Scenic Pearl Cruise Review by DDolack
- Sail Date: July 2019
- Destination: Europe River
My friend and I took the Scenic Pearl from Amsterdam to Budapest from July 1 to 15th.
The basis: I had never been on any cruise of any kind in the past, and also never on any guided trip (other than a weekend bus trip last summer). I plan and organize my own holidays according to my interests and have travelled mostly in Canada and the USA with limited international travel to Iceland, Scotland, Germany and Ukraine.
The attraction of a river cruise was a hotel room that came along with you as you got to see a bunch of sites throughout central Europe.
We chose Scenic for their all inclusive pricing and that was definitely the right decision. Anything we wanted was included (aside some very pricy champagne), but all beverages, any time, snacks, mini-bar, butler services, tour guides, travel out, all excursions, nothing extra – no having to keep coins handy for tips – aside from personal shopping and buying drinks or snacks out on the town, you really didn't need to carry money or your CC with you. Service was excellent, meals were superb and aside from one dish with octopus or squid which felt like you were chewing on a garden hose and their inability to actually FREEZE ice cream, I can't think of anything that was less than excellent.
The tour director was amazing and worked 18 hour days I'm sure, to meet all our needs and get us organized and coming and going on time. All staff were friendly, willing to assist and aside from a couple likely language issues (we got the wrong food on room service and the wrong pillows from the pillow menu), you couldn't have asked for better service. Probably not necessary to make up the rooms twice a day – you come in from a day out and toss your shopping, clothes etc on the bed and go for a drink – come back and it's all somewhere else because they have straightened the bad and left your chocolate – but sheesh, should that really be a complaint?
While it was nice to be travelling with your hotel room, I didn't realize just how MUCH time was going to be spent on the boat – some days we only got out for 4-6 hours, occasionally a whole day or overnight in port and once not at all for 36 hours. 64 locks resulted in about 25 to 30 hours of time going up and down..... Time off the boat came to about 73 hours by my diary – in 14 days – which averages around 5 hours a day. That includes all the bus travel time as well which for the Salzburg trip was almost 5 hours alone.
I'm saying there was much less time for actual exploration and sightseeing than I expected. Most of the time off board was taken up with a guided tour downtown (which I started skipping), and then an hour or so of free time. It was never enough – there's so much to experience and all you are doing is clock watching to be sure you get back in time.
I never felt relaxed – it was regimented the whole time – get up, eat breakfast, get on the bus, follow the guide, look here, see that, listen to this, your own time for a few minutes, get on the bus, get on the boat, eat, sleep, repeat. I appreciate you can't have 150 people doing their own thing – you would never get anywhere, but I sure wish there had been much more free time – or I should have just used the bus to get to a destination and left to do my own interests.
And this is strictly a “bricks and mortar” tour – forget smelling the roses or walking in a park with grass beneath your feet, or scrambling along a brook or river and listening to the birds and enjoying the breezes, no botanical gardens, no animals or zoos, or gardens. I'm sure some of these countries have these things, but no options for anything nature was in the tour at all. I DID smell the roses though at an amazing Volksgarten in Vienna and had I known there was a zoo at the Schonbrunn Palace, I most assuredly would have skipped the palace tour (AFP by that time!), and took the train out to the zoo – with pandas no less! But by the time we realized there was something else to do, it was too late and the bus was leaving and there was no time again.
On board entertainment was good – a couple were excellent, but I missed at least a couple. It's really awkward when you get into port, have 90 minutes free time to explore, come back to the boat for a 45 minute concert and then have 90 minutes free time to go explore again. Just couldn't be bothered to rush back to the boat when you're out in town having fun. Why plan it that way? Entertainment while sailing makes sense – entertainment on board when you are in port and could be out, did not.
Have to comment on the Scenic App which guided you along as you were exploring. The GPS feature to keep you grounded as to where you were and how to get back to the bus was excellent. BUT – it's a really big power pig and even using their devices, I could not actually listen to the commentaries for a full day without it going dead – and at the end you just use it for the GPS and nothing else.
The last day in Budapest - we had planned to take the Hop on Hop off bus for a bit of more detailed exploration - but we didn't get off the boat til 10, to the hotel by 11, then a long checking, and it was noon before we got going at all. And we only had one day - half wasted - again we probably should have just done our own thing and taken a taxi to the hotel early and not waited for all the planned exits. Time in Budapest but nothing seen....sigh.....
In conclusion, I'm glad I went on the trip – but I would not want to go again on one like this – it would need a lot more port time, a lot more free time and I would be much better organized to go and do what would interest me. If a guided tour is your thing, then I would highly recommend Scenic for their excellent service and all inclusive policy. But if you are normally independent and not a good follower or team player, perhaps not.
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