I write this review from the perspective of giving you the traveler some insight about what to expect on this river cruise and to provide some tips. The good: itinerary, excellent food, small group tours, e-Bike tours, nightly entertainment, all inclusive (including many wines and liquors, shore excursion, and tips). The bad: expensive, no support for Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), Crystal’s newness to river cruising. Overall, it was a very good cruise. The staff was uniformly friendly, helpful, and upbeat. The butler and room attendant made a point of learning our last names and greeting us when they saw us. After a few days, seeing the dining room attendants was like greeting old friends.
My wife and I enjoy river cruising, because the pace is more relaxed than on an ocean cruise. We traveled with a group of 8 family members. Traveling with a group that size was not a problem. We could always find several adjacent tables in the main restaurant to sit at for meals. We had an unexpected situation on the cruise. When we boarded the Crystal Mahler in Amsterdam, the ship was less than half full with passengers; we had 35-40 passengers at that time. We were told that more passengers would join us in Passau for the last week of the cruise, about the same number of passengers. It was nice for the first portion of the trip, because the dining room and lounge were never crowded. But even for the last week, there was sufficient seating. True, it did take longer to be served our dinner meal or drink in the lounge, but the wait was tolerable, and we knew we had to share the staff with the new guests.
We liked the itinerary, with the chance to visit so many towns in The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. We travelled on the Rhine, Main, and Danube rivers. We traversed 68 locks on the trip. Leaving Amsterdam, we would go up in the locks as we headed toward Kelheim, Germany. Between Nuremberg and Kelheim, on the Rhine-Main-Danube canal, we reached the top of the European watershed at one lock, and then we started going down in the locks as we continued to Budapest. Passing through the locks, and particularly the tallest ones, was a popular sightseeing activity for passengers. There were some locks that the ship would barely fit inside width-wise.
A downside to the lock system is that the ship’s schedule can be adversely affected. The Captain cannot predict which barges and ships might be on the river and enter a lock before the Mahler; the Mahler may have to wait its turn. For some locks, the Mahler had to wait for a ship to come through in the other direction, for efficient pumping of the water in the lock. However, Captain Pasztor managed the schedule very well. We were only a few minutes late to one port. No shore excursions were impacted.
We were lucky to be able to get all the way to Budapest on the river. Ships are at the mercy of river conditions along the route. There has not been a lot of rain in Europe this year, so the water levels can be low. When we booked the cruise, the ship was originally going to spend two days in Regensburg. Once we boarded the ship, we were informed that the itinerary changed, and we would only spend one day in Regensburg and two days in Passau. About halfway into the trip, we were told the water level was too low and that we would extend the stay in Regensburg by one day to see if the water levels would rise and allow us to get to Passau (in which case we would only spend one day in Passau). Fortunately, we were able to continue our trip towards Passau after the 2-day stay in Regensburg; there was some rainfall and some extra water was released from one of the nearby locks. We learned later that the water level dropped again and no other river ships could get between Regensburg and Passau the day after we left Regensburg. You have to be flexible when planning a river cruise. You don’t want the water level to be too high (e.g., in the spring, due to melting snowfall—ships may not be able to go under bridges) or too low (possibly in the fall or winter—ships may not be able to move on the rivers).
My wife and I had a Category S1 stateroom (“Deluxe Suite with Panoramic Balcony-Window”), about 253 square feet. (I wouldn’t call it a suite, though; there was no separate sitting area.) We had a king size bed. The pillows were very “squishy”. There was a decent size bathroom, with a spacious shower. The shower had an overhead round rainfall showerhead as well as a handheld shower head. They were operated by separate pushbuttons (press pushbutton to turn on, press pushbutton to turn off or press the other pushbutton). There were dual sinks in the bathroom and a trash can. Each sink had two drawers for storage. There was a design flaw [hint to Crystal]. If you are right-handed, it is extremely difficult to reach the toilet paper which is mounted to your immediate left when you sit on the toilet. It was uncomfortable to reach across your body with your right hand and effectively get toilet paper off the roll. My wife and I came up with a solution: take the toilet paper off the holder and put it in the bottom drawer by the toilet; then it is easily accessible. Two bathrobes were provided for each person—a heavier cotton bathrobe and a lightweight bathrobe. There were hooks in the bathroom. The toiletries were Etro from Milan (La Bottega Home Collection Musk).
