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Gems of the Seine Cruise Review

Weds 16 Sep 2015

Heather and Jade, two of our cruising specialists, were lucky enough to be invited on an all-inclusive cruise along the River Seine on the luxurious Scenic Gem. Read their exclusive review below.

From the moment my colleague Jade and I stepped on board the elegant Scenic Gem at its mooring just downriver from the Eiffel Tower, we were made to feel special. Our late arrival in Paris due to a flight delay did not ruffle the reception staff whatsoever. Minutes after a seamless check-in our luggage was whisked away to our cabin, and we found ourselves, single-stemmed rose in one hand and glass of wine in the other, in front of a sumptuous dinner buffet. The torrential rain we had left behind in Leeds was soon forgotten, and from there on in the service never stopped. After dinner we joined our fellow guests in the Panorama Lounge for a welcome briefing from Ben, the Cruise Director, whose entertaining style meant we barely noticed the smooth motion of the ship as we pulled away from central Paris to our overnight mooring just outside the city.

We settled comfortably into our cabin on the lower Jewel deck, which was spacious, spotlessly clean and warm, with plenty of light provided by the fixed picture window. The tasteful décor, ample storage space, super comfy beds and impressive power shower were equal to any luxury hotel. There were so many nice touches and attention to detail, from the personal welcome note from our butler Csaba, the complimentary l’Occitane toiletries, the towels on the bed folded into a swan and even a vase filled with water ready for our roses! Our cabin soon became our cosy little home from home, with a tea tray brought by Csaba every morning, bottled water and mini bar replenished daily and chocolates on the pillow every night.

On exploring further we found the rest of the ship to be equally spacious and luxurious. The lobby, tastefully decorated with art, fresh flowers and a small glass cabinet of jewellery for sale, was always manned by the friendly, multi-lingual staff. The spacious Panorama lounge and bar led from here towards the front of the ship and provided a welcoming hub for guests to mingle and relax. It never felt crowded in here; it was always easy to find a comfy seat next to the huge panoramic windows to sit and chat whilst admiring the passing scenery. I had seen Paris and parts of the Normandy countryside before, but never from the Seine. I relished the novelty of this perspective and loved how picturesque it all was, with lots of interesting twists and turns, islands and old half-timbered houses on the riverbank. Later the next day when leaving Les Andelys, a beautiful little town nestled at the foot of chalk cliffs and watched over by Richard the Lionheart’s ruined castle, I found myself on the Sun Deck sipping my favourite tipple, a Kir Royale, as the sun shone overhead and we watched the ship being untied from its moorings and drift elegantly away from the shore. Holidays are made of such moments.

Heather and Jade at the Palace of Versailles Palace of Versailles Palace of Versailles Gardens of Versailles Statue outside the Palace of Versailles Fountain in the Gardens of Versailles Magnificent statue in the grounds Spectacular ceiling in the Palace of Versailles Statue in the Palace of Versailles Charming village of Lyons la Foret War memorial in Lyons la Foret Lyons la Foret Scenic Gem moored next to Viking Spirit Admire breathtaking scenery along the Seine Cooking demonstration by a French patisserie chef Rouen Selection of French cheeses Location where Joan of Arc was burnt in 1431 Stroll along Rouen's charming narrow streets The impressive Rouen Cathedral

Scenic are justifiably proud of the choice of excursions they offer and the fact that they are all included in the price. On our first morning we chose to go by coach to the Palace and Gardens of Versailles, a stunning place but so unbelievably busy I don’t know how we would have coped without our Scenic Tailormade Devices to help us keep up with the guide’s commentary. On subsequent days we visited Lyons la Forêt, a cute little village which we were told had been used in several French film sets. We tasted home-made cider and perry during an interesting cider farm tour, watched a fabulous late night Sound and Light show at Rouen cathedral, and (my favourite) enjoyed a privileged peek at a genuine French patisserie chef at work. He made the most mouth-watering chocolate, raspberry and coconut tart from scratch then showed us how to make macaroons, even allowing us to take part. Best of all we got some to eat and take home!

