--Updated by Chris Gray Faust, Managing Editor
For years a top choice for luxury ocean sailings, Crystal Cruises has become the luxury standard bearer in river cruising, with the newest fleet on Europe’s waterways. The line’s four vessels – Crystal Bach, Crystal Mahler, Crystal Ravel and Crystal Debussy – are all are equipped with beautiful interiors and luxurious amenities, as well as the best dining on the rivers. Read on to see why Crystal River Cruises passengers sail in style as they cruise Europe's rivers.
The Crystal River Cruises vessels are more like small cruise ships on rivers than riverboats. They offer multiple dining venues, including main restaurants that have rival fine dining on land in service, preparation and layout; bistros that serve continental breakfast and light fare (including an ice cream bar) by day and sit-down menu at night; and an outstanding room service menu. Each riverboat has a gym and spa, along with an indoor pool area with padded lounge chairs and large windows. Even suite designs resemble cruise ships more than riverboats on other lines, thanks to elements like king-sized beds, customizable lighting and walk-in closets.
If you like gadgets, gizmos and digital developments, Crystal is definitely your brand. Suites include customizable lighting; an iPad from which to control room settings and order room service, among others; French balcony windows that open with the touch of a button; plenty of USB and electric outlets; and even digital "do not disturb" signs. Even the line's shore excursion motor coaches have techy options, including free Wi-Fi and Nespresso machines.
Crystal offers active tours in nearly every port. Options include cycling, hiking and rafting, and at least one active tour is complimentary in every port with tour choice. Crystal labels these "Exhilarating Adventures"; they're designed to give passengers historical or cultural tours in a more invigorating way.
If you adore fine dining, Crystal is your line. Onboard chefs whip up creative fare that is drool-worthy. Menus are flexible enough to appeal to the gastronomically bold as well as the picky. Dishes are delightful, tickling every sense. Crystal also provides its passengers the opportunity for a special wine-pairing dinner, called The Vintage Room. Here, meals and wine meld perfectly, as a sommelier and chef deftly lead diners through a multicourse extravaganza, complete with high-end vintages and refined ingredients. Off the ship, Crystal passengers can choose "Tantalizing Gastronomy" excursions that give them hands-on cooking experiences or put them in exclusive Michelin-starred restaurants. Complimentary and extra-fee options are available.
Crystal's riverboats wow when it comes to their interiors. The designers thought about every space, and they all fit serenely together. Were it not for the changing scenery, you might forget you were on a riverboat. That's because the decor is reminiscent of what you'd expect in a luxury hotel. Depending on which ship you're sailing, you'll see faux fireplaces, enormous crystal-studded light fixtures and expansive spiral staircases. Palettes are neutral, with a sprinkling of bold color throughout. Spend some time perusing any bookshelves you come across; you might find a bit of the ships' history among the well-curated knickknacks.
If the weather's nice, Crystal riverboats make it easy to enjoy fresh air and river views, thanks to its sun decks and innovative use of natural lighting. The ships have a pop-up bar on the sundeck, the Vista Bar, that sinks down when the ships pass under low bridges. The lounge chairs, sofas and tables are super comfy and of high quality, making it an easy place to hang out and watch the scenery float by. The fleet has incorporated a tremendous amount of glass into its design, so light comes pouring in to the ships' lounges and restaurants; the Palm Court lounge has a partial glass roof so passengers can enjoy sunshine even when it's chilly.
Crystal's river fleet features open-seating dining; passengers can arrive anytime during open hours at the Waterside Restaurant, and typically sit with members of their party, rather than at group tables. (Most tables are set for two and four people). If you like meeting new people over dinner or like the bustling atmosphere of everyone onboard dining at once, this is not the river line for you.
Crystal River Cruises are for passengers who like to do their own thing; there are no organized port talks, no announcements, no broadcast commentary during scenic cruising. The ships are designed for couples; not only are most of the tables in the dining room set for two, so are the comfy swivel chairs in the Palm Court Lounge and many of the cushy shaded sofas on the sun deck. You never feel rushed out the door. On the other hand, if you’re onboard to meet new people, the vibe can feel slightly anti-social.