The towels can be replaced twice a day when the room is made. Although my wife and I would hang our wet towels on the towel racks to dry and not put them on the floor, the ever-efficient room attendant would replace them every time with fresh towels.
A nice feature is that the bathroom floor is heated. There is no control for it, but it was never too hot. My wife and I learned late in the cruise to shut the bathroom door at night. We found that our room got hot in the middle of the night and we would be sweating, even though we had a cool setting on the thermostat (3 settings for amount of cold, with a “quick cool” feature). Due to the lock system on the rivers, we were told to keep our room window closed. We started shutting the bathroom door, and the bedroom remained cool at night.
In the stateroom there is a refrigerator and a desk with desk chair, and a lounge chair. There are wine and champagne glasses and a corkscrew in a drawer beside the refrigerator. The refrigerator is stocked with still water, sparkling water, Coke and Sprite. Upon arrival in the room, there was a full bottle of red wine on the desk and a smaller bottle of white wine.
Your Crystal listening devices are in a charging stand on the desk. There is a pair of Bushnell 7x35 binoculars as well. There are no hooks on the walls for hanging stuff. [Tip] I brought 3 magnetic hooks that I affixed to the walls, to use for hats and coats. There is an iPad in the room that is already logged into Wi-Fi and your account on the ship. You can store your suitcases under the bed.
There is a closet with 3-4 feet of hanger space. There are 5 shelves, 2 shoe shelves, 3 drawers, and a safe above some of the shelves. The safe is spacious and can fit a laptop computer. Behind the door are 4 hooks with a Crystal umbrella, a shoe horn, a hair dryer in a bag, and 1 other item I cannot recall.
There is a flat screen TV in the room. You can watch live TV and see views from the bow, stern, port, and starboard sides of the ship. You can also watch a variety of free movies. Be aware that the movie selection changes on the first of the month. My wife and I started watching one movie on June 30th and went to bed, intending to finish it the next day. We discovered that the movie was no longer available on July 1st.
There were at least 2 USA (Type A) and more than 2 European (Type F) power outlets in the room, as well as 3 USB power plugs for electronic devices [kudos to Crystal].
My wife and I had room 306, a Category S1 stateroom with “Panoramic Balcony-Window” on the Crystal Mahler. Using controls to the left of the window, you could lower a screen over the upper window to reduce the intensity of the sunlight. You could also completely lower the upper window to get fresh air. However, we were told to keep the window closed at night, because the ship might go through a lock, and the window should not be open. In some ports, we did not open the window, because another ship was docked right next to us on our side of the ship. Overall the panoramic balcony window was a disappointment.
If you are new to river cruising, be aware that there can be a lot of river boats on the rivers. At a port, we sometimes had one to two other river ships docked next to us. When you leave your ship, you may cross through the lobby or on top of adjacent river ships to get to shore. If you docked next to another ship, you don’t get a scenic view on one side of the ship; you only see the exterior of the staterooms on an adjacent ship. On the occasions when we spent more than one night at a port and there was another ship next to the Crystal Mahler, the river ships would switch positions. Then I would have a view outside my window, and the passengers on the other side of the ship would see the staterooms of another river ship.
I think that the type of window view/balcony in your stateroom should be one of the factors in your decision about which river cruise line to select. I looked at other river ships during the cruise (AmaWaterways, Uniworld, Tauck, Scenic, Viking, Croisi) to see the types of balconies. Some had actual outdoor balconies separate from the room. Some had floor-to-ceiling horizontal sliding glass doors with a barrier to keep you from falling overboard (“French balcony”). Some ships had vertically sliding windows. Crystal has the automatic upper window that lowers. Some are easier to open to enjoy fresh air.
