Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World, Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges, and The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases--by Steven B. Stern (Sponsored by Stern's Travel Guides, Ltd.)
Cruising the rivers of France and the Vineyards of
Bordeaux on Scenic Cruise Lines' Scenic
Bonjour Mesdames et
un voyage magnifique"; traveling through celebrated vineyards and
historic villages in total comfort and luxury on the beautiful, all-inclusive ScenicDiamond.
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
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 â€śall inclusiveâ€ť. For this cruise
line â€śall inclusiveâ€ť 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.
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
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
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 Lâ€™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.
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 Lâ€™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
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.
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.
visit one evening to Chateau Giscours was especially enjoyable. After a tour of
the Chateau with cocktails and hors dâ€™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.
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 dâ€™Estronol and several others. The tour was topped off with wine
tastings at Chateau Lagrange and Chateau Gruaud Larose. This was heaven for
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
shipâ€™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.
Scenicâ€™s â€śall-inclusiveâ€ť cruises are among the best in the riverboat industry
and highly recommended.
(Author of Sternâ€™s Guide to the Cruise Vacation and
Sternâ€™s Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges)