Scenic Tours
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I grew up, in Bermuda, spending my spare time on sailboats and ships. Over the past few years I've noticed change in the commercial cruise industry; an increase in the popularity of the luxury river cruising industry. This emerging market is offering a slower pace and a smaller ship than the large sea-faring cruise ships. Popular among seniors and families alike, it is undeniable that luxury river cruising is on the rise. This past April, after a long Ontario winter, I had the opportunity to sail on the maiden voyage of Scenic Cruises' newest luxury river ship – the Scenic Jasper. My voyage on the Jasper would begin in Budapest, visiting historic river towns along the Danube, and would end in Vienna where the Jasper would be christened.

I flew from Toronto to Budapest and spent the first day exploring this fantastic city that I hadn't been to in more than 30 years. Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, is one of the European Unions largest cities and is home to more than 1.7-million people.
Often cited as one of Europe's most beautiful cities, Budapest has an abundance of World Heritage Sites including the river I would be sailing on, the Danube. Since I was in Budapest for such a short period of time, I decided to do an in-depth tour and hire a local rickshaw driver Ben. Ben took me to the local market, where I spent time exploring all of the food stalls, with their beautiful and creative ways of displaying the food. Ben also took me to the parts of Budapest that are not commonly seen by tourists. We explored small alleyways, historical buildings and churches, all providing me perfect opportunities to capture the city on camera.
After a great day in Budapest I arrived at the Jasper and was offered a warm welcome from the captain and crew. Founded in 1986, Scenic Cruises has become a leading provider of travel experiences around the world. Owner and chairperson, Glen Moroney, began operating coach tours in his native Australia. Scenic Cruises have become a global name synonymous with luxury river cruising. Unlike other companies, Scenic owns rather than leases its ships. Because of this, the company has complete control over the design and works with the best European shipbuilders to deliver only the best ships.
In addition to unique designs, Scenic also offers a truly all-inclusive experience. Passengers have no need for their credit card while on board, unless they need a massage, haircut or to buy a souvenir.
The ship I was sailing on was no exception to the Scenic standard. The Jasper is a third-generation Scenic ship and offers an array of new and unique amenities including some of the largest suites on Europe's rivers, a front panoramic deck that can be enclosed with all-weather glass, an expanded fine dining restaurant and an upgraded fitness centre and massage/hairdresser salon. In addition, Scenic cruises also offer six unique dining options, tailor-made GPS guided tours for every guest and electric-assist bicycles. I have to admit that one of my favourite features, one I am always critiquing, was the coffee. »
Being somewhat of a coffee buff I tend to judge most of my experiences by the coffee served. Safe to say that the coffee served was excellent and made more pleasurable by the fact that it was also served by the butler that served my cabin, wonderful to wake up to every morning. Every cabin has butler service.
The first evening the Cruise Director gave a port talk, outlining all of the activities planned for the coming days. After the talk I enjoyed an evening of Hungarian Folk music and dance before heading to my cabin for the night.
After a full day of sailing our first stop was in Dürnstein and then on to Melk. When arriving in port. For Scenic offers multiple options for day trips, for those who need transportation, Scenic provides their own luxury coaches which are waiting dockside on arrival at every port adding extra pleasure to sightseeing. While in Melk the options included a bike tour from Dürnstein to Melk, making stops at several local villages or lunch and a Wachau wine tasting including visiting the magnificent Benedictine Abbey which was built between 1702 and 1736 and sits on a rocky outcrop overlooking the town.
The next day we docked in Linz. After a quiet breakfast, I joined the group that was spending the day exploring the 13th Century town of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. Located on the Vltava River, Cesky Krumlov is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was at one time a very important trade town. Modern day Cesky Krumloy is a small city in the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic and is home to a castle of the same name. The city and castle have been around since the late 13th Century. The castle is unusually large for such a small city and boasts a large rococo garden and an impressive bridge overlooking the rock on which the castle has been built.
The city itself hosts a number of festivals and events each year, including the very popular Five-Pettalled Rose Festival and the International Music Festival Cesky Krumlov. After an amazing day I spend the evening at the gala dinner where the crew provided entertainment and the guests enjoyed the phenomenal food and entertainment.
The following day we arrived in Vienna, where we would spend the final two days of our voyage. The first day I decided to spend time quietly  walking around and exploring this beautiful city. I stopped and had a hot chocolate and pastry at the Café Hawelka – one of the best pastries I have ever had, and just enjoyed the sights and sounds of Vienna. After dinner on the ship, the guests headed out for an evening concert in the historic Arsenal, a former military complex built in the 1800s and still in use today for testing and research. The music provided a perfect ending to my quiet day.
The following day there were three tours offered; the first was to Slovakia's capital, Bratislava, the second was to the once home of Austria's Imperial family, Schonbrunn Palace, and the third was to the Spanish Riding School to see the breathtaking Lipizzan horses. Being an avid horse lover, I opted for a visit to the world renowned Spanish Riding School. First named in 1572, the Spanish Riding School is a traditional school for Lipizzan horses and is a centre for classical dressage as well as a famous tourist attraction. In 2008 the School made history again by allowing the first woman to train as riders. Our seats for the show were incredible and the horses were magnificent. I highly recommend a visit for anyone lucky enough to visit Vienna.
My final afternoon aboard the Jasper was spent at the christening of the ship. This was the first ship christening I had ever attended.This was a very special occasion for the Jasper and I was thankful to have been a part of this celebration. In true ship christening fashion, a ceremonial bottle of champagne was broken over the bow in order to bring good fortune to the ship's voyages. Afterward the guests, owner Glen Moroney and his wife, all celebrated with champagne and cake. 
Overall my luxury river cruise on the Scenic Jasper was a relaxing and enjoyable experience. There is no doubt that the luxury river cruise industry is quickly gaining in popularity and more than 1,300 team members worldwide, Scenic truly offers a phenomenal cruise experience from the moment you step on the ship to the moment you depart.

Bart Card is a food and travel writer. 
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