Within the top tier of river cruising, lines have been working to set themselves apart, adding features and luxury touches designed to stand out within the increasingly competitive market. Based in Bordeaux, Scenic Diamond personifies the Scenic Cruises ethos by offering an all-inclusive ship that strives to push the bar with new experiences, both on the ship and off.
Refurbished in 2017, the Scenic Diamond "Space-Ship" sparkles with marble interiors and modern decor, while giving passengers some quirky options for downtime such as cooking demonstrations and a salt room. Passenger counts were lowered from 167 to 155, by converting cabins into public areas and developing new Owners Suites, while still keeping the same number of staff. There's a refreshing casualness onboard that belies the luxury price tag; while service is still professional and prompt, the crew and their management are not afraid to make friends with the passengers. (Perhaps that's the Australian influence; travelers from Down Under dominated our cruise, which was about three-fourths full.)
Best of all, Scenic allows you to customize your cruise experience so you're more likely to get the kind of vacation you want. Fancy a small nosh in Scenic's unique sunroom-balconies? Your butler will bring it to you. Want to skip the guided tour? Scenic's "TailorMade" devices give you the highlights so you can explore on your own, and the cruise director will make sure you have a pass to get into the castle. A fleet of electric bikes (e-bikes) make it easy for anyone to take them out for a spin.
We also enjoyed the variety of dining that Scenic Diamond provides, particularly if you're staying in a suite. Passengers in those top cabins receive dinner at Table La Rive, a degustation meal that boasted some outstanding bites and wine pairings. L'Amour is a French specialty restaurant open to everyone, and River Café is fabulous for a fast lunch. (We loved the ham and cheese toasties.) The wine list was among the best we've seen on the rivers, reflecting Bordeaux as well as other regions in France.
Where Scenic needs work is with its enrichment offerings. While we enjoyed the much-heralded Scenic Culinaire cooking demonstration, the experience felt dry; it's not immersive like similar classes we've taken on other lines. Excursions visited wine chateaus, but it seems almost criminal not to have some sort of onboard wine education session where passengers could get an overview of the complicated Bordeaux region and its offerings. We also felt the salt room could have used some explanation; while we sat there the requisite 45 minutes, we weren't sure what the benefits were supposed to be (and didn't see any, personally).
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All in all, though, Scenic Diamond has a coziness and comfort level that felt luxurious to us. Passengers weren't afraid to let their hair down and have fun; toward the end of the cruise, the dance floor filled up nightly (particularly when the musician switched to DJ-ing). Extra activities, such as Scenic Sundowner and Scenic Enrich special evening activities at chateaus, were set in gorgeous locales that made everyone feel special. Cycling tours gave us the chance to have some exercise with our constant diet of wine and cheese. What more could you want from a Bordeaux river cruise?
While Scenic historically has attracted Australians and Brits, a growing number of Americans and Canadians are coming aboard. Passengers are typically aged 50 to 80, well traveled and financially comfortable. Passengers should plan to be fairly active; while Scenic Diamond does have an elevator, it doesn't go to the lower deck or sun deck. The focus on walking tours along cobblestoned streets in European towns means the tours aren't so suitable for those wheelchair-bound or travelers with significant mobility issues.
Dress is casual during the day (bring sturdy, comfortable shoes for all the walking tours) and smart casual at night. Ladies wear dressy pants outfits, skirts or dresses, while men don nice slacks and button-down shirts at dinners. On the Bordeaux itinerary, there are a few possibilities for dressing up, if you want to, including the Captain's Welcome and Farewell dinners, the Scenic Enrich event at a chateau and dining at specialty venues L'Amour and Table La Rive.
Scenic Diamond is truly all-inclusive; you won't have to touch your wallet unless you want to visit the hairdresser or get a spa treatment. Fares include transfers, gratuities for all staff and local guides, Wi-Fi, a choice of excursions every day, a Scenic Sundowner event, a Scenic Enrich event, use of e-bikes, all drinks (including a mini-bar replenished daily) and specialty restaurants.
Scenic Diamond does have a bit of a class system, depending upon what deck you are on. Butler service on the top Diamond Deck is more comprehensive, and passengers staying here are also invited to dine once per cruise at Table La Rive, the ship's seven-course wine pairing meal.
The onboard currency is the euro.
Either 3.5 or 4 Stars
The jury is still out
Wine tour on a ship
Cruising with the Mascaret