The recently renovated, 167-guest Scenic Sapphire is one of five deluxe Space Ship Class river cruise ships operated by Sydney-based Scenic Cruises. Built to the maximum dimensions allowed to clear the locks and bridges of France’s Rhone River, the 2,721 gt Scenic Sapphire measures 443 by 37.73 feet and has a draft of 5.2 feet. The first of the Space Ships, the Scenic Sapphire was built in 2008 by the Den Breejen Shipyard (hull no. 3496) in Holland. It is powered by a Caterpillar C32 diesel that drives twin screws. Shown approaching the famed Pont d’Avignon in Avignon, France, the Scenic Sapphire will receive a full stem-to-stern transformation in the winter of 2016/17 that will see the addition of a wading pool, gym and an expanded spa. The ship’s capacity will also be reduced with the elimination of several non-balcony cabins. Once per cruise, Scenic provides a gala land-based event. On the Scenic Sapphire’s Rhone itinerary, that might include a private evening concerto in Avignon’s historic Palais des Papes. Scenic Sapphire has four guest decks, beginning at the top with an outdoor lounge-style seating area at the forward end of Sun Deck. The forward portion of Sun Deck continues with more tables and chairs. This part of the ship is the setting for a once-per-week gala barbecue, conditions permitting. Aft of the wheelhouse, Sun Deck features a walking track and open sunning space with folding deck chairs. Shaded space is also provided under retractable awnings on aft Sun Deck. To clear low bridges, the wheelhouse can be lowered into the deck and the Sun Deck railings can be collapsed. The next level, Diamond Deck, begins with the al fresco, 20-seat Panorama terrace that is protected from the elements by the Sun Deck overhang. Small, sheltered promenades on either side of Diamond Deck are used for embarkation and disembarkation and offer near-river level vantages while the ship is in motion. The Scenic Sapphire’s interior spaces begin with the Panorama Lounge on Diamond Deck, which seats up to 32 guests. Each evening, the Panorama Lounge is transformed into the French-themed L’Amour alternate dining venue. In L’Amour, a five-course French dinner is prepared on the spot by the ship’s chef. Up to 25 guests at a time may dine here once per cruise for no charge, although reservations are required. L’Amour courses begin with an artful hors d’oeuvre, such as this Tarte with Lobster, and include both warm and cold appetizers, a soup, a main course and dessert. A large marble bar serves both the Panorama and Sapphire Lounges. Except for top-shelf liquors and wines, all drinks (including a wide range of wines and beers, soft drinks and specialty coffees) aboard the Scenic Sapphire are included in the fare. In the daytime, the Panorama Lounge doubles as the River Cafe, offering an Early Bird continental-style breakfast and a Light Lunch. There is also a salad bar with fresh, locally sourced ingredients at lunch time in the River Cafe. Including the bar stools, the starboard side of the Panorama Bar can accommodate up to 30 guests. Sandwiches, salads and sweets are available between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the Panorama Bar/River Cafe. The port side of the Panorama Bar area can seat up to 22 guests. The ship’s main entertainment venue, the 85-seat Sapphire Lounge, is directly aft of the Panorama Bar. The Sapphire Lounge is broken up into cozy, comfortable seating areas. In the aft/starboard section of the Sapphire Lounge, there are board games and puzzles as well as a 24-hour self-serve coffee and espresso machine. In the aft/port section of the Sapphire Lounge, there is a tea-making station and a small reference library. There are up to 12 varieties of loose leaf teas in addition to a wide selection of bagged teas in the Sapphire Lounge. An ultra-modern, Carrara marble-lined entrance lobby is situated between the Sapphire Lounge and the accommodation on Diamond Deck. The reception and cruise director’s desk are located on the starboard side of the Diamond Deck entry lobby. On the port side of the Diamond Deck lobby, there is a shore excursions desk and a small boutique area. A wide central staircase links the Scenic Sapphire’s three interior levels: Diamond, Sapphire and Jewel Decks. Diamond and Sapphire Decks are also connected via a lift. The Crystal Dining Room is located on Sapphire Deck and can accommodate all of the ship’s guests in one leisurely seating. Crystal Dining Room table settings include fresh flowers, fine linens, stemware and ergonomic cutlery. Breakfast and lunch are primarily buffet-style, although there are daily menu specials. Complimentary wines (white and red) are served with lunch and dinner. Crystal Dining Room courses, such as this Louisiana Crayfish appetizer, are beautifully prepared and artfully presented. Main courses at dinner include a fish, meat and vegetarian selection, such as this stuffed roasted tomato and summer vegetables offering. Table La Rive is a nightly, six-course degustation experience paired with select wines in the Crystal Dining Room for guests occupying Diamond Deck and Junior Balcony Suites. It is complimentary and limited to 10 guests per sitting. At the forward end of Jewel Deck, there is a small beauty salon and spa. There is a massage room adjoining the beauty salon on Jewel Deck with a menu of treatments from facials to full massages at varying prices. Central passageways link the accommodation on Diamond and Sapphire Decks. Guests in Royal One Bedroom, Royal Panorama and Junior Suites enjoy complimentary afternoon canapé service. There is butler service in all accommodation. The Scenic Sapphire’s most lavish suites are the four Royal One Bedroom Suites on midships Diamond Deck that measure 325 square feet. Royal One Bedroom Suites have a separate sitting area with a large flatscreen television and a floor-to-ceiling window. Royal One Bedroom Suites have large bathrooms with a full-size tub and separate shower. A sun room with a private balcony that can open up to the elements with the push of a button adjoins the Royal One Bedroom Suite bedroom area. A pair of 315-square-foot Royal Panorama Suites are located at the far aft end of Diamond Deck and feature a picture window that overlooks the ship’s wake. This is another view of a Royal Panorama Suite. Royal Panorama Suites have a long, narrow sun room/balcony with rattan seating. Royal Panorama Suites have large bathrooms with rainforest showers. Diamond and Sapphire Decks each begin with a pair of 250-square-foot Junior Balcony Suites. Junior Balcony Suites have unusual bathrooms with a walk-in tub and shower combination. Private Balcony Suites measure 205 square feet. In addition to butler service, all suites feature complimentary Wi-Fi, 27-inch Apple TV monitors, individual climate controls and Egyptian cotton bed linens. Private Balcony Suite bathrooms have large showers and a long sink vanity with plenty of storage space. Private Balcony Suites also feature sun lounges/balconies that can be opened to the elements with the touch of a button. This is a partially opened sun lounge window in a Private Balcony Suite. 160-square-foot Standard Suites are located on Jewel Deck and feature a fixed rectangular window near the water line. Bathrooms in Standard Suites are compact but sensibly designed. All suites aboard the Scenic Sapphire feature a mini-bar/fridge stocked with complimentary beverages that are replenished daily. Plush bathrobes are provided for all guests aboard the Scenic Sapphire. Scenic supplies complimentary L’Occitaine en Provence amenities that include shampoo, conditioner, bath gel, soap and moisturizer. In each port, Scenic provides a choice of included-in-the-fare tours. All suites have handy, rechargeable headsets, allowing guests on shore excursions to roam as they please and still be able to hear their guide.