There was no epiphany to memorialize the moment when Glen Moroney declared: "I have to get into the river cruise business."
A staffer simply suggested Scenic Tours -- then an Australian-based land tour company -- could see a good part of Europe from the river, and Moroney, the company's CEO, moved into the river cruise business, launching one ship at a time.
In the beginning, the ships weren't his. Crawling before he walked (or wading before he swam), he chartered ships and then began building his own, in quick succession. That's why last week, I was standing on the grassy banks of the Rhine River at Rudesheim, about to see the christening of Moroney's sixth river cruiser, the Scenic Crystal, the newest ship only until the Scenic Jewel arrives next spring.
The Scenic Tours connection to Canada runs deep. Moroney's first office in North America was in Vancouver and, while Australians dominate his passenger lists on the longer 12- to 15-day cruises, Canada and the U.S. make up most of the balance.
Moroney is a man of firsts. First with balconies on a river ship. First, as of last week, to offer the option of pushing a button to enclose those balconies in inclement weather.
Most of his ships -- Scenic Pearl, Emerald, Diamond, Ruby and Sapphire -- have a sameness in size, but there is more to his latest creation, the Crystal. Added to the high percentage of balcony suites are 20 deluxe staterooms of 225 square feet. Cabins range from 160 square feet on Deck 1 to suites at 335 square feet.
A River Bar that offers a variety of hand-held food operates all day, with light lunches served in the lounge area. At night, it turns into an Italian restaurant called Portobello.
A new 10-person Chef's Table, featuring a seven-course tasting menu with paired wines, is located in the main dining room. If you feel like breaking away from the organized tours, there are electric (or if you prefer, pedal) bikes that allow you to see cities and towns on your own.
Already more inclusive than most river cruise lines, Moroney upstaged his own ship's christening by announcing that, starting next year, Scenic Tours will be all-inclusive, except for personal items.
The staterooms' TVs are actually iMacs that allow you to surf the Internet from your bed, with free Internet and WiFi.
All that wasn't nearly as surprising as what came next.
All ships, including the one launched in 2011, will be refurbished this winter to match the Crystal.
While some all-inclusive features already exist, this will complete the circle:
* Meals and entertainment are a given, but Scenic is adding unlimited complimentary beverages. The fridge in your room will be stocked each day.
* All tours, including the Scenic-enriched ones, will be part of your package.
* As you cruise along the river, GPS-activated commentary will allow you to follow every landmark.
* Here's the one I really like: GPS shore tours. No need to be in a group to hear the history of each port. Now you can do it on your own.
* The private butler service currently for guests on the Danube Deck will spread to all staterooms.
* Shoeshine and dry cleaning of two items a day.
* Transfers from airport to ship.
Depending on which route you're on -- Amsterdam to Budapest, Amsterdam to Basel, Budapest to Bucharest, southern France or St. Petersburg to Moscow -- the complimentary items will vary by itinerary.
First with balconies, Scenic is now first to go "all in" on the river.
-- Postmedia News
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