Scenic Crystal River Cruise Review:
Part 4: The ship
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Scenic Cruises launched its sixth river cruise ship, the 169-passenger Scenic Crystal in April and we were on this maiden voyage. Scenic Crystal is 443 feet long and has cabins and suites ranging from 164 to 315 square feet, most of which have real outdoor balconies that you can enclose at the touch of a button.
We boarded this ship in Amsterdam for a trip down the Rhine to Rüdesheim where the ship would be christened before continuing down to Basel, Switzerland.
The Airport Transfers:
Scenic Cruises will pick you up at the airport when you arrive on departure day whether or not you purchase flights from Scenic. Scenic staff will be waiting near the baggage carousel holding a sign. You may have to go to a bus or holding area for a little bit while others are arriving. In 2013, the included transfers will become PRIVATE transfers, so once you arrive at the airport, you will be whisked directly to the ship without delay! Show me another cruise line that offers that included in the price! Since we arrived two nights early, we simply took a taxi to the port.
Upon arrival at the Scenic Crystal, staff came off the ship and grabbed our suitcases for us and took them onboard the ship. We climbed the gangway and entered the lobby of this amazing new river ship and met with the staff. They quickly introduced us to Igor, the Hotel Manager and he offered my wife a single rose. We were given our room keys and they ushered us to our stateroom. This was the quickest and hassle-free boarding experience I’ve ever encountered in all our travels!
Once in our stateroom, we were met by our butler who explained the room and services. In 2013, all three passenger decks will receive butler services included in the price! She made sure our devices were hooked to the internet and made us reservations for Portobello’s Restaurant at my request.
We had stateroom B205, which is a Deluxe Balcony, mid-ship on the middle (Rhine) deck. This is a nice sized room with closets, safe, Apple TV, mini bar, hair dryer, bottled water, two-twin beds configured into a queen sized bed with suitcase storage beneath. A sliding glass door opened onto a full outdoor balcony with glass/wood rail. There were two chairs and a small table. Scenic calls this area, the “Scenic Sun Lounge” because at the push of a button, a window slides up (just like a car window) and encloses the deck from noise, wind, rain and cold. You can enjoy your balcony at anytime! This is a great new feature and we used it a lot. You will need an electrical adapter/converter to power your electronics as they use European electrical plugs.
The bathroom was the best I’ve had on any ship. It was larger than most ocean-going ships and it featured modern sink with LED down-lighting and a glass-walled shower that had three heads and an LED colored lighting display in the upper showerhead! It gave you a SPA-like experience right in your own stateroom. Unbelievable.
Noise and vibration:
Now you sometimes read reviews about ship vibration on certain cruises. On river cruises, the ships are smaller and follow a very winding river. These ships will sometimes make more noise during turns as they use side thrusters. The engine noise will be heard no matter where your cabin is located but it never seems to bother me. I know I’m on a moving vehicle and when going in and out of locks there will be some bumping and engine noise. Is this something that ever kept me awake? No. I rather enjoyed the hum of the engines.
Scenic Tours leaves a DAILY PROGRAMME on your bed each day so you will know the schedule. The ship was to depart Amsterdam at 17:00 hours. (yes, they use the 24 hour/military time) Shortly before sailing, they gathered us for a Welcome Reception and safety briefing. Scenic Tours CEO/Managing Director came onboard and gave us a nice welcome speech and the ships Captain then took over the safety briefing. An actual ‘safety drill’ was held the second day and we all put on life-vests on the Sun Deck. There are no lifeboats on a river ship so you simply go to the upper deck when the alarm is sounded and they hand you a life-vest.
My first thoughts were WOW! The ship is brand new and pristine. I’ve been on a lot of ships before, but none that smelled of new paint and carpet. I expected the crew to be a bunch of inexperienced employees thrown together at the last minute not knowing how to do things. Boy, was I wrong! They were all spectacular! Like a well-oiled machine. Polite, knowledgeable and accommodating.
This is a great space and well used. From reading a book, having coffee or a cocktail to having some lunch or dancing the night away this room delivers. Beautiful furnishings that are comfortable to eat lunch in or just sit and watch the scenery go by through the large windows. There are coffee and tea stations here, available around the clock and the new lunch venue, The River Café. A light lunch fare is served there and it also houses appetizers and desserts as well. Forward of this area is the Portobello’s Restaurant (only set up in the evening, otherwise its an extension of the lounge) which is a special place to have a 7 course dinner. The dinner is special and the service is incredible. There is no extra fee for any of these dining venues. In 2013, drinks will be included as part of the cruise fare. That’s right, all-inclusive!
