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It was 20 years or so since we last took a river cruise. Scenic's reputation, first class ships, advertising and website hyperbole convinced us to travel with them. 'Beautiful Bordeaux' seemed to fit the bill. In most respects our decision was vindicated. The all-inclusive nature from airport check-in at our local airport to return 11 days later was exceptionally well organised. Our flights with Air France went almost to schedule. The meet-and-greet at Bordeaux by a very smart young driver with a black Mercedes minibus for us and two others was spot on and we were on-board in about 30 minutes of baggage reclaim. The recommendation from the Scenic agent in Manchester, to take the earliest flight of the day so that we could 'start eating and drinking' sooner, really did pay off. There was a light lunch in the River Café waiting for early arrivals. At the end of the cruise, we were escorted by bus to Bordeaux airport and taken to the correct terminal for check-in: an exercise of almost military precision. We had a balcony suite on Diamond Deck. It might best be described as small but perfectly formed. It was a tight squeeze around the king size bed for more than one to be near the wardrobe, to pack and unpack, or by the desk. But all the details were catered for: plenty of hangers and hanging space, shelves and drawers, TV/computer, bottled water replenished as used, minibar (which we barely touched since there was so many other opportunities to consume on and off the ship). And the bathroom had plenty of cupboard space for wash bags and the like, constant hot water, plenty of Occitan bath amenities, towels, robes and slippers. We did not have many opportunities to use the balcony/sun lounge, because we were either sailing or (unfortunately) tied up facing the quay or another cruise ship. We enjoyed the lounge/bar with its large floor to ceiling windows, sufficient seating, and multiplicity of uses - lectures about shore excursions, music, River Café for light lunches and afternoon tea, and l'Amour tasting menu. The only gripe from my arthritic wife was the lack of higher backed and higher seated chairs, which would have been more comfortable than the low sofas and easy chairs. Likewise, the large dining room was also well lit with day light (unless we were parked alongside another cruise ship, when the blinds and drapes were pulled), comfortable and offered a surprising amount of space between tables. What about dining? Being on the Diamond Deck, we had our evening in L'Amour with its five course tasting menu and La Table Rive, with its six course menu. These were culinary highlights of the cruise, with their dedicated wait staff, descriptions of each course and, in the case of Rive, a new wine to go with each course. The website blurb implies that l'Amour also has wine pairings, but on our night, there was one red and one white, after a small glass of champagne to start. Also, whereas the website implies that invitations come automatically for these nights, we were advised by our butler on her welcome chat to go to reception and ask for an invitation! Breakfasts were excellent, with a wide menu of juices, cereals and fruits, yoghurts, cold cuts, hot dishes, and omelettes, fried and poached eggs, eggs benedict, steaks and lamb cutlets cooked to order. Think Hilton or Crowne Plaza then add a notch or two. Lunches, too, had a reasonable selection of salads, soups, hot and cold food, deserts and cheese, but gradually over the ten days, there was a degree of repetition. It was the dinners that disappointed us. Scenic use words like 'sumptuous food' and 'gourmet cuisine'. I know these epithets are subjective, but barely were we offered dishes that fit words like 'sumptuous' or 'gourmet'. We were in France, near some of best sea food and cheeses in the world. So where were the fruit de mer? We had an oyster evening when an oyster merchant came before dinner from Arcachon with more than enough oysters. We had mussels twice, once when they were almost under-cooked because of demand and once when they were over-cooked. We had prawn cocktails with a very modest sprinkling of frozen prawns on a bed of lettuce. And the inevitable lobster tail on the Captain's farewell menu. Where were the langoustines, the fresh prawns and shrimps, the bulots, and the rest? When it came to cheeses, there were probably less than ten out of which three were permed for each meal: how often did we need brie, bleu d'Auvergne and Compte, when there are so many other cheeses available. And where we the distinctly French dishes, such as a proper bouillabaisse (the one we had was basically a thin fish stock), boeuf bourgignon, sautéed foi gras, cassoulet, and the rest? Sadly, there seem to be three answers to some of these questions. One is that the menus were at the unexciting end of the spectrum to cater for the masses (whether the masses really wanted such safe food or not). They were not a patch on menus on some of the small luxury cruise liners. The other is that almost all the food on board is trundled in chilled trucks all the way across Europe from a central point in Germany, so that as the ten days went one, some items reduced in selection. And the third is no doubt the bean counters fetish for central control on menus, as happens also on many cruise lines and hotel chains. We chose one day to forego lunch on-board and treated ourselves to an assiette de fruit de mer at a waterside café in Bordeaux to get a true taste of French cuisine. Enough of the gripes. The chef and his staff worked wonders in the small space they are required to call a galley, and the wait staff were friendly, professional and wonderfully knowledgeable about the wines they were serving - and these were generally very good wines. We didn't indulge much in the entertainment, except the three piece jazz band that came on-board on evening: magical. The ports on this cruise were generally neat little French local towns close to vineyards and historical UNESCO sites. The excursions were exceptionally well organised and the guides better than most we have met anywhere in the world. The number of wine tastings (why else would one go on this cruise?) must have done nothing for our livers for a day or two! Most were easy even for wheel-chair users, with one or two towns, such as St Emillion having cobbled streets and hills to negotiate. Overall, yes, we had an excellent time and the cruise had many very good features. But please, Scenic, either prove you can meet some of the hyperbole about the dining experience, or alter the epithets you use to be less misleading. And, on reflection, we would probably use Scenic again.

THE DINING OPTIONS LET THE OVERALL EXPERIENCE DOWN

Scenic Diamond Cruise Review by discerning critic

4 people found this helpful
Trip Details
It was 20 years or so since we last took a river cruise. Scenic's reputation, first class ships, advertising and website hyperbole convinced us to travel with them. 'Beautiful Bordeaux' seemed to fit the bill.

