A Rhine River Cruise with Scenic

Scenic Opal river cruise ship
It is the middle of May, and David and I are joining a Scenic Space-Ship for an ultra-luxury river cruise down the Rhine.  Scenic Opal, our new home for the next seven nights, does not disappoint. From the moment we step on board we are wrapped in a cocoon of comfort and indulgence - without a single care in the world.

Our Rhine Highlights cruise begins in the bustle of Amsterdam, with its maze of canals, historic buildings and thousands of bicycles. It disembarks at Basel in Switzerland (with transfers to Zurich). Each day takes us to new places and new adventures. In the evenings we dine in style in one of the ship's superb restaurants, or order room service in our private suite - where we always get the window table!  When not out exploring we spend tranquil, lazy hours watching the world go by and soaking up the rhythms of life on the Rhine. 

We arrive in Amsterdam in a rental car, having made the 45 minute drive from a small seaside town to the north. Although we telephoned Scenic Opal yesterday to check her exact location, I am relieved when we round a bend and see the ship. She is exactly where we expect her to be, berthed alongside her sistership Scenic Jewel. For the first few days of our journey, Scenic Jewel will be our companion. She can be seen ahead of us, tantalising close, as if  we are twins connected by an invisible thread. Then one day she is gone, diverging from our shared path to explore her way up the Danube. 

We are staying in the Royal Owners Suite, the best suite on the ship. At 48 square metres of absolute, unadulterated, five-star, ultra-luxury, it is hard to imagine how it could be improved. We have a separate bedroom with a king size bed and walk in wardrobe, and a living room large enough for room service breakfasts, lunches, dinners and afternoon teas in style whenever the mood takes us. A fully enclosed sun-lounge has a large glass panel which slides down at the flick of a switch to become an open-air balcony. Our suite butler, Harry, keeps the wine chiller stocked with David's favourite chardonnay and ensures there is always a bottle of red for me. The suite even has a full size bath - the ultimate in decadence on a river ship. With a view out through the sun-lounge windows and big enough for two, the bath is something we make great use of on lazy afternoons.  

Royal Owners Suite Scenic Opal
Royal Owners Suite Living Room

On our first evening aboard, after unpacking and settling in, we dine at Portobellos. The menu is five courses with paired wines. I freely confess to being a plebeian when it comes to all things connected to wine, however David, an oenophile of the first order, is delighted by the quality of the wines both tonight and throughout the cruise. 

In the morning we join our first excursion - a private tour of Amsterdam's canals. The only blight on our day is the weather. We quietly congratulate ourselves on being on the canal cruise rather than the cycling or walking tours. At least we have a roof to keep us dry. Our days of sunshine before joining the cruise are gone, replaced by grey skies, soft rain and summer temperatures reminiscent of winters at home in Australia.  Even without sunshine,  Amsterdam's canals are fascinating. We weave our way along waterways lined with colourful terrace houses, squeeze past local river craft and peek into the living rooms of houseboats. 

In the coming days we settle into a rhythm of watching the river glide by, eating too much irresistable food, and exploring the towns and countryside on daily excursions. My routine is punctuated by the occasional soul restoring massage and dreamy facial in Scenic Opal's wellness centre. My favourite moment of each day is when I pull back the curtains in the early mornings to discover what new surprises the river has in store for us. Whether it be a medieval castle, pretty rows of terrace houses, bucolic farmlands or something more mundane, the ever-changing scenery never disappoints. I especially love watching the other river traffic. I suspect even the barges have a story to tell. 

We quickly fall into the habit of having breakfast in our suite sitting by our living room window and watching the river, lunching in the River Café with its selection of rolls, soup, pastas and other lighter fare and having dinner either in our suite or at the à la carte Crystal Dining Restaurant. On the third evening of the cruise we are invited to the exclusive Table La Rive where we feast on a degustation menu to die for.

On Day 4 after lunch we sail through the UNESCO World Heritage listed Rhine Gorge dotted with historic castles and fortresses, everyone one of which seems to have a legend attached. Our plan is to settle ourselves on the Sun Deck with cameras, sunglasses, hats and sun cream ready to take full advantage of the open views from the top of the ship. Sadly, the weather fails to co-operate. It rains steadily for the first hour, then the sky clears for an idyllic ten minutes before the clouds roll in again and cover the gorge in depressing grey skies. We make the best of it, as do our fellow passengers, following the scenery from the Panorama Lounge.  When the rain stops we rug up against the cold and join a few other hardy souls who re-locate to the Sun Deck.

The Rhine Gorge
The 14th Century Pfalzgrafenstein Castle in the foreground. Gutenfels Castle is in the background. Pfalzgrafenstein was once described by Victor Hugo as "A ship of stone, eternally afloat upon the Rhine and eternally lying at anchor.."