This is considered to be a ‘special’ dining experience and will require a reservation due to limited seating area. There is no extra charge to dine here which is incredible. The staff is ‘extra-attentive’ and greets you with a flute of champagne upon arrival. There are many sized tables and we were seated at a table for six. We shared dinner with four other passengers and found them to be very fun and interesting. Dinner served was seven courses of delight. Several choices of regional wines were offered and each course was presented by the chef with a story. The meal was great, the service spectacular and the experience was memorable.
Forward of Portobello’s is a small but covered seating area right near the bow. It offers a fantastic forward view of the area you are traveling. It offers some sun or rain protection and even has some radiant heaters overhead which helped on a blustery day. A great spot to view the transit through one of the many river locks.
A great big area to socialize, watch scenery and catch some rays. On our cruise, it didn’t see the use it would during the summer months but we still found it a great place to take photos and watch as we passed under low bridges. During nice weather it also serves as another alternate dining venue. The wheelhouse and the upper railings on the very top deck are sometimes put down. The wheelhouse is able to be lowered and the deck rails and canopies fold down. This makes it possible to fit under lower bridges on the river. We were allowed to sit forward of the wheelhouse during the passing of low bridges, but were ordered to stay seated. It is quite amazing how they scoot right under these bridges with very little clearance. There were only two areas to smoke onboard; one was the furthest point aft on the Sundeck, the other was right near the middle stairs/wheelhouse on the Sun Deck. The Captain said, “if you don’t see an ashtray, you cannot smoke there.” No smoking was allowed on the balconies either.
The Crystal Dining Room:
A very nice restaurant for all three daily meals right at water level. Many different sized tables to choose from and It operates with an open-seating policy. A great place to meet old friends or to discover new ones. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet-style. Mornings saw an omelet station and afternoons usually had some sort of carved meats available. Regional wines, beer and soft drinks are complimentary at lunch and dinner. In 2013, these beverages will be complimentary around the clock! We enjoyed the local Riesling wines very much. There was usually a choice between a couple of different wines with each meal. The food was served up in courses; appetizer, soup/salad, main entrée and dessert. I found each dish I had ordered to be very good. Sometimes they had a theme, like on German day the staff was dressed in lederhosen, German music was played, they served authentic German dishes and trays of bier!
I found the staff to be very accommodating at all times. Whenever I had a question, they were there with an answer. The Cruise Director, Sylvie, was very good as running things. She gave the port talks each day in the Lounge and also took care of us when it came to tours and on debarkation day. Service staff were excellent both in the lounge and dining rooms. Stateroom staff were also very good. All gratuities are included with Scenic Tours/Cruises which is very nice and convenient.
If you are the type that needs constant entertainment, you may be a bit bored on a river cruise. Entertainment usually consists of a piano player/singer/entertainer, dancing , local musicians brought onboard, lectures or a glass blowing demonstration. I found it to be a nice distraction in the evening when you could not see the scenery.
The internet is a fee for service program now, (about $30 Euros/week) but in 2013 it will also be complimentary…and it should be. I found the internet to be very frustrating. It’s satellite -based so connections are horrible through the river valleys and locks. It seemed you could never get connected and once you did it didn’t last. I told the ship staff that if I had to pay for internet…I wouldn’t have. It just wasn’t worth the aggravation in my opinion.
Casual elegance for the most part. Several of us men wore sport jackets during the more dressy nights, like the GALA dinner and in Portobello’s Restaurant. Most men wore collared shirts or polo’s and women wore dresses or pant suits.
Overall the dress code was not something to worry much about. As long as you look presentable, everything is fine. Yes, people were wearing jeans in the dining room. Women may need a shawl or sweater for the dining rooms or lounge as the air conditioning can be quite chilly inside.
We had cold, rainy weather. Dressing in layers works very well on a river cruise. As the day heats up you can strip layers or the opposite if the temperatures drop. Rain was a big factor, so a raincoat was perfect as it also offered protection from water and wind. Scenic provides each stateroom with a large umbrella to use on excursions as well. These are great for taking pictures when its raining so your camera doesn’t get wet.
The next sections (part 5) of this review will cover our Shore Excursions and tours followed by the naming ceremony and some other thoughts and tips. Stay tuned!