You get what you pay for is an expression that is tailor made for Crystal Cruises. They are not cheap by any means, but they really are among the best. You get what you pay for and it is worth every penny. There is a reason why Conde Nast Readers have voted it the best River Cruise Line for 2019, and why I think that this is the best Cruise on the Danube.
The standards that Crystal set themselves fall into four categories.
- Quality Everything is of the highest quality, from the furnishings to the food, (more about which later in the post) , from the activities off shore to the facilities onboard.
- Service The service from the crew is perfect, from deck hand to captain. One of the most common comments from passengers is that the crew seem to be genuine in their welcome of the passengers.
- Space The ships seem to be spacious because numbers of passengers are limited, just under 1000 on ocean and just over 100 on river, although the ships could hold many more.
- Choice If you find it hard to make a decision, you are going be facing more than a few dilemmas on your Crystal Cruise. There is a lot of choice from which restaurant to eat to what you should eat. You can of course eat everything, and there is a gym on board to take off what you have put on. A good choice of shore excursions awaits you. And of course you can choose to do nothing at all, just sit on deck, and knock back the cocktails your butler will serve you when you are ready.
Crystal are a relatively new entrant into the River Cruise Market. They decided to enter the fray following pressure from their ocean going clientele, who were so impressed with their ocean product, but regretted the absence of river cruises. They now offer some of the best cruises on the Rhine and the Danube. They started with the Mozart, which will be discontinued shortly, and built four new ships three years ago. The Bach, Ravel, Debussy and Mahler sail along the Rhine, Main, and Danube. The composers they are named after will give a pretty good clue as to which river each sails up and down.
They are all identical so I am going to focus on just one, and by way of change and variety will look at the Mahler, named after one of my favourite composers. Crystal may be a new entrant into the River market and only cruise on a handful of rivers, but they are already making big waves, winning multiple awards.
We will look in more detail at the 7 day cruise from Budapest to Regensburg, the German port at the mouth of the Danube. It will take in Melk’s Benedictine Abbey, Vienna of course, Durnstein and the Wachau Valley, but let us board the Mahler first.
The ship provides superb accommodation for 106 guests, and has about 70 staff, so a ratio of about 1: 1.7. It could hold perhaps another 30 to 50 guests, but that is not the Crystal way.
There are four decks with a small but well appointed gym on deck one. Deck two is where the accommodation starts, with the petite suites and the deluxe suites. All suites have panoramic windows and balconies, King size beds, glass enclosed showers, Etro robes and slippers. The petite suites are over 180 sq ft, and the Deluxe offer 253 sq feet. In terms of how high up you are, you are pretty much at river level.
You will also find one of the principle restaurants, the Waterside, which provides farm to table, locally inspired food. Crystal Cruises are all inclusive, so food and drink is included. The quality of the food is extremely high, one of the features particularly prized by regular Crystal customers.
Deck 3 and 4
There is a small swimming pool on deck 3, small, but it does provide an against the current flow which will help burn off some of the calories. As well as petite suites and Deluxe suites, there are also 2 Crystal penthouses. These are huge, effectively two suites put together, spreading over 506 sq feet. They provide a generously sized sitting room with carved marble fireplace, and a wall in wardrobe. Maybe this is luxury for the sake of luxury: will you really be spending that much time in your room. Get out and about and meet your fellow travellers! The double panoramic windows will be a definite plus if you are spending too much time in your room.
If you are out and about, you will probably want to drop into the Bistro on the same deck. It is a Viennese inspired café, serving coffee, pastries and charcuterie during the day and tapas and wine in the evening.
The Vintage room is where you can host private dinner parties with the exceptional food, wine and service for which Crystal is justly famed.
You could also hang out in the Palm Court, which is the main social space on board, with piano bar, cabaret, dancing, and some of the educational lectures and talks.
It’s a lovely evening on the Danube, so you will of course pop up onto the 4thdeck and enjoy a cocktail or two at the pop up Vista Bar. This really is a pop up, the bar rises up, almost Thunderbirds like, from the deck below. There is plenty of seats under canopies, so this is a perfect way to spend the early evening.
