We have sailed with Scenic once before and our experience was extremely positive, so we decided to take the plunge and do another one. We were not disappointed on any level. We did the Spectacular South of France cruise because this one involved no nighttime cruising, and was a little slower paced in the afternoons for the most part, which appealed to us
NEGATIVES: The things that could have been better are few and far between, but there's always room for better. Scenic did our flight arrangements, and we found out a month or two before leaving (after setting it up well in advance), that our flight out of Nice was too early and could not get to the airport in time. To their credit, they did fix it, but it was a little disconcerting to be up in the air (so to speak) for a while. We arrived in Paris, and the next morning took a bus to the train station, and then the high speed train to the Sapphire. It's a little nicer on other cruises to arrive in the embarkation city and be on the ship right away. Can't be helped in this case since there's no large airport in Chalon-sur-Saone where it starts.
A couple of the excursions had tour guides who were very slow at finding the English word for explanations, which was a slight hassle. The ship has been redecorated well, but the toilet roll holders are attached with one screw and are all coming loose or tearing from the wall. (Nit picky, I know.) Beer selection is fair, although I kind of fell in love with a french beer, so it really didn't matter.
Be prepared to moor with other ships and people walking through your lobby. To be honest, this was minimal, and I could have cared less; just that a lot of people mention that. They all do it.
POSITIVES: So the rest of the cruise is great. I'll try to give a feel for what my wife and I experienced.
In Paris Scenic put us up at the very posh Westin, in a perfect location. Loved it. The welcoming person was so very nice, and did a very nice informational meeting.
The ship is beautiful. All very sleek greys, black, white and silver, with small splashes of color. Sort of an urban chic. Always spotless. Staff members are constantly cleaning and polishing. Sanitizer dispensers are strategically placed, and they asked that everyone use them when entering and leaving the main areas - we like that. There are germs from all over the world on any ship, and that helps a lot.
We had one of the "royal" suites, which involves a few extra perks, although any level has perks. No tipping, which is wonderful. You absolutely feel no pressure to tip - wow! Every excursion you choose is included, no extra fees ever. Beer, wine and alcohol are all day and night at no charge. You can relax in the afternoon with a glass of wine without waiting for dinner.
We both thought the meals were wonderful. I know some people get huffy over the fact that lunch is a buffet. With only 153 passengers, I don't find that a big deal at all, and there are still menu items at both breakfast and lunch if you don't wish to stand in line for 30 seconds. My wife has some dietary restrictions, and once they caught on, it was wonderful how they catered to her. No gluten or dairy - and the chef even made her three separate desserts for her birthday following those restrictions. That was above and beyond to us. If you don't care for the menu options, at all the meals you could simply order a chicken breast, salmon, rib eye, and a couple others. I had the rib eye one night and my wife had the chicken breast - both were delicious. Service was timely, the wine flowed freely, and the dining room was lovely. The host discussed the wines for the night each evening, so you could choose knowing what you were getting. They weren't the very expensive wines, but excellent medium range wines. If you don't like one, tell the waiter and try another. Can't ask for more than that. Breakfasts were great too, large buffet, and a omelet station. I had the eggs benedict 5 or 6 times it was so good. Fresh fruit always. And the desserts were works of art. Kudos to the staff and chef for the service and quality. Special dinners each night were explained at length by the chef himself, which is a nice touch.
I'd like to mention the staff. The butler, Edita, who showed us our suite was so welcoming and efficient. I can't say enough about her service throughout the cruise. Also, our two male butlers than helped us, Dominik and Vladi were practically begging us to give them tasks. And we did, from laundry to ironing to breakfast in the room, etc. All done quickly and so nicely. I had two massages from a young man named Dragan, who also led exercise programs each morning (which we didn't do). He was professional and also fascinating to talk to. Such a nice human being we had great discussions while he worked his wonders on my muscles. Best massage ever, really. The Eastern European people are so genuine, hard working, smart, and family oriented. A breath of fresh air. A young lade, named Sevit, at the front desk went out of her way to help, and give recommendations for visits to towns and shopping. She is also to be congratulated for her wonderful demeanor and knowledge. The cruise director, Eric, was everywhere, putting out fires, making sure things went well on the excursions, etc. Well done. I guess to summarize the staff, superb. I'm running out of superlatives here! Loved the bar staff, and the bartender was great. We did tip some of these staff, although there's no need, but how could we not?
The daily life and excursions and entertainment were memorable, filled with culture and history. I'll mention some of the ones we did just to impart a flavor of what they're about:
All afternoon and evening the lounge has a very competent piano player named Paolo, which adds a nice touch to the feel. He could play most anything. We went to the town of Beaune and Hospice Hotel Dieu, which was a lesson in history along with a perfectly preserved hospital from the 1400's. The architecture was fabulous, with a colored-tiled roof that is simpy not to be missed.
