We have never been on a river cruise and decided after more than 20 ocean cruises we would try one. The Crystal line received excellent reviews and we had previously sailed on the Symphony. We read about the stacking of boats at the piers and having no view many times, also the problems with water levels and diversions and were ready for those eventualities.
First the boat was very nice well appointed and very clean. The food during the entire trip was excellent and our butler service was impeccable. The room (S2 suite) was very nice and well laid out. The bathroom was quite large for a river boat. The inconvenience of having to cross one or two other boats was as expected however, many times we had to climb up to the top deck to cross and back down again on the boats.
The excursions should have been presented with the caveat “ if you are unable to walk more than a mile without stopping you should not go on the tour”. The excursions offered did not make any accommodations for older persons who may be able to walk a half mile with no problems but limited stamina for much longer walking without a rest. One excursion in Strasbourg required a 1.5 mile walk each way to and from the bus, plus whatever site seeing you did in the central city. The tours all required you to wear an audio listening device with ear piece to hear the tour guide. No accommodation for hearing aid wearing guests were made (two earphones can’t simultaneously occupy the same ear canal) and when asked about it appeared that they had never been asked the question before. I eventually just took them off and went without since taking only one side out caused problems with the hearing aid’s smart functions.
I understand the limitations of river cruising as compared to Ocean voyages and they were probably greater than I had anticipated, however, the one unforgivable flaw was poor service in the dinning room. This is not a river cruising problem but a basic systemic problem with the cruise.
First, the use of buffets for all lunches and breakfasts does not portray a five star experience more a 3 star budget line. On all but the cheapest ocean cruises there is always the option of being served table-side. In addition, the selection on the buffets was quite limited compared with ocean cruising equivalents. When I did not like the mains offered for lunch one day I made a request for a simple roast beef sandwich which was met with hesitation and reluctance by the staff telling me they would have to check with the chef to see what was available and intimating it could take some time.
The dinner food was excellent but the wait staff seemed to be hurried all the time. We did not have an assigned waiter. Any waiter would serve us but more often than not, we had to flag down a waiter help us. Waiters did not seem to listen or wait long enough to let your needs be known. For instance I drink ice tea frequently I would get the ice tea but no sugar bowl to sweeten the tea. I would have to get a waiters attention to bring it to me. Then I made an effort to tell the waiters to bring sugar but many times, they were in such a hurry they would be gone before I could get the words out. Many other small inconsistencies were noted each night. For example I was ordered a dish with a bratwurst and did not receive any mustard I asked the waiter to get me some and I am still waiting for it. I could go on but each incident in and of itself seems to be trivial but taken as a whole showed a serious lack attention to service. I have never experienced in the 20 plus ocean cruises we have been on from mass marketed cruises (RCL) to high end (Regent, Cunard Grill suites)
Having traveled on a Crystal ocean cruise before I know this is not typical of this cruise line. This is there third season on the rivers and being early in the season maybe we were just unlucky to get a dining room crew that has not worked it out yet. I must say, at this point, I would not recommend Crystal river cruises for those who have any mobility problems or want elegant unhurried service.