One of the most welcome trends in river cruising is the chance to be more active and get away from the standard coach-and-walking-tour excursion. We found Scenic to be ahead of the curve with its active options, particularly when it comes to cycling. The ship has a fleet of electric bikes, and employed them in nearly every port as a guided option. (You could also take them out on your own, if you wished.) We found these bike tours among the highlights of our trip. On some excursions, you're given the option to bike one-way and take a coach back (a particularly good setup if you're visiting wineries).
Otherwise, the excursions were mostly walking or coach tours. The quality of guide can vary quite a bit, and there's no easy way to predict whether you'll get a good one or a dud. Buses are not divided by activity level, which means you can find a wide range of mobility in each one.
Scenic holds two events on every river cruise that are special to the line. The Scenic Sundowner takes passengers off the ship to a beautiful locale for canapes and drinks. While these can change, depending on the cruise, our Bordeaux Sundowner took place at Chateau Siaurac, a 17th-century vineyard and home in St. Emilion. There, passengers sampled foie gras, gougere (French cheese puffs) and other appetizers while tasting three of the chateau's wines. As a bonus, you could also tour the home, which has an outstanding collection of Jules Vieillard porcelain; the tablescapes inspired many oohs and aahs.
The second outside event, known as Scenic Enrich, wasn't quite as successful. The setting, Chateau Giscours in Margaux, was certainly equally grand. But the dinner, held banquet style in a room that the chateau uses for weddings, fell flat. Although everyone received plenty of the chateau's wine – and it's hard to beat a 2000 Grand Cru classe Margaux -- the food itself was uninspired; many passengers whispered that they would have eaten better on the ship. Scenic is looking at swapping out a full meal for a classical concert instead for future itineraries, and this will likely be a welcome improvement.
All passengers receive a special GPS system called a Scenic TailorMade device. They are the next generation of the QuietVox systems many other river lines use. The devices function in three ways. First, they work like a QuietVox in that you can turn yours to your guide's channel so you can hear her explanations through your headset and don't need to stand directly next to her (great when you're walking down crowded streets in Europe and your group spreads out). Second, they contain walking tours for select cities, with maps that indicate key attractions and show your position; when you reach the highlighted places, prerecorded commentary begins to play, often with photos of that attraction. Finally, the devices serve as commentary during scenic cruising; as you sail by places of interest, the commentary will come on, explaining what you're looking at. This frees the cruise director from having to narrate and allows people who wish to snooze or read during sailing times to not be bothered by constant explanations on the PA system.
Our main issue with the devices is that they are pretty heavy, particularly when compared to a QuietVox. We found ourselves often leaving it behind because of the bulk, particularly on cycling tours. If you stay close to your guide, you can usually get the gist of things.
Daytime and Nighttime Entertainment
Entertainment on Scenic is a work in progress. The line has added Scenic Culinaire, a series of cooking demonstrations, for sea day enrichment. Several nights per cruise, the ship brings on local performers, with mixed results; a rock band got the joint jumping while a bossa nova singer put everyone to sleep. There's an onboard musician who does his best to keep passengers entertained in the Panorama Lounge; the crowd noticeably perked up, though, when he played DJ music instead of singing himself.
The most heralded addition to Scenic Diamond, added in 2017, is Scenic Culinaire, a series of cooking demonstrations available at no extra charge while the ship is sailing between ports. Located in the dining room (where it's used as an omelet/crepe making station during meals), Scenic Culinaire is essentially a large cooking island, where up to 10 passengers can sit and watch the chef make French dishes like merveilles provencales (beignets) with strawberries and dried apricot jam or coq au vin. There's a TV monitor and eventually the line plans to broadcast the classes into the cabins.
We attended the beignets session. The ship's French chef, Jerome, is fast talking, and we enjoyed watching him at work. At times, though, the experience felt dry. It's not immersive; unlike similar classes we've taken on Uniworld or Viking Ocean where you actually fill a samosa or chop some veggies, you mainly sit there and watch. Two Australian ladies next to us whispered that they would have liked to have tasted some of the more unusual ingredients the chef was using.
That being said, Scenic Culinaire sessions fill up quickly and since they are the primary enrichment activity on the ship during sea days, it's a worthwhile diversion for those who love to cook (and eat -- you do get a sample at the end).
Scenic Diamond has one lounge, although on nice summer nights, a lot of people take after-dinner drinks upstairs to the sun deck where there is also prompt bar service. In general, the level of after-dinner socializing depends on how strenuous the day was and whether or not the specialty restaurants L'Amour and Table La Rive have been open. On the nights when the latter meals took place, we saw a marked increase in congeniality (probably because of the frequent wine pourings!).