The River Danube
But you’ve not come on a river cruise just to enjoy fabulous food, drink, service and luxury. You want to immerse yourself in the Geography. So let’s start at the beginning of one cruise, Budapest to Regensburg. it is the quality of excursions that makes cruises and these help to make this one of the best cruises on the Danube.
We start the cruise in Budapest. The first day is really spend in settling in to your ship, and meeting your fellow guests, but there is an additional excursion should you choose. It is one of the paid ones, a personalised adventure ashore with English speaking guide, be it shopping or sightseeing. It is quite expensive at over $500, so perhaps this is one we will give a miss. Day 2 gives up two complimentary tours of Budapest. Or you could have a wine tasting session at the Domus Vinorum wine cellar and café, tasting four Hungarian wines, A chardonnay, a rose, a syrah and a tokaji, so pretty much covering all bases.
We hurry back to our ship and set off for Vienna.
Our first excursion will be a Crystal Signature event, a two hour visit to the Belvedere Palace, a stunning Baroque building overlooking the city, and where you will have private access to the rooms of painters, Klimt, Kikoschka and Schiele with a guide to help. Then you will attend a concert of opera, ballet and music.
Another unmissable excursion is to the Imperial Schonbrunn Palace, home to the Hapsburg dynasty.
Day 4 is also spent in Vienna. Well you cannot spend too long in Vienna. Perhaps today, you will make your own arrangements, and decide where to go and what to see. Or you can ask your helpful staff on board advise and plan for you. And of course there are a number of excursions laid on if you prefer.
Day 5 sees us in Durnstein where you will want to hike to the castle ruins, and gaze over the Wachau Valley.
Alternatively, you can cycle along the river bank to Melk. The hiking and biking activities are described by Crystal as “extreme” activities, but do not let this description put you off. If you would like to see the area from a completely different perspective and without quite so much effort, you can do so by helicopter, The slopes down to the river are home to numerous vineyards, so of course you will want to sample some of the local produce. There is an optional excursion (just try and keep me away!) to Schloss Gobelburg Winery and tasting. The wine tasting and helicopter ride are subject to additional charges (as you would expect).
The magnificent Benedictine Abbey in Melk will have you reaching for your camera. The town itself is a sleepy, medieval town of cobbled streets and vine covered buildings. It is a beautiful stretch of the Danube and really sums up what river cruising is all about, immersing yourself in the culture and traditions of the region at a relaxed pace.
Located between three rivers and heaven
Day 6 and we are now in Passau, another old town, one of the oldest in Bavaria.
It began as a Roman settlement, sitting on the confluence of the Danube, Ilz and Inn Rivers, so it is sometimes known as the Three Rivers City. It is overlooked by the Veste Oberhaus, a 13thcentury fortress, and is also notable for St Stephen’s Cathedral with its onion shaped domes.
Coming to the end
Day 7 : Regensburg, our final stop. Another Medieval city, and another Unesco World Heritage site. Some call it Italy’s most Northern City, others say it is Germany’s Medieval Miracle.
There is a lot to see, hear, taste, smell and touch here. The history dates back more than 2000 years, as one of the gateways into Roman Italy. You will want to see the old Stone Bridge with its 16 arches, the cathedral, the clock tower. Of course you will stop off at the Historic Sausage Kitchen. You cannot come to Austria and Germany and not eat Sausage. The Boys Choir will delight you. You may come to love Regensburg so much that you will return here in May and August for their traditional Bavarian fairs, or, of course, at Christmas when the city is turned into a winter wonderland.
For more information on the Christmas Market, please follow this link
It is the last night. Perhaps we will stay on board with our new found friends, promising to meet up again next year. The ship’s restaurants are so good, that it is not such a difficult choice to choose to eat on board rather than the city with which you fell in love just a few hours before. After all, you will be back here in no time at all, won’t you?
The Danube, one of the loveliest rivers, with culture, history, fine food and wine all wrapped up together on board a fabulous ship. Gustav would be proud. Come and share a little bit of magic and see for yourself why the Danube is regarded as one of the most romantic rivers in the world, inspiring musicians and artists to some of their finest work, and why Crystal can provide the best cruise on the Danube