When I was in Europe some weeks ago, temperatures were hovering around 3C and snow was falling in many areas, including Venice.
Changes have come quickly -- the temps are now a balmy 16C, and Europeans are finally feeling winter's wrath is done.
That welcoming warmth came just in time for Scenic Tours' maiden voyage of its latest river cruiser, the Scenic Jewel, a seven-day trip on the Rhine from Mainz to Amsterdam.
Scenic Tours is an Australian company and after commissioning the Jewel will turn its attention to a smaller ship in 2014, the Gem. As river cruise lines go, this one is unique, the first in Europe with separate balconies that, in the case of the Jewel, have evolved to include a folding glass door, providing more interior sitting space while opening to the outside with a press of a button.
Also new is a GPS audio system that allows you to sit on the Jewel's top deck and hear all about the area as you pass through. It also points out street highlights of towns and cities along Europe's major rivers. And finally, no more door-handle cards, just two small switches in your room for "Do Not Disturb" or "Housekeeping."
The Jewel is 138 metres long, about the maximum length for sailing through locks on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, and carries 169 passengers compared to -- for example -- Viking ships that carry 190 in the same space. So there's more public space and lots of room for more creature comforts including a small gym, hairdressing and salon areas and electrically assisted bikes, for use on either an escorted bike tour or on your own.
The staterooms are spacious and most have balconies.
The Jewel's main dining room can handle everyone at once but there is a separate restaurant called Portobello, seating 24. The river caf© is open most of the day for desserts, sandwiches and other light fare.
The most important change Scenic Tours made in 2013 was to go all-inclusive, a decision made by Australian owner and founder Glen Moroney. Now transfers, gratuities, all beverages and dry cleaning are part of the all-inclusive package. The only items you have to pay for are high-end wines and liquors. All tours are included, including a special one featured on every cruise. On this inaugural, it was an evening-long visit to Marksburg Castle, complete with dinner and entertainment.
This is Scenic's eighth ship. Number nine, the Gem, will carry 128 passengers and is designed to sail the rivers of France. The rebuilt Scenic Tsar fits on the rivers of Russia.
And more ships are coming.
Evergreen Tours (part of Scenic) has been marketing the rivers of Europe from Australia and is about to expand. Two new ships are being built in Holland and will be ready for 2014. While it's all hush-hush, look for a new name and the North American market to be included in upcoming sales initiatives.
And one final note this week: Kate Middleton, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge and one of the most popular Royals, will be christening Princess Cruises' Royal Princess in Southampton in June. I assume she will bring Prince William, the other half of the dynamic royal duo to this fitting ceremony -- it was his mother, Princess Diana, who christened the original Royal Princess in 1984.
-- Postmedia News
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