We travelled on Scenic’s 13 day South of France cruise on the Scenic Sapphire, departing on 29th April 2017. We stayed in a private balcony suite, on the diamond (top) deck. We had previously been on Jewels of Europe cruise with Scenic ... Read More
We travelled on Scenic’s 13 day South of France cruise on the Scenic Sapphire, departing on 29th April 2017. We stayed in a private balcony suite, on the diamond (top) deck. We had previously been on Jewels of Europe cruise with Scenic in 2015, and we loved it, telling all our family and friends how good it was. Before that we had travelled with Scenic to Australia in 2011, and that was also fantastic. So we set off on this latest trip with Scenic with high expectations. Sadly, in some ways we ended up being disappointed.
For those of you who cannot be bothered to read the entire review, you should take note of the following points if you are thinking of booking a river cruise with Scenic:
• Do not book the first cruise of the season: the crew have not yet got their act together.
• When it comes to picking a cabin, as with other things, size matters.
• Daily itineraries can be changed between the time you book and the time you travel, and even after you arrive on board.
What was good:
• The staff, (with one or two exceptions – see later), were very pleasant, friendly, and helpful.
• Staff (normally the more senior ones) who had been with Scenic on previous cruises were good at their jobs. The butler service was excellent.
• Bar service in the lounge was consistently good.
• Excursions were impeccably organised, with excellent, knowledgeable, local guides. The coaches were modern, clean and comfortable. A nice touch was that they always took the scenic (!) routes to destinations. The excursions were well chosen: we visited chateaux, quaint medieval towns and roman ruins. In some cases, the timing of the trips was made to ensure that we got there before the hordes. Walking over the Pont du Gard roman aqueduct, and being the only party there, was wonderful.
• The Scenic Enrich experiences (particularly the private dinner at the Pope’s palace in Avignon) were genuinely memorable.
• The food was generally (but not always) to a high standard. We had a couple of meals that were truly excellent. There was always a wide choice available at every meal.
• With one exception (see later), our room was always cleaned to a high standard.
• The all-inclusive package means that Scenic’s claim that you can leave your wallet at home is true – the only additional costs we incurred were in buying souvenirs.
• As an early booking incentive we were provided with a car to take us to and from the airport in the UK, saving us about £150.
But I have to point out that this was what we had expected, and had paid for!
What was bad:
• There were huge problems in the dining room, particularly at dinner. The waiters were inexperienced and poorly trained. Some had very poor command of English, and so could not understand what customers wanted. One waiter, if he could not understand, would go to another part of the dining room and not return to our table. For the first couple of nights, the sense of panic amongst the serving staff was palpable. Cutlery was often not matched to the food being served. (Have you ever tried to eat something served in a cocktail glass with a soup spoon?).
• The chef apparently had the most wonderful system for managing food orders: no food left the kitchen until every single guest had sat down and placed their order. For the first few days, early arrivers were kept waiting for up to an hour between ordering and being served their first course. On day four we complained to the restaurant manager, who was highly apologetic, and acknowledged the problems. He told us that he had informed Scenic head office about the chaos in the dining room, and had not received any practical help. He also said that he had started to over-rule the chef’s serving system. He sent an excellent bottle of wine to our cabin that evening by way of apology. To be fair, things did improve steadily after that, but even by the second week it was still not up to Scenic’s normal standard. In that second week, a breakfast was made memorable when it took four requests, to two different waiters, over a 10 minute period to obtain a pot of tea. When it eventually came, it had been made with cold water!
• On several occasions, I found dirty plates amongst the clean ones at the breakfast buffet. Twice we were served drinks in chipped glasses.
• On a cruise in France, I had expected that the wines being served with dinner would be excellent. In fact, they were generally fairly average. We did discover that better wines were available if you asked.
• Again in the first week, one particular day’s excursions started earlier than normal, but the time of breakfast in the main dining room was kept the same, making breakfast a real rush. Some of us tried to go into breakfast 15 minutes early but were shooed out by the staff, who then locked the doors to prevent anyone else trying to get in early! Of course, we could have gone for an “Earlybird” breakfast in the lounge if all we wanted was a croissant (but no butter or jam) and a coffee. After complaints, by the second week the timing of breakfast was brought forward if there were early excursions.
• So, as far as the dining room was concerned, it certainly was not a five star operation.
• At each of the two entrances to the dining room a hand sanitiser was placed. They were badly sited at the side of the staircase, so you had to pause on the stairs and lean to the side to use them. We witnessed two people who fell down the last steps when trying to use the sanitisers. For four days, one of the two sanitisers was not working, and on at least one day, neither was working. This was despite reporting it to reception each time.
• When we travelled on the Rhine with Scenic, we had a deluxe balcony suite of 225 square feet. This class of cabin is not available on the Scenic Sapphire in France, so we had a balcony suite of 205 square feet. It was only 10% smaller, but the difference was very noticeable, particularly in the reduced wardrobe space and the cramped bathroom. When sitting on the toilet, the toilet roll holder dug into your arm, and you needed to be a contortionist to wash your feet in the shower.
• The Scenic Sapphire was built in 2008, and is now getting a bit old. Its’ sister ship the Emerald was sold off at the end of last season because we were told it was too expensive to refurbish. The Sapphire had been “refreshed” for this 2017 season, though this did not seem to have included our cabin. The bathroom was “tired”: not all the shower functions worked and the shower door leaked; the chrome was coming off the sink waste cover, and the silvering was beginning to disappear off the bottom edge of the mirror.
• Sometime before we travelled, we were notified by Scenic that one of the Freechoice excursions on one particular day would not be available. We were not unduly bothered about this. Then, when we received our travel documents about a week before travelling, they included a little pamphlet giving the tour itinerary. We glanced at it but did not really read it in detail. That was a mistake. When we subsequently compared it to the itinerary in the brochure at the time we booked in 2016, we found a number of significant changes. Several Freechoice options had been deleted on different days. On some days where the brochure listed an excursion in the morning followed by a Freechoice activity later in the day, the morning’s excursion had been lumped in with the other Freechoice activities so that you could only do one. On day six, all the activities listed in the brochure had been deleted, so the day was spent cruising on the boat. To be fair, some other additional activities had been added in, but overall the choice was reduced. We feel strongly that Scenic should have pointed out the changes to us in advance, rather than via a pamphlet sent with the travel documents. Even when we were on the cruise, further changes were made.
• On our second day we found a dirty plate under our bed. We had not had food in our room. This was the first cruise of the season, so obviously the room preparation was not as thorough as it ought to have been. Thereafter, we had no reason to complain about the housekeeping.
• A final aggravation was being told on the last day that we had to complete Scenic’s customer satisfaction questionnaire before we left the ship, and it had to be done online. We were told it would take no more than 30 to 40 minutes – in fact it took everyone we spoke to about an hour and a half, which is a big chunk of your last afternoon. Amazingly, the computer system in the cabin would not link to the Scenic website, so the survey had to be completed on a tablet or smartphone, which made writing comments slow and tedious. Also you could not stop part way through and save what you had done. I tried it and lost what I had already done.
So, overall, we could only rate this cruise as 6 out of 10. We knew that Scenic are one of the more expensive river cruise operators, but our previous experience was that we got what we paid for. This time it was not the case – we do not feel that we received full value for the not inconsiderable sum of money the cruise cost. A month ago, if we had been asked if we would travel with Scenic again, the answer would have been an emphatic yes. Now the answer would be “perhaps”. Read Less