Scenic Gem River Cruise Review: Luxury Sailing on the Seine River

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Scenic Gem Reviews - Scenic Gem on the Seine River.
Scenic Gem on the Seine River, Paris. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

I was glad for my last minute decision to switch excursions when my guide showed up in character dressed as Richard the Lionheart for a hike to the hilltop Chateau Gaillard in Les Andelys, France. It was the first port stop on an 11-night Normandy & Gems of the Seine River cruise with Australian-based Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours.

The hike was fairly short but steep and along the way our group learned about the medieval king and area history from our knowledgeable and entertaining guide, Ben Bailey. From the hilltop, we could see the Seine River below, with our elegant ship, the Scenic Gem, waiting for us.

My travel partner was my young adult son, Michael, and this was our first river cruise in Europe. From the ship and crew to ports and excursions, the cruise exceeded our expectations. Here’s why I recommend sailing with Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, and what I enjoyed about our ship, Scenic Gem.

Scenic Gem Reviews - Actor dressed as Richard the Lionheart leads a hiking tour.
“Richard the Lionheart” leads a hiking tour to the ruins of Chateau Gaillard. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

About Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours

The Scenic name may not be familiar to some Americans but the company has been around since 1986. It was founded by Glen Moroney, who began operating coach tours throughout his native Australia. He launched the Scenic cruise line’s “Space-Ships” in 2008, introducing outside balconies to river boats for the first time. The Scenic Group also owns and operates ocean yachts and Emerald Waterways. River cruise itineraries include the waterways of the Danube, Rhine, Rhone and Seine.

Scenic Gem Reviews - Views of the Eiffel Tower and a reproduction of the Statue of Liberty from the Scenic Gem sundeck as the ship leaves Paris.
Views of the Eiffel Tower and a reproduction of the Statue of Liberty from the Scenic Gem sundeck as the ship leaves Paris. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Scenic Gem Itinerary on the Seine River

Michael and I sailed on the Scenic Gem, one of three Scenic Space-Ships based in France. The roundtrip Scenic river cruise began in Paris and traveled to Les Andelys, Rouen, Honfleur, Caudebec-en-Caux, Vernon-Giverny and Conflans-Sainte-Honorine – with many adventures along the way. Scenic Gem’s small size makes it among the few river boats able to sail along the Seine to the English Channel.

The itinerary included three days in Paris. Pre- and post cruise extensions are available. We added additional days in Paris at the back end of our cruise.

Embarkation couldn’t have been smoother. Within minutes of boarding, we got our room keys and were settled in our stateroom.

As we set sail, we had views of the Eiffel Tower and a smaller reproduction of the Statue of Liberty, which commemorates the centennial of the French Revolution.

Scenic Gem Reviews - Views from stateroom balcony.
View from our stateroom balcony. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours Amenities

Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours is a fully all-inclusive cruise line, with transfers and gratuities included.

And once you step onboard, you never need your credit card (except for a haircut or spa). The cruise line offers luxury experiences that include private butler service, free room service, unlimited complimentary beverages and spirits including a complimentary mini-bar restocked daily and full-size private balconies and sun lounges.

At the press of a button, the balcony window opens and closes and sliding glass panels can extend the room for more space or close for privacy. This feature enabled my son and I to have our own space in our stateroom when needed.

While I enjoyed morning coffee and freshly baked croissants served by our butler, Yasmin, on the balcony, Michael could sleep in. I loved having my breakfast delivered to me each morning. It was a relaxing way to start the day. Yasmin was also efficient in replenishing snacks and the mini-bar.

A little fun feature was the lighting in the shower. By turning the dial, you could adjust the lighting and color of the water.  

Convenient amenities included a pillow menu, one free laundry service per stateroom, free WiFi, and a refillable souvenir water bottle, which was handy for excursions.

Scenic Gem Reviews - Monet's Garden
Monet’s Garden. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Scenic Gem Excursions: Monet’s Garden

The option to choose shore excursions (included in the price) and change my mind last minute was one of my favorite features about Scenic. Often it was hard to choose between a guided bike ride or a walking tour.

Fortunately, Cruise Director Mandy Kinnell was always available to answer questions and offer suggestions about excursions and where to shop and eat in port stops (her tip to find the best oysters on the waterfront in Honfleur was spot on). Her role is extensive. She serves as program coordinator, concierge, organizing excursions, overseeing dietary requests, and more. “I love it. It’s not a job you can do if you don’t like it,” she said.

When I asked her about the difficulty level on a guided bike tour to Monet’s Garden in Vernon-Giverny, she assured me I could handle it. After all, she said, “I see you every morning doing stretch exercises with Paulina,” the onboard wellness coach.

The guided bike tour (led by Mandy) wound up being my favorite excursion. Scenic Gem has e-bikes onboard for tours and to explore villages on your own – another great feature. It began drizzling as we got on our bikes and put on ponchos. Contemplating the wet streets, I debated whether to stay or go. “Come on, get on,” said my new friend Elliot.

