Scenic Crystal, launched in 2012, is one of Scenic's popular “space ships.” If you're an American, you might wonder why you've never heard of this luxury river line. It's because its Australian parent company has not marketed to Americans until recently. European menu (items like fish and muesli at breakfast and a wide selection of cheese offered at every meal, for example).
Now a staple of Scenic's stable, the “space ship” class nods to a design that offers plentiful public and cabin space – among the highest passenger space ratio in the industry. Standout features include the "Sun Lounge" balconies, which simultaneously make cabins feel large and airy and make the balcony space usable in fair and inclement weather; multiple dining options teased out of just two main public areas (the restaurant and the lounge); and a spa and fitness center -- small but certainly not standard on all river ships.
And the luxurious amenities can't be overlooked: Scenic is one of the most all-inclusive river lines. All meals, all drinks (minus the highest-end liquors and French Champagne), excursions, Internet and butler service in all cabins are included in the fare.
No detail is too small to be carefully considered, from a gorgeous selection of loose-leaf teas in the lounge to combination television-Mac computers with Internet in every cabin. The glassed-in showers might be the largest we've ever had in a standard balcony cabin, and you can lather up in L'Occitane shampoos and lotions before drying off in fluffy bathrobes. Even the included excursions go beyond the river cruise staples with your choice of walking, biking or museum tours in every port. Plus Scenic's exclusive GPS devices allow for independent exploration with a virtual guide and map, as well as narration during scenic cruising portions of the trip.
If there's a lot about Scenic that pleases, one downside on our trip was the quality of service. We were surprised at how many glitches there were. Our butler never introduced herself while the butler for the cabin across the hall was checking in on my neighbor daily. The waitstaff couldn't handle simple requests (no prosciutto on my antipasto or an off-the-menu request for morning oatmeal); The ship's state-of-the-art electrically assisted bicycles kept getting flat tires or running out of battery power; and we never managed to get the TV or Internet working in our cabin.
Because Scenic Crystal is not an American ship; you'll find lengthy itineraries (15-day sailings can be common) catering to Australian travel styles, European and Australian power points, and a more European menu (items like fish and muesli at breakfast and a wide selection of cheese offered at every meal, for example). But if you're looking for an upscale, all-inclusive river experience, Scenic Crystal is definitely worth checking out.
Scenic has designed staterooms on its “space ships” to make the best use of the available space,. First: Cabins have different layouts than on most riverboats. Closets face into the room and bathrooms are tucked in a nook along the outside wall rather than the entry. The result is cabins that are cozy yet comfortable, and not at all claustrophobic. The all-white beds are inviting, the storage plentiful and the bathrooms surprisingly large (with a fun, colorful lighting system).
All cabins onboard have river views. They're decorated with blond woods, a black-and-white color scheme, marble countertops and bathroom accents, white-tiled accent walls and fabric headboards. Each cabin is stocked with still and sparkling water (replaced when used), bathrobes and slippers, a safe, a hair dryer, an umbrella, an iPod docking station with clock, and a mini-bar (with juice, soda, liqueur and snacks) that's complimentary and restocked daily.
The Scenic Slumber Beds, made especially for the cruise line, feature white Egyptian cotton sheets and duvets. Though twin beds can be joined into one queen, the duvets are twin-sized, leaving a blanket gap in the middle of the bed. A pillow menu offers the choice of synthetic soft and medium pillows or "sandwich pillows" with white goose down. Nightstands vary; some are just marble tabletops, while others are wooden with two drawers. The bedside setup is quite good, with both small lamps and directed reading lights.
Closets vary in size by cabin category but have plentiful hangers, shelves and drawer space; the doors slide open, blocking the other side, so you can't have both open at the same time. The design is ingenious from a space-saving perspective but counterintuitive (we were constantly pulling the doors in the wrong direction) and takes some getting used to.
There's no real desk -- just a countertop that juts out with a white leather ottoman-style stool and some shelving above. Cabins have European and Australian plugs, using 220 volts, so Americans will need adapters.
Standard staterooms (160 square feet) are the most basic accommodations and found only on the lowest Moselle Deck. These have windows high up on the wall and the smallest closets. Shower-only bathrooms are also compact.
Balcony Suites (205 square feet) and Deluxe Balcony Suites (225 square feet) are nearly identical, save for the 10 square ft. difference. These categories, as well as that of the suites, have Scenic's Sun Lounge balconies. The "balconies" are actually glass-enclosed portions of the cabin, behind floor-to-ceiling sheers and blackout curtains. They feature two black-and-white wicker chairs and plastic drink tables. This sun room, if you will, can transform into a balcony at the push of a button. The top half of the exterior glass wall comes down, and voila -- instant balcony. If it's chilly or raining out, bring the glass back up, and you can enjoy the view without the breeze. The design makes the cabins feel more spacious and airy, and the balcony becomes the preferred sitting area, regardless of whether the window is open.
