We booked our river cruise with Scenic Tours travelling from Amsterdam to Budapest from the beginning of June 2013. We had booked in the middle of 2012 so we were really looking forward to the whole experience. As reasonably seasoned ocean cruisers we knew that river cruising would be different but we expected from the Scenic Tours advertising that a high standard of life on board would be expected, and that the smaller sizes of ship would lead to smaller groups. The day before we left home we got an email saying that although we were booked on the Scenic Jewel it would no longer be possible to board this ship and we would be transferred to the Scenic Ruby in the same cabin number. However, as the Ruby was different to the Jewel we would be given a small refund. We landed in Schipol airport and were supposed to be met by a Scenic Tours rep. We couldn't find him and eventually the airport information office ran him to ground. It turned out that he was attempting to pacify another passenger who hadn't been told about the ship change. When we got on board the Ruby the welcome was warm and the offer of a cold drink and a snack accepted with alacrity. The Tour Director was helpful and knowledgeable but explained that as the waters on the Rhine and Danube were in flood we were unable to get under some of the bridges. This might have an adverse effect on parts of our cruise but that he was told that the situation would be rectified in a few days. We stayed overnight in Amsterdam and began cruising on that evening. By day 3 we were in Dusseldorf and were coached to Cologne, about two hours away. After a day's sight-seeing we re-joined the ship and travelled as far as Bonn where we docked. In that evening's briefing by the Tour Director we were told that due to the delay from flooding we could not now walk to the mediaeval castle where dinner was arranged, but would instead be bussed there - a total of four hours there and back. The next day we were supposed to travel to Rudesheim but the river was too dangerous and the ship's captain turned back and moored at Koblenz. by this stage we realised that the cruise was not going to take place even remotely as planned, but the Tour Director still kept insisting that we would visit the places as agreed, not on the ship but would do so by coach. Most of our fellow passengers accepted the situation but as we saw what was happening elsewhere on the river a few became quite upset. It was clear from the reaction of the other river cruise companies that we were one of the few cruise ships still trying to complete their voyage. At one stage we were tied up five abreast with four empty river cruise ships alongside. Their passengers had had their cruise cancelled and given refunds. Scenic Tours did not make this offer. In the event, we got increasingly longer bus trips to see villages and towns for shorter periods of time. Then we changed ships to the Scenic Jewel and tied up in an industrial basin for four days before being bussed on an epic eight hour journey to Scenic Pearl moored in Vienna. The only cruising on this stretch of the river was from Vienna to Budapest. This was not a cruise trip but an extended coach holiday.
As a result of all the ship changing we did get to experience the different levels of service on board three of the Company's vessels. Most of the time the service and helpfulness of the staff were exemplary but on one of the ships the vessel hadn't moved for ten days and the staff were beginning to get fractious - and it showed! Some evening dining was waiter service but for breakfast, lunch, and most evenings the service was mostly on a buffet style, with a somewhat limited choice. However, the specialist dining room, Portobello's, was very good with fine food and wines and excellent service. The cruise was advertised as all-inclusive and while wine was from a selected list I understand that there was a charge made if a different wine was ordered. However, I never experienced that as I thought that the wines available were fair enough. Most of the passengers were Australian (as befits an Australian Tour operator)and many of them did not like the European wines on offer.
The Tour Director stayed with the passengers throughout the various moves and attempted to control the situation as far as he could. He talked to us daily, sometimes twice daily, but was unable to get any information from his Head Office about the future of the cruise. Their attitude seemed to be to keep doing the same thing (putting the passengers on buses) and maybe the flooding situation will improve. In the event we missed out on huge parts of the Rhine and the Danube including some iconic areas like the Rhine Gorge, and Rudesheim, but Scenic Tours just shrugged their metaphorical shoulders and herded the passengers around on buses. We had been on the Rhine before so knew most of the sights so we enjoyed the on-board service and sitting in the sun. Consequently we only took the bus option when either we had to, say when changing ships, or if we really wanted to see an attraction.
I can't say why Scenic Tours decided to press on with a doomed river cruise when the other cruise companies had cancelled. Maybe because the majority of the passengers were Australian and the cost of sending them home would have been too high? If it hadn't been for the buses and the three ship changes we would have had a good holiday.