Cruising on the Scenic Opal
Scenic River Cruises and Scenic Tours may not be household brands in the USA but they are in Australia, Canada and the UK. Recently entering the US market with their river ship division, Scenic brings another luxury product to the growing fleet of river ships. Interestingly the owner of Scenic is pausing his river ship fleet at 16 and now concentrating on ocean exploration ships with his first over the top luxury ship currently under construction.
Scenic started concentrating on the Australian tour market and built their first river ship in 2008, she was dubbed a space ship because of all the space she offers compared to other ships. Scenic has one very big company philosophy that sets them apart, everything is included except the spa. And believe me, they do mean everything! Tours, special events ashore with meals and wine or beer, internet, crew gratuities, gratuities for guides and bus drivers, admission fees, bar and mini bar beverages, wines with meals and airport transfers.
The Opal has a total capacity of 169 guest. There are 71 cabins with balconies, 13 cabins with high windows (partially below water line) and 1 single staff cabin. Scenic was the innovator of the balcony cabin with the electric window. This allows you to open a window to the normal rail height of a balcony, meaning this area can be additional room in the cabin, or it can be made into an entirely separate balcony area by closing the glass partition doors. You have the best of both worlds with more useable cabin space and a balcony on demand.
The vast majority of the cabins are a very generous 205 sq. ft. and suites are 475 sq. ft. All of the cabins and suites are very well designed with marble bathrooms, great showers, bathrobes, slippers, safes, mini bar (suite mini bars are stocked with Moet Champagne along with wines, beer and spirits), interactive TV with recent movies, and ample closet space. The suites are very, very comfortable and will satisfy almost everyone. And now the really BIG PLUS, every suite and cabin comes with a butler. My butler was great and took care of everything I needed. He unpacked and packed me up again, did my laundry and pressing (unlimited in suites and limited service in standard cabins) and polished my shoes. A complete bathroom amenity package is supplied by L’Occitane. Total cabin service was outstanding and the standard bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne for suite guests sets the tone.
The ship has a very appealing contemporary décor. If you are familiar with river ships they are all pretty much the same, except the Mozart my next review, due to demands of the rivers, bridges and locks. The cabins in particular are very bright and airy with great black out curtains, which you’ll need if tied up to another river ship.
Some of the more unique features on the Opal are on the upper deck. The forward most area of the lounge closes off with glass partitions at night to become an alternative Italian Restaurant with an open kitchen. Each guest can eat here one night during the cruise at no charge. For groups this is a great area as you also have private access to the forward deck area as well as a stairway to the upper deck for pre-dinner cocktails. This is for a group of 34 paxs max. A private dinner of this size on a river ship is a rarity and with a private cocktail area as well it is a truly unique feature. Another dining special is Table La Rive for all suite guests with a special Chef’s suggestion 6 course tasting menu and wine pairing. This feature can be made available to all guests by adding 2 similar tables on a charter. On deck dining is also available on all cruises weather permitting.
Dining, as with most river ships, is a mixture of buffet and limited A La Carte entrees for breakfast and lunch with dinner being normal standard A La Carte service. The Opal’s menu selection really focuses on the local and regional cuisine of the area for lunch and dinner along with your always available standbys of chicken, salmon and steak. The menus were very interesting and offered a nice selection of traditional menu items plus something to explore. Service was a bit spotty in the dining room, however this was a startup for the season cruise and we were the soft opening. They also have a 24 hour coffee and tea station in the lounge, as well as a deli case that is stocked from 7 am to 5 pm with all sorts of goodies depending on the time of day.
Evening entertainment, as with most river ships, is a mixture of an in-house musician and local acts brought on the ship. The highlight of this cruise was a private “Enrich Vienna Concert” after dinner in Vienna. This was a very special evening, normally in a palace, with champagne and then a concert with several opera numbers as well as a mandatory waltz. A very special evening which everyone is sure to enjoy.
An area that Scenic really excels in, in my opinion, is their tours. Cruise Critic must agree as they award Scenic with the best river ship tour award for 2016. I must admit, I am not the world’s greatest fan of tours but I truly enjoyed these. First off I could understand every word the guide said. As mentioned earlier, they never hustled or mentioned tips, they were extremely knowledgeable about the sights, the area and local customs, and they gave you a peak into normal day to day life in the area you were exploring. There were a few surprises as well, such as a private piano concert (which was fantastic) at the school for the blind in Budapest. An absolutely great “city tour”. A tour to Salzburg included all the local highlights of the Sound of Music along with a luncheon and the best hits of the Sound of Music with the children singing of course. Heck the lunch and wine (included) were even good. If you did not want to tour you always had bus service into the city center. Last but not least, how about a big bike ride? You would be surprised how many people did this, they had to bring in more Ebikes. The tours were great, maybe the best I have ever had, and that is exactly why you are actually doing this cruise!