Lisa, Cruise Specialist at our Gloucester branch, is a very experienced ocean cruiser and had not yet tried river cruising. All this was set to change as Lisa boarded the Scenic Gem in Paris. We asked Lisa to tell us more about her on-board experience and what differences, if any, are there between ocean and river cruising? Here's what she had to say.
I was both very excited and apprehensive when I was told I'd be spending a week on board the beautiful Scenic Gem river cruise ship. Having experienced many luxury ocean liners, I was intrigued to see how a river cruise ship would compare. Would the Scenic Gem live up to its luxurious name and reputation?
As I boarded the vessel, I quickly realised that size really does not matter when it comes to cruising, and, in fact, I quickly realised river cruising might be something I was really going to enjoy.... Arriving in Paris, we were swiftly greeted by a Scenic representative who showed us to our coach transfer. Our driver kindly loaded our luggage onto the vehicle and, the next time I saw my suitcase, it was in my cabin. The boarding and checking process was effortless. I was welcomed by a friendly team member and taken to the desk where I was expecting to fill out a mountain of forms, hand over my credit card and have a chat about how everything works. Instead, I was welcomed aboard, handed in my passport and was invited into a lounge to get a drink of my choosing. Amazing start! I was half-way through my glass of bubbly when an impeccably dress gentleman greeted me and introduced himself as Adam, my butler. Adam invited me to accompany him as he directed me to my room, a deluxe balcony suite, and gave me a personalised tour. Adam showed me where everything was located, and I was also shown how to use the balcony window and the mood lighting in the shower, which, once I had used, I didn't want to leave! Finally, I was invited to help myself to the mini-bar.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at leisure and we were free to enjoy Paris at its finest, although, I must be honest, I didn't really want to leave the ship! I decided to sit on the top deck of the Scenic Gem with a Martini, in the sunshine enjoying the stunning views of the Eiffel Tower in front of me. One of the biggest things which stood out for me between ocean and river cruising was the fact that on board this river cruise, we had an on-board cruise director. Every evening the cruise director gives guests a 'port talk' where they give you detailed information on the upcoming port along with the optional excursions available for the next day. The cruise director is available most of the day on board the ship and is a guide to assist you with making the most of your river cruise.
Dinner that evening was served in the main restaurant, Crystal. Here, as standard you’re offered a four-course meal with a choice of starter, soup, main meal and dessert. If, however, a guest would prefer, they have the option of dining from one of the vessel's set meals. The food on-board was truly outstanding and, throughout my five nights I had the opportunity to try the ship's prime cuts of beef and exquisite seafood, including lobster. I even tried frog’s legs! I soon realised you don't have to cruise on board an ocean liner to dine on luxurious food.
Wine and beer are served readily during your meal, however if you did want something else to drink, that's not a problem. A crew member will happily advise you on the on-board selection and bring your order promptly to the table, with a smile.
That evening, we headed north toward Poissy. I returned to my cabin, enjoyed a glass of wine from my mini bar, opened the window and sat on my balcony enjoying fresh air and the sights of the dazzling Paris lights as they sailed past me. On board a Scenic river cruise you’re issued with a blanket, slippers and a big snuggly dressing gown for you to use at your leisure. It was certainly peaceful and relaxing and a very personal touch which just adds to feeling special during your trip. Nothing had been an effort or hard work (yet)!
We awoke the next morning already at our next destination, Poissy. I had plenty of time to have breakfast before my first excursion to the stunning Chantilly Castle (included in the price). I was greeted by calming reflections on the water which were beautiful to look at; the air was crisp, and I could see the famous broken bridge of Poissy. I knew then that I preferred waking up in the heart of the destination, something you don’t get when ocean cruising. Waking up on a quiet river with no industrial cruise ports or having to tender in from the ship to the port is such a treat and a completely different type of experience; only one you will get on a river cruise.
