We just returned from our first river cruise, a tulip time sailing in Holland and Belgium on Crystal Bach. After 50+ ocean cruises, we boarded Bach with some apprehension, not quite sure if river cruising would be for us. We had barged in France and taken an expedition cruise on the Amazon, but traditional river cruising was new to us. We disembarked 12 nites later fully convinced that we had found our sweet spot. For us, river cruising represents the best of luxury land travel combined with the joyful relaxation of ocean cruising. We loved it.
As with most river cruise lines, Crystal includes arrival and departure transfers. Upon arrival at AMS Schiphol, we were greeted by cheery ground staff, offered coffee and pastries and then transported to Bach on a Crystal-branded coach. We were the only guests arriving at that time and we had the huge bus all to ourselves! Check-in was handled via iPad in Palm Court. Quick and easy. Lunch was being served in Waterside but we chose to graze in the Bistro. The selection wasn't as extensive as on Crystal ocean ships (no Portuguese tarts) but was just fine for a quick bite and a glass of bubbly. Within a half hour, we were escorted to our suite where our luggage had already arrived. Our butler gave us a walk-through of various features, including how to operate the huge panoramic balcony window. The room itself was gorgeous. Bright, well appointed and functional. Nespresso machine and a well-stocked fridge at the ready. Decent sized walk-in closet with lots of hangers and drawers. The bathroom had double sinks and a fabulous rain head shower. Only downside was Etro toiletries, which looked great in their brightly colored containers, but performed miserably.
We settled in and then roamed around to orient ourselves. Bach is just lovely. It has the feel of a contemporary boutique hotel with a casual yet sophisticated onboard ambiance. The boat is compact yet doesn't feel cramped. Corridors and public spaces are bright with pops of art for visual interest. There are not many public areas inside the vessel apart from Palm Court, Waterside and the Bistro, but the entire outside top deck with chaise lounges, comfy deck chairs and a pop-up bar, just begs to be discovered.
Dining on Bach was a delight and exceeded expectations. Breakfast and lunch in Waterside was buffet, with self-serve stations complimented by fully staffed cook-to-order stations. Dinner in Waterside featured a 4-course Chef Selection each night, as well as optional classic items. The cheese selection changed daily and offered some interesting local choices, all served at the proper temperature. Daily wine pairings were suggested but all complimentary wines were available for the asking. Crystal advertises Michelin-inspired menus with locally-sourced fresh ingredients and they really deliver. While menu selections were not as extensive as on the ocean ships, execution and presentation was superior. The Bistro was also open for breakfast and lunch with a small self-serve buffet and a limited menu. The daily pastas and soup were excellent. On selected nights (3 during our cruise) the Bistro was open for dinner with a tapas menu. Unfortunately, we didn't get the opportunity to try the Bistro at night, but reports were that it was a hit. It would be great if Crystal opened the Bistro every evening as a casual alternative to Waterside.
A feature of river cruising is included excursions, which didn't particularly appeal to us since we like to travel independently and usually avoid ship-sponsored tours. Nonetheless, we pre-booked a whopping 18 tours via PCPC, representing a good mix of cultural discovery, active adventures and culinary experiences. In reality, we had no need to worry about included tours. There was an amazing selection in every port and we managed to get all our top choices. Every single Crystal excursion was exceptional. Interesting itineraries, excellent guides, small groups, whisper listening devices and fabulous (yes fabulous) Setra coaches and friendly drivers. Those coaches were amazing. Purpose-built for Crystal, they have very comfortable seats with generous pitch, which not only recline but move sideways! Super smooth ride, tons of navigational aides, powerful AC, free wifi. On several excursions, so-called Crystal Moments added a special surprising touch. The Crystal Signature Evening Event was exceptional and will be a lasting memory. Looking back, we now think the included excursions contributed greatly to our overall enjoyment of our cruise.
We sailed at night and were docked in port every day, conveniently located in the centre of town. Almost always, we were docked alongside the pier with other riverboats docked (barged) right next to us. Only once did we need to enter Bach through another vessel and it was Crystal Debussy, an identical twin to Bach!
Unlike ocean cruising, there were few planned activities on board, especially during the daytime. In the evenings, an entertainer played piano in Palm Court both before and after dinner. Trivia, Liars Club and a Guest Lecturer each made an appearance and local entertainment was brought onboard a few times when we overnighted in port. There was a Crystal Society Reception to which all guests were invited. Lovely spread including very generous servings of caviar. We were surprised to be recognized among the top loyalty cruisers, given we have only 63 days sailing with Crystal. Yet another benefit of river cruising!
We were crystallized after our first cruise on Serenity almost 2 years ago. We never dreamed we'd love river cruising as much as we did but Bach won us over. We've been recrystallized.