For the most part, I have good words and praise for the actual cruise ship staff. They could not fix or be held accountable for things beyond their control, chiefly the marketing of what this cruise was supposed to deliver.
The cruise is billed as a Christmas market tour. But let’s put this promise to test. Day 2 involved a departure from AMS at 13.00, so what do you really see of Amsterdam Christmas markets? Essentially nothing. The main Christmas market does not yet open until mid December, plus the ship leaves mid day so you barely have time to either do the bus ride, spend maybe an hour and half “discovering” Volendam/ Edam, or take a one hour canal ride so you can be back on the ship in time for departure.
Day 3. We didn’t arrive to Cologne until 13.00 but can’t disembark until well after 15.00. We are a good distance, at least 45 min walk, to the first Christmas markets by the cathedral. And these markets are not nearly the better ones truly worth seeing. The time is limited because of the need to get back on before 22.00 departure, but I will be generous and say that this opportunity represents the only decent opportunity to see a Christmas market without needing to strap on skates.
By the way, cruising through the Rhine during the section loaded with castles sounds lovely until you understand that you will miss most of them due to the “surprise” that the sunset is about 16.00 hours. Must not be a well- known fact, that it gets dark, for the Scenic schedulers. So this part of the trip was not very interesting.
Day 4 Kolblenz/ Cochem. I did not go to the Kolbenz, preferring not to spend the majority of my day on bus. I left the boat at Cochem, after the ship arrived, and had barely an hour and a half before needing to be back on the boat. So much for seeing anything.
Day 5 Heidelberg – We probably had about 2 hours, by the time you subtract bus travel time, to see anything in this town. When we arrived, the Christmas markets did not open for at least another half hour. Plus, it is Sunday and if anyone in your company knows anything about Germany, then they will know that pretty much EVERYTHING is closed on a Sunday. So, we got to see a lot of closed stores. By the way, we were in the “slow walk” group and our tour guide just motors along at a speed not suitable for a slow walk group.
Day 6: Skipped this one because again, it was not worth it. Didn’t fly half way around the world just to get stuffed in a tour bus and see nothing. The time allocated for Baden-Baden was very small, especially compared to the bus time.
Day 7. Ironically, and by accident, I managed to get about 4 hours in Strasbourg. To the cruise director Alex’s credit, did organize 2 outbound shuttles and 2 return shuttles to a tour bus area within a 20 minute walk to the city center and the Christmas markets on the night between day 6 and 7. It was a very nice evening, even if organized on the fly, with many people from the ship taking advantage of the opportunity.
What happened next was yet another failure by Scenic. This was supposed to be the official day in Strasbourg, the home of Christmas markets for Europe. Cruise director Alex explained that because traffic can be bad on the Rhine and some locks can cause delays up to 8 hours, the ship was going to relocate the night between day 6 and day 7. Last I checked, Scenic should know this and not be “surprised” by traffic on the Rhine. So, the results were brutal.
By moving the ship, we got on the bus on day 7, spent just over an hour and a half being driven back to Strasbourg. During the drive, the guide said, “Oh, and if we get there before 11, we can go inside the Cathedral.” What time did we arrive? Just after 10. But where we were parked was a good 45 minute walk, if you are fit, to get to the cathedral, which is the center of the markets. The group my wife and I were walking with was chosen specifically as the “slow group” due to the age and mobility of many of the guests. Despite this designation, the guide kept walking too fast, leaving many of the group far behind. At one point, I hustled two blocks to find her, passing many people in our group. I caught up with her and said in French, English, and Spanish that she was going way, way too fast for her group. She said she will slow down, but by the time I got back to me wife, the guide was a ghost.
We were to told to meet back at the clock in front of the post office in the center square, opposite of the cathedral at 12.10 exactly or risk missing the bus back to the ship. By the time most people arrived at the cathedral, it was essentially 11 am….so is 1 hour and 10 minutes what you can realistically call a Christmas market visit for Strasbourg? The pickup point for the bus back to the ship was slightly closer and took just over a half hour to walk to in order to board the buses back to the ship. So, we spent 3 hours in bus time, maybe an hour and a half to “see” Strasbourg Christmas market before getting back on the boat.
In short, what Scenic advertises as possible for a Christmas market cruise does not reflect reality. The amount of time spent in these markets is a pittance compared to the sales pitch of your cruise. It’s an exercise in misrepresentation.
Lastly, and I know I write this from US perspective, Scenic does not advise clients about a reasonable level of physical fitness / agility that will be required in order to enjoy their touring opportunities. The crew tried to make some accommodations but they clearly can’t fix what is on shore. Scenic Cruises has a duty to advise people about mobility issues they might face in order to make an informed purchase decision. The so called day in Strasbourg brought this issue into the sharpest of focus, although the other days were failures too. And even without mobility issues, the possible time to spend in these cities in markets were negligible compared to the way Scenic markets these tours.