I happened upon a great sale on Crystal River Cruises and my husband and I had never sailed the Danube, so I thought, why not? This wasn't even meant to be our big vacation for the year - we went to Australia last May. I arranged our own airfare on American in Premium Economy (nice and roomy for the flights both ways although the seats don't lay flat, they are at least more comfortable and the food is better). We always fly in at least 1 day prior to the cruise to insure that no travel delay affects our ability to board the ship. We stayed in Vienna at Hotel Das Tyrol which was an excellent location and lovely boutique hotel with all the sights of Vienna in close walking distance and many nearby restaurants. We had Weiner Schnitzel for lunch and then headed to the Imperial Palace to take the Sisi tour. Much of Sisi's story reminded me of Princess Diana, including her tragic and early death. It was very interesting seeing reproductions of her gowns and jewels as well as seeing where she lived, her fitness equipment and learning her story.
The next day we boarded the Crystal Ravel. It is important to know that there are 2 places that Crystal docks in Vienna. One location is near the Hilton Vienna Danube hotel and the other is further away, so prior to leaving for this cruise I asked the onshore butler for the addresses of both locations and the phone number for the Ravel and from Hotel das Tyrol, we called the ship and asked where they were docked that morning so we would know where to direct our taxi driver. That morning they were at the dock further away (really about a 15 minute cab ride and no problem whatsoever.) As soon as we arrived at the ship, the crew took our luggage and we were taken to our suite to check in. We were in suite 226 which is a Deluxe Suite with Panoramic Balcony Window S2. The cabin included a bathroom with a large walk in shower and 2 sinks, walk-in closet with safe and there was plenty of space for all of our stuff. The cabin felt too warm to us so the butler had a word with the ship's engineer and they were able to make the room much cooler and more comfortable in no time. They were also able to provide me with the right foam pillows as I am allergic to down pillows.
The food in the Ravel's Waterside Restaurant was excellent. We had a light lunch and then a fabulous dinner and the included wines were extremely good. The next day we took the Estergom and Danube Bend tour - it was wonderful and we met the ship in Budapest. Budapest is stunningly beautiful - especially at night. We definitely want to go back for a land vacation. The ship was docked near the Market Hall and about a mile walk to the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial. It is a very touching memorial - so simple and poignant, it really drove the message home that even the youngest and most innocent among us were not safe. That evening we went to see The Princesses of Violin for a private show for Crystal Ravel guests. It was a great show. Many guests mistakenly expected an all classical music show and were surprised to hear both classical music and modern music. The next day we took the tour of Parliament and the Market Hall where I bought cherries enrobed in chocolate and cognac, paprika and AIKA crystal cut to clear glasses. They don't ship these glasses, however, I was prepared with a universal sized carry on roll-aboard so that I can bring back fragile items safely. The next day, we were in Bratislava and went on a tour and then beer tasting experience and some more shopping. Bratislava has a very charming historic town center and it was fun walking among these buildings, looking in the shop windows and enjoying the sights. In Krems we went to the Schloss Gobelsburg Wine Tasting - this tour was only taken by 10 passengers and included a cellar tour and wine and appetizers in the beautiful castle. In Melk, we walked into the charming town and did more shopping and in Linz, we took the day long tour to the Cesky Krumlov. It was a cold day but luckily the shops and restaurants were open. We had a great lunch and then walked around the town, going into many of the shops. I looked at some Czech crystal - 4 goblets and a decanter and the store clerk quoted me the craziest price ever - $2,500. I collect cut-to-clear crystal and know what the prices should be (glasses are usually less than $50 per stem and the regular decanters should be well under $300 and the larger ones under $500) so I just laughed and told him no. He reduced the price twice more and offered $1,800 for the set - still way too high (should have been no more than $1000 and probably more like $700), his explanation for the high price was the color I chose (not true - all colors are priced the same, the pricing is based the number of cuts) so I left the crystal behind at that shop. If you are interested in cut to clear crystal or hand cut crystal, before you go on a Danube cruise, get on Ebay and look at the prices and brands and designs to figure out what you like. AJKA is one of the best brands. Their crystal is exported to the US as Wedgwood, Tiffany's, Rosenthal, Waterford Crystal, Polo Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Moser and other high end French Crystal Manufacturers. If you buy your crystal in Budapest at the Market Hall, you will get your crystal at a fraction of the price charged in retail stores in the US. This video is helpful in learning about AJKA Crystal https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQFyOmw12oQ. and this video is helpful for learning about the Romanov collection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FxtRrQlbh4. For our final day. in Vienna, we went to the Schonbrunn Palace - it was super cold that day. and the guide was determined to walk us around the garden, so I headed for the tea room and had some hot fruit tea! My husband joined me after an attempt at taking a few photos in the garden. After 45 minutes it was time to meet to enter the palace and we had a very nice tour inside. That evening, we went to Michelin-star dining at Edvaard. My husband didn't like the faux garlic, faux oyster or sardine courses and I began to recall the disastrous Omakase dinner on "Odd Mom Out". It hadn't occurred to me that there would be several courses in a tasting menu he would not like as we regularly have tasting menus. LOL!. Fortunately he loved the pork and venison courses and the pumpkin and white chocolate dessert. I liked all the courses but found the wait between courses to be a bit long compared to other restaurants where I have experienced tasting menus. All of the wines served were extremely good. Meanwhile back on the ship throughout the cruise, we had a lot of great food, great wine and there was a young couple who were the entertainers - they were very talented. There were also two enrichment lectures and a couple of different local entertainers who put on good shows. If I had any criticism of this cruise at all, I would say it was too short. Every single day I woke up thinking how great the previous day had been and every single day I enjoyed all the new things we did, the food and everything on the ship. Other than some rain and a very cold day on our return to Vienna the weather was actually very good. On disembarkation day, you are allowed to stay in your cabin until 10am, so we had a leisurely breakfast and then headed out for our post cruise hotel - the Ritz Carlton. This proved to be another great hotel choice and we walked down the street to Cafe Swartzenberg for another lunch of Weiner schnitzel and a mixed vegetable salad followed by a chocolate dessert and hot tea. Although most things in Vienna are closed on Sunday, the local mall had been taken over by an antique sale, so we walked through that and looked at the various items on offer. If you are considering a cruise on the Crystal Ravel, my advice is to go.
Plenty of space in the cabin for everything to be stowed efficiently. Bed was very comfortable. Our cruise was during cool weather so not much reason to put the window down, but it was there if we wanted to. I liked the larger bathroom with 2 sinks and the large walk in shower with both the rain shower and hand held wand. Crystal provides Etro amenities - Shampoo, Conditioner, lotion and body wash, bars of soap and they were quite good and mostly used containers were replaced halfway through the cruise. There were q-tips and cotton balls in the bathroom as well. There is also a shoe mitt in the closet and a mending kit. Finally there is the mini-bar which is included which contained soda, bottled water, both flat and sparkling as well as bottles of wine and champagne. Turn down service includes Mozart chocolates from Hungary. Bed linens are nice and Crystal provides both Terry cloth and light cotton robes (2 of each.). There is some noise from the engines at night. If you are a light sleeper choose a suite that is further forward.
Parliament Building and the Great Market Hall - just fantastic seeing the beautiful Parliament Building. We had a snack at the Great Market Hall and then went shopping for chocolates, paprika and AJKA crystal. Super great time!
Panoramic Bratislava and beer tasting. We especially. enjoyed the shopping in the historic area of the town. Just wonderful!