Apr 6, 2017

A Scenic cruise along the Seine River


There is so much scenery to see on a river cruise that the time spent sailing between ports is vastly different from an oceangoing cruise. It’s the very essence of the trip.

A summertime trip to Paris and points north in France. Ten nights aboard Scenic Gem cruising along the Seine River. Along the way, riverside cities and nearby locations filled with history, local culture, and amazing sites. On board, outstanding food and wines, terrific service, and a splendid atmosphere. And everything seamlessly and smoothly organized. It sounded good to me.

A Scenic Introduction

The very name of the company, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours (an Australian company gaining greater awareness in North America) nicely describes the overall experience.

There is so much scenery to see on a river cruise that the time spent sailing between ports is vastly different from an oceangoing cruise. It’s the very essence of the trip. Only on a river cruise does the deck staff have to take away upper-deck furniture and lower the ship’s wheelhouse so that the ship could get under low bridges along the way.

Going through multiple locks is a significant part of the cruise, as is watching life along the riverbanks, where people are going through their everyday lives, taking a break and picnicking along the shore, and waving to guests on the ship, seemingly so close you can practically exchange a glass of wine with them.

This cruise began and ended in Paris, with the evening sailing into the city perfectly timed by the ship’s management to provide an outstanding view of the lit-up and twinkling Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. (Yes, they have one too, although the one they gave to the United States is way bigger.)

scenic-gem.jpg

Onboard Atmosphere

Life aboard Scenic Gem was a delight. When full, the ship carries only 128 guests in 64 staterooms. I’m always amazed at how staff gets to know guests.

And with a total of 44 crewmembers and such a small ship with a relatively limited number of public spaces, they really get to know you in a hurry.

The outstanding service — whether from staff in the dining room, bar, reception desk, or one’s stateroom — is a meaningful part of the intimate feeling on board.

Not surprising, dining is French-oriented, but not exclusively. Every lunch and dinner features a wide variety of French courses. For example, one night featured several entrée options: Filet de Salmon Omble aux Epinards, Pommes Mousseline et Jus de Truffe, Magrets de Canard et Confit d’Oignons au Cidre Pays d’Auge, and Le Ratatouille de Ratatouille.

I’m not going to translate all of that, but it basically means salmon, duck, and ratatouille.Or, guests could choose from the always-available entrée list and enjoy excellent steak or deliciously grilled chicken breast.

Yes, it’s a small ship, but there were enough alternatives to the open-seating main dining room that everyone had plenty of options, including freshly made pizza for lunch in the River Café, which is part of the main lounge.

In addition, two fixed-course dining events are held nightly by reservations. One is a seven-course dinner that matches wines (French, naturally) for every course.

True confession: My favourite food on board was the chocolate croissants — flakey, buttery, lighter-than-air, and full of delicious chocolate — that are served freshly made in the “alternate” breakfast area in the lounge.

gem-one-bedroom.jpg

Staterooms are nicely sized with enough closet and drawer space for a couple, and the amenities are top-notch. Linens and mattresses are truly comfy, there are plenty of free movies and music in the in-room system, and butler service comes with all accommodations. But one feature sticks in my memory: the balcony window design.

With the press of a switch, the top half of the balcony window lowers down to the railing level making the sitting area (two chairs and a small table) part of the room and allowing in fresh air and plenty of light. It’s amazing technology and I suspect one of the big lines will eventually steal the idea from the river ships.

monet-house.jpg

On Shore Experience

Ports along the way included lesser-known locales such as Les Andelys, Caudebec-en-Caux, and Conflans.

Bus trips took us to Deauville and Versailles. Vernon is the port for Giverny, home to Monet’s house and gardens (more beautiful in person than any photograph).

The ship spent plenty of time in both Rouen and Honfleur so guests could take longer tours to sites and scenes of both World War I and World War II.

From Honfleur, I found the time spent on Omaha Beach

(the famous landing spot of D-Day) and then the Normandy American Cemetery and Visitors Center to be gut-wrenchingly powerful. But from Rouen (home of the cathedral church that Monet’s paintings made famous) the full-day tour to the famous Battle of the Somme site of WWI, was incredibly informative and emotional. There’s so much to see in these two ports that it’s a good thing we were there for two days each.

The cruise concluded with a full day and overnight in Paris. Nicely, all tours are included in the fare. On shore trips were beautifully organized and featured always-on-time busses that were clean and new. They never filled up all the seats, so there was room to spread out, and the drivers and guides were excellent.

Scenic is at the top of the river ship pyramid when it comes to quality: culinary, service, and the ship itself are all truly upscale. The experience is seamless and as close to all-inclusive as it gets. Fellow guests, primarily from Australia, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, all appreciated not having to deal with onboard costs.

Overall, does Scenic do a great job? Mais oui (that’s French for absolutely yes!).

Article by Art Sbarsky.

Porthole-Jan-Feb-2017-cover-(1).jpg