My husband and I took the advice of our Travel Agent when booking a birthday and retirement celebration cruise for my 70-year-old Mom. Our Agent assured us Scenic was a "luxury cruise line," up to our standards. However, our time on board had disappointing service challenges, even bewildering at times. I wanted to take this opportunity to share our experiences aboard the Scenic Azure during the Delightful Douro Sailing.
We have cruised extensively, including multiple sailings with Aqua Expedition River Cruises, Regent, and Crystal Cruises. When we booked "Scenic Luxury Cruises," we were expecting a similar service experience to the brands mentioned above.
We had two cabins on this cruise, one for my Mom and the other cabin for my husband and me.
Disappointments & Challenges:
The Crew, especially the Cruise Director, Butlers, and the Ship's Manager were not particularly friendly or service oriented in our opinion, and this created multiple service failures that were not anywhere near to a luxury line. We learned early into the sailing that this was the entire Crew's last sailing. The boat was going into dry dock for the winter, and we were the last group they had to endure. The Crew was burnt out, provisions were sparse, and food was absolutely awful during our cruise, prompting us to take Uber's at every Port with a street into town and eat ANYWHERE else but in the Scenic dining room.
It was raining in Porto; we had a Scenic outdoor walking tour booked with 45 minutes in the rain. I asked our Butler for an extra umbrella. Navigating the slippery, uneven cobblestones is severe enough, trying to share an umbrella while doing so - impossible! Also, this excursion specified a high difficulty because we needed to go down a considerable number of stairs or hills. Butler's answer to my umbrella request, "No, only one umbrella per suite, sorry, that's just the way it is." We bought an extra umbrella in town, but I got soaked first. What kind of company denies their guests an umbrella on an outdoor tour day when the forecast is rain? Unbelievable, but in alignment with our other experiences onboard.
We found the Cruise Director, to be aloof, and not particularly keen with assisting in our minor requests. For example, on our first day, Mom asked for a piece of cake that was on display in the River Cafe. She remarked that they had been put away for the evening and she could not, under any circumstances, enjoy that cake (not even through room service) until the next day at 4 pm when they would be on display again. It was almost as if she delighted in telling us "NO." How difficult could it be to get my sweet old Mom a piece of cake? After all, this cruise was her birthday gift. Perhaps a, "My pleasure, please have a seat while we get you one" would have been more in line with what we were expecting from a company with the word "Luxury" attached to their name.
Front desk young man was very unhelpful. He failed to deliver messages to our Butler on multiple occasions and sometimes didn't answer the phone at all. Also, he provided no help whatsoever when we tried to figure out how my Mom could have breakfast at 6 am before her 7 am morning walk with the Wellness coach in Port. He condescendingly said breakfast information was in our rooms, including the breakfast card for the door. None of this was previously pointed out to us by the way. The young man begrudgingly handed us another breakfast order form for the door... when I looked at it, I pointed out to Jose that it didn't start service until 7 am. He said, "Well, I guess you'll have to wait until after your walk." Once again, just perplexing guest relations.
Excursion planning was unnecessarily involved in our opinions. Instead of being able to choose all tours pre-trip we had to wait for a talk about the port excursions while on the cruise. None of the pertinent details for the port excursions were printed out ANYWHERE- they were only briefly discussed during the port talk slide show. We checked off the boxes of the tours we were interested in for the upcoming week, and we turned in the sheet to the cruise director.
It occurred to us we had nothing at all to refer to for future reference, and nothing was provided.
We NEEDED to know:
1. Start times and duration of each tour we booked for the week ahead.
2. Level of difficulty of each excursion we chose (need to prepare my Mom)
3. Please provide footwear suggestions (athletic shoes for hills, or casual)
4. Please give the duration times of transportation in the motor coach to each destination.
This reasonable request for information necessary for our adequate planning and comfort of my 70-year-old Mom who has weak knees, a weak bladder, and hip spurs. I didn't think it was an unreasonable request. This information is also STANDARD on every other cruise we have ever taken and provided pre-cruise. However, the Butler informed us that the Ship Manager denied this information to us stating," You must attend all Port talks each evening (even though we were tied up) or make an appointment during our cruise vacation to meet with the ship manager privately so that he could discuss how Scenic corporate does things." REALLY? I was dumbfounded. I asked the Butler, "So he refuses to provide this information? This simple information, am I understanding you correctly? I have to take time out of my vacation to make an appointment to see him so he can explain why he will not supply this information?" The Butler said, "Yes, that is correct." I was so infuriated by this I hardly slept the entire night. I couldn't even begin to comprehend what kind of manager or company withholds the most basic of information from its guests. Outrageous.
