By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
All Photos except one by Anne Schrader
We have been on 12 river cruises in Europe and our 11th was in December 2015 on the Scenic Opal. We sailed from Nuremberg, Germany to Budapest Hungary on a 7 day cruise from December 1st to December 7th. Although we have sailed on this part of the Main River, the Main-Danube Canal and the upper portion of the Danube 5 times now, there is always something exciting and new to see and do on perhaps the most popular river cruising route in all Europe. So, let’s learn more about Scenic, the Scenic Opal and the Gems of the Danube sailing route.
Scenic is an Australian tour company (founded in 1986 by Glen Moroney) that started Europe River cruising in 2008. They have 2 brands—Scenic (an all-inclusive luxury line) and Emerald Waterways (their deluxe river cruise line).
The Scenic line features your own butler (services vary by stateroom category); complimentary beverages all day, every day; six dining options; the Tailormade GPS device (more on this feature in the Gems of the Danube section); balcony suites on the 2 upper decks; electronically assisted bikes; complimentary Wi-Fi; laundry and airport transfers. There are no extra charges for tours or gratuities but massages and the hairdresser are extra charges. The long ships (135 meters or 443 feet) carry 167 passengers.
The Emerald Waterways line includes complimentary beverages at lunch and dinner; all on board meals; balcony cabins on the upper 2 decks; bikes (without electronic assisted feature); and complimentary Wi-Fi. As with most river cruise lines, there are included tours in every sailing. They also have an EmeraldPLUS no addition cost tours to enhance the standard offerings. There are also Discover More tour options that cost extra and require a minimum number of passengers. Gratuities are included in the basic cruise fare. The long ships (135 meters or 443 feet) carry 182 passengers.
The Scenic Opal Space Ship
The ship is very sleek and modern. The ship was built in 2015 and is well designed. There are 4 decks: the Jewel Deck (at the river line), the Sapphire Deck, the Diamond Deck and the Sun Deck. Facilities on board include Portobellos Restaurant, the River Café, the lounge & bar, a gift shop, the Crystal Dining Room, Table La Rive (only for Diamond deck guests, limited to 10 guests and serves a 6-course meal paired with fine wines), a massage parlor, a hairdresser salon, and a fitness center. On the Sun Deck (top level) there is a pool and walking track. The lounge & bar area is very large and open for a river cruise ship.
The Crystal Dining room serves most of the meals you will eat on board this river ship. Meals were generally very good. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style (although there are some items you can order off the menu) and most dinners are served at your table at night. The best dining experience in the Crystal Dining room was the seafood buffet—it is the best seafood buffet we have tasted on any cruise ship period! Other dining venues include the River Café (a casual all-day dining place), Portobellos and the Table La Rive. Portobellos Restaurant is for 32 guests at one nightly seating, and reservations are necessary, but each guest is given at least one chance to dine there during a 7 day cruise. We thought the five course Italian meal that was paired with Tuscan wines was excellent and a special feature of the cruise. You can also get room service from your butler, certainly not a standard feature on most river cruise lines. During good weather there sometimes are special meals served on the Sun Deck area.
The Seafood Buffet
There are 85 guest cabins on this riverboat and 73 have balconies. The Jewel Deck, the Sapphire Deck and the Diamond Deck comprise the guest cabins.
Our Stateroom Suite
Our balcony cabin was 205 square feet, a good size for a river cruise ship. It had a comfortable bed, 32 inch flat screen TV, a well-designed bathroom (shower only) a good size closet with a stocked bar (no extra charge!), but the highlight was the Scenic Sun Lounge—at a push of a button, the glass enclosed lounge converts to an open air balcony—it was awesome!. We had a butler, who escorted us to our cabin and explained his duties and made sure we knew how everything in the cabin was and how it worked. We really liked the room but only had 2 minor complaints—the lounge area had a railing that we stubbed our toes on (but we quickly got over that) and our butler forgot to tell us about the do not disturb button that lets the crew know if we wanted maid service or not.
Gems of the Danube
Our cruise started in Nuremberg and we visited Regensburg, Passau, Linz, Melk, Durnstein, Vienna and Budapest. We have sailed this route, in this direction 4 times, so we really know this portion of the Danube. It was an exciting cruise in the heart of Europe that had some unique features included with this itinerary. These unique tour features are called Freechoice, Sundowners and Enrich.
All tours are included—they call them Freechoice. At each port, there are at least 2 choices of escorted tours. Freechoice tours are divided into Active, Moderate and Relaxed, to allow you to choose the pace which best suits the tempo you desire for your vacation. They also have a great hand-held GPS device, Tailormade, which allows you to use it for both self-guided touring in ports and on board highlights of sights while you are sailing. The devices are very good but occasionally ours did not work properly during the sailing sights—the folks from Scenic told me they are working to improve the devices. It worked well on land. The ear piece was especially comfortable and well designed.
The other two unique features when sailing with Scenic are the Sundowners and Enrich. Our Sundowners experience was in a great little wine stubbe in Durnstein. Although we have visited the small village of Durnstein multiple times, we had never been inside this wine stubbe and the wine/beer/food party with a band was really awesome. It truly was a great end to the day!
Sundowner in Durnstein
Our Enrich visit was an evening concert featuring the music of Strauss and Mozart in Palais Liechtenstein during our visit to Vienna. We started off the evening with a couple of glasses of excellent Austrian Sekt (sparkling wine). The concert hall had great acoustics, was lavish beyond belief and was really a memorable experience.
Our Enrich visit to Palais Liechtenstein
You might imagine that having sailed this route as often as we have, we had seen all the major sights. Not so! For me, I got the chance to visit Cesky Krumlov, the medieval Czech town, a place I had wanted to see for quite some time. This place is great—a cool castle and a great charming village—and, for me, the highlight of the entire cruise.
Cesky Krumlov, the medieval Czech town
Budapest Parliament at night–this was our view on the final night of the cruise!
Overall, we really like Scenic. Matched with the right folks, this will really provide a great experience for most river cruisers. These are just a few of the reasons we like river cruising on Scenic so much—they are constantly improving their product. We hope this will inspire you to give me a call at 713-397-0188 or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) so I can help you visit Europe on a river cruise and help you:
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