Our Crystal Mahler Grand Europe cruise in the summer of 2018 was hit with an unprecedented heat wave and drought which made the Rhine and Danube impassable, so our itinerary from Amsterdam to Vienna to Budapest was diverted once we got on board and we had to return to Amsterdam via Belgium and the Netherlands. This is a risk on any river cruise, with either flooding or low water levels, but it was a big disappointment when it happened.
However, Crystal's Plan B turned out to be excellent and we have nothing but high praise for the ship and its staff. If there's ever a problem, you want to be in Crystal's hands. They pulled a rabbit out of a hat and turned lemons into lemonade by diverting us to many charming ports and sites. Their initial offering of a credit for the inconvenience was paltry, but after negotiations with Crystal, they increased the credit to a very generous one for any future cruise, so that helped ameliorate the disappointment and tension on board.
The staff and cuisine were simply excellent. I must have had over 100 courses throughout the various meals and each one was divine. They prepared a wide variety of local and traditional dishes, and favorite standards, all delicious. And the desserts were to die for. Everything gourmet and exceptional. Darryl the sommelier was wonderful, and the chefs did a fantastic job. I've read that the Crystal ships' galleys are much larger than the competitors, so you get a much wider variety and higher quality of cuisine on Crystal. A few in our party had food allergies, but the staff handled that with ease and care. Gluten-free and sugar-free dishes were at the ready and very tasty.
We loved all the waiters, butlers, staff, maids, crew, everyone to a person was friendly, helpful, and provided world-class service. We were very sad to leave the ship at the end of the cruise, to be sure.
Crystal's ships have half the passengers with the same number of crew as competitors, so you really are waited on hand and foot- all included. Tips are included too, but our waiters and staff were so good that I gave out as many gratuities as I could.
The ship itself was a comfort and technological marvel. The Mahler is less than a year old and all the state of the art touches in the room and around the ship were very much appreciated, as was the spotless cleanliness and pleasing decor.
While we didn't get to go to most of the ports we had planned on, the replacement itinerary excursions were quite nice. At first, there were some average excursions, then they got better and better (perhaps because the heat wave broke- nothing off the ship is air-conditioned in Europe- be forewarned). Crystal has their own buses that follow the ship so you have the same, new, state of the art and super comfortable buses with the same drivers in every city and village. The tour guides ranged from very good to excellent, and Crystal has their own personal radio listening devices, so everyone can always hear the guide- really a nice system that assigns your device to the correct group.
Crystal also put together a private symphony concert in an ancient chapel with world-renown opera soloist Hanne Roos who brought tears to our eyes with her talent. Very special.
The on-board entertainer, Neal Fullerton, was a hoot, and an excellent pianist and singer in his own right. There were special local entertainers planned for the original itinerary, but due to the change, Neal had to improvise a bit and some other last minute entertainers were brought on board. So not nearly as many options as a sea-going ship, of course, but we had a great time and Neal was delightful.
The gym and spa are necessarily small, but the massage therapist Sally was wonderful and the workout room had everything I needed to lift weights & stretch, albeit just a rudimentary rack. We walked so much in each town that the cardio machines on board weren't necessary. There's also a small pool on board which was lovely on a hot day.
All in all, I would highly recommend Crystal Cruises (we've done one ocean cruise with them before, this was our first river one), and certainly the Crystal Mahler. I would suggest for any river-cruiser to avoid June and August as there is a chance of flooding or low water levels. I heard that Viking has so many ships that they had boats on both sides of the breaches, so they bused passengers around to their original ports and swapped them with ships on the other side of the low water. That's OK, I guess, but it sounds like a lot of rigamarole and I ended up really liking the Crystal pampering and luxury in the new itinerary, and will gladly cash in the credit for a replacement cruise.
The crowd is mostly older. There were some families like ours. Our 16 and 21 year old weren't as thrilled with the trip as we parents were due to the more relaxed pace, but they still really enjoyed everything. A sea-going ship would have more on-ship options for teens, but the excursions and food on the river cruise were appreciated by ours. they especially enjoyed the 24 included room service. Our 79 year old mother in law had the time of her life too, and was able to do all the excursions and walking and climbing.
The only slight negative was the internet. It's all included for free 24/7, but despite being brand new and state of the art, it's still satellite-based and therefore, rather slow and sometimes spotty. We were told ahead of time that the system wouldn't work in the locks, but when we were in the steep Moselle Valley, the satellite signal was also blocked for a long time, I think. It worked well enough most of the time to post pictures and do email, but some of us tried to do some work on line and could not download larger files or apps we needed. Not a problem for most, but could be for some. Most of the time we were within cellular range, so we were sometimes able to use our free international data plans on T-Mobile and get a signal then. The internet was much better than our last ocean cruise, however, but I wish it could still be improved more.
The Crystal Mahler and its people are truly exceptional and they are the benchmark for service, comfort, cuisine, excursions, and quality. Kudos to Crystal and the Mahler. Crystal is the pinnacle. We will be back!