Upon disembarking the ship, which is a much nicer process due to only having 128 guests instead of a few thousand, we were met by the coach at the ship and, true to form, our guide Sandrine greeted us as we boarded the coach. During the hour’s drive to the chateaux Sandrine spoke to us about its history, Chantilly and how it was famous for its lace production, horse racing and also the world famous Chantilly cream. We arrived at the chateaux and followed Sandrine down to the entrance gates, she proceeded to go and buy the tickets and issued us all with one. We then went on a walking tour of the grounds which lasted for around an hour. During this time, we learned about the history and the architecture of the chateaux and had time to admire its beautiful grounds, art gallery etc. which were outstanding. After the walking tour we had free time to go and explore at our leisure. I took a walk back around the bedrooms to admire the white and gold rooms and the gigantic paintings of battles fought long ago.
Dining on board Scenic Gem
Lunch today was on board the Gem in the Crystal dining room. With no seating plan, guests are able to dine with whomever they please. Lunch is buffet style and there’s so much lovely food to choose from - from multiple salads to hot food, to different breads, cheese boards and ice cream plus a whole host of desserts, there’s no shortage of choice on board. The food is to a very high standard and you could eat as much of it as you want. To say we ate well would be an understatement!
In general, afternoons during your cruise are very leisurely and most days are spent sailing up the River Seine. During my time on board, the weather was very kind to us which meant time could be spent on the top deck of the ship with a book or just enjoying the ship. Waiters are on hand to take any orders; the best bit? As you’re on a luxury all-inclusive ship you don’t pay for anything!
My ultimate highlight of this cruise was an excursion I took on an electric bike. The electric bikes are free to use and can be used as part of an excursion or for personal use, should you want to to explore the local town or enjoy a scenic bike ride along the river. I opted to do a cycling tour through Giverny and, before departing the ship, I spoke to Valerie the cruise director and explained I'd like to take part in a 20-minute bike ride to Monet's Garden and asked how much it was going to cost to get in... With a big smile she explained entry is free as she handed me a pre-paid ticket to Monet’s House & Gardens. My e-bike was waiting for me outside! There was a Scenic staff member who talked me through how to use the electric bike and how easy my life would be with electric cycling - he was spot on! Using my Scenic Tailor-made device, I was able to programme it to guide me to Monet’s Garden by bike!
My final experience really opened my eyes to the difference between river and ocean cruising. Scenic Enrich took me on hand-picked tour which is unique to Scenic and designed to be a truly unforgettable experience which reflects a destination along the river you are sailing. Exclusive for Scenic guests, my Scenic Enrich experience saw us transported to the beautiful Châteaux Roche in Guyon, where we were greeted with a drink in the old stables. Rated as one of the prettiest villages in France, Guyon really is a beautiful sight. After our welcome drinks, we were seated in a room with a stage, where a French Quartet came out and greeted us and proceeded to play several pieces of music for us. One of the quartet members stood up and told us about the group and explained their uniqueness as they have a flutist in their quarter and this is very unusual. The music and atmosphere were stunning. I have never experienced anything like this on an ocean cruise.
Passenger Capacity & Space
Everything on this cruise ran like clockwork from start to finish. Due to the low number of passengers on the ship everything was much easier and ran smoothly. Scenic pride themselves on having one of the best passenger to space ratios and, only having 128 guests on the ship certainly does prove this. The cabins are a very generous 225sq ft of space. Some of the most luxurious ocean liners have cabins which also start at around the same size.
In summary, luxury river cruising is very different to ocean cruising. The luxury all-inclusive aspect is on another level. From the Scenic Enrich, electric bikes and a non-invasive butler on top of mooring into the heart of the ports leaving the big industrial ports behind really sets river cruising apart from the ocean. I would recommend a river cruise as a ideal holiday for people who have cruised the main destinations of the world by ocean and now want a change, people who want a smaller ship experience, for keen explorers and for people who do not want to be herded around. I can honestly say there is a river cruise out there for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you have cruised before or not or if you’re worried about choppy seas or feeling cramped because none of these apply to a river cruise. My expectations have well and truly been exceeded. Please don’t hesitate to ask me about my river cruising experience. I look forward to helping you with your river cruise holiday in the hope for you to feel the same.