The Jewel Lounge, just forward of reception on the Danube Deck, is the only entertainment venue onboard. A singer/pianist performs there in the evenings and occasionally on afternoons spent sailing. His rendition of Elvis' "Love Me Tender" had us running for our earplugs, but he did manage to get people dancing every evening. The crew show and the occasional folkloric show also take place on the dance floor in this venue.
The lounge has an uncluttered, modern look with floor-to-ceiling windows, black-and-white carpeting, and blue, gray, brown and orange couches and chairs. In the center of the room is a rectangular bar where passengers can order complimentary cocktails, fancy coffee drinks and other beverages, including a changing roster of cocktails, mocktails and martinis of the day. Bartenders have an Enomatic wine dispenser and a state-of-the-art espresso machine to assist them. Order at the bar, or wait for the circulating bar staff to come to you. The bar staff were very attentive and even came around to the Sun Deck on a warm day, so we didn't have to leave our loungers to get drinks.
Unlike ocean cruises, river sailings don't offer a full roster of scheduled fun. Onboard time is usually spent watching the scenery or relaxing in your cabin, on the sun deck or in the lounge with a book or drink. Every so often, the cruise director will schedule an activity like a galley tour or cooking demo by the pastry chef. But the itineraries are so port intensive, the staff doesn't want to overprogram passengers' time off. There is neither enrichment programming nor in-depth lectures on the destinations, though the cruise director does give a brief overview of each port the night before.
The main focus of a cruise on Jewel is the ports. All excursions are included in the fares, and Scenic is big on choice and possibilities for independent exploration. In each destination, passengers can choose from a few ScenicFreeChoice excursions. These will typically be a walking tour, a biking tour or a transfer to a museum or a nearby city for a tour. We found guides were generally good, but the walking tours often seemed rushed in an attempt to give an overview of the town, allow for free time and not tire out everyone with excessive ambling. All passengers receive a special GPS system called a ScenicTailorMade device. They are the next generation of the QuietVox systems many other river lines use. The devices function in three ways. First, they work like a QuietVox in that you can turn yours to your guide's channel so you can hear her explanations through your headset and don't need to stand directly next to her (great when you're walking down crowded streets in Europe and your group spreads out). Second, they contain walking tours for select cities, with maps that indicate key attractions and show your position; when you reach the highlighted places, prerecorded commentary begins to play, often with photos of that attraction. Finally, the devices serve as commentary during scenic cruising; as you sail by places of interest, the commentary will come on, explaining what you're looking at. This frees the cruise director from having to narrate and allows people who wish to snooze or read during sailing times to not be bothered by constant explanations on the PA system. The devices can be a bit finicky (mine constantly reset itself to Mannheim, despite our not cruising to Mannheim at all), but if you take a quick look at the card that explains the symbols, you will figure them out soon enough.
The ship is laid out with passenger cabins in the aft half and public rooms in the forward half. The public decks are a half-flight down from each passenger deck. To wit, to get from the 300-level cabins on Danube Deck to the Lounge on the same deck, you must go down half a flight of stairs.
Reception is located midship on the Danube Deck. There, you can sign up for bike tours, make spa appointments, borrow electrical converters and ask questions. The cruise director also sits there to answer questions and provide handouts on the various destinations. They can also lend you binoculars or provide toothbrushes, razors and other toiletries you forgot to pack. Across this lobby area, glass cases serve as the "gift shop," holding jewelry, watches, logowear and some local items.
The main gathering spot is the Jewel Lounge, just forward of Reception. Flanking the entrance is an espresso machine (with lattes, hot chocolate and the like) and a tea station with several choices of loose-leaf and fine bagged teas. You can get your own drinks 24/7. Large flat-screen TVs are employed for cruise director presentations, and shelves on the walls and under glass tables house tour guides and other books for onboard perusing. The lounge is where the cruise director will give his daily port talks and make any announcements. It's also where people hang out to read, snack, drink, meet for pre- or post-dinner cocktails, or watch the river go by.
An elevator midship stops at all decks and half decks, except the Sun Deck.
Wireless Internet is available gratis throughout the ship. If you don't bring your own laptop, iPad or other digital device, the in-cabin TVs have Apple computer setups with cordless keyboards and mice. These can be tricky to use; ask reception or your butler if you need assistance.
A laundry and pressing service is available for a fee, but there are no self-serve facilities.
The top deck Sun Deck is the main venue for catching some rays and watching the beautiful European scenery pass by. The forward part of the deck is furnished with the same black-and-white wicker chairs found on the sun lounge balconies, wooden tables and some umbrella coverage. The aft section has a giant chess set, collapsible awnings for shade, black fabric chairs and loungers, and tables for drinks. There's also a small outdoor space with tables and chairs just forward of Portobellos.
The spa is a small two-room job on the Moselle Deck. The front room has a windowless space for manicures (32 euros) and salon services like women's and men's haircuts (9 euros for beard-trimming, 24 to 42 euros for cuts and styling) and eyebrow "correction" and coloration (12 to 14 euros). The back room, with one high window, has a spa bed for facials (30, 60 and 90 minutes, ranging from 35 to 95 euros) and 25- or 50-minute massages (30 and 50 euros, respectively). It's pretty basic, but you won't get a hard sell afterward. Appointment times are limited with only two therapists onboard, so book early.
A small fitness center, located across from the spa, has one elliptical trainer, one recumbent bike, one rowing machine and one treadmill. Free bottled water and towels are available, and a large flat-screen TV provides workout entertainment. However, your workout might provide entertainment to others. The gym's corridor-facing wall is all glass, so anyone who passes by can watch you sweat. There's not much head clearance on the elliptical trainer, especially if you're tall; an upper-body resistance machine or some free weights would have been a better choice.
The ship also carries 30 electric-assisted bicycles for use in port. These are super fun. The bikes work like standard three- and seven-gear touring bikes ... but when you get tired, you can push a button to activate a small motor that offers six levels of power. Cruising along and want a bit of help? Try level one or two. Biking uphill against the wind while the tour guide gets farther and farther ahead? Bump it up to 5 or 6. Just remember to return to a lower level when you stop, otherwise your bike will kick into gear as soon as you begin pedaling, giving you a bit of a surprise. But the bikes are great way for people who are fit but haven't spent a lot of time cycling to enjoy a bike tour or simply tool around town on their own.
Scenic Jewel has neither facilities for children nor specific family sailings, but kids ages 7 and older are welcome onboard. The itineraries would be suitable for older teens interested in culture and history, and the option of bike tours and independent exploration with the ScenicTailorMade devices mean they aren't forced into day after day of walking or bus tours. --by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor