"A man walks into a bar and..." Of all the scenarios that might follow that often-heard opening line, the one that passengers on a recent
Rhine River cruise aboard the Scenic Jade seemed to like best was no joke: "A man walks into a bar and has a couple of pre-dinner cocktails. He walks out without paying his tab and nobody bats an eye."
That same man - or woman - could just as easily have poured those drinks from the mini bar in his or her cabin and the tiny bottles would be replaced in the morning at no charge.
The policy aboard the various ships that ply the world's waterways under the Scenic Cruises banner is that all onboard alcoholic beverages, not just wine and beer with meals are free. Add to that the cruise line's no-tipping rule and passengers have a pleasant surprise at the end of their voyage when it comes time to settle up for onboard charges.
"We like to be able to claim that the only things our clients have to pay for on our cruises are visits to the hairdresser or masseuse," said Elliot Gilles, a Scenic representative travelling on a recent Amsterdam to Nuremberg Treasures of the Rhine cruise.
Having suffered "sticker shock" on other cruises where you are expected to fork over a king's ransom at the end of your voyage in tips to the cruise director and staff, I found that Scenic's no-tipping policy added greatly to the pleasure of the trip.
You don't have to be an economic wunderkind to realize that this all-inclusive policy stems from the fact that these perks are built into the higher price that Scenic Cruises charges for its river tours. And there IS a rider somewhere in their literature advising that very rare wines and spirits come with a surcharge.
But my first postprandial libation in the Jade Lounge was a Remy Martin VSOP cognac and there was no extra charge. Another interesting fact was that the cruise passengers didn't seem to abuse this policy by falling face down in their consommé at dinner. There was the occasional loudmouth in the bar late at night but you get that type anywhere you travel on land or sea.
This all-inclusive marketing ploy seems to be working. Elliot proudly claimed that virtually all Scenic cruises are fully booked for the balance of 2014, and the 2015 schedule is filling up as well. The Jade is the newest vessel in the Scenic fleet, having had its maiden voyage earlier this year. The company's tenth river cruiser, the Gem, is currently under construction.
A couple from Burlington, Ontario on this particular cruise, Ed and Maxine Denham, chose Scenic in large part because of the promise of no surprises at the end of their trip. They were also looking for the relaxed pace a river cruise offers, as well as a chance to get to know their fellow passengers a bit better than is usually possible on larger ships.
"We've had it with those big ocean cruises," said Maxine, who operated Maxine's Coiffures in Oakville for a number of years. "They remind me of those Billy Butlin's holiday camps we used to go to when I was a young girl in England. Everything we'd heard and read about a Scenic cruise indicated that it was a very refined way to travel and we've found that to be so. The cabins are a little smaller than you might like, but I guess they have to be in order for the ship to negotiate all those locks on the rivers and canals."
Ed, a retired customs officer, said he liked the attention he was getting due to a relatively low passenger-to-crew ratio. The Scenic Jade manifest lists a complement of 50 crew members, including those charged with navigating the ship, and a maximum capacity of 167 customers.
Any cruise that uses the Rhine River as its delivery system has a few things going for it right from the time it weighs anchor. The breathtaking vista of riverside communities gliding by against a backdrop of towering mountains is a great way to while away a few hours with your elbows resting on the railing of your balcony cabin. One of those mountains features the soaring Lorelei Rock where legend says if you listen closely you can hear the siren song of a young maiden who jumped to her death from the precipice as the result of a broken romance.
To sweeten the pot, Scenic Cruises offer a number of inclusive shore excursions that passengers can take if they wish - or they can just loll around on board while the more energetic types climb up to a mountaintop fortress or make route marches through various German cities to see such sights as an opulent cathedral or ornate rathaus - the latter being the ironic German name for city hall.
This particular cruise included a memorable visit to
Marksburg Castle where passengers engaged in a medieval feast while being entertained by wandering minstrels, bodice-cinched serving wenches and the inevitable juggling and tumbling acts.
The museum, the largest of its kind in Europe, houses about 350 self-playing musical instruments, some of them featuring violin, piano and trumpet concerts triggered by rolls of punched paper. A grand piano, at the flip of a switch, will begin a ghostly look-ma-no-hands rendition of a familiar Franz Liszt classic.
Other stops along the Rhine featured the requisite visits to vineyards and beer cellars with generous tastings of the product in each case. Back on board, one night's entertainment offered a demonstration by a master glass blower and another evening found the guests serenaded by a gifted zither player.
The popular 1946 song Cruising Down The River, which conjures up the mind picture of two lovers enjoying a quiet canoe ride while planning their honeymoon, takes on a whole new meaning when that river is the rolling Rhine, the longest waterway in Europe.
For further information on this and other Scenic cruises, check their website at
Tom Douglas is an Oakville-based travel writer with many travel articles published on this website (see: Our Writers) and author of a number of books on Canada's military heritage. Read Tom's bio at:
The Rhine is a European river that begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, forms part of the Franco-German border, then flows through Germany and eventually empties into the North Sea in the Netherlands. It is the twelfth longest river in Europe, at about 1,233 km (766 mi), with an average discharge 2,200 m3/s (78,000 cu ft/s).
The Rhine is the longest river in Germany. It is here that the Rhine encounters some more of its main tributaries, such as the Neckar, the Main and, later, the Moselle, which contributes an average discharge of more than 300 m3/s (11,000 cu ft/s). Northeastern France drains to the Rhine via the Moselle; smaller rivers drain the Vosges and Jura Mountains uplands. Most of Luxembourg and a very small part of Belgium also drain to the Rhine via the Moselle. As it approaches the Dutch border, the Rhine has an annual mean discharge of 2,290 m3/s (81,000 cu ft/s) and an average width of 400 m (1,300 ft).