Scenic Tours has a fleet of 12 ‘space-ships’ with the latest addition, Scenic Jasper, making her maiden river cruise from Amsterdam in 2015. My wife and I were invited as agents to experience our first all-inclusive river cruise. We spent 4 nights on board this 5 star river cruiser, which helped provide a feel for the whole river cruise experience and especially what Scenic Cruises has to offer.
The port of Amsterdam is getting busier each year with more and more cruise ships needing a place to berth, so in her inaugural season Scenic Jasper is actually berthed just outside of the main port at the brand new port at Coenhaven. On normal cruise departures, passengers are transferred from the airport to a centrally located hotel, where luggage can be stored and one can relax before being transferred to the Scenic Jasper in the afternoon.
The first thing one notices when alighting the Scenic Cruises, Scenic Jasper are the fittings - as everything about it is quality.
As we embarked in Amsterdam, we were greeted by the whole crew with a glass of champagne and casually chatted amongst ourselves to a background of soft music before the steward showed us to our deluxe suite with balcony.
The suites are of a decent size and have a state-of-the-art balcony, as the balcony itself is part of the room and is separated by curtains. The window is controlled electrically, so you can either open it a little for ventilation, or fully which enables you to take in the surroundings as you cruise some of Europe’s greatest rivers. Balcony furniture consists of a small table and 2 chairs.
There is ample wardrobe space behind double sliding doors, which is also where the safe and complimentary mini-bar is hidden. There is a large dressing mirror, complete with chair plus each room comes with 2 GPS devices called Tailormade. These are great to use when either cruising or on any of the ship’s tours as they tell you a lot of information about the area you are in.
The Scenic Jasper bathroom is well equipped with a large glass panelled shower cubicle, complete with a large LED shower head (which has a variety of different colours) a body sprayer and hand-held sprayer. Quality complimentary L’Occitane toiletries are also included.
Without further ado, we went to the Scenic River Café for lunch - which consisted of a light buffet of a variety of dishes. Snacks were served throughout the afternoon, after which we were all welcomed in the Jasper lounge by Scenic hosts. This was followed by an information and safety briefing with our Captain, Jozsef, hotel manager, Bruce, and the excellent and entertaining cruise director, Kurt.
A buffet dinner in the Crystal Dining Room was served from 7pm. There was a choice of salads and soups, plus main courses of grilled halibut in white wine sauce, roast-beef on the bone and oriental couscous. There was also ‘live’ cooking where they served rather large tiger prawns and salmon, and lemon tartar hash browns. Afterwards, some guests retired to the Jasper lounge and others had an early night. We joined the latter knowing that we had quite an early start the next day.
After a good night’s sleep in our ‘virgin’ bed, we called our butler - who bought us a pot of tea to our room before we got ourselves sorted and went to the Crystal Dining Room for breakfast. There was an excellent choice of mackerel, smoked salmon, ham and cheeses on the cold buffet section; or streaky or back bacon, sausages, beans, mushrooms and scrambled eggs on the warm section. The chef was also on hand to cook your eggs as you wanted - omelette or poached.
The bus picked us up at 9am to take us into Amsterdam for our first excursion, which included: a canal cruise in a glass-topped boat; mackerel tasting at a centrally located market stall; and finally a visit to a cheese shop, which sells some absolutely divine cheeses. This particular shop was called Henri Willig, and you can buy online at http://www.henriwillig.com/ . We returned at 1pm and had lunch before going to the Jasper lounge for the safety drill. This usually takes place on deck, but as the weather was quite wet the captain thought it best we had it indoors.
The Scenic Jasper then departed Amsterdam and headed towards Antwerp with an anticipated arrival the next morning. We passed through a few large locks, which can add quite a long time to the journey. When there is a queue, it’s even longer as you can’t all go through at once and the merchant ships appear to have priority over passenger ships! At least the sun was shining!
