Five companies operate river cruises in Bordeaux: AmaWaterways, CroisiEurope (with two ships), Scenic, Uniworld and Viking. All five companies run similarly sized vessels, similar itineraries and similar land programs, and visit more or less the same destinations.
- Libourne, with excursions to nearby Saint-Émilion;
- Pauillac, for outings in the Medoc region;
- Blaye, with its impressive fortress;
- Bourg, with its equally impressive fortress;
- Cadillac, gateway to the Sauternes wine region and the historic Roquetaillade Castle;
- and, of course, Bordeaux, the beautiful city that serves as the hub for these wine-and-chateaux-centric river cruises.
All river cruise companies operating in Bordeaux also offer visits to vineyards, tours of wine cellars and abundant wine tastings, with many of the latter taking place in the beautiful chateaux along the rivers.
In fact, there are two rivers here, the Dordogne and the Garonne, along with the Gironde Estuary that washes into the Atlantic. The proximity to the Atlantic creates an inland tidal bore known as the Mascaret, a fascinating natural phenomenon that you can see in a video at the bottom of this post.
With so much being the same, what does Scenic do that others do not do on Bordeaux river cruises?
What Does Scenic Do Differently In Bordeaux?
First off, it’s important to identify competitive sets. Scenic and Uniworld are in the same competitive set because of their all-encompassing, all-inclusive programs. That said, a Bordeaux river cruise on either Scenic or Uniworld will cost you considerably more than a Bordeaux river cruise on AmaWaterways, CroisiEurope and Viking, as indicated in the table below.
Bordeaux 2018 River Cruise Price Comparison
|Sailing Date||May 31, 2018||June 1, 2018||June 7, 2018||June 3, 2018||June 2, 2018|
|Number of days||8||8||8||8||8|
|Category||Category C||N/A||Category C||Category 1||Category B|
|Square Footage||170 square feet, with French Balcony||140 square feet, with window that opens||205 square feet with Sun Lounge balcony||140 square feet, with French Balcony||205 square feet with Step Out balcony|
|Per diem/per person||$543||$368||$698||$749||$481|
On the other hand, Scenic and Uniworld feature more complimentary inclusions than AmaWaterways, CroisiEurope or Viking. Scenic and Uniworld, for example, include all spirits, champagne, wine, beer and soft drinks, with the exception of a few premium beverages (the really expensive stuff). Both companies also include prepaid gratuities that AmaWaterways, CroisiEurope and Viking typically do not bundle into their rates. While CroisiEurope includes all beverages (except for some premium wines and spirits) all the time, AmaWaterways and Viking include wine and beer with lunch and dinner only, along with sparkling wine during breakfast.
Update: Crunching the numbers reveals narrow price differentials across all companies operating in Bordeaux. See My Updated Bordeaux Pricing.
Beyond the inclusions, there are at least eight things that Scenic does differently in Bordeaux.
Eight Things That Scenic Does Differently In Bordeaux
1. Scenic boasts the most recently updated ship in Bordeaux. Having the most recently updated ship may not seem like a big deal, but Scenic Diamond’s spring 2017 refurbishment was huge. Scenic started by removing six cabins to reduce the passenger count from 167 to 155. Two suites were added (see below), an enlarged gym (with four cardio machines and a mini-trampoline), a large Whirlpool on the Sundeck, Scenic Culinaire (see below) and a two-bed massage treatment room (pictured) along with a Salt therapy room. Built in 2009, Scenic Diamond isn’t an old ship, and the updates functioned to keep it fresh and relevant to guests.
Expanded spa facilities on Scenic Diamond include a two-bed massage treatment room. © 2017 Ralph Grizzle
© 2017 Ralph Grizzle
© 2017 Ralph Grizzle
2. The largest suites on the rivers of Bordeaux. Two super-sized Royal Owner’s Suites were added during Scenic Diamond’s spring 2017 renovation. I had the opportunity to step inside one of those suites. My favorite feature (also the favorite feature of the guest who occupied the suite) was the balcony. Occupying a large space between the living room and bedroom, the balcony was glass-enclosed, featuring Scenic’s innovative Sun Lounge system. Behind the balcony was a connecting hallway flanked by a bathroom that featured a shower and a huge soaking tub. Measuring 47 square meters (510 square feet), Scenic Diamond’s Royal Owner’s Suites are for those who desire space to stretch out – and then some.
3. Scenic Culinaire. On paper, it’s an onboard cooking school. In practice, it’s a lot of fun. On Thursday morning last week, ten of us went along with Scenic Diamond’s French Chef, Jerome, to Bordeaux’s most popular food market, Marché des Capucins. I’ve been to markets before but it was fun to go with Chef Jerome to learn more about the local produce, cheeses (oh, the French cheeses), seafood and meat — and to sample and learn what we were going to do with those items back on the ship. After about 45 minutes of shopping, we had a bagful of goodies to take back to Scenic Diamond, where we would prepare special dishes in the dedicated Scenic Culinaire workspace. We learned to make a Fried Camembert with a Compote of Red Onions and Mesclun. It was fresh, light, delicious and something I’d consider serving at home, but the real fun was going to the market and shopping with the chef, then coming back to create beautiful dishes on Scenic Diamond. Scenic Culinaire is free of charge but class sizes are limited.
