Scenic Jewel debuted in 2013 as the seventh in Scenic's "Space Ship" class -- so called because the ships offer plentiful public and in-cabin space; Scenic's owners liked the tweaks to the original design so much, they went back and changed the rest of the fleet to Jewel's design. Standout features include the "Sun Lounge" balconies, which simultaneously make cabins feel large and airy and make the balcony space usable in fair and inclement weather; multiple dining options teased out of just two main public areas (the restaurant and the lounge); and a spa and fitness center -- small but certainly not standard on all river ships.
And the luxurious amenities can't be overlooked. Scenic Jewel is truly all-inclusive, with all meals, all drinks (minus the highest-end liquors and French Champagne), excursions, Internet and butler service in all cabins included in the fare. No detail is too small to be carefully considered, from a gorgeous selection of loose-leaf teas in the lounge to combination television-Mac computers with Internet in every cabin. The glassed-in showers might be the largest we've ever had in a standard balcony cabin, and you can lather up in L'Occitane shampoos and lotions before drying off in fluffy bathrobes. Even the included excursions go beyond the river cruise staples with your choice of walking, biking or museum tours in every port. Plus Scenic's exclusive GPS devices allow for independent exploration with a virtual guide and map, as well as narration during scenic cruising portions of the trip.
The only downside is in the execution. To be fair, our cruise was the inaugural sailing, with staff getting settled and learning the ins and outs of the ship and its offerings. Yet we were surprised at how many glitches there were. Our butler never introduced herself (while the butler for the cabin across the hall was checking in on my neighbor daily). The waitstaff couldn't handle simple requests (no prosciutto on my antipasto or can I order oatmeal off the breakfast menu); Jewel's state-of-the-art electrically assisted bicycles kept getting flat tires or running out of battery power; and we never managed to get the TV or Internet working in our cabin. We were promised it takes two weeks for the ship's staff to get it together, but we were skeptical ... until high winds stranded Jewel in an out-of-the-way port two days before debarkation, and the cruise director and his team kicked into high gear and handled the unexpected situation with professionalism and care. Not only did they arrange for tours to take place from the new location, but they also provided passengers with choices: take the tours and have a longer bus transfer to the airport the next day, transfer directly into our debark city of Amsterdam and stay at a hotel for more time in port (and they made phone lines available for booking hotels) or take the tour, then get dropped off in the city for an overnight stay. If the rest of the ship's staff can achieve that level of service, all passengers will be in excellent hands.
If you're an American, you might wonder why you've never heard of this luxury river line. It's because its Australian parent company has not marketed to Americans until recently. Scenic Jewel is not an American ship; you'll find lengthy itineraries (15-day sailings in 2013) catering to Australian travel styles, European and Australian power points, and a more European menu (items like fish and muesli at breakfast and a wide selection of cheese offered at every meal, for example). If you're looking for an upscale, all-inclusive river experience, Scenic Jewel is definitely worth checking out.