Many of the modern European vessels look relatively similar on the outside as their length and height is governed by the size of locks and low bridges. However, they're not all made equal and interiors and amenity levels can vary. We passed some ships dripping with ornate chandeliers and others with a minimalist look. In contrast, Jewel has a colourful and modern decor and, with its siblings, has been dubbed a space ship because it boasts 20% more space in public areas and cabins than vessels of a similar size.
Of course, you're never going to get the all-singing all-dancing facilities of ocean-going ships on the river, but Jewel has a gym, spa and shop along with the 30 bikes for passengers who want the freedom to go off and explore by themselves, which is great for independent souls and one of the reasons Scenic probably attracts a younger demographic than the silver surfers normally associated with river cruising.
Best of all, Scenic's cruises are all-inclusive so all I needed was spending money for splurges onshore. With excursions and all meals and drinks covered in the price, including a well-stocked mini-bar, there are no nasty bills to settle at the end. Plus, the thorny issue of gratuities, which can be a bugbear for Brits and other nationalities that don't have the entrenched American tipping culture, is also covered, so an all-round result for passengers and staff alike.
And it doesn't stop there as every cabin has a butler, on hand to bring ice, shine shoes and generally make you feel pampered.
I spent the first afternoon getting everything shipshape in my cabin, which had ample storage, a high-tech flat-screen entertainment system that also ran to a Mac mini-computer and iPod dock and a good-sized bathroom with a proper shower cubicle (some suites have bath tubs). More than 80% of Jewel's cabins have 'sun lounge' balconies where there's plenty of room to sit out on the funky cream and black chairs and watch the world drift by. And now for the clever bit. If the sun isn't shining balconies can be a wasted space, but on Jewel they have fully closing floor to ceiling picture windows that open or shut at the touch of a button. This makes the area a natural extension of the cabin that can enjoyed whatever the weather.
After Rudesheim our next port of call was Braubach, overlooked by the imposing medieval castle of Marksburg where we headed for a tour and evening meal. Whilst some passengers thought the entertainment with some jovial minstrels was naff, I thought it was fun, particularly the quirky and slightly alternative female joker and acrobat. Helpful hint - if you are a fit looking guy you might want to shrink down in your seat as one person is plucked from the audience for some gymnastic, and ultimately surprising (without giving too much away) audience participation.
As we sailed into Holland the days followed a leisurely pattern of cruising, punctuated by seemingly never-ending meals, excursions, onboard talks and entertainment with the resident keyboard player and other performers, such as folk dancers, who hopped on and off along the way.
Excursion highlights included a sobering trip to Arnhem, scene of the disastrous battle immortalised in the film A Bridge to Far, and a tour of the mighty Delta Works flood defence barrier. All passengers get natty multi-tasking GPS devices and ear pieces which variously provide an onboard commentary of passing places of interest and informative route guidance for people who want to go it alone at ports of call. They're also used on sightseeing excursions to avoid having to cluster around the guide to hear what's being said.
My original tentative outing on the bike put me in good stead for organised bike tours in Koblenz and Middelburg where we set off in convoy and had a restorative glass of local wine or beer en route. This may have been partly responsible for the return journey in Koblenz that saw breakaway Bradley Wiggins wannabes reach speeds nudging 30kph.
Back on board, meals were invariably good and varied, from the 6.30am early riser breakfast to the 22.30pm late night snack. I particularly liked the option to dine in the small Portobello Italian restaurant, set up at the end of the main lounge area, and the all-day Rive Cafe serving cakes and snacks which provided an option for a lighter lunch if you don't want the full works in the main restaurant. Mealtimes are relaxed and pleasantly informal, with free seating, and evenings invariably ended in the bar. For insomniacs there's a 24/7 tea and coffee station.
So who else was on board? Scenic is Australian owned so the majority of passengers are Aussies, mostly couples, groups of friends and a sprinkling of singles, along with Brits, Canadians and Americans, making for an easy-going atmosphere and late nights spearheaded by thirty-something party animals. So be it sightseeing, socialising, softie cycling or being spoilt, Scenic's got just about everything to float your boat.