Information You Can Use:
The Taylor Made audio devices in our cabins were a nice touch for Port tours. However, no one mentioned they could also be used during the cruise (back on board) to learn about the areas we were cruising through. We were up on deck every single day of the cruise - for hours, we would have LOVED to know that feature was accessible. We only learned about it because we saw another passenger on the last day of sailing listening to hers on deck. We asked her, "What on earth are you listening to? Taylor Mades are for the Port tours." She explained that she had been to a Scenic presentation (she was a travel agent), and had learned about them from the marketing video. Wow! Why on earth wouldn't Scenic mention this to guests? Why not have a sign or note of some kind in the rooms letting guests know? Why didn't the staff or Butlers mention this? What a disappointment, we would have loved this, especially my Mom. We asked several other guests if they knew about this great use of the Taylor Mades while cruising, and not a single one knew about it - they too were disappointed. We missed out on what could have been a memorable highlight to our sailing.
Other frustrations that didn't line up with our expectations:
- Bottom shelf Alcohol. A luxury cruise with only Jose Cuervo? We would have gladly paid more to have some top-shelf brands on board. My husband ordered Jose Cuervo Silver as the only tequila choice on board, and they were out until the 2nd or 3rd day of the cruise. They were also out of Pringle's, Bellini ingredients and other items we were told they needed to restock at Port on day 2 or 3.
- Dining room service for lunch was slow. Fountain Sodas were flat and if you were drinking anything other than wine you had to wait a while for the only waitress to go downstairs and get your beverage order.
- We waited through our entire lunch only to get flat Coke Zero. When I told Food Bev Mgr, the Coke was flat, he argued that I am just not used to Coke Zero in this country, "It's different here" he firmly exclaimed. It was uncomfortable. Why is the Scenic staff so combative? Later they fixed the issue with serving cans of Coke Zero that had adequate carbonation.
- Food choices at all meals were minimal and not very good. Though the head Chef, was a lovely man, and passionate about his job, the food was far from great, and some dishes were inedible (pretty much all of the seafood). On our last night, we had rotten avocado tempura. We left the ship and ate in Port every chance we got, even paying an Uber $60 each way just to get into town.
The port excursions could have been better managed. Would have loved more time in Salamanca, especially after the two-hour coach ride in. The lunch at the Hacienda Zorita was hardly edible, except for the dessert. Would have preferred an option to stay in the town of Salamanca and had an authentic Spanish lunch instead of the funky, undercooked salmon and campy tourist dance show at Hacienda Zorita.
What we LOVED:
-Our cabin steward. Our cabin was flawlessly clean each and every day. She's the only crew member we tipped. She deserved it.
-Our tour guide in Salamanca
-The Fado concert in Porto
- The Captain was absolutely amazing. Incredibly genuine and friendly, we really enjoyed time chatting with him.
- The adjustable beds were fantastic, my Mom purchased one back home she loved it so much.
- Showers were incredibly spacious for a ship.
- The open-air balconies were spectacular.
- The coach drivers on the tours were great, felt safe.
- All three of us loved the onboard tile painting class - our tiles came out great. My Mom was thrilled with her keepsake.
All in all, I could not feel comfortable recommending Scenic to my friends and colleagues at this time, considering the service challenges that experienced.
I did hear from Scenic's Senior Director after a letter I emailed about our consistent service challenges. He didn't have much to say, he said he would follow up with me on these issues and never did (it's now been 7 months). I was eager to learn if this is simply Scenic's standard level of service or if our disappointments were merely a result of a tired crew ready to be done for the season.