Bathrooms in the these categories have large (enormous by cruise-ship standards) glass-enclosed showers with actual doors, bowl sinks with faucets that will splash everywhere if you don't delicately turn them on, and minimal storage space. Toiletries include L'Occitane shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, body lotion and two kinds of bar soap, as well as a nail file and shower cap. A lighted makeup mirror is useful for primping, and a clothes line in the shower makes it easy to hand wash and dry small items.
The next category up is the Junior Suite (250 square feet). But don't be deceived by square footage; the major upgrade in these cabins is the bathrooms, which feature high-sided bathtubs, small showers (likely half the size of the showers in balcony suites in order to squeeze in the tub) and expanded sink/vanity areas with actual mirrored cabinets for extra bathroom storage. The desk area has slightly more space, as well as an extra small table. However, the closets are not as wide as in the deluxe balcony cabins. If you have no use for a tub and don't mind a bit of tight bathroom storage, save money and stick with the deluxe balcony.
We have similar feelings about the top two suite categories. The Royal Panorama Suites (there are two at 325 square feet) are the corner suites and the largest. Each has windows on the aft wall, as well as a sun lounge on the side; a sitting area with a couch across the cabin; and a large bathroom with a larger shower but no tub. These are technically a lower category than the Royal Suites (300 or 315 square feet), which have more cohesive sitting areas and long, skinny bathrooms with the most cabinet space, tubs and small showers. However, the balcony is definitely smaller in these than in the Panorama Suite. If you aren't going to use the tub or have a cocktail party in your cabin, and if you're not scared of a little early-morning noise as the ship ties up or the occasional fume (the occupant on our cruise smelled nothing), we think the bigger balcony, extra windows and bigger shower make for a better experience. (pricing is not all that different between the two suite types.)
Royal and Junior Suites receive extra perks: afternoon fruit skewers, pre-dinner canapés and post-dinner petit fours. Royal suite passengers also receive airport transfers by private vehicle, upgraded bathroom amenities and $300 per couple in onboard credit.
There's one single cabin (number 224) that's essentially half a balcony suite, but it still has the full-size closet, balcony and bathroom. With the shades open, it's cute and cozy; pull the blackout curtains, and you might be a bit claustrophobic. Cabin 302 is the one wheelchair accessible cabin. It's identical to a junior suite, but it has a larger entry door and a modified shower with a fold-down seat and a grab bar. (To accommodate this, the tub has been removed.)
All passengers are entitled to butler service (there are four butlers onboard), but services increase for the higher-end cabins. Butlers in all cabins will shine your shoes, arrange shore excursions or spa appointments, and bring you drinks. Additionally, passengers in balcony cabins can have butlers arrange cocktail parties and bring early-morning tea or coffee. Passengers on deck three – where the suites are located -- can order room service breakfast and get two pressed items daily. In the Royal suites, the butlers will unpack and repack your bags, offer free laundry and pressing, serve you meals in your cabin whenever you wish, draw you a bath and deliver a morning newspaper.
The main dining venue is the Crystal Dining Room, which has windows running down both sides, round and rectangular tables, and a permanent, rectangular buffet in the middle. It's got a modern look with blue, purple and gray chairs mirroring the blue and purple accents in the otherwise black and white carpeting. Four-tops and two-tops are pushed together to form tables of six, and it's pretty easy to sit two couples with no one in the middle. Perhaps because of the multiple dining options, the dining room often seemed partly empty; unusual for a river cruise.
Dining is always open seating, with breakfast served from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., lunch starting between 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. (depending on the day's itinerary and sailing schedule) and dinner at 7 p.m. While breakfast is a show-up-whenever affair, the cruise director on our sailing made a point in one of his daily lectures to remind us that dinner started promptly at 7 p.m., as many passengers had been wandering in after service had begun.
Breakfast and lunch are mainly buffets with a few hot items available for ordering specially off the menu (such as French toast, oatmeal and poached eggs). The breakfast buffet features fruit, cheeses, cereal, yogurt, bread and breakfast pastries, scrambled eggs, potatoes, baked beans, breakfast meats and fish. There's also a made-to-order omelet station and a different smoothie each day.
Lunch typically features a salad bar (with a small variety of veggies and a large assortment of nuts and seeds for toppings) and some premade salads (bean salad or egg salad, for example), sandwich fixings, two soups, a regional specialty (such as Dutch meatballs or fresh oysters), a pasta station, a carving station or other hot item cooked fresh, cheeses, and a selection of desserts (usually one type of cookie, ice cream, a mousse and a cake). Menu items are typically a fish dish and a vegetarian dish. The soups are consistently good (all vegetable soups are vegetarian), and the regional items give a standard buffet some flair and interest. The meats and seafood cooked at the buffet consistently got good reviews.