Panorama Lounge (Diamond Deck). Scenic Diamond's sole lounge has an uncluttered, modern look with floor-to-ceiling windows; black-and-white carpeting; and blue, gray, brown and orange couches and chairs. In the center of the room is a rectangular bar where passengers can order complimentary cocktails, fancy coffee drinks and other beverages, including a changing roster of cocktails, mocktails and martinis of the day. Order at the bar, or wait for the circulating bar staff to come to you.
Flanking the entrance is an espresso machine (with lattes, hot chocolate and the like) and a tea station with several choices of loose-leaf and fine bagged teas. You can get your own drinks 24/7. Large flat-screen TVs are employed for cruise director presentations, and shelves on the walls and under glass tables house tour guides and other books for onboard perusing. The lounge is where the cruise director will give his or her daily port talks and make any announcements. It's also where people hang out to read, snack, drink, meet for pre- or post-dinner cocktails, or watch the river go by.
Evening entertainment -- performed by both outside acts brought onboard and a resident onboard keyboardist/singer -- is also held in the lounge.
Scenic Diamond's top deck is a fabulous perch during nice weather. The front of the ship has banks of chairs and sofas to sit and watch the sites. Toward the back, you'll find more loungers and picnic-style tables, along with artificial grass. Best of all, bar service on the top deck is fairly quick and efficient.
Added in 2017, the Vitality Pool on the sun deck is more of a whirlpool/hot tub than a real pool to swim in. Still, it's a decent size for the ship, seating six. Bar service on the top deck is prompt, and we saw a few people soaking after a day of touring, glass of Champagne in hand.
Scenic Diamond staff encouraged passengers to take out the e-bikes on their own during port if they wished, and this was one river cruise where we noticed passengers actually taking them up on it. The sheer ease of using the e-bikes -- when you crank the power up to 5 or 6, it's almost like riding a moped -- means that biking is accessible to more people; you don't have to be overly fit to use them. We heard many people exclaim that they would be buying an e-bike when they got home.
The sun deck has a walking path. Walking poles are available in all cabins.
Reception is located midship on the Diamond Deck. There, you can sign up for bike tours, make spa appointments, borrow electrical converters and ask questions. The cruise director also sits there to answer questions and provide handouts on the various destinations. The receptionists can also lend you binoculars or provide toothbrushes, razors and other toiletries you forgot to pack. Across this lobby area, glass cases serve as the "gift shop," holding jewelry, watches, logowear and some local items.
Wi-Fi is available gratis throughout the ship. If you don't bring your own laptop, iPad or other digital device, the in-cabin TVs have Apple computer setups with cordless keyboards and mice. These can be tricky to use; ask reception or your butler if you need assistance.
Complimentary laundry is available within 48 hours on the Sapphire Deck and within 24 hours for suite passengers. The latter also receive pressing service. There are no self-serve laundry facilities.
Part of the 2017 renovation involved an expansion of the spa and beauty salon, as well as the addition of a gym and wellness facility on the bottom deck. There's a check-in desk -- unmanned -- as you walk down the stairs, as well as a table with herbal teas and flavored water. This deck is not accessible by elevator.
Unlike some river ships where the spa is simply a darkened cabin, Scenic Diamond's new facility is larger (two cabins were taken out for it) and more high tech. There's a sofa for you to fill out paperwork, a shower for full body treatments and two tables in case passengers want a couples' massage. We enjoyed the space, although found our massage a bit uncomfy, as the attendant took a decidedly European approach to privacy (as in he didn't turn around when we were undressing and dressing). Spa treatments are not included in the fare, although they are more reasonable than what you'd find in an European hotel or resort. (Our 50-minute massage cost 72 euro, tip inclusive.)
Across the hall from the spa room, the gym will definitely please those who want to stay fit when they travel. It's a little bigger than most fitness rooms you find on river ships, with four aerobic machines and some weights. Light streams in from the windows, making it feel open. Yoga classes are held most days early in the morning on the sun deck.
We're not quite sure what to make of the Breathe Salt Room. While it's truly beautiful -- the walls are lined with bricks made from golden Himalayan salt and there's salt spread on the floor surrounding the room's three loungers -- there's no aromatherapy or steam or other component to the experience. (It's the same temperature as the rest of the ship.). All in all, it seems to take up a lot of space while not adding a lot of tangible benefit. (We were told it was good for allergies and your skin, but we didn't notice anything after our 45 minutes there.) It's also a bit noisy, as it's across the hall from the hairdressing salon.
The same person who does spa services also mans the separate hairdressing salon, which was expanded during the 2017 refurb. The menu is simple: cuts, shampoos and blow outs. Prices range from 17 to 53 euro.
Scenic ships have neither facilities for children nor specific family sailings, but kids 12 and older are welcome onboard. The itineraries would be suitable for older teens interested in culture and history, and the option of bike tours and independent exploration with the Scenic TailorMade devices mean they aren't forced into day after day of walking or bus tours.
* May require additional fees