August 24, 2018
(10:05 a.m. EDT) -- Flights, transfers, packing, pet care, mail pickup. Planning a river cruise can be an exercise in logistics with a long to-do list before you go. But some lines make it as easy as possible once you start your journey.
Cruise Critic is just back from a river cruise with Scenic, one of the most-inclusive lines sailing Europe's rivers. Our weeklong voyage on the Danube onboard Scenic Jasper took the stress out of sailing, even during a time when water levels were extremely low. Check out our six things you don't have to worry about on a Scenic river cruise.
1. Paying Extra For Anything
Cruises on Scenic are all-inclusive. That covers your drinks, as well as shore excursions, transfers, Wi-Fi, butler service, some laundry service, and gratuities to crewmembers and shore excursion guides. Unless you buy something from the boutique onboard or book a spa treatment, you'll probably walk off the ship without spending a dime extra. On our cruise, passengers were especially excited at the range and number of shore excursions. A highlight was the Sundowner in the Wachau Valley that took us to the ruins of Aggstein Castle in Austria. Here, passengers were greeted by polka and oompah music and handed glasses of apricot sparkling wine (a regional favorite) and cold beer. Tables were set out, and passengers leisurely explored the ruins to grab stunning views of the sunset over the Danube or simply sat and enjoyed the company and music. Scenic Sundowners are offered on every Scenic cruise and provide amazing cocktail-and-canape experiences in some of Europe's most beautiful locations.
2. Having Great Excursions
What made our Sundowner experience so exceptional was that it was the third shore excursion of the day. While not all passengers elected to partake in all of the options, they could have started the day with a 22-mile bike ride from Durnstein to Melk, then visited the Loisium Winery or Melk Abbey before heading to Aggstein for a welcome chance to unwind. More than 30 passengers took on the bike ride aboard electronic bikes (these are provided by Scenic and have motors, which can be used to provide a little extra boost if you need it). The e-bikes were a hit; a passenger celebrating her 80th birthday zoomed right to the front with the guide for the entire ride. Bicycles can be checked out in any port, regardless of whether there is a cycling tour offered; many passengers were emboldened by the fun 22-miler and checked out bikes in subsequent ports. Scenic's commitment to multiple excursion offerings means passengers with different likes will be happy with their options, whether they want to tour with the group or head off on their own.
3. Eating at Any Time of the Day
Here's one certainty: You will not starve on a Scenic cruise. On Jasper, we were impressed with the hours and variety of food options. First, there's the early-risers breakfast, served in the ship's River Cafe. This was a great option for those us who like to wake early, grab a quick bite and walk along the riverfront before tours begin. Then, the regular breakfast, served buffet and a la minute in the Crystal Dining Room. Still hungry? Tapas are available throughout the day at the cafe (and ice cream selections are offered in the afternoons). Lunch is served in the dining room and buffet style by the cafe. Canapes are occasionally offered in the lounge during the port talks ahead of dinner. Dinner is offered in the Crystal Dining Room, but once a cruise, passengers are invited to dine at Portobellos for a rustic Italian meal. Additionally, those staying on the ship's third deck are invited to a multicourse meal (complete with wine pairing) at Table La Rive. If still doesn't fill you up, you've got room service from early till late. And cookies at the coffee bar all the time.
4. Drinking Good Wine
If you're a wine drinker, Scenic just might be the line for you. Perhaps it's the Aussie connection -- Scenic is an Australian company, and we know many of our friends from Down Under expect a great glass of wine -- but the wine selection on Scenic Jasper was top notch. Passengers raved about the daily wines served in the Crystal Dining Room. We loved that our sommelier gave an overview of the wines offered before each dinner and explained why they were picked. Recommended pairings were exactly right. At La Rive, diners enjoyed options like Chateau La Nerthe Les Cassagnes Cotes du Rhone Villages, along with Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Our hotel manager told us the whole crew was involved in picking the wines, joking, "We tried 100 bottles. We were very picky as we tried the first 50; the second 50 were all great!"
5. Finding Space to Relax
Scenic touts its Space-Ship model of river boat -- designed with larger-than-average amounts of public space. And indeed, you feel it in the public areas onboard, especially the ship's lounge and restaurant, which easily accommodate all 169 passengers. On our sailing, which took place during a hot, dry spell in Europe, passengers spent most of their free time on Scenic Jasper's sun deck and in its pool, which features a bench for seating and jets to soothe muscles tired from walking and biking through ports each day.
6. Water Levels Ruining Your Trip
Our journey actually was supposed to take place on Scenic Amber, a virtually identical ship to Scenic Jasper. Sadly, the low water levels on the Danube River made it impossible for Amber to reach us, so Scenic made the decision to put us on Jasper instead. We got an email about the swap the night before we were set to sail, but it didn't affect our departure time or schedule at all. We followed the same itinerary up until we hit Passau, on our second-to-last day onboard. That night, we were told the ship couldn't proceed to Nuremburg, our scheduled departure port, because levels were too low for Jasper to safely pass to. But excursions still were offered as planned, though they would require more bussing (a number of passengers elected to take them still.) Our excellent cruise director kept everyone informed about what it would mean about transfers to airports and hotels. In general, everyone was understanding and content with the changes.
Worth noting is Scenic's unique "River Cruise Guarantee," which essentially guarantees vacation protection for passengers in the event of major deviations or cancellations. (Our cruise had only minor disruptions.) Scenic and its sister line Emerald Waterways are the only line to offer this kind of guarantee, backed by a partnership with an insurance company.
--By Colleen McDaniel, Senior Executive Editor