Loved our cabin! The ship is brand new and it's state of the art. There are multiple charging ports, cool touch screen Do Not Disturb panels, iPads, mini bar, free snacks & drinks, an ample double bathroom, a nice walk-in closet, butler service, daily maid & turndown service, free pressing, free self service laundry, professional laundry for a fee, complimentary cheese plates, a big HDTV with a marvelous variety of live TV and the latest movies, all free, and you can tune into cameras placed around the ship so you can see where you are going on the water. The butlers and maids are delightful. One of our party had a smaller room and it was still quite doable. The king sized bed can be split into two, as our teens did, but they are quite comfortable with luxurious linens. The rooms all have a fancy, motorized, slide-down picture window that opens to a panoramic view of the river and shore. Really nice. Quite fun to lean out into the open air. There is no outdoor balcony to sit on, but you can sit inside the open window with the same effect. The ship and cabins are perfect. I don't know how any other feature could be included- really very nice and highly recommended. Also, I'm 6'-8"/203 cm tall, and I could stand up in the cabin and most everywhere on the ship- I just had to be careful walking down the halls and in some low headroom spots.
Simply a must-see for all humans. A very moving and highly interesting, immersive experience that is not to be missed. It only takes 90 minutes. If you book on your own, you have to get tickets exactly 60 days before your tour date as they sell out quickly online and there are no tickets available at the site.View All 100 Anne Frank House Reviews
We did an eBike tour of Waterland directly from the ship dock in Amsterdam and it was a very fun and doable ride all morning- would highly recommend. It was very pleasant in the countryside just outside of town and the eBikes give you a power boost if you need it, so one doesn't need to be Lance Armstrong to ride.View All 12 Bike Rental Reviews
WonderfulView All 311 Canal Tour Reviews
Crystal offered a wonderful museum tour and canal boat tour combo that was delightful. We had one of the best tour guides ever and the museum is fantastic, the canal tour very fun and interesting- would highly recommend both.View All 77 Rijksmuseum Reviews
We bought an I AMsterdam city card and the VG Museum was included, but we still had to reserve an entry time online ahead of time. So glad we did. A very nice museum of Van Gogh and his contemporaries. Well worth visiting.View All 65 Van Gogh Museum Reviews
Iconic sites and beautiful landmarks- would highly recommend.View All 36 Windmills Driving Tour Reviews
Lovely, gigantic cathedral- very much worth seeing.
The Cologne walking tour was OK, not a lot to see except the glorious cathedral, so i would recommend doing this one on your own, but do see the cathedral.View All 52 Cologne Old Town Reviews
We took the cable car across the river up to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. Both were excellent. A lot of easy walking, great views from the cable car and top. Interesting tour of fortress.View All undefined undefined Reviews
We took a bus to the Geirlay Suspension Bridge, which is a 1km long pedestrian bridge over a gorge. A long walk to and from, so a good exercise/hiking day. Back in Cochem is the beautiful Reichsburg Castle overlooking the village and river. It is well worth seeing. There was a Medieval Faire going on that day despite the 100 degree F heat, wand that was really cool. The quick tour through the interior of the castle was very interesting and the vie from the top was phenomenal.
BK is a lovely village, but we took a bus trip to Luxembourg for the day which was very interesting. I'm so glad we went, although it was a Sunday so all the shops were closed, as was the palace- still well worth seeing. The highlight was visiting the American Cemetery where general Patton and the 5700+ US soldiers who gave their lives in the Battle of the Bulge are buried. Very moving.
Dusseldorf was a lovely town with good modern art galleries and museums and a tree & canal-lined shopping street & area that rivals Paris. A really nice old cathedral too- well worth walking around.
So glad we did this. It is a smaller museum in an old mansion, so very doable. A great collection of Dutch Masters, Rembrandt, Reubens, etc. and very nice to see The Hague.View All 2 Mauritshuis Walking Tour Reviews
Nice to drive through this seaside town. We basically just drove to the museum and back, but got to wind through the Hague en route and I was glad we did.View All 11 The Hague Reviews
This is the iconic windmill photo you've always seen or imagined from The Netherlands. I't a long flat walk to the best photo spot, but the shorter walk takes you inside a working windmill museum that is quite nice. I would highly recommend this excursion. There is a boat ride that takes you down the canal too, but our group didn't go on it.View All 23 Windmills of Kinderdijk Reviews
This was the highlight of our cruise and I highly recommend going to Bruge. It is like a clean, non-smelly version of Venice, but with a Belgian touch and replete with Belgian chocolates and beer. A startlingly beautiful city. It's a bit touristy and crowded, but still delightful. We did a private canal boat tour just for our cruise group, so we didn't have to wait in line, but the boat retraced most of our walking steps so it wasn't much new, but it did go to some new areas and was pleasant, fun, and relaxing. Bruges is a must-see!View All undefined undefined Reviews
A must do- Bruges is awesome!View All 39 Canal Boat Tour Reviews
Loved, loved, loved Bruges! You must go here!View All 32 City Tour Reviews
So glad we went to Brussels. Absolutely loved the Atomium from the 1954 World's Fair- really interesting and fun. Walking tour of the town was nice, especially for the shopping, viewing the Manneken Piss statue, and buying and consuming the fabulous Belgian chocolates.View All 8 Brussels Walking Tour Reviews
Loved Brussels, a great side trip.View All 20 City Tour Reviews
Absolutely loved the Atomium from the 1954 World's Fair- really interesting and fun.View All undefined undefined Reviews