More and less: River cruises get creative with their space

A rendering of Scenic Culinaire, a dedicated space that will be added to the Scenic Diamond and the Scenic Sapphire for daily cooking classes for 10 guests at a time.
A rendering of Scenic Culinaire, a dedicated space that will be added to the Scenic Diamond and the Scenic Sapphire for daily cooking classes for 10 guests at a time.

When Scenic guests step aboard the Scenic Diamond and the Scenic Sapphire next year, they'll find the ships offer both more and less.

An off-season redesign of the two France-based vessels will drop the number of cabins from 84 to 78, opening up space for two 510-square-foot Royal Owner's Suites, an expanded wellness center, a vitality pool and a culinary classroom.

"For Scenic, it's the continued evolution and innovation of trying to provide our customers a better experience," said Bill Spaeth, director of marketing for Scenic USA.

Scenic isn't the only river cruise line sacrificing capacity in the name of amenities or getting creative with its onboard space.

Crystal Cruises debuted in the river market this year with the refurbished Crystal Mozart, an ultrawide Danube vessel that now holds 52 less guests than in its past life as a Peter Deilmann ship.

Crystal's next four yachts, all 443-foot newbuilds that will sail on the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers, will carry just 106 passengers each, with the extra space onboard going to cabins with walk-in closets and riverview beds, multiple dining venues, a spa and fitness center and an indoor pool with a retractable roof. Morning yoga and Pilates classes will be held on the sundeck and taught by a dedicated fitness director.

"We came to the river cruise industry with the perspective of ocean cruising," said Crystal River Cruises VP and managing director Walter Littlejohn. "In designing our newbuilds and in reimagining the Mozart, we were very creative in finding ways to be able to put these amenities on our ships from the onset."

Aboard the Diamond and the Sapphire, the changes are a direct result of customer feedback, guests in the Rhone and Bordeaux regions filling out surveys and telling the company they wanted more food-focused activities.

"They've been asking for this," Spaeth said. "This is our attempt at trying to offer onboard immersion into the culinary experience."

Located inside the Crystal dining venue, Scenic Culinaire appears to be a first for river cruising, a dedicated space for daily cooking classes where 10 guests at a time can watch and participate as chef instructors prepare meals from scratch.

Offered as an alternative to an off-ship excursion, the cooking classes will start with a visit to a shoreside market to shop with the chef and pick out fresh ingredients. Decked out like a television kitchen set, Culinaire will have a mirror and TV monitors, allowing guests to follow the chef's every move as they observe and assist in cooking the day's dishes.

"With the rise of the Food Network and cooking shows, the education of the U.S. market lends itself perfectly to an experience like this in France," Spaeth said.

When its Longships launched in 2012, Viking River Cruises also played with space and design. The company eliminated its massage room and a small gym, which less than 10% of its guests typically used, and repurposed that space to enhance the onboard public spaces. Squaring off the ships' bows created additional dining capacity for 70-plus guests in the indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace, according to Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing for Viking.

The company has also recognized the popularity of culinary experiences. Last year it evolved its Taste Of events, which offered an onboard sampling of local food, to bring them into the galley, where guests could learn more about the dishes and their preparation from the culinary staff.

"During Holiday Market cruises in Europe, this can be an interactive demonstration on Christmas cookie or gingerbread decorating; at other times during the year guests learn how to create iconic local dishes," Marnell said. Among those dishes are apple strudel in Austria, flammkuchen, a kind of pizza, in Alsace, tarte citron in Normandy or pelmeni dumplings in Ukraine.

"This theme of more in-depth cultural enrichment has also been pulled through off our ships in some of our newest shore-excursion options, including new offerings for cooking classes and other culinary experiences," Marnell said.

Spaeth said Scenic's upcoming cooking classes offer experiential value to guests looking for extra cultural immersion. For 2017, Culinaire will only be available on sailings in France aboard the Sapphire and the Diamond, but Spaeth didn't rule out expanding the amenity in the future.

"We make plans each year for how can we enhance the experience," he said. "If it works, we might see more down the line."


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