Stolzenfels Castle Rhine Gorge
Stolzenfels Castle

Each day brings a choice of excursions. There are tours to castles, towns, museums, wineries, a spa visit and a private concert.  Some days David and I skip the tours entirely. We stay on the ship with a handful of others enjoying the quiet solitude.  When we do venture out we most enjoy the walking tours - listening to insights and stories given by enthusiastic local guides. In Cologne, we see a Roman road like no other we have seen anywhere in the world. The stone blocks are fitted together so badly it is reminiscent of a two year old's first attempt at a jigsaw puzzle. Alex, our young guide, explains without a hint of irony that the road was discovered during excavations for the Romano-Germanic Museum. Rather than change the footprint of the museum the road was taken apart with a view to relocating it nearby. Each block was marked in chalk with a number but the blocks were stored in the open air. When it was time to reassemble them the chalk marks had washed away and there was no way of knowing which block went where. As a result it must be the only Roman road in the world where the paving stones don't fit together.  I don't know if the story is true, especially the bit about the markings in chalk.  It sounds apocryphal but it does explain the unique construction.

Roman Road Cologne
The Roman Road in Cologne

Not far from the Roman road is Cologne's magnificent Gothic cathedral. Although construction began in 1248 the cathedral was not completed until 1880, more than six hundred years after its medieval beginnings. During the carpet bombing of Cologne in the Second World War, the cathedral was saved from the destruction which razed much of the city only by the fact that allied pilots used its towering spires as a navigation aid and so avoided targeting it directly. 

Cologne Cathedral interior
Inside Cologne Cathedral

We wake up in Koblenz on the fourth day of our cruise to the news that the Moselle River is in flood. A kayaking tour and excursion to the medieval town of Cochem have to be cancelled. To soften the blow we are all given passes to ride the cable car across the river and visit Koblenz's imposing Ehrenbreitstein Fortress which is perched high on the cliffs above the opposite bank. We look down on the city and get a perfect view of the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. Once inside the labyrinth-like passageways enclosed by the outer walls David and I get lost and spend the next half-hour wandering aimlessly through exhibits before eventually finding our way out.

On our second last day the sun reappears. We join a walking tour of Baden-Baden, a spa town in Germany. Like many of the towns we visit, David and I have been to Baden-Baden before. It was thirty-six years ago. For some reason this town has stuck in my memory. I remember us joking about how old and infirm the inhabitants seemed. Today couldn't be more different. The people are young and the town lively - now we are the old ones! Most impressively the historic buildings all look as if they received a fresh coat of paint yesterday. Our guide Lydia explains that many have been rebuilt in the old style in order to preserve the town's character. They look magnificent under the perfect blue sky.

Trinkhalle Baden-Baden
The Trinkhalle at Baden-Baden

Far too soon we arrive at Breisach, Germany for our last day of the cruise. Tomorrow we disembark. The same floods we encountered in Koblenz have closed a lock upstream preventing the ship from sailing further upriver and reaching our final destination of Basel. I work out that we would have sailed that part of the river through the night - so we don't miss anything. Today most of the passengers board buses for tours of Strasbourg, the village of Mittelbergheim, or the Black Forest, while David and I opt to stay on board. Although Strasbourg is a fascinating place, neither quite French nor German, we were there only a few years ago. Our plan is to take two of the ship's electric bicycles and cycle the path along the river bank. Defeated by the return of bad weather we enjoy one last day having almost the whole ship to ourselves. Jennifer, our cruise director, spends her day re-arranging transport options for everyone who expected to leave the ship in Basel.  David and I need to get to Basel/Mullhouse Airport where we have a rental car waiting so she organises a private car to take us on the 45 minute drive. Ironically once we collect our car we must drive back to a holiday flat we have rented in Colmar, France, which is only 25 kms from Breisach. 

The next morning Jennifer's herculean organisational efforts pay off and everyone disembarks smoothly. Despite the weather it has been a perfect eight days. 

Useful tips and things to know for your Scenic cruise: -

Scenic Opal is a sleek, purpose-built, five-star luxury, floating hotel. Refurbished in 2024, the ship has 82 suites and accommodates 163 guests with 57 crew. There are two main restaurants together with two more intimate dining areas - Portobellos and Table La Rive. There is an open Sun Deck with a pool, a panorama deck, panorama lounge, wellness centre, fitness centre and salt therapy lounge. Three of the four decks have passenger suites - Diamond, Sapphire and Jewel Deck. The best suites are the Royal Owners Suite and the Royal Panorama Suites on Diamond Deck followed by the Deluxe Balcony Suites and Balcony Suites.  The eleven Standard Suites on Jewel Deck are the only ones without a balcony/sun-lounge.  

Panorama Lounge Scenic Opal
The Panorama Lounge

David and I are in the Royal Owners Suite, the largest suite on the ship. One of the things we love about Scenic is that the best suites are not a huge price leap above the mid-priced suites. The Royal Owners Suite surpasses our hopes. Its separate living room, bedroom with king-size bed, large balcony/sun-lounge and lavish bathroom are pure indulgence. 

