This was my second river cruise, with both being on Scenic. So my only basis for comparison is ocean cruises, of which I've had many. So some of my comments may be due to the nature of the product and its differences from ocean ... Read More
This was my second river cruise, with both being on Scenic. So my only basis for comparison is ocean cruises, of which I've had many. So some of my comments may be due to the nature of the product and its differences from ocean cruises.
Embarkation. Even though we made our own air arrangements, Scenic met us at the airport and whisked us to the ship. There were about a dozen of us, and we were taken straight to the ship in Budapest, where the prior passengers were still disembarking. They made us comfortable in the lounge, and prioritized the cleaning of our cabins, so we were able to access them quite early. This gave us the opportunity to explore Budapest a bit on our own, after a light but satisfying lunch in the River Cafe. The location of the ship--directly across from the Parliament Building--made this exploration very easy. In other words, the embarkation experience was perfect.
Crew. Simply outstanding. The Hotel Director, Cruise Director, and Food & Beverage Manager were very much present, and infused the entire ship with a sense of joy. The waiters and room attendants seemed to share this sense, and made the entire experience an enjoyable one. They all handled a major glitch (see below) well. I have to say, though, that I don't get the point of the butler. Ours introduced himself the first day and was never seen again until our final evening in Portabello (the specialty restaurant), where he waited table. Much less effectively than the regular waiters, but I suppose that's to be expected. When we tried to call him for one thing, his line was busy and did not go to voicemail. We flagged down our room attendant, who happily took care of that and all other room-related matters the whole time. The people next to us had an incident where their laundry came back wet. He said he'd take care of it, but never did. They wound up hanging things around their room to dry.
Food. Inconsistent. Breakfasts were wonderful, with an omelet station, plenty of buffet choices, and a galley menu of hot dishes made to order. Lunch was the weak spot, with little variety on the buffet and sometimes unappealing galley choices. Though there was a superb vegetarian goulash one day, and the soups were generally very good. Dinners were a mixed bag. A few were outstanding. The rest not so much. Evening menu main courses usually included a meat or poultry, a fish dish, and a vegetarian dish. The vegetarian choices usually depended on cheese for protein. Fish was not their strong suit--most tasted overcooked and dry, though they did nicely with salmon and halibut. They did an excellent job with lamb, and with a seafood dish for the gala dinner toward the end of the cruise.
Whether the food was good or not-so-good, the waiters were outstanding. You couldn't help but enjoy any meal because of them.
Beverages. Alcohol flowed freely, and the choices of included spirits were very good. The wines poured each evening for dinner were usually based on the location of the ship. Some were to my taste, some were not, but the staff bent over backwards to find us wines we would like if we did not care for the featured pour.
Entertainment. The Enrich evening was at Palais Lichtenstein in Vienna--a beautiful setting and a lovely concert. Well done. Sundowners were in the lounge on the ship. Rather a disappointment. Some local acts came on in a few ports, and were interesting and entertaining. The nightly musician, Mark, was a highlight. With an engaging personality, a beautiful singing voice, great piano skills, and a good sense of the crowd for his DJ'ing, he made the evenings come alive. I would take this cruise again just for Mark.
Ship's facilities. Because we were sailing in mid-October, the Sun Deck was rarely an option due to chilly weather, so the lounge tended to become crowded. All the more so because this was definitely a partying group. Because the lounge was really the only viable public space, the ship felt claustrophobic at times. We did use the upper deck for viewing the illuminations in Budapest, or to watch the ship go through the locks, but few people stayed up there for long because of the chill, particularly when the ship was moving.
The gym is tiny, but has a treadmill, elliptical, bike, and rowing machine, as well as a few weights, jammed in. There is a walking track on top deck, but passengers are asked not to use it before 8:00 am, since it is over people's cabins. The salt room is supposed to be good for respiratory and skin issues, but was rarely used. I did try to use it, but found the lounges uncomfortable and the strange lighting triggered a migraine.
Excursions. These were generally good to outstanding. Most were not over-populated, so thus not obnoxious. Much depended on luck of the draw in terms of guides. All but one of my guides were outstanding, peppering their talks with stories and observations that made the sites come alive.
Communication. This is Scenic's weak spot. Advance information about excursions is sparse, so we found ourselves trying to make plans with very little knowledge about what the excursions would really include. This was particularly frustrating for those who had some time in the embarkation city beforehand, as they didn't know what to leave for the excursion there and what to do because it wouldn't be included. Other than that, in the end the scarcity of information was not a problem, because the cruise director, JJ, did an excellent job of laying out onboard what the tours would be like, and was very flexible in letting people switch. In the end, I don't think anyone was shut out of a tour they wanted.
Glitch. Of course there was a glitch. Not water levels this time. Instead, an unusually wide cargo vessel further along in the river had an accident and destroyed its propeller. The result was that it blocked the river, backing up river boats on either side that could not get past it. We were bound for Regensburg when this happened. So it became questionable how and whether we would get there, as Scenic was being told that it could be as long as a week before it could be moved. So, while JJ and his team struggled to find arrangements for us without knowing where we would wind up, we wandered. We tied up once in front of a manufacturing plant of some kind, and I watched during breakfast as someone who looked like a local official appeared to be ordering us out of there. Sure enough, minutes later the gangplank was taken back up and off we went again, in search of a place to dock. We spent much of one night and the next morning sailing backwards (an interesting challenge for Captain and crew) toward Passau, the last port we'd left.
Indeed, we wound up docking back in the Passau region, in the place where we had last docked. We were then bussed to our Regensburg-based excursions. Because of the increased bus riding times (in fact, the Regensburg walking tour was supposed to have been a step-off-the-ship-and-you're-there tour), a lot of passengers opted to stay on the ship. In fact, the bus time was, at 90 minutes, an hour less than JJ had estimated. We had a very small group with a plethora of guides, and a wonderful day.
The disappointment from all of this was that we missed Nuremberg, which we were supposed to tour after disembarkation there. But we had to disembark from Passau instead. Oddly, though, not a word was said about the missing Nuremberg tour. We were left to realize on our own that this would not happen.
Post-cruise. We had taken Scenic's post-cruise extension to Prague, and were glad we did. We were bussed to the Marriott, which was in a great location within walking distance to the Old City, the Lesser City, and the New City. The hotel was standard Marriott, though with lots of noisy construction going on. Fortunately, the noise ended in the evening, so we only got about an hour of it each evening, though it did accompany breakfast a couple of days. The evening we arrived, we were taken for an orientation walk around the neighborhood. The next morning was an excellent walking tour, and then the guides made themselves available that afternoon and the next day to help us plan our free time.
Our guide in Prague was superb, with great stories and histories to share. She also was good with restaurant recommendations and recommendations for shops for particular purposes. My only complaint was that the group was much too large--nearly 40 people per guide--so movement was hampered. We could hear well, though, thanks to walkie-talkies, and the guide was very skillful in making sure we were all there. Read Less