4. Scenic Enrich. Scenic bills its Scenic Enrich activity as “an exclusive and unique experience that takes guests behind the scenes to enjoy moments inaccessible to ordinary travelers.” For us, that was an evening in the Medoc countryside at Chateau Giscours, where we dined at an 18th-century farm and enjoyed classical music played by two lovely French musicians. An evening to remember, for sure.
5. Five dining venues. This claim may be a little dubious. Yes, Scenic Diamond has five dining venues, but one of them, Table La Rive, is in the main dining room. Still, Table La Rive, which can comfortably accommodate 10, is a multi-course, wine-pairing degustation dinner that is exceptionally well done. One deck up, in front of the lounge is L’Amour, which serves French food. Table La Rive is by invitation only for guests on the Diamond Deck. L’Amour is open to all guests once per cruise. There’s also the River Cafe, which serves light snacks during the day as well as room service with a good selection of dishes.
6. Butlers for every stateroom. Having a butler may not be a big deal to some, but others will find the butler’s services useful. What sort of things did the butler do? Deliver early morning tea or coffee to your stateroom, shoeshine service, make appointments (hairdresser, spa, dinner reservations) and more.
7. Ebikes on board for guided and independent touring. Other river cruise companies offer bike tours as well as complimentary use of bikes for independent touring. Scenic, however, carries a fleet of ebikes onboard Scenic Diamond for those who prefer a little assistance when pedaling.
8. Scenic Sundowner. Toward the end of our day in Saint-Emilion, we toasted the evening at nearby Chateau Siaurac, recognized as a National Heritage Site because of the estate’s architectural and cultural heritage. Scenic features its so-called Sundowners on all of its river cruises. I have found them to be a nice way to end the day and to celebrate the region that I was exploring.
9. Longer Bordeaux cruises. I was on Scenic’s eight-day Bordeaux Affair. Others on my voyage stayed on to complete an 11-day Beautiful Bordeaux itinerary. While most operators run eight-day itineraries in Bordeaux, Scenic chose to extend some of its itineraries. There are some exceptional values for Scenic’s longer cruises. As one example, the September 17, 2017 departure of the 11-day Beautiful Bordeaux program begins at $4,205 per person. That’s a per-diem of less than $400 per person, a bargain on Scenic.
Is A Scenic River Cruise In Bordeaux for you?
Scenic is for those who appreciate refined elegance with a personal touch. I found Scenic Diamond’s staff to be professional and personable. While they were always intent on providing the best experience possible, they were easy to laugh with. In fact, I felt like a guest in someone’s home, or chateau perhaps given the region where we were cruising.
Food? Wine? Some of the dishes I had on Scenic Diamond were among the best I have ever had on the rivers – the tortellini in L’Amour comes to mind – while the wines were regional and of some acclaim.
Scenic Diamond was comfortable and with good facilities and features, notably the gym, the Salt Therapy room, the €15,000 coffee machine and more. While my stateroom wasn’t any more spacious than on Viking or AmaWaterways, I did appreciate the stocked mini-bar and the Sun Lounge.
All in all, I consider Scenic to be an excellent value for those who are willing to spend a bit more than on other river cruises operating in the Bordeaux region.
Also see …
Mary Sisti says
I am a travel agent who just disembarked from Amawaterways AmaDolce Bordeaux cruise. I have been on 2 Danube cruises with Scenic in the last 3 years.
I disagree with some of your assessments. Yes, if you want a suite and a cardio room and spirits, you should consider Scenic. However, for the rest of the guests, I found Ama to be superior in food for American tastes. And they do have onboard bikes for independant or guided bike excursions in almost every port. There is a choice of excursions. The highlight was a visit to Chateau Boutinet with it’s owner presenting a wine pairing of 3 of her wines with 3 of her homemade courses! WONDERFUL ! I found Ama to be a better value for most guests.
Ralph Grizzle says
I love AmaWaterways and I did their first Bordeaux cruise last year. Wonderful, I agree. Have you seen the pricing on this page? https://www.rivercruiseadvisor.com/2017/07/the-exceptional-all-inclusiveness-of-scenic-river-cruises/
An excellent review, thank you Ralph. You’ve made this trip extremely appealing and as a former professional chef (private homes) the new “Scenic Culinaire” program sounds informative and “tasty.” Although we are going on Scenic next year to the Danube, this Bordeaux trip has whetted our appetites for 2019.
Ralph Grizzle says
Thanks very much. Always good to hear such words.
David Weymouth says
I especially enjoyed the What Scenic Does Differently blog in this newsletter. It was a real help in deciding among all the choices for river cruises in France. I realize that all the companies have a niche, and this article helped us pick what I think will be the best line for us. Thanks!
Ralph Grizzle says
Thank you David!