The Luxury Travel Bible - LUXURY CRUISE: Scenic Jewel

LUXURY CRUISE:  Scenic Jewel
Style: Contemporary and convivial (169 passengers and 51 crew).
Scene: The pretty rivers and waterways of Europe.
Seen on Deck: Amiable Aussies, Brits and North Americans - generally a younger age group than other river cruise vessels.
As we turned the corner the track leading through the rows of vines dappled in the early morning sunlight suddenly became steeper. The consensus of opinion was that we'd have to go back to a flat section and take a 'run at it' and, with the glory of hindsight, maybe we should have taken the cable car.

To a complete newbie, getting to grips with an electrically assisted bike is not quite as easy as it sounds. On the flat I'd surged forward more quickly than anticipated and we collectively ground to a halt when we didn't shift through the gears quickly enough to tackle the hill. Then when we dismounted the bikes were heavy to push. However, practice makes perfect and within 20 minutes we'd cracked it, languidly pedalling past walkers to reach the Niederwald monument high above the German wine town of Rudesheim.

Far below us, on the sparkling water of the River Rhine, was our floating home for the week, Scenic Jewel. The seventh 'space ship' in the Scenic fleet, the 85-cabin ship certainly adds a new dimension to river cruising, which is the fastest growing sector of the cruise market. I boarded Jewel in Mainz for her maiden voyage to Amsterdam, and it didn't take long to go with flow and understand what makes river cruising so appealing.

scenic 'space ship'
scenic 'space ship'
royal panorama suite
panorama lounge
sun deck
river cafe

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.

Ultimate Luxury:  Butler service for every cabin and, if you want to push the boat out, sailing in style in one of the two Panorama Suites.
Most Indulgent Moment: Champagne at breakfast and yummy chocolate bars in the complimentary cabin mini-bar that is magically replenished whenever your back is turned.
Insider Secrets: Book a cabin on the Danube deck and you get extra treats, including an exclusive invite to dine at the Table La Rive chef's table, early morning tea and coffee in your cabin and a free pressing service for two items of clothing per day.
The Little Things: Pillow menu, evening turn down, cosy robes and slippers and luxe L'Occitane bathroom goodies, free Internet access.
Junior Luxies: Not really. Whilst not actively discouraged river cruising is not for youngsters.
Dress code: Casual and relaxed by day and night, leave the posh frocks at home
Dent in the platinum:  
Luxury Cruise Link:
 Jeannine Williamson 17/6/13
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