Oasis Travel’s Heather Martin & Yvonne Watson Go Dutch in style, river cruising with experts at Scenic.
Amsterdam has long been one of Europe’s top city break destinations, perfect both for kick-back-and-relax weekends and more active sightseeing. Amongst its ageless attractions is its network of canals – beautiful to see but, as we discovered, even more lovely (and endlessly fascinating) when enjoyed from the comfort of a luxury cabin on board the ‘Scenic Jasper’.
We travelled as guests of Scenic, enjoying a trip that gave us a great taster of Amsterdam, Antwerp and the historic cities of Bruges and Hoorn.
Our vessel, the ‘Scenic Jasper’ is the newest of Scenic’s ‘Space Ships’, so-called because of the higher-than-average amount of space dedicated to public areas. This superb 169-passenger ship carries fewer guests than many river vessels, which typically have up to 200 on board. As a result, public areas such as the lounge and atrium are larger.
With its roots Down Under, Scenic has historically attracted Australians, but with increased marketing in the USA and UK, a growing number of Americans, Brits and other English-speaking nationalities are coming aboard. The typical demographic of river cruising is generally 55-plus; however, with its modern image, great selection of tours and shore excursions aimed at active passengers and it’s all-inclusive nature, Scenic is well placed to buck the trend and attract a younger crowd.
The vessel is steeped in luxury with cool, stylish decor which wouldn't be out of place in a boutique hotel, fabulous passenger accommodation and stunning attention to customer service. All passengers have personal butlers, for example, who perform ever more services as you go up in cabin categories. The 85 cabins come with a stocked minibar (replenished daily) and high-tech fixtures and fittings. There are six on-board dining options - a high number for a river vessel - ranging from fine dining to extensive buffets and an excellent, mostly vegetarian, light lunch option.
This ultra-modern ship comes with plenty of bells and whistles, not least an all-inclusive pricing policy that really does cover everything. That means excursions, tipping and all drinks -- including wines and Champagne -- are covered by the cost of your cruise. The only extras you'll pay for are spa services and laundry, and even that is free for top-category passengers.
We enjoyed a roomy balcony cabin, and we were soon lapping up the river views as we cruised gently on our way. The big attractions of river cruising are that ever-changing view and the fact that you can usually be in a quite different location every day of your holiday. Added to that, the Scenic shore tours give a great opportunity to gain a ‘snapshot’ of those ports. The daily Scenic FreeChoice programme includes a choice of activities, either guided or self-led with the help of hand-held and recently upgraded GPS Tailormade devices that contain a variety of suggested walking tours for each port and background information on points of interest. These sophisticated devices allow passengers to personalise free time based on their interests and preferred pace; they can also be used while touring on the ship's fleet of bicycles. In addition to the usual city tours, daily excursions also feature active outings such as evening concerts and 40.23 km (25 mile) bike rides, which go beyond the usual sedate walking tours offered by other lines.
In Amsterdam our Scenic Free Choice was the Glass Top Canal Boat to experience and learn about Amsterdam`s remarkable network of Canals, followed by a walking tour of Amsterdam stopping at one of the city’s famous cheese shops to taste and buy. All very informative and easy pace … just watch out for the cyclists! There are an estimated 800,000 people using their bikes on a daily basis!
Our second Scenic Free Choice was a coach excursion to the World Heritage City of Bruges, often referred to as the `Venice of the North` because of its pretty canals and cobble stone streets. Celebrated for its traditional lace making and chocolatier stores, we were bewitched by shopping as well as heritage!
We also opted for a coach visit to the Harbour city of Hoorn, with its rich architecture, and fascinating seafaring heritage, followed by dinner with the locals at the magnificent Oosterkerk (a wonderful converted church now used for civic functions).
A highlight of the short trip was dining at the Captain’s Table. While dressing is fairly casual by day, most people up the ante for evenings and, of course, dining with the Captain gives a perfect excuse for a bit of extra glam. Here again Scenic manages to get the contemporary blend of style and informality just right and, although we were made to feel entirely special as guests of the Captain, we were also totally relaxed … ‘to the manor born’, you might say!
We were also so impressed with the on-board cuisine that we attended a cookery demonstration by the (totally charming!) chef, but we both feel our talents may lie in eating rather than preparing haute cuisine!
A cabaret by the ship’s company proved another highlight – amazing standards and very funny … again a relaxed a congenial evening.
Small wonder that we were sorry to leave and are already planning return trips.
Amsterdam is really easy to get to with direct EasyJet flights from Belfast and a Scenic representative on hand to meet you at Amsterdam and whisk you off by Doelen Coach Service to Amsterdam Pier for boarding the vessel of your choice
If we’ve inspired you to ‘Go Dutch’ with Scenic, call in or phone for info and advice on the choices … we’re happy to advise on everything from choice of cabin to destination options. Reach Heather at Belfast’s Lisburn Road branch / 028 9066 6606 or meet Yvonne Watson in our Lisburn branch or ring on 028 9260 4455.