Crystal Cruise line is best known for their ocean-going cruises. They are also consistently ranked as one of the top luxury cruise lines. With that pedigree, one would expect their recent foray into river cruising to be equally luxurious. Crystal River Cruise line did not disappoint.
To get the real scoop on what a Crystal River Cruise might be like, I asked a veteran Crystal Cruiser (she and her husband have done eight cruises with Crystal!) about her Crystal River Cruise. Her review of their recent trip in June of a 16-day Grand Europe cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam is below.
The Crystal River Cruise ship had a very different feeling than Crystal ocean ships. While both are elegant and designed for discriminating travelers, the river boat was much more casual and intimate. The smaller size, only 104 passengers, allowed people to get to know one another and form groups over the 16 days.
We were on the Crystal Mahler which had only been in service since September of 2017. The Crystal Mahler is one of four identical sister ships and they are the only European river cruise ships to offer only all-balcony, all-suite, butler service. Everything was truly all-inclusive. We had our choice of unlimited fine wines, champagnes, premium liquor and beers. There was also 24-hour room service.
Waterside was the primary dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a beautiful room with floor to ceiling windows offering a breathtaking view of the river. The Bistro was open from 8:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. They served a light buffet for breakfast and lunch, also tapas by reservation at dinner.
Crystal Court was open from 9 a.m. until everyone left at night. The bartenders were very attentive. About 2/3 of the room has a glass top, which was lovely. The permanent entertainment was fun and very refreshing, but not the quality of the big ships. Outside entertainment came in four different nights, which was decent. The dance floor holds around 20 couples. The top deck held 60-70 people in four different areas with a large covered area. The bar is actually an elevator so they can drop it down for the low bridges. We were told Crystal is the first cruise line to do this.
Our standard, deluxe suite was a little over 250 square feet, which, we understand, is considerably larger than standard suites on other river cruise lines. There was a walk-in closet, two sinks and large shower (no tub), a very comfortable king bed, a desk with a 2nd makeup mirror and 2nd hairdryer. French balconies with automatic windows that came down halfway with screens made the room seem more spacious. The room was stocked with our choice of beverages. Hors d’oeuvres were delivered most afternoons.
Amazing! Only 90-100 people over the 16 days (some sailed only 8 days at the beginning or 8 at the end) and 70 crew members. The staff got to know people’s names and preferences, what they liked to drink and how they took their coffee. [Note: all ships that do this cruise are the exact same size because of the locks, primarily on the Main River and Canal. Viking has capacity for 190 guests and 40 crew on their boats.]
Most of the passengers we spoke to rated the food as excellent. We certainly did. There were obviously not as many choices as the big ships, but different options every day for lunch and dinner. Breakfast about ½ standard and ½ different options every day. Everyone loved the expansive salad bar at lunch. We also learned that Crystal picks up fresh food at almost every stop. The farm to table approach gave us more choices every night with a local option.
The Crystal Rhine river cruise sailing was more interesting from a sightseeing perspective than an ocean cruise… land was never out of sight, and you pass one charming town, castle, or fort after another. And then there are the vineyards… they are amazing and go on forever. I liked the itinerary, with the exception of Cologne and a small boat trip through a gorge outside of Regensburg to get to an abbey, though I did enjoy the abbey.
Crystal excursions are generally booked in advance of the cruise but can be changed onboard. There was only one time when we wanted to change that the group was full. The excursion cards are delivered to your stateroom, each afternoon for the following day. The Reflections bulletin/brochure for the following day is also delivered each afternoon… just like on the ocean ships. Because the ports along the Danube, Main and Rhine tend to be large or small towns as opposed to big cities (excluding Budapest, Vienna and Amsterdam), more of the excursions are 3-4 hours.
The ship either docked late at night or early morning with morning excursions and sailing again midday, or the ship docked midday with afternoon excursions. The tours generally met our expectations and some were really good, although a couple were weak. For example, there is a very important cathedral in Cologne but nothing else. They should probably not have tried to build a tour out of that one. Most tour guides were very knowledgeable. Groups were generally no more than 8 people.
There are lots of steps, hills and cobblestone streets, but anyone who can walk long distances on uneven surfaces would be fine. We walked 70 miles over the 21 days we were gone which included a stay in Budapest and Amsterdam. It did make us crazy when, not once, but twice, people disregarded the “moderate activity level” and signed up for excursions they were not capable of doing.
There were e-bike options 7-8 days and hikes 2 days.
We all guessed the average age at about 60 but could have been a bit higher. One man was 97. One single woman was 83. The majority retired, I think. One young couple from Taiwan with 2 kids who looked to be in their 20s.
Crystal River Cruises are perfect for anyone over 45-50, I should think. We generally socialized with a group of 5 couples, the oldest being 72 and the youngest 52.
We traveled in mid-June and had rain only one day in Budapest. Otherwise, the weather was very good. We were told we were lucky to have 3 days of sunshine in Amsterdam because it rains there most days. It was cold on the top deck at night and a couple of days because of the wind. They did provide blankets.
Crystal River Cruises are every bit as enjoyable as their ocean cruises, and in some ways, perhaps more so. We really enjoyed the scenery on the river and the smaller, more intimate group of people that allowed for friendships to flourish. In fact, we signed up for one of Crystal’s yacht cruises aboard the Esprit in 2020 with four other couples we met on the river cruise. So for my Crystal River Cruises review, I guess you could say we loved it!