There is a butler assigned to each room (to a group of rooms actually). I had read reviews saying that the butler could unpack and pack your clothes for you. That was never offered to me, but I would have declined. The butler brings a snack to the room each day about 5:00 pm: cheeses, fruit, or shrimp plate. The butler can provide daily ice in the ice bucket if requested. The butler gives you an orientation to your room after you arrive.
There is also a cabin attendant who is responsible for cleaning your room. Typically he or she comes in the morning and in the early evening. The cabin attendants are hard-working, and always smiling and saying “Hello”.
There is Wi-Fi on the ship. I had some connection problems on the first day. I had to talk to the Information Technology (IT) guy on the ship to get help. I later found instructions in my stateroom. Once I got each device connected, it would usually, but not always, stay connected. It was a disappointment that Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) could not be used with the Wi-Fi. The IT guy assured me that passengers were behind a strong firewall on the ship. However, that was irrelevant, because I wanted to prevent anyone on the ship from eavesdropping on my web traffic. But I could not, if I wanted to use the Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi was slow (which I expected). On my laptop computer, it would take 1-2 hours to download about 40 emails, some with attachments, each day. Web surfing speeds were OK. One trick I learned is that if your Internet service is not working, go to “connect.crystalcruises.com” (not “login.com”) and see if you are still logged in. Typically, you only had to click the button to connect to the Internet to get reconnected.
Crystal Cruises has a useful program that passengers can access via Wi-Fi at “connect.crystalcruises.com”. You can access information on Ship Info, Crystal Collections, Voyage Details, Entertainment, Dining, Crystal Life Wellness, and The World of Crystal. The Ship Info tab provides links to information on ship officers, deck plans, shipboard services, etc. The Voyage Details tab provides access to the ship itinerary and weather, location and points of interest, your amenities, your onboard folio, and port maps. I used the Voyage Details > Location link frequently, because it displays a map showing the location of the ship at any time [kudos to Crystal]. I used this to track the path of the ship along the rivers. The Entertainment tab provides access to select newspapers, magazines, movies, music and Crystal media. The Dining tab provides a link to information on the Waterside restaurant (Deck 2), the Bistro (Deck 3), the Pantry (Deck 2 by the Front Desk), and The Vintage Room (Deck 3). The Crystal Life Wellness tab has info on the ship spa, the swimming pool, etc. The World of Crystal has links to information on Crystal cruises, the Crystal Society, future bookings, etc.
My only disappointment was that the shipboard Crystal Internet program does not display the schedule of Daily Activities [hint to Crystal].
There are several places to eat on the ship. The main dining room is on Deck 2 and called the Waterside Restaurant. You can also eat on Deck 3 in the Bistro (reservation needed for dinner due to limited seating). There are snacks on Deck 2 in The Pantry, an area across from the Front Desk. In the afternoon, snacks are placed in the Bistro—the pretzels and pretzel rolls were excellent (with Dijon mustard)! You can also indulge in a luxury dining experience called The Vintage Room. There is a limit of about 10 guests and a per person cost of 290€. The Executive Chef creates culinary pairings with seven fine reserve wines chosen by the Head Sommelier. The experience promotes wine appreciation. My recommendation is to do The Vintage Room at the beginning of the cruise (Amsterdam vicinity) rather than at the end (Budapest vicinity). Towards the end of the trip, there is competition because guests can opt to do special wine tastings and eat at Michelin restaurants in Vienna or Budapest as special Crystal shore excursions (for a fee). There may not be enough interest then to get the minimum number of people to have a Vintage Room event. At the beginning of the cruise, there is more likely to be enough interest to get the minimum number to sign up. If you sign up at home, check with the Restaurant Manager once you get aboard to find out when and if a Vintage Room dinner will be scheduled.