I was glad I did. The skies soon cleared up as our group of seven rode along the Seine River to Monet’s Garden, where we met up with fellow passengers who had opted for a bus ride. After walking through the beautiful colorful gardens that inspired his paintings, we toured Monet’s house. Then Elliot, Michael and I hopped on our e-bikes and rode to Au Coin du Paintre Giverny, a nearby bakery for warm, flaky croissants (another great Mandy tip). Riding bikes along the Seine River was simply magical.

Back onboard the Scenic Gem, we joined a painting class, in the style of impressionists, led by a local artist.

Scenic Gem Reviews - Normandy American Cemetery.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Scenic Gem Excursions: History, Art & Music

Throughout the river cruise, we enjoyed many diverse shore excursions, which included visiting Van Gogh’s home and grave, and the site where Joan of Arc spent her last days. At the Somme Battlefields we walked through trenches where soldiers spent days at a time during WWI, and where, incredibly, there are still active land mines.

We also walked around the 330-foot long Lochnagar Crater, formed by an explosion during WWI. Two days later, we visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, containing the graves of 9,387 soldiers. By then it began to rain, making for a cold and wet visit on our next stop: the Normandy Beaches of Utah and Omaha, site of the WWII D-Day Landings. This was the same weather soldiers endured during the military operation, said Ben (the same guide who was dressed as Richard the Lionheart and Rolo the Viking in Rouen). These somber excursions brought WWI and WWII history home.

“It makes me realize that these historical events aren’t as long ago as I thought,” said Michael.

Other excursions were laid back and scenic. On the drive to Etretat’s alabaster coastline, we drove through the French countryside by fields of potatoes, flax and grains before reaching the town known for coastal rock formations. Here, we saw typical Normandy timber frame houses built with thatched roofs.

The daily excursions were well-paced, allowing us time to enjoy onboard meals and activities. Afterall, part of the joy of river cruising is relaxing onboard and watching the passing scenery. Castles, rural communities and open green spaces. Plus, it was fascinating watching the river locks, which control water levels that raise and lower boats along the canals.

Scenic Gem Reviews - 12th century Chateau de La Rouche-Guyon.
12th century Chateau de La Rouche-Guyon. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Scenic Enrich Cultural Experiences

One enchanting evening, we attended a private classical concert at the 12th century Chateau de La Rouche-Guyon, built into a steep rock face. This concert was an exclusive Scenic Enrich cultural event for Scenic Gem cruise passengers.

From the ship, we walked through a garden and to the castle for a wine reception before the lovely concert. Scenic Enrich events vary with the ship and itinerary.

Scenic Gem Reviews - Cheese tasting in the Crystal Dining Room.
Cheese tasting in the Crystal Dining Room. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Scenic Gem Activities

The ship’s intimate size made it easy to mingle with fellow passengers in the Panorama Lounge, the main venue for evening drinks, games, programs and entertainment.

On the sun deck, we played a challenging game of cornhole and other activities organized by Vili, enrichment manager.

Dining on Scenic Gem

The dining options on Scenic Gem were varied and featured French, American and international cuisine. For a quick meal, we ate at the casual River Cafe, which serves breakfast items, sandwiches, pizzas, soups and desserts (and macaroons!) at the bow of the ship. I enjoyed the nice daily selection of cheeses, olives and bread.

Mostly we ate in the Crystal Dining Room, where tables for four to eight made it conducive for conversation while enjoying appetizers, a main course, cheese and dessert. Among tapas, there was Quiche Lorraine, marinated brie cheese and cream of celery root. Entrees included coq au vin, pasta and steak. And even tasty cheeseburgers and fries.

One evening an elaborate French dessert buffet was prepared by a local patissier. On another day, there was a delightful cheese and wine tasting. And after our walking tour in Rouen, a delicious barbecue was served on the sundeck.

Since the ship carries no more than 149 passengers, most people get to experience at least one specialty dinner. At the L’Amour Restaurant, located at the bow, we indulged in a five-course meal paired with imported and French wines. We were thrilled to get invited  to Table La Rive, a private chef’s dinner with seven courses in the Crystal Dining Room. There is no extra charge for these dinners but reservations are required.  It’s worth noting that the chef accommodates various dietary preferences. So be sure to inform the cruise director.

 Too soon, our cruise was over and it was time to say au revoir to our crew. Michael and I both enjoyed the leisurely focus on one country. Sailing along the Seine enabled us to visit numerous pretty storybook villages and to gain a better understanding of France’s history and culture. And to meet interesting characters like Richard the Lionheart.

Native Angeleno and seasoned travel journalist Mimi Slawoff writes for numerous print and digital publications. She is also the author of Oldest Los Angeles (Reedy Press, 2022). A lifelong world traveler, Mimi is an award-winning journalist who writes about outdoor adventures, cruises, Europe and cultural activities. Mimi has three grown kids and lives with her husband and their dog, Maya, in Los Angeles.
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