Scenic Ruby Cruise Review by Scotken: 5 Stars? Not by Ocean Cruise Standards.
5 Stars? Not by Ocean Cruise Standards.
My wife and I are experienced travellers and have been on 17 Ocean Cruises mainly at the 4 or 5 star luxury end of the market. We had decided to try a river cruise, taking a seven night cruise from Budapest to Nuremberg sailing up the Danube River with Scenic Cruises who promote themselves as offering “The Ultimate river cruise experience”. Originally we were to be on the Scenic Diamond but a couple of weeks before departure it was changed to the Ruby, apparently due to low water levels in the river.
Pre-cruise didn’t get off to a great start as little information is provided on ship port timings or schedules for tours nor how long they lasted. I like to organise my days and know what ‘free’ time I’m likely to have in port or while cruising. Also despite complaints we were given outward flight schedules with a transfer time of only 40 minutes in Amsterdam. We made it, as our flight was on time, but it was a rush and somewhat stressful. Not More how you would wish to start your holiday.
Transfer at Budapest was disappointing and we had to wait over an hour before the bus arrived to transfer us to the boat. No information was given for the delay although after about 40 mins. I asked and was told that some people’s luggage had gone missing. After continuing to wait I asked why the twenty or so people waiting could not be sent to the ship and the others transferred later, once they had clarified the position on their luggage. This eventually was what happened and we arrived at the boat over an hour late at around 18.30. A buffet dinner was already underway and we were told that after check-in could we go straight to the buffet as it was closing at 19.00! They offered to continue it until 19.15 as we had arrived late!! Some people who arrived later than us after the buffet had closed were told that they could get something off the room-service menu. After complaining they were offered the A la carte menu in the dining room.
This lack of organisation and customer service is one of my main complaints about the cruise. And the safety drill the next day on deck was equally disorganised and chaotic with no explanation given of how it was to operate, life- jackets being handed out in a random fashion to guests and muster stations unclear. My wife complained that her life- jacket was not complete (the whistle was missing) but with no apparent interest.
And it did not finish there. Suite and Danube Deck customers (including my wife and I) were meant to have a special dinner known as Table la Rive. When no information was available we asked about it at Reception. They referred us to the restaurant manager who explained that it wasn’t possible to offer it even although it is highlighted in the brochure and in turn referred us to the Cruise Director. The Cruise Director again explained something about logistics and numbers on the Danube Deck and why they could not offer it. I asked why we hadn’t been informed, with no adequate response and lodged a formal complaint. I found that I was not the only one to do so.
As it happened, a couple of days later the boat’s Hotel Manager (who had been on a training course?) arrived and we along with other Danube Deck customers were offered our Table la Rive dining experience. And to be fair it was a 7 course wonderful dinner matched with great and complementary wines. But why had there been all the hassle?
In general the ship was more spacious that I had expected, the staff were helpful and friendly and the on-shore tours better organised than other elements of the cruise. The GPS/touring devices provided were very good and there was an excellent guide book provided in each cabin. The Captain was reasonably openly available although I would have liked a bit more information on the boat’s operation such as where we were and when we were going through locks or past other points of interest. Cabins were smallish but perfectly adequate and our butler and steward were very good and helpful. Towels in the bathroom were not very big and not very luxurious.
Some staff training is needed on the boat’s operation as I twice asked reception about boat specifics and they did not know. One was the cruising speed, to be told about 15-20km/hour. We were, I understand, doing about 7knotts. Cyclists on the towpath could overtake us!
The Cruise Director was good, approachable and helpful and seemed the best organised of the staff. His organisation of tours was very good and the local guides used were also good.
Dinner was generally a big disappointment. The breakfast buffet was fine as was the lunch buffet or alternative light lunch at the River Café. However there were too many dinner buffets and the overall quality of the food was good but no better than that. The wines offered were a bit restricted in choice unless you specifically asked for something different, albeit there was no restriction on quantity. When it was table service there was limited choice, too few waiting staff and service was slow. On one occasion at our table a course was missed and then served incorrectly. This lack of waiting staff was also apparent in the bar/lounge when busy. The dining room with its low roof was also noisy.
The bar/lounge is the main sitting/meeting/entertaining area and when busy seating was at a premium including using the River Café area which was behind and to the side of the bar with therefore restricted viewing. As mentioned previously, when busy, the bar service was slow.
The plus points of the cruise were its all-inclusive nature (I had no on-board spend, although I did tip individually as I felt justified), the serene nature of the cruising, no long queues to disembark etc., the scenery and the ports of call. Also as there are only around 160 guests it tends to be friendly but not obtrusive or overpowering. Wi-Fi is free and the TV channels are perfectly adequate with fairly good signal on our itinerary. I even managed to watch some of the World Cup games, albeit with German commentary.
In summation we thoroughly enjoyed our cruise but would not regard it as 5 stars nor as the “Ultimate” experience (although I’ve never been on another river cruise) and certainly in luxury and value not as highly as a similar level ocean cruise (e.g. Regent which is also all-inclusive). I also think they need to improve the pre-cruise itinerary and tour information and also improve on-board communications and customer service.
Would we go again? Not sure, but never say never. Less
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