Getaway presenter and seasoned traveller David Reyne is no stranger to touring Europe. Trading hire vans for luxury ships, the Scenic ambassador explains why he is captivated by river cruising, reveals his favourite European destination, and tells us his most memorable onshore experience.
1. How many times have you travelled to Europe, and what is your favourite mode of transport to take in the scenery?
I have made endless trips to Europe, which I’ve usually experienced from the back of some stinking hire van, which I’ve had to share with a TV crew and their discarded cans of Coke or Red Bull rolling around on the floor - not ideal for the fastidiously neat and tidy, such as myself. Can you imagine my delight when I eventually discovered luxury cruising? There’s nothing like it. It’s akin to having your favourite bar, restaurant or hotel room deliver you to your next destination.
2. A Scenic river cruise itinerary touches on unique ports and places of interest, including some of the continent's most historic cities and atmospheric villages. Where is the most memorable place Scenic has taken you and why did it resonate with you?
I was fortunate enough to cruise down the Mekong with Scenic. We had been in Siem Reap in Cambodia, a delightful city conveniently located near the Angkor temples, before heading to Phnom Penh to begin our journey down the Mekong River into Vietnam. Meandering along this magnificent river in such a way enabled us to see aspects of Cambodian and Vietnamese life you’d never experience from the road.
We had access to tiny riverside villages and were immersed in their way of life; visiting communal fishing enterprises, small weaving factories and family-run and owned rice production businesses. We were even taken into a local’s home. There’s something like 20 million people living in the Mekong Delta region - an area approximately the size of Tasmania - and although existence here is pretty basic, they were some of the happiest people I think I’ve ever encountered.
3. How does the Scenic experience differ from other ways of exploring Europe?
At the risk of making this sound like some kind of paid endorsement, which it isn’t, nobody does it better than Scenic. I’ve found their level of luxury to be unprecedented. Every detail has been refined so that the level of comfort is extraordinary - the travel experience itself is meticulously planned and wide ranging. I’ve had experiences with Scenic I’d never even consider for myself. A private operatic performance in the grand Rastatt Palace, not far from the banks of the Rhine, for example.
4. Earlier this year you went on a luxury Europe river cruise along the Rhine and Moselle rivers on Scenic Opal. How did you find the Scenic Space-Ship, one of the next-generation cruise ships for Scenic?
There are quite a number of cruise ships sailing the waters of the great rivers of Europe, many of them claiming to be luxurious, but none seem to possess the same elegance of the Scenic Opal. That’s the secret I think: elegance. Nothing’s ostentatious. You don’t need to be forever reminded that the Scenic Opal is luxurious. It’s undeniable. It’s all around you and there’s a delightful ease associated with the ship. Nothing’s too difficult. Nothing’s hurried or fussed. Nothing has been forgotten. It’s kind of like how you’d expect heaven to be.
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5. When it comes to design and innovation, what are some of the luxury amenities you enjoyed within the suites of Scenic Opal?
My bed on the Scenic Opal came with a remote control. At the press of a button, my head could be raised to any desired position. My feet too. Not only was this thing a masterful invention of comfort and sophistication, it was a magnificent plaything! I could arrange myself into all sorts of pleasing contortions - perfect for reading, watching movies on the massive in-room TV screen, or to view the riverside drifting past.
Once I had been eased of all tension through the marvellous manipulation made possible by the various angles achieved by the bed, I would summon my private butler, who would deliver a cocktail, along with my freshly shined shoes. When you become accustomed to that level of class in the room alone, you soon realise that the rest of the ship is equally astounding.
6. How did the all-inclusive nature of the Scenic cruise and the assistance of a private butler enhance your Scenic river cruise experience?
Where else can you find a slice of life that is all inclusive? It’s the ultimate concept. Everything has been taken care of. You don’t have to think… oh, except for which particular indulgent task you might like to set for your butler. Brilliant!
7. What were some of the highlights from this trip from Amsterdam to Basel along the Rhine and Moselle rivers?
A ridiculous amount of extremely significant history has occurred along the Rhine. Marauding Roman emperors, crazed royal despots, narcissistic aristocrats, all hell bent on claiming land in their name, fought and finagled along this stretch of European riverside wonderland. It was a real highlight to sit with my bedside Scenic guide book in hand, marvelling at the many castles, fortresses and historic ruins passing by my private balcony vantage point. I couldn’t help but be completely dazzled by the remnants of so many important, consequential and utterly fascinating moments in time.
8. Travelling with fellow guests on board Scenic river cruises, what can you tell us about the sort of people you have encountered on your cruise?
They’re generally very interested and thoughtful individuals. Discerning too, because that’s who Scenic attracts. It’s always interesting to get back on board in the evening to hear the many different and diverse comments of the day’s experiences. Since this is usually done around the bar where lips have been loosened a little by a few beverages - all included, of course - some fascinating stories are delivered by some very fascinating people.
9. What is the best onshore experience you have had on a Scenic cruise?
I’ve always been mightily impressed with the onshore guides Scenic arrange. These are often highly intelligent and amusing individuals with great knowledge and an unique take on the area they are revealing to the Scenic guests.
We were on the Mekong filming and, getting late, we’d decided to down tools. Our guide wanted to show us a little family business being run in a tiny village on the banks of the river. Having had a really full and enthralling day, we were hesitant, wanting to get back to the ship. The guide was insistent so we clambered the timber steps to a large tin shed to find half a dozen members of the one family toiling away at some really ancient-looking machinery. Pistons and wheels and belts and steam and a furnace were all going hammer and tongs as these people completed the various tasks associated with popping rice, forming it into cakes and packaging it up. It was so ‘old school’; basic and simple but utterly beguiling. All performed by the most charming people who were thrilled to have us visit. Naturally we raced back to get the gear so that we could shoot proceedings.
10. Scenic is the only 100 per cent Australian-owned and operated river cruise company along the waterways of Europe. Is there something special about Scenic that resonates with Australians?
Scenic doesn't just resonate with Australians. I think anybody who’s seen a Scenic ship cruising the great waterways of the world immediately recognises the elegance and class Scenic personifies. Once on board though, there is a magnificently relaxed atmosphere, which may well be because of the company’s Australian heritage. Too many tour companies present luxury that is formal and ‘stiff’. Scenic provides all the elegance, luxury and class you’d ever want but it’s always so delightfully relaxed.
11. What is your favourite destination in Europe, and what do you recommend eating, seeing and doing there?
I love Amsterdam. It’s a truly elegant city full of fabulous design and home to very creative souls. Having wrapped itself around meandering canals, although Amsterdam is a very modern city, it is also a very beguiling historic fishing port. I love the narrow cobbled laneways that weave between old tenements, many of which lean alarmingly due to waterlogged foundations. I love the arched bridges that cross the canals. I love the way the city’s incredibly fashionable women sound their bicycle bells as they tootle across. I’m sure the men do the same but they don’t seem to catch my eye quite as readily!
I’d recommend that any visitor to Amsterdam simply spends a couple of hours gazing at shop windows… be warned though, the Red Light District has some rather confronting window displays. As for the food: you could try the pickled herring, which is traditionally consumed raw. Hold the thing by the tail, tilt your head back, and lower it in. It takes a little getting used to.
12. Your Scenic Europe river cruise experience in three words?
Another one, please.
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