At the main restaurant, the Waterside Restaurant, breakfast and dinner are served buffet style. There was a large variety of food to choose from. Some food was served by Crystal personnel; other food you served yourself. My disappointment is that the hand washing discipline for passengers entering the restaurant seemed lax [hint to Crystal]. It was up to passengers to decide if they wanted to use the hand sanitizer stations set up outside the restaurant (and at other locations on the ship). Several passengers had coughs; a few had colds. Buffet style eating can lead to the spread of infections.
For dinner, the meal is served table side. You select from a menu. There are 2 entrees available, as well as supplementary dining choices for appetizer, salad, pasta, local main course, traditional entrees, and dessert. You can also ask for simple desserts like ice cream and gelato. An all-inclusive white wine and red wine selection is listed. You are free to ask for other wine. You can also purchase “fine” wines at a price, from a Connoisseur menu. You can get all-inclusive wines at any meal or whenever the bar (Palm Court) is open. The food was varied, tasty, and well-prepared. It was gourmet quality [kudos to Crystal]. The wine pairings at dinner were good. For July 4th, the chef even fixed thick, juicy burgers and a red, white, and blue cake for lunch. The next-to-last night was lobster night. There were only a few exceptions to food quality during the 16-day cruise. One meal had beef brisket; another had lamb; another had purple artichoke. They were overcooked and too tough to cut and eat. But, in general, the excellent food served on the ship is a compelling reason to select a future Crystal River Cruise.
You can provide information on food allergies and dietary restrictions before you sail. One of my party of 8 did submit that information on a timely basis. For some unknown reason, it was not communicated by the Crystal head office to the chef on the ship, so a lot of improvising had to be done. I attribute this lack of coordination to Crystal’s newness to river cruising. There are still some bugs to be worked out of the process.
I was disappointed that Crystal does not have a policy to prohibit cell phone calls in the restaurant [hint to Crystal]. One lunchtime a gentleman at the next table was using the speaker on his cell phone to carry on a conversation. We complained to the Restaurant Manager, but she said the guest probably needed the speaker to hear the conversation. It was an annoying distraction during the meal to have to listen to that conversation.
You have several options for working out on the ship (and enjoying all the good food). There is a small exercise room on Deck 1. It has free weights, a rowing machine, and 2 exercise bikes. There was no elliptical trainer [hint to Crystal]. There is a small “wave” pool at the back of the ship, but still inside, on Deck 3. You activate a jet of water and can then swim against the current. The Active Adventure Coordinator (Fidell on my cruise) offered stretching, yoga, Pilates, and Abs classes in the mornings during the cruise. He also assisted with all the e-Bike shore excursions. When the top deck was open, you could also walk up and down the length of the ship. I enjoyed during my Tai Chi routine on the top deck, or in the lounge when the top deck was closed.
During the portion of the cruise on the Main River, about 5 days from Mainz to Regensburg, the top deck of the ship, the Vista Deck, was closed, because of low clearance underneath bridges on the river. There was no good place to watch all the action while cruising. This could be another factor in your decision about which river cruise line to select. Some of the river ships have an open area or terrace at the front or back of the ship for sightseeing. On the Crystal Mahler that area in the back of the boat is enclosed for the small swimming pool.
River cruising has become popular, especially in Europe. You should not expect that your river ship will dock in the city center. Expect to dock sometimes in an industrial area or on the outskirts of the city, a 10-15-minute bus ride from the city center. In the Daily Activities handout, Crystal does list the docking location for the next day. It’s a good idea to take a picture of that in case you want to venture out and sightsee on your own, and take a taxi back to the ship—then you know the location to give the driver.