Dinner is entirely table service with no buffet. The menu offers two to three choices for an appetizer, soup, entree (often a meat, a seafood and a vegetarian option) and dessert. One recommended dish for each course is labeled as a Captain's Choice, and always-available options include a green or Caesar salad, hamburger or cheeseburger served with fries, chicken breast, salmon steak, fillet steak and a cheese plate for dessert. Special evenings include the Captain's Welcome and Farewell dinners.
At lunch and dinner, waiters come around to offer complimentary red and a white wine, but you can order other vintages, beer or soft drinks, as well.
Most dietary restrictions can be handled, but you must let Scenic know before your cruise. The maitre d' will speak to you at the beginning of the cruise to sort out what you can and can't eat. We met vegans and gluten-free eaters who were satisfied with their menu options. The ship can't provide kosher meals.
Portobellos is the Italian specialty restaurant, located behind the bar in the forward part of the main lounge. There's no surcharge, and every passenger can dine there at least once during a two-week cruise; your butler will arrange it for you. The venue seats 25. The first four courses are set (antipasti with prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella, sliced veal, minestrone soup and pasta), and cruisers have a choice of mains (fish, meat and veggie) and desserts (tiramisu or cheese plate). Be prepared for a long, slow meal; it was three hours on our cruise. The concept -- intimate, romantic, a step up from the dining room -- didn't quite pull together on our sailing. While the food is quite good and the presentation lovely, wait times between courses seemed too long, and at 9 p.m. (before we got our main course, mind you), the synthesizer in the lounge roared to life, and the Slovakian singer/pianist started belting out bad Elvis impersonations. Scenic is considering adding doors to the venue to keep the lounge sounds at bay.
Passengers on Deck 3 have the exclusive opportunity to dine at Table La Rive, a 10-person Chef's Table-esque experience. A special table is set up at the far end of the dining room by a window into the galley, and passengers are served a six-course degustation menu that features a different wine with each course. It's a three-hour meal, but the pacing is perfect, and you still have room for dessert when the beautiful molten chocolate cake and its dessert wine partner arrive. Still, the food was tasty but didn't particularly wow us, and the introductions of the wines and courses were often hard to hear and interrupted the flow of conversation. If you're on a long cruise, it's a fun way to do something different.
In a river cruise industry innovation, Scenic's coffee bar in the middle of the lounge is terrific. It is used for early- and late-riser breakfast, and a selection of sandwiches and pastries is always available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The double chocolate cupcake is not to be missed. (Ask for it with a scoop of ice cream.) It's also set up for light lunch daily, typically with pasta, burgers, fish and chips, soup and salad. Occasionally, when the weather is fine, a barbecue or afternoon tea service is presented on the Sun Deck.
There are plenty of dining height-sized tables in this area of the lounge so eating is comfortable.
A limited room service menu is available 24/7. Contact Reception or your butler to order. Choose from the air-dried pancetta appetizer, smoked salmon or pastrami sandwiches, a cheese platter, fruit salad or chocolate cake. Butlers can also provide an early-morning tea and coffee service, or they can serve breakfast in your cabin, depending on your stateroom level.
Dress is casual during the day (bring sturdy, comfortable shoes for all the walking tours) and smart casual at night. Ladies would wear dressy pants outfits, skirts or dresses, while men donned nice slacks and button-down shirts (jackets optional). People dolled up a bit more for the Captain's Welcome and Farewell dinners or for dining at specialty venues Portobellos and Table La Rive.
The Panorama 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 Scenic 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 Mannheim not being on the itinerary) but if you take a quick look at the card that explains the symbols, you will figure them out soon enough.
Scenic ships have 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.
Scenic historically has attracted Australians and Brits, but a growing number of Americans, Canadians and Germans are coming aboard. Passengers are typically aged 50 to 80, well traveled and financially comfortable. Passengers also tend to be fairly active; while Scenic Crystal does have an elevator, the focus on walking tours along cobblestoned streets in European towns means the tours aren't so suitable for wheelchair-bound or travelers with significant mobility issues.
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 facility 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. These 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.
The onboard currency is the euro. Gratuities are included in your fare for onboard staff and tour guides. Additional tipping is not expected.
Maximum Capacity: 169
Number of Crew:53
Crew Nationality: International
Officer Nationality: International
Language(s) Spoken:< Multiple Languages
OverviewEvery Scenic European river cruise begins aboard one of our boutique vessels or custom-built Space-Ships, so named for their spacious guest cabins, dining, and entertaining areas. Each of these four-deck Scenic Space-Ships includes numerous dining and sightseeing areas, as well as a lounge and bar area that offers panoramic views. Additionally, guests can retreat to the wellness center, which is equipped with a beauty salon, and massage rooms. These ships are noteworthy for their luxury suites, which are outfitted with sun lounges, 32-inch high-definition TVs, and complimentary wireless internet access.
Health and Beauty
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