This has been the most disappointing holiday that we have participated in. This was our first river cruise where we travelled from Amsterdam to Budapest. We wanted to try something different. Despite that we got to briefly visit some ... Read More
This has been the most disappointing holiday that we have participated in. This was our first river cruise where we travelled from Amsterdam to Budapest. We wanted to try something different. Despite that we got to briefly visit some incredible places however the longer the cruise went on the more disappointed we became with the overall process. I guess most of the disappointment results from the perception created by marketing versus the reality that is delivered. River cruising is as close as you get to a coach tour through Europe. To that end have chosen to write a list of what they don’t tell you in the brochure/online’:
1. The cruise company claims to offer a ‘choice of airlines’. Our experience was that our first leg of our trip was on the airline of our choice and then the second and third on Swiss Airlines. The explanation was that Scenic has a relationship with Swiss Air. Swiss Air are not as bad as American Airlines but they are not to the standard that we enjoy in our part of the world. While our trip up was fine, our trip home was nothing short of traumatising on Swiss Air instead of our chosen airline (see below)
2. The entire travel experience is a cookie cutter, pressure cooker, production line trip which means if you move outside the programme the production line stops working. We opted to spend two extra nights up front in Amsterdam and two after in Budapest. Because of this, Scenic were not interested in airport transfers or transfers to/from the boat despite using their recommended hotels and despite what they say in their advertising.
3. Our welcome aboard was easy, fast and professional. All the staff onboard are exceptional, second to none and the service is a lot more personal than on large ships. Marina, our butler was awesome.
4. First impressions are the ship is smart, clean and slick and as the trip progressed and as we passed a huge number of other riverboats, I felt we were on one of the best ones on the river. Our cabin was everything we expected and more with both a balcony and slide down window in the lounge part. It became a haven to escape to away from the one public lounge/bar onboard. Probably the only slightly weak point on our ship when compared to others passing was that the top deck is a bit spartan however it could not be used a large part of the trip as it was closed and folded down so we could fit under low bridges.
5. The cross section of people in marketing photos does not really reflect the people who actually river cruise. The process is more geared to older travellers, inexperienced travellers and people who seem obsessed with meeting new friends. Everything onboard has been designed exclusively for these groups. There were a few couples onboard, including ourselves who were obviously uncomfortable or disappointed with this Hi de Hi, over familiar ‘get to know you’ type vibe.
6. There are sing-a-longs to old songs I did not know the words to.
7. It is not possible to get to breakfast without at least 30 fellow passengers and staff saying Good Morning along with more at the breakfast buffet. The surrounding chatter at breakfast consists of, have you cruised before, how did you sleep, health issues and on two mornings, an in-depth discussion about bowel movements.
8. There is a ‘Port Talk’ every night in the main lounge 15 minutes before dinner which outlines the upcoming day. They cover docking times, what excursions take which bus at what times, an overview of each excursion happening the next day, how many steps are involved in an excursion or if there is an elevator alternative, if there is any uneven surfaces or inclines involved, how far you will be from a souvenir shop, times between food. They finish with waiters bringing mock-ups of the main courses through the room so that there are no surprises with what their dinner option is going to look like that they order 30 minutes later in the main dining room. During dinner a brief summary of Port Talk is left in your room.
9. Disappointingly there are some excursions where photography is not allowed. You are not told until you disembark the bus to begin you excursion where you will be offered an apology and thanked for your understanding. In my world that does not cut it. It is not like anything there was up to Versailles or The Louvre standard where you are allowed to take photographs.
10. Unlike musical entertainment in the Crystal Lounge, Port Talk in the same Lounge is not broadcast on the television in your cabin to ensure that if you want any information about the following day you are forced to sit and mix with fellow passengers.
11. Dinner takes two hours every night regardless of how fast you eat or if you are first or last into the dining room. There are four tables for two people that are close to the next table to ensure you cannot be left alone if you chose a table for two.
12. There are a lot of busses involved. The format of the fortnight makes it feel like bus touring without the need to unpack and pack everyday as your floating hotel room moves with you however like a bus tour you need to be up early each morning for breakfast (with the exception of two) and then ready to set off on a bus for your chosen excursion.
13. The excursion guides are very knowledgeable and excellent without exception.
14. The first thing after arriving at any excursion is a protracted group toilet break. At times the excursions move at snail’s pace, particularly around shops and souvenir shops, stopping every 40 or fifty steps for a story while people catch their breath while at some attractions, neck snapping speed with barely enough time to take photographs where allowed, ensuring little time for any free time in any of the towns. Free-choice are marketing buzzwords as the excursions are anything but. They are hightly structured with little or no opportunity to explore by yourself.
15. Everybody on the boat gossips. Something said at dinner is back to you at breakfast from a complete stranger. Twice.
16. There are a lot of Australians onboard who are not backward in coming forward on their feelings about gay people. This is not really a holiday or environment that works well for gay couples.
17. Despite the perception created prior to the trip, there is no local cuisine. The food onboard is stunning but mainstream and non-offensive.
18. I had imagined from reading the marketing collateral that when the boat docked you could simply disembark and stroll a short distance into town. River cruising has become so crowded that in most cases the boat docks along with a multitudes of others in custom built docks which are a bus ride from town. The crew became quite ‘excited’ when we docked 2 hours early and we suggested we would walk the 3.5 kms into town.
19. There is little or no time to wander off. The ship docks, everyone piles onto their buses for their excursion and upon their return the boat sails again. There is little time for your own exploring.
20. Very few onboard care about maximising their time in each port and are happy to achieve one attraction per stop or alternatively settle for a drive around the town that takes in most highlights as viewed through a tour bus window before returning to the ship. We quickly learned to avoid these rest-home styled outings.
21. There is WIFI onboard which works some of the time but slowly. Any travel sites that would be helpful to plan your own excursion the following day when the schedule is suddenly changed are blocked.
22. By and large the excursions and port stops are in heavily touristed towns and villages full of other tour groups, tourists, souvenir shops and tourist traps.
23. Marketing warns you that from time to time you will be docked alongside another boat which you will walk over or through to get to the dock. I didn’t stop to think that this would also mean we could not use our balcony and had to close our curtains for long periods of time as our room looked directly into another a metre away on the next boat and theirs into ours.
24. The limited numbers, behind the scenes excursion to The Vienna Riding School turned out to be a tour bus full of fellow travellers who were given the same tour that the public could buy. We were the first to register our interest in tickets to a performance at the school and purchased the premium tickets that resulted in probably the worst seats in the theatre where you could not see much of the show. Given this was the main reason for choosing this itinerary and company, I was gutted.
25. You are on your own. Heading home, our evening flight to Zurich was cancelled three hours after we were due to depart. Scenic advised us to deal directly with Swiss Air who gave us a bottle of water and a bed directly on the marble floor of the Budapest Airport departure hall where there are no shops or vending machines to buy food and drinks
In summary, the boat is better than most we saw on the river and there are masses of them. The staff are fabulous, fun, and professional. However, river cruising in Europe has become crowded and become a formula type holiday, one step up from a bus tour. It certainly delivered a different reality that the perception created by marketing. I don’t think I am old enough to appreciate the style of travel that European River cruising offers and need a lot more from my vacations and I certainly do not expect to be sleeping on old marble airport floors. Won’t be trying river cruising again anytime soon. Hugely disappointing with a traumatising finale. Read Less