Several months before your cruise, you can sign up for shore excursions online at the Guest Check-In & Planning Center at www.crystalcruises.com/already-booked/. That was not a positive experience for me. I attribute some of the problems to Crystal’s newness to river cruising. This was only the second year of river cruising by Crystal. Do not depend on any preliminary list of shore excursions. Wait for the official ones to be released about 6 months before sailing. There were numerous differences. I signed up for shore excursions at the end of December after the trip was booked. Two months before departure, 2 ports were removed from the itinerary (and their tours). There were several changes to tour departure times, which sometimes impacted wanting to do multiple tours in a single day. Sometimes I would logon to check for changes and see that some shore excursions were dropped. Several days later I would logon and see those shore excursions re-appear. Once I found I was signed up for 3 tours on one day, two of which conflicted. My only advice is to print out the list of shore excursions you have signed up for, and then check at least weekly for changes and omissions; then contact your travel agent or Crystal to fix any problems.
So, you’re ready to board the ship. One important thing you need to do after you arrive is to check your list of shore excursions (that you printed at home just before you left) with the list you find in your stateroom. I was surprised to find out that one of my wife’s tours was cancelled and replaced by a tour with a fee—not a change either of us made. The sooner you find out, the quicker you can get the problem fixed by the onboard Destination Team Lead (Shore Excursions Director). Also, check to see if the departure times for the tours have changed. I did find changes on the list in my stateroom. Even then, take the listed times with a grain of salt. What really matters is the time that is printed on the “ticket” you get delivered to your stateroom (or the time printed in the Daily Activities schedule) the night before the excursion. I discovered one or two earlier departure times that way; one couple missed a tour, because they didn’t check the times on the excursion tickets. At least 1 new shore excursion was added while we were sailing; we got a notice in our room.
If you are doing multiple tours on the same day, do let the onboard Destination Team Lead know. I told the Lead on my cruise, Jessica, about that, and she assured me that my wife and I could make both tours, even though there was nominally only 15 minutes between the end of one tour and the start of the next. We were supposed to get on the bus to come back early. That got cancelled, but we still made it back in time on another Crystal bus.
It may be useful to print out a description of tours you sign up for, when you are still at home. There is no description readily available on the ship; you would have to login to the Crystal Cruise website to find the description. It would be helpful to have that information available on the shipboard Crystal Internet program [hint to Crystal].
Be flexible when water conditions dictate changes in the itinerary. When I boarded the ship, I had to rebook some tours because Crystal planned to spend 2 days in Passau and only 1 in Regensburg. That changed due to water conditions, when we delayed our departure from Regensburg and had to change the Passau shore excursions. I couldn’t do the organ recital in Passau. Instead my wife and I attended church service at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Regensburg on the Sunday. One of the locals showed us a shortcut into the church and told us where to sit for the best acoustics. We got to hear the organ and the famous Regensburger Domspatzen (Regensburg Cathedral Choir)—wonderful!! We turned lemons into lemonade.
I was impressed with the way Crystal conducted its tours. Like some other cruise lines, Crystal has its own buses, which follow the ship along its route. We would leave the ship and board the buses to go to our excursions. Bottled water and a WC was available on the bus; I learned at the end that Wi-Fi was available as well. The buses could hold about 40 people, and we always had 2 local guides on the buses [kudos to Crystal]. We then split into groups when we got off the buses, tuned our Crystal listening device to the correct channel, and went off on our tour. Thus, the groups were generally 20 people or fewer. I noticed that other cruise lines had a single guide for 30-40 people. Listening to the guide is not a problem in that situation. But I much preferred the smaller groups when we went into churches and other smaller buildings. It didn’t take so long to get in and out. The local guides were friendly and knowledgeable.
Be sure to pick up a local map at the Front Desk before going out to explore a town. The maps are available the night before docking. Also bring your Crystal listening device if going on a tour (but not needed on e-Bike tours). The guides carry an extra or two, if you happen to leave yours in the room or experience a problem.