At 6:30, we had a port talk with Kurt where we discussed the next days walking tours of Antwerp and Bruges. With the aptly named Scenic Free Choice, you can pre-book which one you prefer in advance. Following the talk, we had Captain’s Welcome Cocktails before the Captain’s Welcome Gala Dinner in the Crystal Dining Room.
This consisted of an appetiser of chicken satay, potato fritters and chilli-scented vegetable spring rolls. This was followed by a choice of two soups. For the main course, we sampled fillet of cod under a mustard crust, rack of lamb on rosemary and pancake with creamy chanterelles stuffing. This was all washed down with an excellent choice of wine and finished with a choice of mouth watering desserts. A disco in the Jasper lounge was the evening’s entertainment, washed down with a few beers from the bar before retiring to bed.
The next day, we took the coach excursion to Bruges for the guided tour of the city - which boasts a lot of history and many shops that sell Belgian chocolate! You can, if you wish, opt to do the tour yourself - as your Scenic Tailormade will tell you all you need to know. We were back on board for a light lunch in the River Café and headed north towards Hoorn, our next port of call. After we had, once again, satisfied our appetites, we took a tour of the various suites and cabins which Scenic Jasper has to offer before taking a Galley tour. I have been in a few ship’s galleys, but this was the first river ship galley and I was amazed at how small it was. The staff in here must be really organised to be able to prepare and serve up such excellent cuisine day after day.
The evening’s dinner, for us, was in Portobello’s and was by invitation-only from the Restaurant Manager, Atanas Kunev. The Portobello restaurant is an extension of the Crystal dining room, separated by glass doors and offering superb views along the meandering rivers. Again, we enjoyed a gourmet dinner consisting of several courses and accompanied by a few glasses of vintage wine. After a long day, an early night ensued - so we retired to our room.
We awoke to some early morning sunshine as we continued our northbound journey to Hoorn and finally made use of our balcony as we cruised through the lovely (but flat) Dutch countryside. Our planned arrival in Hoorn was after lunch but, due to a problem with one of the canal locks, this was cancelled and we therefore returned to our departure point in Amsterdam. All was not lost however, as alternative arrangements were made to ensure we got to see Hoorn and a few coaches were laid on.
The weather began to take a turn for the worse, so we found a local bar in the old market square and enjoyed a couple of glasses of the local brew! As part of the Scenic Enrich Programme, we were then whisked away to the Oosterkerk (East Church) where we were treated to a local dish of beef stew with mashed potato and carrots. This was served up by local volunteers, who sat with us and chatted enthusiastically about the church, which was built out of stone in 1519.
A quite beautiful organ was added in 1764 and was built by J H Bätz from Utrecht. However, in 1869 the insides needed replacing and the work was completed in 1871by Christian Friedrich Gottlieb White. In 1960, the Oosterkerk was decommissioned by the Reformed Church and the organ was never played until the building was taken over by the Foundation Oosterkerk who, once again, had the organ restored by Vermeulen Alkmaar. We were privileged to have the organ played whilst there and the sound was magnificent. All in all, this was an excellent excursion.
On our final morning, we had breakfast before disembarking and were taken by taxi to our centrally located hotel in Amsterdam - where we stayed for one extra night. Those on a normal cruise would usually be taken by coach either straight to the airport or, should there flight be later in the day, to a hotel until the appropriate time to leave arrives.
There is no doubting that this is a top quality cruise product, offering an excellent value-for-money river cruise with lots of little nice touches. It is all-inclusive and this includes all of your drinks (vintage wines, champagnes and spirits excluded) including a daily-replenished mini-bar. You can’t, however, get served any alcohol until 11am!! Add to this your excursions, and you soon start to see the value.
So there you have a feel for what Scenic Cruises has to offer. For further information about taking a river cruise on Scenic Jasper or any other Scenic Cruise ship, please call either Martyn or Zoe at GoCruise on Freephone 08006 129 130 or 01623 706328.