In most respects our decision was vindicated. The all-inclusive nature from airport check-in at our local airport to return 11 days later was exceptionally well organised. Our flights with Air France went almost to schedule. The meet-and-greet at Bordeaux by a very smart young driver with a black Mercedes minibus for us and two others was spot on and we were on-board in about 30 minutes of baggage reclaim. The recommendation from the Scenic agent in Manchester, to take the earliest flight of the day so that we could 'start eating and drinking' sooner, really did pay off. There was a light lunch in the River Café waiting for early arrivals. At the end of the cruise, we were escorted by bus to Bordeaux airport and taken to the correct terminal for check-in: an exercise of almost military precision.

We had a balcony suite on Diamond Deck. It might best be described as small but perfectly formed. It was a tight squeeze around the king size bed for more than one to be near the wardrobe, to pack and unpack, or by the desk. But all the details were catered for: plenty of hangers and hanging space, shelves and drawers, TV/computer, bottled water replenished as used, minibar (which we barely touched since there was so many other opportunities to consume on and off the ship). And the bathroom had plenty of cupboard space for wash bags and the like, constant hot water, plenty of Occitan bath amenities, towels, robes and slippers. We did not have many opportunities to use the balcony/sun lounge, because we were either sailing or (unfortunately) tied up facing the quay or another cruise ship.

We enjoyed the lounge/bar with its large floor to ceiling windows, sufficient seating, and multiplicity of uses - lectures about shore excursions, music, River Café for light lunches and afternoon tea, and l'Amour tasting menu. The only gripe from my arthritic wife was the lack of higher backed and higher seated chairs, which would have been more comfortable than the low sofas and easy chairs.

Likewise, the large dining room was also well lit with day light (unless we were parked alongside another cruise ship, when the blinds and drapes were pulled), comfortable and offered a surprising amount of space between tables.

What about dining? Being on the Diamond Deck, we had our evening in L'Amour with its five course tasting menu and La Table Rive, with its six course menu. These were culinary highlights of the cruise, with their dedicated wait staff, descriptions of each course and, in the case of Rive, a new wine to go with each course. The website blurb implies that l'Amour also has wine pairings, but on our night, there was one red and one white, after a small glass of champagne to start. Also, whereas the website implies that invitations come automatically for these nights, we were advised by our butler on her welcome chat to go to reception and ask for an invitation!

Breakfasts were excellent, with a wide menu of juices, cereals and fruits, yoghurts, cold cuts, hot dishes, and omelettes, fried and poached eggs, eggs benedict, steaks and lamb cutlets cooked to order. Think Hilton or Crowne Plaza then add a notch or two.

Lunches, too, had a reasonable selection of salads, soups, hot and cold food, deserts and cheese, but gradually over the ten days, there was a degree of repetition.

It was the dinners that disappointed us. Scenic use words like 'sumptuous food' and 'gourmet cuisine'. I know these epithets are subjective, but barely were we offered dishes that fit words like 'sumptuous' or 'gourmet'. We were in France, near some of best sea food and cheeses in the world. So where were the fruit de mer? We had an oyster evening when an oyster merchant came before dinner from Arcachon with more than enough oysters. We had mussels twice, once when they were almost under-cooked because of demand and once when they were over-cooked. We had prawn cocktails with a very modest sprinkling of frozen prawns on a bed of lettuce. And the inevitable lobster tail on the Captain's farewell menu. Where were the langoustines, the fresh prawns and shrimps, the bulots, and the rest? When it came to cheeses, there were probably less than ten out of which three were permed for each meal: how often did we need brie, bleu d'Auvergne and Compte, when there are so many other cheeses available. And where we the distinctly French dishes, such as a proper bouillabaisse (the one we had was basically a thin fish stock), boeuf bourgignon, sautéed foi gras, cassoulet, and the rest?

Sadly, there seem to be three answers to some of these questions. One is that the menus were at the unexciting end of the spectrum to cater for the masses (whether the masses really wanted such safe food or not). They were not a patch on menus on some of the small luxury cruise liners. The other is that almost all the food on board is trundled in chilled trucks all the way across Europe from a central point in Germany, so that as the ten days went one, some items reduced in selection. And the third is no doubt the bean counters fetish for central control on menus, as happens also on many cruise lines and hotel chains. We chose one day to forego lunch on-board and treated ourselves to an assiette de fruit de mer at a waterside café in Bordeaux to get a true taste of French cuisine.

Enough of the gripes. The chef and his staff worked wonders in the small space they are required to call a galley, and the wait staff were friendly, professional and wonderfully knowledgeable about the wines they were serving - and these were generally very good wines.

We didn't indulge much in the entertainment, except the three piece jazz band that came on-board on evening: magical.

The ports on this cruise were generally neat little French local towns close to vineyards and historical UNESCO sites. The excursions were exceptionally well organised and the guides better than most we have met anywhere in the world. The number of wine tastings (why else would one go on this cruise?) must have done nothing for our livers for a day or two! Most were easy even for wheel-chair users, with one or two towns, such as St Emillion having cobbled streets and hills to negotiate.

Overall, yes, we had an excellent time and the cruise had many very good features. But please, Scenic, either prove you can meet some of the hyperbole about the dining experience, or alter the epithets you use to be less misleading.

And, on reflection, we would probably use Scenic again.
, The Scenic Team has responded
Dear Discerning Critic, We are sorry to hear that the cuisine on board Scenic Diamond was not up to the high standards that we promise. I have passed your feedback along to our team to review. If you would like to contact us about your specific concerns please send us an email at customercare@scenic.com.au However, we are happy to hear that you had an excellent time and the staff were friendly and attentive during your cruise. Regards, The Scenic Team
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of The Independent Traveler, Inc.
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