Crystal offered many complimentary shore excursions, enough to keep you busy. My wife and I did a different European river cruise with a different company 4 years ago. We loved all the excursions, but decided after we returned home that we were too busy. For this trip we decided to usually do only 1 excursion a day (with 2 exceptions, for Melk-Dürnstein and for Vienna), so that we could have more time to relax and enjoy the sights. We found we had too much free time. Here is my suggestion to cruise lines: have a 2-hour excursion in the morning that leaves about 10 am (gives you time to sleep in) and have a 2-3-hour excursion in the afternoon that leaves about 2 pm [hint to Crystal]. Many times we had an hour of free time during a shore excursion which was basically shopping time—that time could be reduced. Some local guides seemed intent on pointing out places to shop at. They were willing to provide suggestions if you wanted to shop for particular items.
I loved the Crystal Signature Event at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna. It was one of the highlights of the cruise. Only Crystal Mahler passengers attended. We were treated to champagne upon arrival. We got to attend a special showing of “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt, and saw other artwork in the palace. Then we were treated to a performance by the Schloss Schönbrunn Orchestra of Vienna with operatic singers and dancers in the Marble Hall. It was a special and enjoyable evening [kudos to Crystal].
I would recommend all the e-Bike tours. For me, they were very memorable [kudos to Crystal]. Helmets were provided. You had assistance with proper bike fitting, although some guides were less helpful than others (but there were always other people who could help out). The gears were not complicated to use—you would just turn a knob by the right handlebar. I enjoyed cycling through the countryside. We had 2 guides with our group, one at the front and one at the back of the group (along with the Crystal Active Adventure Coordinator or substitute) to help ensure everyone stayed on the proper bike path and to help out with any problems. On some trips some people—me included—had problems with the power going off from time to time. That was due to the battery slipping out of its holder. I learned to just push it back in, and power back up. I could keep up with the group without power assist; I typically stayed in a middle gear for pedaling. It was only after stopping to take pictures that I might have to use battery power to speed up and rejoin the group. Power assist was useful to some people when going up an incline. One person in our group pre-requested and used a regular bike which weighs much less than an e-Bike. We typically stopped for refreshments somewhere along the route.
On the last e-Bike tour, the Danube Island eBike Discovery in Vienna, the bike group cycled across the Danube to Danube Island. Later we crossed the New Danube river and cycled across the Danube City area and cycled along the Old Danube Lake. That lake is designated for swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, and other water activities. I even saw an overhead wire system for slalom water skiing. I saw several restaurants, piers, and lots of people out enjoying the sunshine. Several of us decided that Crystal should offer a day or half-day shore excursion to hang out on Old Danube Lake. When you’ve visited enough churches, castles, and historical buildings, it would be great to have some “down time” on the Lake [hint to Crystal]. The e-Bike tour stopped for a refreshment break with a drink (soda, water, coffee) and apple strudel at the revolving restaurant on top of the Donau Turm (Vienna Tower), which had magnificent views over the city.
Your ship identification/key card lists your name, ship name (and contact phone number), and the deck you live on. Security officers scan the card when you leave and return to the ship, and check against your picture to be sure the proper person is boarding the ship.
Most of the passengers on the ship were in their 50s and 60s. There were some older and some younger. There were teenagers with one family and some 20-year old young adults with another family. Most passengers were American. There were also Mexicans, South Africans, Canadians, and Australians.
One thing I liked about the Crystal River Cruise was providing nightly entertainment on the ship [kudos to Crystal]. Sometimes we had special guests: La Finesse String Quartet in Würzburg, the Pressburger Duo with unique and traditional Slovakian instruments in Bratislava, and a soprano and pianist performance in Regensburg. Other nights we were entertained by the talented and vivacious Rita and Bruno (piano, guitar, vocals) in the Palm Court lounge. We had game time as well, when not watching the 2018 World Cup competition: Trivia, Name That Tune, and the (Not So) Newlywed Game, to name a few. There was also pre-dinner cocktail music in the lounge. There were several enrichment lectures held in the lounge with guest speakers. Topics included the European Union, Germany, and the Main-Danube Canal.
The bar staff was friendly and helpful. They would even serve drinks on the top deck when it was open. Most of the drinks were included in the cruise price. There were some top shelf liquors for which you had to pay (e.g., Hennessy XO cognac, Patron tequila). My sister-in-law spoke highly of the quality of the “Drink of the Day”. She tried them all and loved them. I tried a margarita, and later a mojito, but they didn’t suit my tastes (which could have been due to the base liquors), so I stuck with wine most of the time. I loved the Grüner Veltliner white wine from Austria.
An interesting and informative Galley Tour is offered about halfway through the cruise. The Executive Chef takes you down to the kitchen and talks about how your great food is prepared.
Be sure to read the Reflections (“Welcome Aboard Crystal Mahler”) and the “Crystal Collections Notice” brochures in your room when you arrive. They provide some information to make the cruise more enjoyable.
There is a self-service laundry on Deck 1. There are 2 washers and 2 dryers. There is no charge to use them. Laundry detergent pods are provided (just put into the washer), as are dryer sheets. There are lots of customizable options for washing and drying your clothes. There is an ironing board and iron. You can watch TV while you wait. If you leave, be sure to come back when your washing or drying finishes (look for the estimated time on the control panel of the washer or dryer). There may be other people waiting to use the machines. Laundry service was available for a nominal fee; pressing was complimentary.
Stay on top of your folio. I had read other reviews about problems with the stateroom bill, which I also had. Check a few days into the cruise and a few days before the end of the cruise. That allows time to fix any obvious problems, like charges from other staterooms being improperly posted to your account.
It would be helpful to have a clock in the swimming pool area and in the bar at Palm Court [hint to Crystal].
Carry some Euro coins with you when you go out on excursions or on your own. You may have to pay €0.50-€0.80 to use public toilets. In Hungary, the official currency is the Forint. The Euro appears to be accepted at stores frequented by tourists. You may be able to get Euros back in change by asking (otherwise you probably get forints); you may or may not get a favorable exchange rate. The Euro was used in all the other countries on the cruise.
My wife and I enjoyed lounging on the top (Vista) deck when it was open. You have great views of both sides of the river, especially during scenic cruising, such as early in the cruise after the ship left Cologne and we went through the Rhine Gorge. On the last night of the cruise, the ship went cruising up and down the river in Budapest; there were quite a few illuminated buildings to see and bridges to go under. The furniture was comfortable, including the sofas and lounge chairs. There were also tables for playing cards. There was a large perforated (tight weave) canopy in the central area that provided some screening from the sun. There was an outdoor bar with bar chairs, but it was rarely used on this cruise.
With Crystal’s all-inclusive cruising, complimentary gratuities for housekeeping, bar and dining staff (including in-room dining service staff) are included in the cost of the cruise. I was told that local guides were also covered. However, my wife and I still gave some nominal tips if we thought the local guides did an exceptional job. We felt that the room attendant, some of the bar staff, some of the dining room staff, and the Active Adventure Coordinator deserved an additional tip because of their outstanding service, which we gave to them in sealed envelopes the day before disembarking in Budapest.
As I indicated above, a Crystal River cruise is expensive. You have to consider value for the money—food, shore excursions, amenities, ship layout (including room balcony access, 8exercise room, laundry, and spa), nightly entertainment, etc. This cruise cost about $12,000 per person. By comparison and for example, a comparable stateroom on Viking (similar layout but 50 fewer square feet) with a similar Amsterdam to Budapest itinerary would cost about $8,000 per person. It’s an individual decision about whether you can have a comparable experience for a lower price point than Crystal. We did have several people on the cruise who have been longtime Crystal ocean cruise passengers and who decided to experience river cruising with Crystal; they seemed very happy with this trip. A Crystal yacht cruise may be in their future. Read Less