Just returned from a wonderful holiday cruise on the Crystal Mozart (Dec 22 – Jan 4). While the weather may have been very cold and bleak on certain days and our itinerary had to be modified halfway through the cruise because the Mozart could not sail on to Bratislava and Budapest, we still concluded our trip with great memories of a wonderful cruise.
Crystal has definitely managed to get that “Crystal Onboard” feel transferred from the oceans to the river. Although all the rooms were booked, it never felt busy or full onboard; there were several solo passengers, so the boat was not completely full. There are a number of intimate seating areas (like small living rooms) scattered around on Deck 2 and Deck 3, along with the Bistro area, the Crystal Cove area and the Palm Court. There was always somewhere to sit in the public areas for individuals, small groups or larger parties. The Vista Deck was effectively off-limits for this cruise except for short brisk strolls, when the sun peeked out from under the clouds, given the cold, inclement weather. It was the middle of winter so we were expecting this. In fact, for New Year’s Eve, when the crew knew guests would go out to the promenade deck to see the fireworks along the Danube, the outdoor promenade deck was heavily gritted as it was below freezing. Team Crystal were great at keeping the outdoor promenade deck gritted everytime the tempreture went below freezing.
The pool/spa area was very under-utilized despite the cold weather. While there a small pool, it has one of those rather powerful “current” device, so you can happily swim away as if you were in a large swimming pool since the current of water keeps you from moving forwards. The current is suitable for the serious swimmer and is way too powerful for a leisure swimmer like me. The jacuzzi is a decent size - the bubbles automatically turn off after about three minutes so you have to keep pressing that button by the side. There is large steam room and a large sauna in both the men’s and the ladies’ changing rooms. I was often the only person in there.
The food at dinner-time was excellent. We found the quality a lot better and with speedier service than on the ocean ships since there are fewer passengers in a smaller restaurant. Chef Dirk Magg does a great job. Lunch is a more moderate affair with a choice of a buffet in the Waterside (main dining room) and Blue (bistro at the end of the boat). For lunch, there is always a freshly made-to-order pasta (the tastiest we had was fusilli with caviar in a vodka sauce) and something on the carvery which is tucked behind the chefs so you have to look out for this. Lunch is a reasonable offering but does not compare to the quality and selection at dinner-time. We only made it to breakfast buffet at the Waterside a couple of times. There is an egg/omelette station, a waffle/crepe station and a Chinese congee station in addition to the usual hot and cold buffets. Late breakfast is served at the bistro where you can even make your own toast in the toaster provided.
Top experiences during the cruise included:
• Free-flowing champagne and caviar at the Crystal Society Party
• The Crystal Exclusive event at the Belvedere Palace (drinks reception, tour of the art galleries, a typical Viennese concert of Mozart and Johann Strauss II with a small orchestra, two opera singers and two ballet dancers)
• Early entry to the Museum of Fine Arts, exclusively for Crystal guests, with small group tours led by art experts supplied by the museum. The guides even used iPads to help us zoom in on the finer aspects of the artwork.
• Tapas-style dinner at the Bistro (a similar experience to Taste on the Crystal Serenity)
• Half the Café Sacher blocked off for exclusive use by Crystal guests for coffee and Sacher cake despite there being an outdoor queue in the cold for the other half of the café (this was a complimentary excursion too!)
• Visiting a German brewery where they filled our glasses with cold beer directly from the pipes leading from the fermentation tanks to the bottling area.
• Enjoying a modern-day “Von Trapp Family” perform a Sound of Music and Holiday concert on Christmas Day.
• Seeing Filip Wojciechowski, a regular headliner who performs on the Crystal ocean cruises, performing with both his wife and son – tight squeeze at the piano.
• The check-in experience. We were seated in the pantry area on our own after walking up to the reception desk. This was about 12:20pm. We arrived at the same time as three or four other cars/taxis with each party was taken a separate seating area. Equipped with an iPad, the receptionist found our reservation after I quoted our suite number. She took a photo of each of us for our key cards with her iPad and then said she would check if our suite was ready. After about 5 minutes, she returned with our key cards and said as our Penthouse suite was ready, we should follow her to the room. Our our six bags were already in the room, nicely laid out on the bed and sofa for us to start unpacking. We were totally unpacked by 1:10pm
For us, a key ingredient to this successful cruise was Neal Fullerton, the Entertainment Host. He happily played songs that everyone shouted out at him in the evenings, chatted with guests around the boat during the day, dealt with guest announcements and organized the logistics of the guest entertainers who came on board. Crystal flew in a four-person band from the UK to cater for the ballroom dancers for the second half of the holiday cruise. The Paul James Band were good at judging the mood of the audience and adapted their set accordingly each evening. Each one of them is a great musician and there was an amazing after-hours “jam session” in the Palm Court, to a very small audience, where they were not restricted to the strict tempo of ballroom dance music.