E-bikes were available almost every day, on your own or organized rides. We didn't use them, but friends we made did and thought they were very easy to use and fun.
One of my favorite excursions was to a truffle farm, where a family farmer and his dog, Chinook, took us into his truffle trees to hunt. He loved telling us all about the truffles, how they are grown, the dog, everything. This is something special, as opposed to just looking at churches and castles (which also is interesting). His wife then took us into their 16th century farm house and served us truffle butter she made, with wine and bread. This was a gem outing......don't miss it.
We ate at the special L'Amour Restaurant on night. Really nicely done with impeccable wait staff. Also ate at the Captain's table, and he was personable and interesting. We didn't do the Table La Rive because we were busy, but heard it was also good.
Had a band one night, Krystal Live Band, fun music. Al little schmaltzy, but talented.
Went to Cluny where the great Abbey once stood. A part is still there, and the museum with models and explanations helps you understand the grandeur and importance of the place: Largest church in the world until St. Peters was built.
Another favorite and highly recommended "Scenic Freechoice" was Medieval Perouges. A walled city very intact, and there's not a corner or nook that isn't ripe for an amazing pose or picture. The tour guide was so very good, and some free time and fun shops. That day we had a silkpainting demo on board in the afternoon. Very interesting.
One evening went to the Scenic Rouge Circus Performance for a show and dessert. Lots of young talent and acrobatics. Had a French Paradox Talk, which was fun too.
In Tournon we had evening aperatifs after dinner on the terrace of a castle with a panoramic view that was killer. Along with some live music, it was relaxed and delicious. Later was a music quiz that was lively and fun. They really try to keep you entertained if you desire.
We picked a trip to Tain L'Hermitage and the Valrhona Chocolate factory one day, which was imformative and who doesn't like taste testing chocolate. Spent a little money there I'm afraid. The chocolatier who gave us the talk was a little long-winded, but the museum there taught me a lot.
Two dancers one night" Pierre and Faustine" were so good they almost put dancing with the stars to shame. A delight.
The Ardeche Park and Lavender museum was very nice - again, we learned about something we knew little of, and also saw some splendid natural beauty. That night we had a fench female singer who did Edith Pilaf among others, and she had a great sound.
We Did the Chateauneuf-du-Pape vinyeard/village tour with wine-tasting. The history was superb, I loved this one, and the wine was so good we ordered some to be shipped home. We didn' do a lot of wine-tasting excursions, but this one was a gem. We toured the Pope's palace in Avignon later that same day. Just look at a couple of their pictures and you'll know it's deserving of it's UNESCO world heritage designation.
A different favorite of mine was Pont du Gard and Uzes. If you're at all considering this excursion, look at some pictures of the 2,000 year old aqueduct, and you'll be hooked. The museum there was outstanding also, and the tour guide gave us plenty of time there, per the recommendation of Eric, our tour director.
A special evening was dinner at the Pope's Palace. The room was so "important", can't think of the right word, because 5 papal enclaves were held right there in the 1300's. So much history. The food was fancy, but not my favorite, except for the really good pear dessert. They had a string quartet that was as good as any I've ever heard....wow.
We went to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, with a fascinating church, right on the Mediterranean coast. Lots of interesting little shops. Also went to the bird Park, but it started raining and most elected not to go in (including us). That evening was a gypsy show, and they were so much better than I expected. A real treat.
Another excursion I would highly recommend was Les Baux-de-Provence and Olive Oil Farm. Baux was a very cool little walled city, picturesque and fun, with lots of fun shops amidst the cobblestoned streets. And the olive farm, once again, was something I knew little about. It is a family business, and has been for many generations, even with their own 14th century private chapel. The process of making the olive oil was so well done, as was the intriguing tasting we did with one of the owner's daughters. Do it.
I will say we loved the Scenic Tailormade devices. On one of ours the battery was bad, and they quickly replaced that. The sound was usually very good, except in a very windy situation. You can also take them out on your own when roaming around, and they have a built in GPS that will give you pertinent info on anything you're near. Also, take them around the ship and set to cruise mode, and they alert you to interesting things you're passing on the shore with a history.
Once again, I highly recommend Scenic. It's not at all like a huge cruise ship where there are so many stores, restaurants, venues, pools, etc. But that's the charm of a small boat; almost like a temporary community expertly formed and guided by the staff. We met so many fun people. Don't get me wrong, everyone doesn't become friends, but it was easy to make some, and it made the cruise so much better. I'm 63 and there were some a fair amoung younger and quite a few a little older (retired), and a few elderly. I think all ages can enjoy this type of cruise. Of course, motion sickness is no issue here.
I have read negative reviews of Scenic. Everyone isn't pleased with the same things, but I feel like with the amazing service and the multitude of choices in entertainment, food and excursions, I can't imagine not having the best of vacations on the Scenic Sapphire.
Thank you Scenic for your concept and execution. You are worth the little extra money that one pays as compared to some other river cruise lines. Read Less