ABOARD THE SCENIC JADE – Today we are in the lovely city of Vienna, Austria, and pretty much everyone on the ship took a general city tour this morning. I did a similar tour two years ago off another river ship, but what a difference.
On that tour we drove around the Ringstrasse (Ring Road) by bus, seeing all of the major sights like the Opera House and Parliament, and then everyone disembarked and walked down a shopping street and then had free time.
This time after doing the Ring Road we went to see the outside of the Hundertwasser House, a 50-unit apartment building that is an architectural highlight of this rather staid city. A unique feature is that none of the floors inside nor the sidewalk outside are level. It was so bizarre that it immediately reminded me of Gaudi’s designs in Barcelona.
Then we disembarked at the former Imperial Palace complex and spent an hour touring around those magnificent buildings before we entered the city’s shopping district around St. Stephen’s Cathedral. This was altogether a different experience… much richer, much more detailed and more memorable.
Scenic pays its guides up front
This is typical of the Scenic Cruises tour experience, I have learned from the guides. Both Sabine in Cesky Krumlov and Irene today in Vienna said they no longer guide for any river lines but Scenic. A key reason is that Scenic pays all of its guides up front each day, no matter how many on their tour. That builds tremendous loyalty from its guides and removes their dependence on tips from passengers or commissions from specific shops.
“If I tell you a shop is good,” explained Sabine, “it is because I know that shop to be good. Not because the store paid me money to say that. Scenic always pays me up front so I can be absolutely honest with its passengers.”
Irene said that there is a network of Scenic guides in the area between Melk and Slovakia and that if extra guides are needed, it is up to the current group of guides to determine who is good enough to work for Scenic.
Tonight we have a very special experience, offered only to Scenic passengers. While many lines offer an evening concert in Vienna at an additional cost, Scenic offers everyone a private concert in a private palace at no charge.
For active passengers, Scenic offers several bike tours
Scenic also offered several bike tours during this itinerary. Yesterday, a hardy group of 15 rode 33 kilometers from Melk to Durnstein while we traveled by boat. The fact that Scenic carries 30 bicycles with “electric-assist” motors (a design unique to Scenic) certainly boosts participation. “We can actually handle more than 30 on that segment of the trip because we store additional bicycles along the way,” explained cruise director Frank Riapos.
These days all major river cruise lines offer daily tours that are included in the cost. However, most also sell additional afternoon and evening tours and when I sailed on Uniworld I discovered that many passengers were taking advantage of these additional tour opportunities. Some did as many as three tours a day.
Scenic does not offer that option. It offers certain tours at certain times, all included in the cost, but that’s it. You can’t do a city tour in the morning and visit the Schoenbrunn Palace in the afternoon, unless you do so on your own.
However, I believe that river cruising is all about pace – hopefully, a slow pace, and so non-stop touring is not a priority for me nor, I suspect, most passengers aboard this ship as everyone I talk to is raving about the tours.
Photos by Cynthia Boal Janssens
June 22, 2014