The one downside of the Mozart is the on-board wi-fi and was the subject of much discussion on board. On the plus side, the wi-fi was completely free. However, Crystal really imposed very strong firewalls. Any website that used a secured interface or needed a log-in was blocked. I could not even log into my office secure system which would have been a real issue had this not been the Christmas period. The speed of the wi-fi on the Crystal coaches was so much better. It does vary from bus to bus and depends on the cellular signals on the highway; i.e. it can come and go.
Crystal laid on buses for a 3.5 hour transfer to Budapest as the Mozart was unable to sail past Vienna. 100 guests did the transfer and were put up at the lovely Ritz Carlton hotel, which was very centrally located in Budapest. Most of the Crystal Excursions were maintained but the Michelin-starred restaurant had to be swapped for new bookings in Vienna as we were in Budapest on a different day to that originally scheduled.
35 guests remained in Vienna and had their own separate excursion programme. The Paul James Band and Neal Fullerton continued to entertain the guests who remained in Vienna.
Crystal also laid on buses for the one-hour transfer to Bratislava for an afternoon’s sightseeing, dinner and New Year’s Day concert performed by the Slovenská Filharmónia, a 75-person orchestra plus a 65-person choir. Interestingly, for those guests who chose to have dinner on board the boat, two key members of the orchestra presented their own extraordinary concert in the Palm Court.
The butler service advertised is really glorified room service. Do not expect the type of service you see at Penthouse Level on the Crystal Symphony and Serenity.
We saw in the New Year with the Mozart cruising around the Danube within the Vienna area so we could see the fireworks going off along the river. We do not think these were organized fireworks but private residents celebrating themselves along the river. The Paul James Band played until 2am, the countdown was done by the Captain and the Hotel Director. The German bistro server dressed up as a German chimneysweeper and handed out good luck gifts of marzipan.
Given this cruise is so close to Christmas, there were only opportunities to visit the Christmas Markets in Vienna (at the start of the cruise), Salzburg (Boxing Day) and Budapest (Dec 29). While the biggest Christmas market in Budapest had ended, we came across two Christmas market (mainly serving food and mulled wine) still going strong. The Salzburg Christmas market was very large.
Only 50% of the passengers were past cruisers with Crystal. The other half are mainly cruisers from Regent and Seabourn looking the luxury ocean cruising experience on the rivers. Almost all the guests were very chatty. Tables for two at the Waterside a conveniently placed close enough for conversation. It is the same with the tables for two at the Bistro. This also helped make our cruise experience so splendid.
The newly installed lift was definitely in use and is definitely key to Crystal securing a wider demographic of passengers.
For a blow by blow account of our cruise experience with a pictorial diary, have a read of my blog - http://johnken3.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/dec-22-boarding-crystal-mozart-and.html
The dinner menu and offerings can be found at http://johnken3.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/dinner-on-board-crystal-mozart.html
and some comments on stateroom selection are at http://johnken3.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/some-logistics-points.html
I am looking forwards to a return cruise on the Mozart in September 2017 - hopefully when I get to use the top deck more in the warmer weather.
I knew we had to pay extra to secure a larger room on the river cruise. All rooms on river boats are usually quite small. The Crystal Mozart’s Penthouse Suite is just the right size to stretch out without too much wasted space. I loved the very long, large sofa to stretch-out on while looking out at the floor-to-ceiling picture window. The bathroom was very nice, with a very irritating automatic toilet seat. Using motion sensors, it opens and closes every time someone enters the bathroom. You could turn this off but we did like the heated toilet seat feature so left it turned on. Toiletries were replaced immediately when used, even towards the end of the cruise.
We had Suite 221 which allowed us to access the reception area very quickly. I loved the ability to just pop over to the pantry to make a cup of tea or coffee at any time of day, rather than having to walk upstairs to the bistro and have it made for me.
A minor irritant is when the kitchen crew roll a trolley along the promenande deck on Deck 3 which is directly above the portside rooms on Deck 2. The rooms along the portside from the middle of the boat to the back (where Blue is located) are likely to be affected by this. One morning, we had an interesting sight watching the garbage being lowered from the promenande deck to the dock just outside our room.
Suites to avoid:
Deck 1: Suite 123 to Room 157 are against the concrete dock when the Mozart is in Vienna. As such daylight is almost non-existance and there is a concrete wall or pilings by the window. Where small docks are used, like in Melk, only suite 119 to Room 129 loose their view. On this cruise, the Mozart was only docked starboard side in Passau. No experience of docking at Budapest and Bratislava since the Mozart stayed in Vienna due to the low river levels.
Deck 2: Avoid Penthouse Suite 205 since the opens directly opposite the Crystal Saloon. As such, it is very bright outside the room, and a bit noisy when the hair dryer is on since the saloon door is permanently open when the Saloon is operational.
The laundry room doors are on both corridors and remain open while the machines and dryer are in use; probably for the ventilation. As such, there is likely to be noise coming through for Penthouse Suite 209 and 206.
Suite 212 (S1 category) is directly under the Crystal Cove piano. In the event, the Entertainment Host stomps on the floor when crooning away on an upbeat number, there will be vibration on the ceiling. Only choose this room, if you are likely to stay on at the bar until midnight every night.