Crystal Mahler offers an array of shore excursions in port, with a choice of complimentary options. You are urged to sign up for your excursions before you board the ship. If you have questions once you're onboard, the ship's destination manager has daily "office hours" in Bistro Mahler. Since the ship doesn't do a port talk (and we found descriptions of some tours to be vague), this is the best way to get more information.
All excursions are placed into one of five categories: Personal Connections (exploring sites and experiences with locals), Tantalizing Gastronomy (culinary experiences), Cultural Discoveries (visiting landmarks, museums and iconic sites), Exhilarating Adventures (active exploration) and Design Your Time (where you work with a concierge to set up something private, perhaps with a car and driver). The line offers one complimentary Signature Event -- exclusive tours designed to offer rare musical performances in iconic places -- per cruise. A branded Crystal bus, with Wi-Fi and a bathroom, transports passengers to their destination.
Crystal tries to keep tour size down, mostly with success. On our few days onboard, we took part in four shore excursions. Two of them were bike tours, one exploring the lowlands outside Amsterdam and one coasting along the Main River. For both, e-bikes were provided through a shoreside provider. The ship's fitness director came along on both, ensuring quality control.
The other two tours weren't as successful. Due to a scheduling glitch, our ship stopped in Dusseldorf instead of Cologne, ensuring a 45-minute bus trip each way for a two-hour tour. The tour itself definitely had more than the 15 people Crystal tries to limit group sizes to (in the end, the tour did become personalized, as many passengers peeled off). Our last tour, in Wurzburg, split groups into 20. All tours except those on bikes use QuietVox listening devices.
Crystal also offers passengers the opportunity to dine at Michelin-starred restaurants, for a fee, in some of Europe's major cities (for a cost of about 159 euros per person). We tried one of the partner restaurants in Amsterdam, Bolenius, and had an amazing, vegetable-forward meal that featured an asparagus "spaghetti" topped with caviar; a clay-baked beetroot prepared tableside with shaved white truffles; an appetizer made with local lobster and other delicacies. The meal was accompanied by free-flowing wines. If you're a foodie, this type of excursion might be a major draw (and if you're a Penthouse or Crystal Suite passenger, you get a Michelin restaurant outing included in your fare).
In 2017 and 2018, Crystal Mahler carries a speedboat onboard in back that can be chartered, with a fee, by passengers who want a special experience. Starting in 2019, the speedboat will be removed, although the option to charter a small boat will still be available in select cities.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
The ports are the stars of a river cruise, and so the onboard entertainment choices are limited; if you're used to Crystal's ocean ships, this might come as a surprise. Most passengers spend the afternoons napping after their morning excursion, doing laundry, getting a massage, working out in the pool or small fitness room or reading in the lounge or top deck. One afternoon, the entertainers put on music trivia, which was lightly attended.
Evenings are also quiet. On our sailing, Crystal Mahler had a lovely Portuguese couple onboard who played before dinner and tried to get things going after dinner, with a Latin night, disco night and Liar's Club (all were sparsely attended by a few lively regulars). We also had the pleasure of having actor Rachel York perform as part of the line's Crystal on Broadway program (York is also the godmother of sister ship Crystal Debussy).
Crystal has been talking about replicating its highly rated enrichment program on its river ships, but the small size of the vessels makes it hard to give up rooms for lecturers. On our sailing, there was no enrichment during the few days we were onboard. During the Rhine Gorge, passengers could listen to commentary about the castles on their QuietVox listening devices.
Palm Court Lounge (Deck #3): The Palm Court Lounge, with a restful cream and light blue color palette, is one of the best places to while away the day. It's a fantastic light-filled space, with two large sections of glassed-in roof and swivel chairs strategically placed so you can look outside or watch the entertainment. We enjoyed watching the changeable Rhine River from here; it's a particularly moody spot when it rains, as you can see a storm from several angles. It's like spending time in a lovely luxury hotel you don't want to leave.
The Palm Court opens in the morning and stays open until the last passenger goes to bed. The servers here are less stiff than you find elsewhere on the ship, and are very attentive.
