A luxury option on the Irrawaddy River of Myanmar (Burma), Scenic Aura is a 44-passenger ship with 22 cabins, called suites (although most are not true suites with two separate rooms). On the cruise, expert, English-speaking river guides lead excursions to remote villages, monasteries and temples. The multiple onshore tours and insightful enrichment programs offer passengers meaningful opportunities to delve deep into the past and present of Myanmar. Onboard entertainment further explores the traditions, history, cuisine and culture of the region.
From the shore excursions and the luxury ship's detailed design to its high-touch service and cuisine, everything about the Scenic Aura is imbued with Myanmar authenticity. All the chic suites have balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows framing Irrawaddy River views, with tasteful, comfortable furnishings and personal butler service. Most of Scenic Aura's cabins are larger than those on Scenic European river ships. Aura's pool is a good size and surrounded by lounge seating.
Scenic Aura staff–passenger ratio is nearly 1:1. This is because Scenic Aura is a smaller ship compared to Scenic's European river cruise ships, where the passenger-to-crew ratio is generally 1:3. The Aura crew's genuine desire to make passengers comfortable, enjoy and embrace their country is heartfelt. Trips on the Irrawaddy can be very humid or hot depending upon the month you cruise, so it's refreshing to receive a thirst-quenching beverage and cool face cloth after a walking tour. How about "sleepy tea" before bedtime delivered to your cabin? A book recommendation from the ship's library that further answers questions you posed on the excursion? They will think of what you want before you do.
Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours recommends that passengers have a "good level of fitness" and be in "good physical condition" in order to fully enjoy the excursions, which usually require a fair amount of walking. There are no docks along the sandy, and sometimes steep, shoreline of the Irrawaddy River. With staff standing by to assist if needed, passengers disembark the ship by walking on sturdy, custom-built platforms stretching from the ship's deck to the riverbank. Expect several, more than 100-step stair climbs to hilltop Buddhist temples; rides on local transportation such as small boats (called sampans), horse-drawn carriages and tuk-tuks; and walks through villages along dirt streets lined with traditional thatch-roofed homes, workshops and stupas.
While many river cruise operators have pulled out of Myanmar due to recent political events, Scenic is committed to continuing its Irrawaddy River cruises. Built in Yangon, Scenic Aura was designed specifically for cruising the Irrawaddy River's shallow waters. Launched in 2016, nearly 100 percent of Aura's crew consists of locals. Scenic has developed strong, grassroots supportive relationships with the region's riverfront communities. These things and more, account for how the company consistently delivers a magical cruise experience in Myanmar.
Scenic Aura passengers are adventurous, curious, intelligent, well-off and well-traveled. The majority are from Australia and the rest come from the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. The average age of passengers skews toward 50-plus. That said, on our cruise, there were some couples from Australia in their mid-40s and two single women in their 30s who booked Scenic for the first time.
Couples predominate, although there were four women traveling solo on a recent cruise. Several passengers book as many as two Scenic cruises a year, and many have traveled with the company elsewhere.
Scenic puts passengers on the different itineraries all together on the ship at the same time. While people tended to stick to their groups during dinner, all passengers mingled afterward during drinks in the lounge and during the day on the Sun Deck.
Overall, the dress code onboard and ashore is relaxed and casual.
The tropical climate of Myanmar and engrained Buddhist religious beliefs dictate daytime touring attire. Shore excursions often involve a lot of walking, sometimes over uneven terrain, so wear comfortable, sensible shoes. It's hot and mostly sunny. Loose-fitting clothing ensures maximum comfort. Bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
Many excursions include visits to Buddhist temples with lots of stairs. Temple access requires wearing modest dress and removal of shoes and socks. Men wear short-sleeved shirts to cover their shoulders and long, comfortable pants. Women also must cover their shoulders as well as their legs to below the knee. A large scarf is a wardrobe essential because it not only fulfills temple visit requirements but easily accessorizes onboard outfits.
Scenic Aura onboard attire is tasteful casual. Generally, passengers wear a swimsuit cover-up or the robe provided in the cabin to and from the pool and spa. For dinner, men wear collared shirts and slacks. Jackets aren't required, but they're far from taboo. Women dress for dinner in slacks, skirt and blouse ensembles. Fashionable flats and interesting, easy-to-pack accessories transform the same little black dress into a different frock every night.
Virtually everything onboard and on shore is included in the tour price: meals, all alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, snacks, excursions, entertainment offerings, enrichment programs, in-room movies and unlimited Wi-Fi. The only excursion that is not included is the Balloons Over Bagan balloon ride at dawn (approximately $325) that must be booked in advance.
Tips for the crew onboard, the cruise director and river guides, as well as hotel porters, are already covered. Airport transfers and excursion transportation, including coaches, small boats, horse carriages, trishaws and tuk-tuks and their drivers' tips, are included.
The only things that could appear on your Aura bill at checkout will be spa treatments, some laundry services and personal purchases from the ship's shop.
We are in awe of the Aura. Wonderful small river boat.