with my parents (mid 70's). We booked the Royal Panoramic Suite on the Danube deck (had paid a $500 fee to be informed when bookings opened to secure this cabin as there are only 2 of them, 20 months in advance of cruise date). Because this was our first time in Europe, I was happy to have transfers, etc all taken care of by Scenic. We arrived 7.20am on Saturday and had a private car meet us and transfer us to the Doubletree with a little orientation tour on the way into town from the airport. Arrived at Doubletree and we were able to check into our room before 8am, at no extra charge (we did not book it for the night before, as is sometimes suggested), so was very happy with the efficient check in service and the staff were all very courteous during our stay. We had upgraded at the Doubletree, to a King City suite, so had a room on the highest floor looking out over the city and Centraal station. The room was very clean, plenty of room and stocked with plenty of towels and toiletries. The hotel is ideally suited to exploring the city as all the trams run from Centraal Station, and the canal bus has a stop at the station, although it is only a 5-10 minute walk to Dam Square on the flat. The hotel also has bike available for hire (16 euros daily). Would stay here again.
On the day of checkout from the hotel, Scenic had an information desk, luggage store and refreshments available on the first floor of the hotel. The Scenic Crystal docked the day before and there were passengers arriving from the ship waiting for transfers to airport etc, as they finished their cruises, so it was all happening. My husband and I had more exploring of Amsterdam planned, so left our luggage here to be transferred to the ship. We could have been back at 3pm for a bus transfer to the Crystal, or make our own way to the ship. After a full day in Amsterdam we arrived at the ship at about 6.30pm. We were welcomed on board by staff, checked in with our passports and given a welcome rose and escorted to our cabin. As the evening meal was being served in the restaurant, we dumped our coats & shopping and headed to the dining room and met up with our other family members.
All the ship's staff was very welcoming and friendly, and there was lots of chatter amongst the passengers of where we had been, where we come from, etc. The ship was clean, with plenty of room for everyone and lots of areas for people to gather in small groups. The staff were helpful in guiding us with directions, until we all got familiar with the ship and routines.
All the staff wore their name tags with their nationality, and there were a lot of introductions all round. Nothing was too much trouble, and it wasn't long before staff were anticipating what you wanted. There is always someone at the reception desk 24 hours (except when doing security rounds overnight for about 10 minutes at a time).
Our cabin was at the rear of the ship, the panoramic suite, and we had no problems with noise, vibrations and/or fumes. In fact on some occasions we were docked when we went to sleep and woke to find that we were either in a different port or underway, and we hadn't heard a thing. The toiletries were fine and plentiful, as was the supply of towels and the linen changes. The linen and towels were of high quality and very luxurious.
The panoramic lounge has many different seats available from couches to lounge chairs, bar stools & seats at tables. There is a library at the rear of the lounge that has many books about ports of call, it also has the coffee& tea making facilities. We always picked up a pot of tea or a hot chocolate here to take to our cabin when going to bed. The bar is toward the front of the lounge and there is a piano, where Josef our musician played during our cruise. THe river cafe is in the lounge and provided early risers breakfast, and light snacks/treats options during the day. Portabellos is an intimate Italian dining experience that is to the fore of the bar area on this level, and it a very pleasant dining experience.
The Crystal dining room is a level down and has plenty of tables of all varying configurations, although pretty close together. Some meals here are table service meals and others are a buffet. There is always some meals you can order from your waiter and they are very happy to accommodate all requests. Drinks are served freely in the dining room and always plenty of cold water available. The food was exceptional, although if you like your meat well done, make sure you tell your waiter this, as they tend to serve their meat on the rarer side of the ledger. The food was always hot and if you want more bread rolls, again just ask.
We dined at the La Rive table and this was a fun night of food and wine, the waiters, Adam & Stan, were so knowledgeable about the wines and the chef came out at the end of the meal as well.
Because we were in a royal suite we dined on the Captain's table on the farewell night. The Captain was a very funny guy from Bulgaria and was more than happy to talk anywhere, anytime. When you are up on deck, you are always welcomed to go into the wheelhouse and ask questions, and even steer the ship. I had a small turn going through the Iron Gates, but got so nervous I was going to stuff up, handed the controls back.
The gym was limited, with a treadmill, bike, cross trainer, and is used mostly by the Captain!! There are towels, water and apples in the gym. The electric bikes are available for use whenever in port and they are great. So easy to use, just make sure you turn the assist off when negotiating tight corners!!
The wellness centre has and area for hair dressing and then an inner room for beauty and massage. Both the stylist and therapist here were excellent. I recommend a massage, and their rates are very reasonable compared to some ships. The platinum facial was pure heaven and included everything except a back massage!
There was a shop on board that had branded clothing of Scenic, and some jewelry & watches for purchase.
Room service was available in our suite and we had breakfast in the room a few times when we had to be up to buses early. The food was hot and huge serves, and always at the time requested. You could also order and early morning tea/coffee and this too was a little indulgent.
Service was always with a smile and a little chat, with small touches like having bottled water at reception as you leave for excursions and having warm face washers and refreshing drinks to welcome you back on board. After one very wet excursion we were met with umbrellas to protect us up the gangway and warm face washers & towels after a very wet bike ride.
The port excursions were well organised and there was a talk the day previous to explain everyone's options, and lay out the schedules for buses etc. Our cruise director, Marin, was always available and easy going, and made every attempt to meet your requests.