Vista Bar (Deck 4): The pop-up bar on the sun deck, known as the Vista Deck, is a fabulous invention that's exclusive to Crystal. The full-service bar serves a canopied lounge area that has tables with chairs, as well as highly coveted sofas. Bar staff will also get drinks for passengers sitting in other areas of the sun deck; one server even found us when we were sitting in the small outdoor deck near the pool.
When it's nice out, the Vista Deck -- the ship's sun deck - is the spot to hang out. Besides the Vista Bar, the top deck has full reclining lounge chairs with umbrellas, as well as colorful canvas chairs toward the front. The top deck isn't as large as you find on other river cruise ships, primarily because skylights have been cut out for the Palm Court in the front of the boat and the pool in the back. So you won't find a walking track, although the fitness instructor did hold yoga, Pilates and fitness classes on the Vista Deck during good weather.
Be warned that the Vista Deck will close when river water levels are high to avoid low bridges or when conditions are otherwise unsafe.
There's a small outdoor space for smokers behind the pool on Deck 3. The view is currently obstructed by the ship's speedboat, but that's being removed at the end of 2018.
The reception area is located on Deck 2 and consists of kiosks rather than an outright desk. A spiral staircase takes you between decks. At first, we felt the reception area felt more cramped than the open atrium you find on other cruise lines, but we became accustomed to it. Reception is where to book spa treatments and shore excursions, grab port maps, pay the bill or solve any problems that might come up.
There's no library onboard, but you'll find coffee table books on an array of subjects to browse on shelves in the Palm Court. There's also a TV there, and a map that shows you where other Crystal vessels are.
Laundry can be done two ways, either sent out with your butler at a per-item fee or you can do your own in the self-service laundry on Deck 1. It's a relatively spacious room for a laundry, and well-used. Laundry detergent pods and fabric softener are provided free of charge. Take advantage of the laundry baskets to haul your clothes back to your room or use the canvas tote bags that Crystal puts in each cabin.
Wi-Fi is available shipwide and is complimentary, although it can get very slow when you pass through locks. There's no internet center onboard.
Crystal Mahler has both a spa therapist and a fitness instructor onboard, and passengers take advantage of both; this is generally a group that puts a premium on wellness. The spa treatment center is small, but well-thought-out; the massage table is heated and wider than you find on many river cruise ships, so you won't have to worry about falling off. Crystal has a partnership with Daniele de Winter, so therapists use products from her line; we were a little disappointed to get a hard sell in such a luxury environment. A variety of facials and massage therapies are offered, as are salon services like lash and brow tinting and shaping. Prices are akin to what you'd find in a luxury hotel, with massages starting at 139 euros for 50 minutes and facials at 159 euros for 50 minutes. Tips are not included in the pricing, but you can add a gratuity to your bill at the end of your treatment.
The ship has a small fitness center that has dumbbells, medicine balls, exercise bands, stationary bicycles, a rowing machine and mats. There's also no treadmill, probably because of the low ceilings. Personal training is offered at a rate of 45 euros per 30 minutes. Complimentary fitness classes, such as stretch, yoga, Pilates and core are offered each morning in the ship's Palm Court lounge or on the Vista Deck if the weather is nice.
Crystal Mahler has a deep indoor pool, located at the back of Deck 3. Pools are still unusual on river cruise ships; this one has jet currents so you can swim against it to have a workout (we found it too chilly for our tastes). When someone is using it to work out, others really can't use it, as the jet currents blast down the middle. The space has padded lounges, thick towels and a refrigerator with bottled water. Not everyone finds the pool so it's also a relatively quiet place to hang out.
Crystal Mahler does not carry its own e-bikes onboard. Numerous biking excursions are held, however, with e-bikes provided by a contractor.
Children may sail on Crystal Mahler, and it's not unusual to find families onboard during the holidays. Kids must be at least 6 months to sail, and Crystal reserves the right to restrict the number of children younger than 3 years old sailing on Mahler. Babysitting is available for a fee. The ship does not have programming or services for children, so it's best if your child is mature and familiar with travel. Our cruise had a 9-year-old onboard who you'd barely know was there, as well as an older teenager sailing with a parent and grandparents; both stuck to their family units and were very unobtrusive.