LOS ANGELES, CA — The latest river cruise company to bring U.S. travelers to the fairytale riverways of Europe comes by way of Australia. Scenic Cruises, which has been popular with its native Australian market is now making heads turn in the U.S. with a fleet of gleaming new “Space-Ships.” The latest in the line is called The Jewel, which just launched last week in Amsterdam. The 169-passenger vessel is the seventh in the fleet and presents a new kind of luxury for the cruise crowd: the “fully-inclusive” vacation.
That means that from the time guests land at the airport in Europe, and are greeted by one of the company’s transportation staff, to the time they are dropped back for departure, all elements of their cruise vacation are taken care of: dining, excursions, transport, guiding and tipping – all of it.
But beyond the all-inclusive sheen, the Jewel offers much more luxury in a trend that seems to be heating up in the uber-competitive river cruise business. As the latest in the line, which includes The Ruby, The Sapphire, The Pearl, The Emerald and The Diamond, The Crystal, The Jewel is considered a “Space-Ship” by company lingo (mostly referring to the spacious accommodations that range from 160 to 325 square feet) with many upgrades not found on other lines. For instance, each cabin on The Jewel comes with a push-button sun lounge. That means each cabin has a sun terrace that is enclosed by a moving window to make it a cozy solarium and part of the room in cold weather, and an open glass balcony in warm weather when the top glass comes down with the push of a button. The ship’s 85 cabins come with 32-inch televisions that also serve as computers. Find clean glassed-in bathroom, decent closet space, plenty of outlets (220 volts) and a small fridge stocked with unending bottles of beer, European wine and chocolates, chips and mineral waters. Beds are amazingly comfortable with large down pillows (and there is a pillow menu available) and high threadcount European-milled linens.
Guests get a daily choice of tours – usually a guided walking tour, guided bicycling tour (the ship carries 10 motorized bicycles onboard for use by guests anytime), a trip to a museum or site of historical significance and an on-your-own option available at all times by GPS programmed listening gadgets able to point out places of interest as you walk near them (each cabin stocks two of these with ear phones).
Each cabin is attended by a resident butler who manages an array of needs beyond serving morning coffee and afternoon cocktails. And unlike other lines, a tip for these efforts is not even on the table.
And that goes for the dining. Dinners come with an assortment of wines, including French and German labels and there are two special dinner options for guests during their cruise: a sumptuous multi-course wine pairing degustation (with lots of foie gras), and then there is a boutique Italian venue served in a scenic, roped off area of the lounge with Chiantis and Pinots, great views and hovering service.
For lunch diners can also try the lounge, which serves sandwiches, soups, salad and hot plates bistro style and is always available for cocktails. Again, all is without charge.
Other meals are buffet and table in a capacious, single sitting dining venue.
All ships, family-owned and designed, are more or less the same build and size with same upgraded amenities, layout and decor, except for the Emerald, which is now positioned on the Seine and needs to be smaller (126 passengers) to be viable for that route.
Itineraries start at eight days. Cruises run from Istanbul to Amsterdam to France and Russia. Currently, an all-inclusive eight-day river cruise on the Danube starts at $3,455 per person, double and some cruises start as low as $2,460. Some of the longer itineraries come with a special offering of free flights to Europe.
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