Along the cruise there were entertainers that came on board, usually traditional dancers & musicians of the relevant country. Otherwise the ship's musician, Josef, provided the musical entertainment.
On the day of disembarkation, we were given tags for our luggage and had to have them out the front of our cabins by 8am. It is all hands on deck, as everyone assists with the unloading of luggage.
Some of the excursions we went on:
It was wet, so a little restricted, but thoroughly enjoyed the windmills and the reserve in general. Tip: stop at the shops along the way, have much more variety than those at the main entrance. Photo revenue goes to continue the preservation of the buildings in the reserve.
Guide was very poor. We ended up leaving him and joining another of our groups once we found out where to board our boat. Went back to the cathedral in our free time and climbed the 509 stairs to the top, the only ones on board to do so. Such a lovely city. Walked along the Hohenzollernbrucke rail bridge that is covered in masses of padlocks of couples declaring their love for each other and then casting the keys to their locks into the river Rhine. Loved it.
We headed from Passau to Cesky Krumlov for the day. Others went to Salzburg, and some others went to the salt mines. My mother stayed in Passau and went on a walking tour of the city (it was flooded 4 days later). Cesky Krumlov took about 1 1/2 hours via bus, travelling through Czech countryside, to a very impressive town with a very impressive castle. We spent the day exploring and had lunch, returning via bus to Linz, where we re-boarded the Crystal. Had tea and then some exploring of the city centre of Linz before setting off at about 11.30pm.
What a thoroughly delightful city. We arrived on the Scenic Crystal at about 10.30pm and cruised up and down the river so we could all take photos of all these incredible sights lit up at night. It really was very magical. We docked opposite parliament house. This city has many places to visit. We went on a city tour with the Cave Hospital, that was very interesting, and saw many beautiful buildings and had more opportunities outside as it wasn't raining!! We could see the water levels rising whilst docked here. This was where all but 30 of us left the cruise and headed off in many directions, and a bunch of newbies arrived for the next 7 days into Eastern Europe.
We walked to the Fisherman's Bastion, parliament, Shoes by the Danube, St Stephan's Bascilica, the Hungarian markets, the Gellert Baths, the Church in the Cave, and many other places along the river. The lighting engineer of Budapest has the most important job, as this city is so wonderfully lit at night. Need more time here.
Bucharest was the beginning of our land component of our Black Sea - Turkey extension. It was a relative unknown city, compared to the other cities we had visited. Communist architecture evident everywhere, but many gems to be found. The people's parliament is almost hideous in it's over sized grandeur, very similar to the Nazi architectural style of intimidation by size. There is some humour in Bucharest. A base of an old monument to Lenin (knocked down during the overthrow of the communist government) now has students place another monument there from time to time. It was a worm whilst we were there. We stayed at the JW Marriott, that was very nice and comfortable, although a little way out of town (a good 20-30 minute walk). Here is where the service industry is trying hard, but tourists, especially Western tourists are all very new to them. Not many smiles, no eye contact, although not that they weren't doing their job, it's just that they were often having loud discussions/disagreements with other staff in front of guests, and that sort of thing. I'm sure after a few more years they will have it all down pat.
I recommend that you research what you want to see before you get here, as there is so much to see. We took an excursion to see the Snagov Lake and Monastery, which is about 90 minutes from Bucharest. It was lovely and similar to the Bulgarian style of church, with al frescoes painted all over the interior. There is only one toilet on the monastery island. It was a lovely preserved part of Romanian life.
The shopping in Bucharest is good, with prices being the cheapest in Europe I had seen so far, with the quality not being compromised. I did enjoy our visit.
The Dolmabahce palace was beautiful, although Scenic used their own guides for the tour it was difficult to hear what they were saying with a larger group of 63 people. (the headsets are only used whilst on the spaceships). You are not allowed to take photos, the architecture inside is very impressive and beautiful. The site is perfect right beside the Bosphorous, and the gardens are equally magnificent.
The mosque, underground cistern, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi palace were all very impressive. The Bosphorous cruise was a standout, as Scenic book the whole ship out so there is plenty of room to roam around and see everything in the 1 and a half hours spent on the water.
The guides did a great job as we were there at the same time that Taksim Square was the centre of some riots, and they managed to show us everything around these disputes, and keep us out of harm's way.
Such an incredible feat of engineering from so long ago. Fascinating.
Enjoyed the knowledge of the guides and the beauty and scale of the mosque.
This was a little dull, found the sales people a little rude, for the first time on my trip. Not many people around, maybe due to the Taksim Square riots.
So much history. Love Ataturks' vision in making this a museum. Again knowledgeable guides.
The Bosphorous cruise was a standout, as Scenic booked the whole ship out so there is plenty of room to roam around and see everything in the 1 and a half hours spent on the water, with all areas of interest pointed out to you by the guides.
Needed a little more time here, but that was not to be helped as our hotel was within the area locked down at 4pm around Taksim Square so we had to be back within a time frame that was not the usual.
Loved the presentation and the smells, although they sell a bit more than spices here.
In conclusion, we had a great trip, in some difficult circumstances, although the staff never let on to the guests the extra work this caused them all. The ship was perfect, such a lovely indulgence. I did enjoy the direction we went (Amsterdam to Bucharest) but would have loved to have had the land content first and then lived it up in the boat not needing to go back to living out of a suitcase. But this is nit picking. The staff are the Crystal's best asset, and I felt privileged to have been part of their family for 21 days.
Would recommend Scenic Tours to everyone, they were very helpful and all went very smoothly, and would definitely tour with them again.