There really was something for everyone - walking tours, self-guided hikes, museum visits, a visit to the Somme Battlefields, even a set of electric bikes cleverly stashed away out of sight under the Sun deck, for those who wanted to take off on their own. Information sheets left in our cabin every night meant we could plan our days and ensured we didn’t miss a thing. Every little detail had been attended to - we even discovered walking poles and an umbrella in the wardrobe. The organisation on board, so smooth and seemingly effortless, was extremely impressive.

When not eating, drinking, sleeping or out and about on an excursion we enjoyed plenty of chill-out time in the Panorama lounge. This was where I watched a cooking demonstration on how to make the perfect crêpe suzette whilst Jade was enjoying a massage in the Wellness Centre downstairs. Whether a French language lesson from Ben, a talk on WW1 history by a local historian or music from Zoli, the ship’s regular musician, there was always something going on in here, someone to talk to and someone to serve you a drink or a snack. For anyone who wanted to just sit quietly, there was a daily supply of crosswords, Sudoku, books, games as well as British, Australian and American news bulletins updated every day. Thankfully absent was a TV. Announcements were also kept to a bare minimum, which helped to create a calm, relaxed ambience on board.

The highlight of any trip for me is the food. This is usually the thing that most triggers my memories of a foreign place. France has its gastronomic reputation to uphold, and in this respect the Scenic Gem did not disappoint. We enjoyed fantastic food at every meal in the Crystal dining restaurant on Sapphire deck, starting with enormous buffets at breakfast and lunch then waiter service at dinner, with several menu choices accompanied by excellent French wines. The open seating arrangement at mealtimes made it easy for us to mix with fellow guests, and I certainly don’t think a single traveller would ever need to worry about dining alone on a Scenic cruise. Everyone on the Scenic Gem is encouraged to book at least one dinner during their cruise at L’Amour, the fine dining restaurant at the front of the ship, and we were very grateful to Cat, the Bar and Restaurant Manager, who bent over backwards to fit us in. This seven-course taster menu was truly delicious, but then so was every meal, not to mention the unlimited complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks. When we felt like a lighter option one lunchtime, the Vitality Corner in the River Café at the front of the ship hit the spot, with soups, sandwiches, dips and yummy French gateaux to follow.

The stand-out success of the Scenic Gem however has to be its crew, an unbelievably hard-working and professional team led by Ben, the Cruise Director, alongside Thomas, the Hotel Manager, who affectionately nicknamed us “the girls”. Given the average age on board, I suppose we did stand out a bit! Their sheer commitment, boundless energy, good humour and sense of fun really made our trip memorable, and more than once I heard Ben say “I’ll make it happen.” Previous guests clearly feel the same, as their customer feedback is very positive and guest satisfaction ratings extremely high. In our four days onboard we got to know all the staff by name. No-one ever passed us without a smile and a hello, and even at the end of their long 16 hour day there was always a wish goodnight or an offer of courteous service. Housekeeping staff were even polishing the staircase as we made our way to bed. Friendly, attentive yet not intrusive service is not easy to get right, so a big drum roll for everyone on board.

We were so sad to leave the cruise in Rouen and felt a bit like party poopers. Ben and Thomas even offered to re-arrange our flights for us so we could stay on a bit longer. So nice to feel wanted! But work beckoned, and it was an absolute pleasure to have been able to sample a taste of luxury on such a lovely ship. So thanks very much to the Scenic Gem for having us, we had a ball.

The hardest thing of course was getting back to normal life. I had been warned by colleagues about the “post-cruise munchies”. It’s nigh on impossible to re-adjust when you’ve got used to champagne and smoked salmon at breakfast, Michelin standard meals every night, snacks on demand and cocktails at midnight. Sadly life is short, and there’s no way to see and do everything, but my advice to anyone is to try to fit in a river cruise. This was my first river cruise, and it has to be the most relaxing trip I have ever been on, where every wish is catered for and nothing is too much trouble – I could get used to such things!

Heather and Jade, Blue Water Holidays

Blue Water Holidays Blog