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Cruising the Rivers of France and the Vineyards of Bordeaux on Scenic Cruise Line's Scenic Diamond
BY STEVEN B. STERN TUESDAY NOVEMBER 24, 2015 8:52:53 PM  
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Cruising the rivers of France and the Vineyards of Bordeaux on Scenic Cruise Lines' Scenic Diamond

 

 

Bonjour Mesdames et Messieurs:

 

          "Preparez pour un voyage magnifique"; traveling through celebrated vineyards and historic villages in total comfort and luxury on the beautiful, all-inclusive Scenic Diamond.

          We started our journey on a relatively unknown French Airline, La Compagnie. The airline offers all business class accommodations from New York/Newark to either London or Paris for an average of $1500 per passenger all taxes and fees included. Quite a discount from other carriers; as well as providing the most desirable advantage of avoiding the knee-crunching experience of coach class.

          On arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport outside of Paris, we were met by agents of Scenic Cruises and whisked away to Hotel Scribe, a first class (not deluxe) hotel in the heart of Paris for a one-night stay. Air arrangements together with transportation from the airport and a free night in Paris is one of the options offered by the cruise line. 

          We had the afternoon and evening on our own to explore the romantic "City of Lights", and to search out some French cuisine that we could afford. We had to pass up the Michelin-starred restaurants and settle for some more reasonably priced bistros.

         The next morning after the breakfast that was included, we were transported to the railroad station to board the ultra-fast TGV train for our journey to Bordeaux. The cruise line handled our luggage from the hotel to the ship, arranged for our seats, as well as our bus ride from the station in Bordeaux to the ship. This enabled us to enjoy the trip without any hassle.

          We met the Scenic Diamond  where it was docked in Bordeaux. Although the ship usually accommodates up to 167 guests, there were only 60 on our cruise. Possibly this was due to the fact that it was late October and the last scheduled cruise of the season. The majority of passengers were from Australia with a few from Great Britain, Canada and the United States. Most passengers were between 65 and 75 (some younger and some older).

          Scenic promotes itself as “all inclusive”. For this cruise line “all inclusive” includes: unlimited premium spirits, wines and liqueurs, French champagne, soft drinks, specialty coffees, a fully-stocked mini-bar, all tips and gratuities, butler service, complimentary Wi-Fi,  TVs with Internet, cable and movies, special meals ashore, airport transfers, and all tours. For an add-on to the cruise fare, airfare and/or  pre-cruise hotel stays  are available.

On arrival, we went to our stateroom, which was one of the 205 square-foot balcony suites on the second passenger deck. The majority of the accommodations were similar to ours and featured unique balconies separated from the room by glass doors. On the enclosed balconies were two chairs and a small table. The upper half of the floor to ceiling windows facing the river opened, giving one the feeling of being outdoors.

           Our stateroom was attractively appointed, with a mini bar/refrigerator, a private safe, a large flat-screen TV with access to the internet, numerous cable stations and movies, bed-side reading lamps, bottles of water, a hairdryer, robes and slippers. The rooms were quite compact with no lounging area. Apparently, the glassed-enclosed balconies take up space that would otherwise have been an indoor sitting area.   In addition to a glass-enclosed shower with multiple spray nozzles, the bathrooms had a toilet, a single vanity and some storage area below the sink.

          The fourteen cabins on the lowest deck, though a bit smaller, were similar to ours without the balcony.  For an additional cost, guests could opt for one of the four 250 square-foot junior suites, one of the four 315 square-foot Royal Suites, or one of the two 325 square-foot Royal Panorama Suites that look out over the stern of the ship. The junior suites were barely larger than ours; and guests requiring more space would be best advised to book a Royal or Royal Panorama Suite.  (Each of the two 475 square-foot Royal Panorama Suites on the three Scenic ships that entered service in 2014 and 2015 include separate bedrooms and sitting room areas).

          All of the accommodations enjoyed butler service which included valet, shoeshine, in-suite beverage service, cocktails and morning tea & coffee. Those on the top deck received two items pressed daily and could have breakfast served in their suites; and those in the Royal Suites could get all of their laundry done gratis.  For the rest, there was a charge for pressing and laundry, and dry cleaning was not available.

                   After unpacking, we explored the rest of the ship. Located on Moselle Deck, the lowest deck, were the non-balcony staterooms and a small room used for massages. The newer Scenic riverboats have fitness centers.

          Immediately above on Rhine Deck, where our stateroom was located, were the other balcony suites and the main Crystal Dining Room. An elevator connects this deck with the Danube Deck above, the location of additional balcony suites, junior suites and the four Royal Suites, the Panorama Bar and Lounge, the Observation Lounge at the front of the ship, the L’Amour Restaurant, the gift shop and the reception desk.