Scenic Opal has two Royal Panorama Suites at the back of the ship. They have the great advantage of being the only suites which have a view of both sides of the river. We spent a considerable time before booking the Royal Owners Suite, tossing up whether we would go for a Royal Panorama Suite instead. I was keen to be able to see both sides of the river, David was seduced by the sheer size and luxury of the Royal Owners Suite. He also thought that seeing the view from the back of the ship with everything receding in the distance as we watched wouldn't be as good as seeing the view out the sides. David won and we booked the Royal Owners Suite. 

Once on board we meet a couple staying in one of the Royal Panorama Suites. They invite us to have a look. While their suite is lovely, I decide David was right about pushing for the Royal Owners Suite. Without a completely separate bedroom the Royal Panorama Suite doesn't have quite the same super-indulgent feel of our suite. Of more significance for us is the noise of the engines. David is paranoid about noise, especially at night. Anyone else might dismiss the engines as barely audible white noise, more than made up for by the panoramic view - but not David.  

Royal Owners Suite Scenic Opal
Royal Owners Suite


Except for the Standard Suites located on Jewel Deck, all of Scenic Opal's suites have sun-lounge balconies. When I think of a balcony I imagine a tiny, open terrace jutting out from the side of the ship. The scenic sun-lounges however are glass enclosed areas within the suites. A switch lowers the glass side to create a 'balcony'. This makes the sun-lounge usable in bad weather, something we got a lot of. I would love to say we spend our days in the fresh air and sunshine afforded by our sun-lounge but we don't. With far too much rain and cold weather we lower the glass only once or twice and even then more to see how it feels than take advantage of any sunshine. 

My tips: 
  • If you want one of the the best suites you need to book early - very early!
  • Your choice of suite is very much a matter of personal preference. If you love to socialise and want to spend your time in the sundeck, lounges or bar there is probably no point in paying for a Royal Owners or Royal Panorama Suite. David and I are natural hermits, most comfortable with our own company. Our idea of perfection is sitting together by the window and watching the world go by.  Except for the occasional meal and excursion we hardly leave our suite - with such excellent butler service at the end of the phone there is no need.
  • All of the suites have flat screen infotainment systems. Tucked away in the menu is 'bow camera'. It shows the view from the front of the ship. We had one screen in the bedroom and one in the living room both of which I kept on more or less permanently - that way I knew what was coming up and could dash up to the top deck to watch us go through a lock or check out something interesting on the other side of the river.

Scenic Opal has two main restaurants; the a la carte Crystal Dining and the more casual River Café. The food at both was exquisite. We tended to have lunch at the River Café with its options of soup, pasta and other ligher meals, and dinner in our suite ordered from the Crystal Dining menu. 

Portobellos is invitation only, although I have the impression that almost everyone is given an invitation sometime during the cruise. Table La Rive is also invitation only. The standard of your suite and length of your cruise will determine whether you receive an invitation. 

River Cafe, Scenic Opal
A selection of snacks available throughout the day at the River Café

Scenic offer a choice of excursions, usually three or four, every day.  Whether you are fit and healthy or need something slower I am confident you will find one which suites you, and best of all they are all included in the price.

My tips:
  • A small number of the excursions have limited places - things like kayaking and cycling tours.  You will be able to book these a few months before your cruise. Get in early! We missed out on cycling in Amsterdam because we didn't realise bookings had opened, and by the time we did the tour was full. In the end we had such dreary weather the day of the tour that we were very happy to go with our second choice of the canal cruise. 
  • Don't feel compelled to join every excursion. We spent many luxurious hours with the ship almost to ourselves and enjoyed extra sailing time by staying on board during one excursion where passengers disembarked at one location and re-joined the ship further upriver. 


Although check-in time for the suites is 3 pm, we were told we were welcome to arrive earlier and make use of the lounges and public areas. We even had lunch on the ship before taking time to explore Amsterdam by foot. Some of the other passengers arrived for breakfast.

My tips: 
  • Scenic give you a list of phone numbers for each ship. This comes with the attachments to your booking documentation. If you are travelling independently, as we were, telephone the ship the day before you arrive and check the berth. Although we had no trouble finding Scenic Opal, the peace of mind in knowing the exact berth was immeasurable.  Being a belt and braces kind of person I also searched the internet and found river.cruiseportamsterdam.com. Here you can search by ship name, and/or arrival/departure day to find the address of the berth.
  • Keep the ship's phone number with you while you are out exploring. You never know when it might come in handy.
  • Don't panic about dropping your bags. There was a reception tent on the dock staffed by extremely helpful crew members.  Since we had a rental car to return the day we joined the ship, we literally dropped our bags and ran.
  • This is obvious, but I will say it nevertheless. Arrive a few days early at the city where your cruise begins. You get a chance to get over the jet-lag, something which coming from Australia we are very familiar with, and it might save you from missing the ship if your travel connections don't go smoothly.

Note: David and I received a small discount on the cost of our cruise. You can find more information on Scenic Cruises at Scenic.com.au

This was our second cruise with Scenic. The review of our first Scenic cruise is at this link - 

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  1. Wow! What a great adventure you have enjoyed. I thoroughly enjoyed the blog read.