Scenic Amber Cruise Review by Sirgym
- Sail Date: June 2018
- Destination: Europe River
Sadly, a vacation can be tainted early by something as innocuous as lost luggage, and two overly aggressive pat downs through security at Charles de Gaulle airport. But after some drama at baggage claim Scenic provided an excellent transfer for us from Prague airport to our hotel, the historic Art Deco Imperial. The hotel, situated conveniently close to the center of the historic district, is quaint but really too small to host groups of this size (80 passengers). We upgraded to a Junior Executive Suite at the front of the hotel overlooking the busy tram and street traffic. Concerned initially that the noisy tram might disturb our sleep, those fears went unfounded. Realizing I had no decent walking shoes because of the lost suitcase, for the early morning walking tour, we immediately ran out and bought a terrific pair of very lightweight shoes so that I could participate the next day.
Our Scenic guides in Prague, Tomás and Pavlina, in a word were “perfection.” Both were equally knowledgeable, caring and funny. While catering to an older demographic can be challenging I can’t fault either of them. Tomás worked tirelessly to retrieve my lost luggage, which finally arrived on the third day around 3pm. On edge for three days, this provided me a sense of relieve and the clothes I needed for departure to the Scenic Amber the following morning.
Overnight, unbeknowst to us, Scenic changed the transfer to from Nuremberg to Vilshofen. The email, sent the night before to my junk folder, explained that low water levels near Regensburg had grounded two Slovakian barges and were creating an impasse on the river. The transfer would be a five hour bus trip, with a stop at a truck stop to meet the ship. While not a happy start to a cruise, Scenic could have handled this better, with at least a stop at a local restaurant. The truck stop was quite dismal.
We boarded the Amber and were quickly escorted by the head of housekeeping. My husband and I had joked for months that instead of a tall, sophisticated butler we would get a “Brünhilda.” And here she was, barking instructions to us like a Bulgarian dominatrix, never making eye contact. Not a pleasant start.
Our suite 306, (Royal Balcony) was lovely and well appointed with a comfortable sitting area and a beautiful, although narrow, bath. This suite has two windows that go up and down providing a unique river cruising experience. Unfortunately, due to the heavy congestion by the barge impasse we consistently “rafted” next to other ships. Our graciously sized and expensive suite became, for the most part, an inside cabin.
Scenic decided to bus passengers to their designated excursions from Vilshofen to Nuremberg, an over five hour round trip bus trip. This was not something I had signed on for so we decided to stay on board getting off at 7:30am, tour the little “15 minute town” and buy some pastries (really just an excuse to break some large Euro bills). We returned to the ship, pastries in hand, as it sailed away! We had been stranded in Vilshofen for two and a half hours while other boats pulled in to raft as the Scenic Amber serenely floated in the middle of the Danube.
The barge impasse was finally alleviated and miraculously we sailed to Passau and then to Regensburg, and prepared for a lovely ferry ride up the Wachau valley to an historic abbey for beer and pretzels. This excursion, often a highlight, happened to be on my birthday. Half way to the ferry, our tour guide apologetically announced that due to low water levels, the ferry would not be possible and that we would be bussed to the abbey. Oh well, at least the beer was good in the adjoining Biergarten.
Our cruise director, Yvonne, was a highly energetic and entertaining woman who made the cruise truly special. Often, it’s not the amenities and technology that makes one cruise better than the other but the energy of its staff. Yvonne is a treasured asset to Scenic and her connection to all passengers is sincere and honest. It has always been my opinion, it is not how a staff member treats well heeled customers that defines its customer service, but how it responds and cares for the more budget minded traveller and those that require special attention, like the disabled. These kindnesses do not go unnoticed by other passengers.
Dining was generally good to sometimes excellent. Choices were varied but often I felt the kitchen, and the wait staff was trying too hard. Being a former chef, I always preferred to highlight extraordinary ingredients and do as little as possible to them. The meat at the Table La Rive dinner was a perfect example. While of high quality, the chef had cooked the tenderloin in a low oven for a long time, not a bad idea when you’re feeding a crowd, but this changes the texture, and the meat can become rather mealy. We did enjoy some delicious regional specialities and these were the stars of the trip. The wines the first night were undrinkable, but they soon realized what we preferred. Bar service in the lounge was quick and efficient and the staff delightful. Our main server, a zaftig Latvian girl, was amazingly open and warm, a real sweetheart.
Besides the glitches in bus tours and barges, the transfer to the Budapest Marriott was a disaster due to a Soviet bomb being discovered in the river right in front of our hotel! Stuck in traffic for over an hour in a distance that we could have walked in 10 minutes. On the plus side, I was able to count the number of flowers in an adjoining park while we idled in traffic.
My expectation for this trip was quite high, perhaps too high, and in some instances Scenic met the challenge, in others?...not so much. But, i will have to say I learned a lot about the mercurial nature of river cruising, and while I might hesitate to travel with Scenic again, we had a glorious time, a fabulous birthday, memories for a lifetime, as well as...Slovakian barges, Soviet bombs, and a whole lot of time sitting on a bus.
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