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- Europe river cruises for Aussies, Brits, North Americans
- Tours, tips and drinks (and mini-bar) are all-inclusive
- Full-size balconies features in 82 percent of cabins
- Butler service for all guests
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Scenic's European river cruises are nearly all-inclusive trips, with fares covering meals, gratuities and shore excursions. The line also throws in unlimited drinks (including those from the stateroom minibars) and a sliding scale of butler service for all passengers in Europe. Additionally, bicycles are provided for use between certain points on the rivers; a majority of these bikes have electric motors to make the pedaling easier.
Scenic calls its vessels "space ships" to emphasize a higher-than-usual space ratio. Offering an upscale river cruise experience in contemporary surroundings (think W Hotels crossed with a nice chain hotel), a cruise on Scenic is otherwise quite traditional in terms of dining, entertainment and shore adventures.
Evening meals are served in two open-seating dining venues: the main dining room and a much smaller Italian alternative restaurant, Portobello's. Occasionally, a barbecue or picnic-fare lunch will be served on the sun deck. A new dining option was added in 2013: Table La Rive is a six-course tasting menu served with wine pairing. This seating takes place in a curtained-off section of the main dining room. All menu selections include regional cuisine, with some lunches or dinners devoted to the local country.
The River Cafe serves sweet and savory nibbles all day; options include hot and cold breakfast items, wraps, sandwiches, French fries and patisserie, gelato (Italian ice cream) and the occasional high tea in the lounge. A Starbucks-like coffee machine with a variety of baked sweets is in the otherwise-traditional lounge. As mentioned, all drinks are included in the cruise fares.
Each of Scenic's ships has two lounges. Panorama Lounge and Bar offers after-dinner music and dancing and is the venue for the daily port talk. Some evenings, Scenic Cruises brings aboard performers who showcase local culture. Entertainment may include a gypsy troupe, a classical musical recital or a group of traditional Bavarian performers. The other area for enjoying a drink or snack from the River Cafe is the Riverview Terrace, a covered, open-air teak deck at the bow of the ship. This area, seating about 20, is one deck below the ship-length open Sun Deck. The top deck features tables, chairs and chaises, most of which are under canopies or umbrellas.
About 84 percent of cabins have true balconies with seating for two -- and all ships except Tsar have been retrofitted to include "Sun Lounge" balconies (in essence, retractable glass windows that fold out to open the cabins to some fresh air). All accommodations have flat-screen televisions, bathrobes and slippers. Scenic's bathrooms, larger than average in most cabin categories, have fun lighting; you can choose a changing spectrum of colored shower lights.
English-speaking local guides lead shore excursions, which are also included in fares.
Innovative GPS-activated headsets, called Scenic Tailormade, allow passengers to hear the commentary or to choose any of dozens of pre-recorded tours as they walk or cycle through the towns they visit. The Tailromade also has a screen that shows both a map of the route and photos of the specific sights being discussed. Excursion options include ScenicEnrich, which focuses on cultural experiences (live classical music and ballet performances in a Viennese Palace, for instance), and the more typical ScenicFreeChoice (multiple tour options in a single port).
Founded in 1987 by Australian Glen Moroney, parent company Scenic (then known as Scenic Tours) began by offering coach trips to the Australian coast, originally aimed at Melbourne's senior citizen homes. Since then, the company has grown to include theater and special event tours and has expanded its operations to Norfolk Island, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, South America, South Africa and China. More North Americans than Australians now take the land tours Down Under.
In 2007, Scenic opened offices in United Kingdom and Canada, eventually coming to the U.S. The company's inaugural river cruise season followed in 2008 with the launch of its first riverboat, Scenic Sapphire. The river cruise division has enjoyed rapid growth; today, Scenic Cruises operates nine nearly identical river ships. Two more are to be launched in the spring of 2015. With this new business shift, in 2014 founder and managing director Moroney moved himself and his European headquarters to Switzerland.
Scenic Sapphire, the line's first purpose-built riverboat, was launched in 2008. Since then, eight other 169-passenger Europe-based ships -- each with 84 outside cabins -- have debuted. These include Scenic Gem, Scenic Jewel, Scenic Crystal, Scenic Pearl, Scenic Diamond, Scenic Ruby, Scenic Jade and Scenic Emerald.
In 2012, the line added its first Russia-based riverboat, Scenic Tsar. This ship, carrying only 112 passengers, is not part of the "space ship" series of vessels, but it was significantly updated and refurbished before its launch.
A subsidiary offering less-expensive, less-inclusive cruises on two new ships was launched in 2014 as Emerald Cruises.
Scenic attracts a well-traveled, somewhat affluent crowd of passengers with an average age of 68. The company markets its cruises only in English-speaking countries; about 40 percent of a ship's typical passenger complement is Australian, 25 percent is from the U.K., 25 percent from Canada and 10 percent from the U.S. According to the line, the longer itineraries carry a majority of Australian passengers, and the short itineraries feature a majority of Brits and North Americans.
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