          Atop ship on Sun Deck were the wheelhouse (a riverboat's version of "the bridge") deck chairs, tables and a walking track. A fleet of electric bicycles was available for passengers wishing to take a leisurely ride at the various stops, as well as for organized tours, including excursions from Bourg to Blaye, throughout the city of Bordeaux, and in Pauillac to the wine chateaux.

          We missed not having a fitness facility with a treadmill, exercycles and cardio equipment, a pool or whirlpool, an additional lounge with a library, tables for card or board games and a self-service laundry.  Some of these facilities can be found

on the Scenic ships built during the past few years.             Before dinner the first evening, the passengers congregated in the Panorama Lounge for introductory talks by the captain and cruise director, as well as a glass of champagne. Cocktail hour was especially popular every evening inasmuch as imbibing was free, and through the panoramic windows, guests could watch glorious sunsets while enjoying romantic piano music. Immediately before the dinner bell, the cruise director gave informative talks each evening describing the following day's program and tours.

          Dinner in the Crystal Dining Room each evening was a five-course affair featuring a different menu each evening of the cruise. Following the amuse bouche, we could choose between two appetizers, two soups, and a salad. The entrĂ©e selections included meat, fish, and fowl as well as a vegetarian dish.  In addition to two tempting desserts, health-conscious guests could opt for fresh fruit salad or an assortment of cheeses.  Both a red and white wine choice accompanied lunch and dinner, and champagne was available at breakfast for mimosas. At all meals, it was possible to order a steak, hamburger, salmon, roast chicken and caesar salad.

          As an alternative to the main dining room, guests could opt for a simpler, buffet-style breakfast or lunch at the observation area located at the back of the lounge, or when weather permits on the open deck. Various pastries, sandwiches and snacks were available here throughout the day

          The culinary highlight of the cruise was dinner at La Rive, where each evening twelve passengers who booked accommodations on the top deck are treated once each cruise to a multi-course, gourmet, French degustation menu. Each of the six courses is paired with the appropriate, top quality French wine.

          All passengers, irrespective of the location of their stateroom, have the option to dine at L’Amour, an intimate fine dining French-style restaurant located at the front of the lounge. We found this a pleasant change of pace, however it did not compare with our dinner at La Rive.

          During the cruise, one dinner and two lunches took ashore and all three were exceptional.

          In our opinion, dining on Crystal Diamond was among the very best we had experienced on any riverboat or ocean-going cruise ship, as was the service. Not only in the dining room, but throughout the ship, the entire staff was extremely efficient, courteous and anxious to meet any and every request.

          Following dinner each evening, we wandered back to the lounge where there was romantic piano music for listening and dancing. On two evenings, music groups were brought on board for an evening performance. Later in the evening, for the few that were still around, the pace picked up for some more serious partying. There was virtually no afternoon activities (apart from the tours), and none of the audience participation evening activities we had experienced on other riverboats.

                    An enviable feature of this cruise line is the fact that it offers passengers an assortment of multiple tours each day, referred to as Scenic Free Choice. Included among the numerous excursions were wine tastings at chateaux in Sauterne, Medoc, Saint-Emillon, and Remy Martin in Cognac, visits to  oyster  and duck foie gras farms for tastings, walking, hiking and bike excursions, visits to castles , a bird sanctuary and exploration of several towns along the way.

Our visit one evening to Chateau Giscours was especially enjoyable. After a tour of the Chateau with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, we were treated to an excellent four-course dinner which featured all of the wines produced at the Chateau, and was accompanied by a classical concert.   

Another memorable experience was our morning tour of the Medoc which included photo opportunities at such famous wine producers as Chateau Lafite Rothchild, , Chateau Mouton Rothchild, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Petrus, Chateau Cos d’Estronol and several others. The tour was topped off with wine tastings at Chateau Lagrange and Chateau Gruaud Larose. This was heaven for oenophiles.

          All itineraries on the Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde Estuary are designed especially for those who enjoy wine and wish to learn more about the wines of this region. On most days, at least one excursion was to a wine chateau or involved a tasting.  Of course, a nice selection of wines from the Bordeaux and elsewhere was available aboard ship. We found the ship’s wines were of higher quality then on most other riverboat lines.

          The downside of cruises in Bordeaux is that these rivers are not very picturesque and not much time is spent actually cruising. Often when the tides were not favorable, we were taken to destinations on bus rides that were longer than would otherwise have been required had the ship been able to traverse the river.

          I should add that the cruise itinerary was very busy with numerous excursions (a trademark of a Scenic Cruise). Those wishing to avail themselves of all the options extended were left little time to relax and just enjoy cruising. (Of course, it was not necessary to take every tour). However, as pointed out earlier, this cruise is all about wines and designed for those that are more interested in sampling wines than viewing scenery.

          Overall, we enjoyed our cruise and were most impressed with the dining and with the excellence and attentiveness of the entire staff. Scenic’s “all-inclusive” cruises are among the best in the riverboat industry and highly recommended.

 

Steven Stern

(Author of Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation and Stern’s Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges)

         

 

         

 

 

 

 

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